Landing your dream design job: the how-to
Everyone knows that the job market is a crowded one. It’s increasingly difficult to distinguish not only your work, but also who you are – both as an inspired individual and a dedicated employee. Alongside this we appreciate there’s often added pressure when applying for a design role, to demonstrate your creative skills in a way that is both practical and exceptionally engaging. So with this in mind we’ve put together a list of ideas – crafted from many years of experience in the fabulous yet fraught world of design.
There is nothing more irritating than talking to a candidate that knows very little about your company culture and ethos, and the types of clients you work with. Always research a business fully before attending an interview – it shows you care! Designers can also be a little self indulgent, but there’s no room for vanity in an interview session – confidence in your ability is of course important, but business owners like to be asked questions about their company and this approach immediately creates a more relaxed mood.
CVs without colour
Microsoft Word would never be the first choice of software to present your capabilities. In fact most studios would relish at the thought of using your Verdana cursed document as the centrepiece for a Friday afternoon darts challenge. Regardless of your experience and skills, the job you are applying for is a creative role in an industry of inspiration, artistry and innovation. So your CV needs to reflect this. Featureless CVs diminish you in the eyes of the reader, regardless of how many years of experience you have.
Ultimately, you need to treat every aspect of your job application as a design project in itself – identify who your audience is and the challenges they face, determine your unique differentiators and then tell a damned good story that will resonate! If you’re a designer, craft a visual CV or perhaps opt for a clean, contemporary typographical masterpiece, backed up by a separate vibrant portfolio. Or if your primary strengths lie in motion graphics or animation, then find a way to demonstrate these skills. Recruitment agencies and employers see such a large quantity of CVs that yours needs to be as arresting and impactful as possible. Bearing in mind though that if it’s arriving by email, you have to make the final piece a reasonably sensible file size.
Portfolios: The basics
The obvious thing first – send one! You’d be surprised how many applicants don’t. There really is little point in contacting a potential employer with a CV and the all-too-familiar line that says you’d be ‘happy to send in a portfolio of your work if they would like’. Without a portfolio, your CV goes to the bottom of the pile (sorry!). Not sending one straight away implies that you’re not sure if they will want to see it. This is the point at which you should be confident, and send a portfolio that showcases your best skills immediately.
When it comes to presenting your work, streamlined simplicity is best. Design your portfolio with the agency in mind, so they can easily look through and decide quickly if there is anything in there that particularly impresses them. It’s also really important to thoroughly proofread any text you include, as typos demonstrate a lack of attention to detail and can easily jeopardise the likelihood of you progressing to the next stage of the process.
Portfolios: Choosing your content
It’s good practice to get into the habit of tailoring your portfolio to each potential employer. This demonstrates an awareness of the company and their ongoing business objectives. Be sure to include work that focuses on concepts rather than just execution. Design is about thought and mood, so it’s vital for agencies to see the thought processes behind your work. A passion for design, coupled with the ability to explain your ideas, gives your work an identity that they can connect with – and it’s a key area that your interviewers will want to explore further.
It’s also extremely important to highlight your role in the project. We can all send images of fabulous creativity, but if you simply changed the purple background to green, then it’s really not your design to showcase. Interviewers need to understand your capabilities immediately, so it’s also worth highlighting areas of design where you excel – some individuals have amazing logo design talents but cannot create a decent page layout for toffee. It is unusual for a designer to be brilliant at all disciplines but it’s beneficial to be honest and upfront from the start.
Please make sure you don’t overwhelm a potential employer by sending a 25 page PDF document of your work. Naturally you want to showcase as much as you can, but if your portfolio is too large then it’s more than likely you’ll lose their attention. Creating an online portfolio is a sensible option, but be careful if you’ve previously been working as a freelancer, or sell yourself as a ‘company’, as this can be perceived in a slightly negative way and may portray a level of failure in your previous endeavours.
Another option would be to produce a printed portfolio. Creatives love to hold, touch and feel work – we also have a strange obsession for the smell of freshly printed brochures!
The final step: First impressions
Once you’ve perfected your CV and portfolio, make sure you wrap it up beautifully with a well written covering email/letter. Agencies see a vast number of these that are far too generic, and obviously being used to approach a wide range of employers. So make it clear that your covering message is specific to the role and the company, mentioning their names and recent projects where appropriate, as well as your relevant skills. Or why not take a different approach and sell your vibrant personality right from the start – pair the letter with a customised illustration or design that reflects the agency in some way – or sign off with a personal stamp.
Ultimately, you do need to make it clear why you’re the one worth hiring. It’s about being unique and memorable, in a way that will keep you at the forefront of an agency’s mind from the moment they open your email, to the moment they hire you.