My fellow designers, whether entry-level, junior, or senior… we need to have a serious talk. This topic bugs me more than a flyer designed in Comic Sans or Papyrus. I’ve come across many of you struggling to find a good design job. You’ve discovered a passion for design and want to make a career out of it, but something goes wrong between the dream and that nerve-wracking first interview. While interviewing candidates for design positions, I’ve concluded a few points that can increase your chances of getting that job you desire. There’s much to work on, and it all starts with how you present yourself as a designer.
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Brand Specialist… Brand Thyself
The blog by that same name speaks about the importance of leading by example when it comes to an internal brand. This rule applies to companies as well as individuals. Let’s be honest, if you can’t brand yourself effectively, why would a potential employer trust you to manage their brand?
When I open your resume, what’s going to be my first impression of you as a designer? Sure, a resume shouldn’t be overly designed, but you can still show off your typography skills and make that bad boy look modern and elegant through proper type usage and layout. If entire websites can be beautifully-designed primarily using type, you can do the same for a one-page resume. Along with good layout and typography, use iconography and color to (wait for it…) jazz up your resume. Neither of those take up much space, yet inject just enough of your creative touch to make you stand out from the onslaught of blandness that an interviewer has to comb through.
And keep your resume simple, my friend. You’re a graphic designer, not Prasant Mohapatra. Aside from your resume, what’s likely to get you that interview is a great sampling of your skills and past work, a.k.a. your portfolio. [sigh] Let’s talk about that.
Let Your Portfolio Do the Heavy Lifting
Let’s get this one point out of the way: you need an online portfolio! I don’t care if you’ve never done web design work, or if your printed portfolio is mind-blowingly flabbergasting. It’s the 21st century… please jump in your DeLorean, key in this date, and join us here in the future, where every graphic designer has samples of his or her work available online for quick viewing.
And when I say “online,” I don’t mean a link to a file in your Dropbox account. I mean an actual portfolio site. You have free resources at your disposal, such as Behance and services like it. And with services like Wix and SquareSpace out there, creating a professional-looking portfolio website is quite simple, even for non-developers. And for the love of Peter… do not take us to a website that looks like something out of the 1990s!
Your portfolio, whether online or printed, should give your potential employers a good glimpse at the skills you bring to the table. It’s important to show variety. What if you’re a long-time print designer and haven’t had web or digital design clients? Well, after you teach yourself the basics of these design areas (yes, you’re gonna keep learning… we’ll touch on that later), you can include some mock projects showcasing that particular skill. “GASP! Mock projects? But I’m no fresh-out-of-school designer. I can’t show fake projects!” Take a chill-pill. The “client” might be fake, but the demonstration of proper user interface design skills is most certainly not. If asked about it, explain that, while you’ve worked primarily on print projects, you’ve trained yourself in digital and web design and wanted to demonstrate it in your portfolio. That can go a long way toward showing a potential employer that you’re a professional who doesn’t settle for last decade’s design practices. You’ll show that you like to better yourself as a professional, and thus, any company you’re a part of. Speaking of which…
Beef Up Your Skillset
This is a simple point: Technology and best practices are in constant evolution, and you should be, too. If you put no effort to keep your design skills up to date, you will get left behind. A quick glance through the job requirements in a job posting will give you a good idea of what skills and knowledge you’re lacking as a designer. Learn what you don’t know. Not familiar with designing emails for platforms such as Constant Contact or Mailchimp, for example? Don’t just frown, cross your arms, and say “too bad!” Go to your nifty Internet-surfing device, create a (free) account at each of those services, learn the basics, and familiarize yourself with how to build an email. When asked about it during an interview, you won’t be sitting there, forehead sweaty, hoping to the gods that the interviewer forgets they just asked, “What email platforms have you designed for?” Resources are just a click away. Lynda and SkilledUp, for example, offer a wealth of courses that can complement your existing skills in various forms of design. Be resourceful.
Still getting crickets instead of phone calls after that initial interview? Strap on your seatbelt, friend. Your issue may not be lack of skills, but personality. I know… ouch! But, stay with me.
The Personality Factor
Graphic designers have a bad reputation for lacking professionalism, interpersonal skills, and not taking criticism of our work very well. Unfortunately, that rep is not entirely unwarranted. But this isn’t a bad thing! It’s an opportunity to stand out even more form your competition. Are you a pleasant person to talk to? To work with? Sure we designers like to keep it laid back and chill, but that doesn’t have to cross over into lack of manners or unprofessionalism.
Stand in front of a mirror before an interview. Loosen up your face. Smile. Laugh. Practice speaking with an upbeat (but not forced) tone. Prepare what (nice things) you’ll have to say about past employers and projects. Be positive. Have something interesting to talk about aside from the job you’re applying for. Know stuff about… stuff. Be an interesting person to talk to. Don’t slouch on your interview chair… sit up! Look alive. Work to be that one candidate whom the interviewer will remember, not just for the work samples you showed, but for being an awesome potential addition to their team. And maybe work on actually incorporating those traits into your everyday life. You might just end up liking it. Just sayin’ 🙂
Be a Good Communicator
You already know how to communicate a message visually, but a good designer won’t just execute a brilliant logo, for example; he will be able to explain the rationale behind the design. How would you fare standing in front of a team of people, explaining your choice for typography, color scheme, imagery, and layout for a logo? A designer’s entire career is based on effective communication of his or her ideas. Practice these skills. This is a crucial skill once hired, and during an interview, as you break down your work and career experience.
Get to Know Your Potential Employer
This should go without saying, but be sure to learn some basics about the place you’re applying to. Nothing is more eye-roll-inducing than reading, “I’m very interested in the opening at ABC Inc.” in a cover letter, to then hear a “Not much…” when asked what you know about ABC Inc. during an interview. Demonstrate your interest. Read through their website. Learn their history, if it’s available. Become acquainted with their work and industry. Learn about their staff. Just a few pieces of info will show that you did your homework, are legitimately interested in joining the team, and will give you some ammo to ask questions.
In A Nutshell…
Make yourself memorable to potential employers. Give your resume a designer’s touch to make it stand out from others in the stack. Make your portfolio a balanced collection of work samples and a demonstration of a well-rounded skillset. Learn the skills that you’re missing for the position you’re seeking. Make a memorable first impression by being pleasant and friendly. Smile and show them you’d make a great addition to the team. Be a good communicator of your work and your expertise. Show your interest by getting to know as much as you can about your potential employer.