I run a small design firm here in Philadelphia, and I get a steady stream of internship requests and job applications all the time from the hoards of fresh-faced graduates from nearby colleges. While my awesome website might portray my firm as a huge multinational conglomerate, it's just little ol' me.
Still I've been re-using a lot of the same wordings in my dutiful response emails, and I find myself repeating myself, So I'll use this opportunity to sum up my feelings if you're a recent college graduate looking to be hired by a small design firm:
While it might be nice to have the comfort of working with a small design firm to 'learn the ropes', I'm going to suggest you try a different route:
Hang your own shingle
Fresh out of Pratt Institute (20+ years ago), I was lucky to land one of my first and longest freelance clients, the father of my younger brothers best friend.
Not only did he greatly appreciate my eye and skills, he was easy to work with, paid promptly, and the work I produced for him was a fantastic portfolio piece, which lead to similar jobs soon after.
From then on, I could take full-time jobs working for someone else, while still maintaining my freelance clients on weekends. This was a nice steady second income until it became my primary income, and working for someone else became my frustration.
I'd suggest you look around your own small network of contacts of friends and family who might need a design produced, and you've started your own small design business!
As you get more proficient, you should replace the unrestrained student projects in your portfolio with more commercial work. This is valuable because sometimes new customers will come knocking on your door without needing to be sold. At this point, do not fear repeating your past success.
Want to hear this Designer's Secrets?
If you have any questions for this 20-year veteran Graphic Designer, feel free to leave a comment! I've been doing freelance graphic/interactive/web design as a sole proprietorship since 1992. I've worked for the man (on occasion), while maintaining my freelance customers, and am self-taught in all of my computer skill sets.