Advice #50: 11 Tips For Acing Your Next Design Interview


Hello! I graduated about 2 years ago from college and landed a couple of jobs where I’ve been able to pick up new skills. Now, the printing company I currently work at has been doing layoffs and this has set up a red flag for me. I am applying to new jobs and have gone on interviews, but I can’t seem to close the deal! What am I doing wrong? Do you have any tips?



You’ve come to the right person! I’ve been on a lot of interviews during my career. Some went exceptionally well and I was handed the job on the spot. Others were so embarrassing and weird that I walked out wondering what had just happened — was I secretly being interrogated for a crime I’d unknowingly committed?

Today, I’m going to share some rapid-fire advice for what has worked for me and how to make the most of your limited time during an interview.

Here are 11 tips to help you ace your next interview:

1. Always do your research.

You can never be too prepared. Search the prospective company’s site for as much information about their clients and corporate culture as possible. Make sure you have their phone number and address tucked away in the event of a total catastrophe. Make sure you know exactly where you’re going. Know your interviewer’s name so you can ask for them at the front desk (and write this down as well).

2. Revise, revise, revise.

Make sure you have a pristine copy of your resumé on hand. Even if it’s a fairly generic design resumé, tailor your overall objective statement to align with a potential opening they may have or an ideal skill they seem to admire. Going above and beyond shows that you care and that you have an attention to detail.

3. Be on time.

This is common sense but it bears repeating. Design studios are busy. They don’t have time to wait around for you. On the other hand, they’ll often keep you waiting! This is your chance to take Instagram photos of their lobby, which is most likely filled with amazing modern furniture and rad design books.

4. Dress the part. But, don’t overdo it.

Stay true to your personal style but also keep the look accessible. Lean towards what’s both polished and pulled together but also in line with the overall industry. If you’re perusing the company’s blog and everyone seems to wear t-shirts and flip-flops, common sense would tell you to avoid a suit and tie at all costs. After all, you want to make them feel like you already belong there!

5. Be attentive.

At the end of almost every interview, you’ll get asked if you have any questions. This is your opportunity to first provide an overall complement of the company and its work and secondly, to hopefully have at least one question. It shows that you are inquisitive, interested in their work and engaged.

6. Be enthusiastic but not creepy.

Smile and demonstrate that you’re a real person. I can tell you from experience that even if your portfolio is the absolute best and you can run the full Adobe Creative Suite in your sleep, if you come across as a cold-hearted, soulless serial killer that doesn’t make eye contact and can’t carry on a conversation to save your life, you’ll probably get passed up for someone who is a little less experienced but a complete joy to be around.

I worked at many places where I was far from the most experienced but I did everything I could to make up for this in other areas. I’ve grabbed coffee for my art directors, gone out of my way to stay late to wrap up presentations, worked as well as I possibly could in team atmospheres, came in on the on the occasional weekend and so on. Make yourself absolutely indispensable, act like you want to be there and most likely, they’ll keep you around.

7. Have your portfolio ready to go.

Even though the world around us is increasingly going digital, a lot of top agency folks still appreciate old school touches. I know a lot of designers that bring in their portfolios now on laptops and iPads but I still go out of my way to carry a print portfolio.

Have a strategy. Mine has gone like this: I save my absolute best 10 to 15 projects for my print portfolio. It’s hardcover with custom foil embossed logo — yes, it cost me a fortune to have made but it shows my level of commitment. As a backup, I have my portfolio also saved onto my iPad with a few additional projects just in case the interviewer shows an interest in viewing more work. This is also your opportunity to share some recent works in progress that you may have not had a chance to add into your book yet.

8. Always ask your interviewer for a business card on the way out.

After all, they may not be the person who contacted you originally and if you don’t have a way to thank them, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.

9. Say thank you and have your business card ready.

Always thank the interviewer for their time on your way out. Make sure they have your resumé and business card in hand. Every day, I hear that people don’t care about business cards any more but I completely disagree with that. Also, they’re a prime opportunity to show off your design skills. These are my cards and I carry them absolutely everywhere.

10. Always follow up with a brief but enthusiastic email.

Studios don’t have the spare time to mull through rambling messages. Get to the point, address your interviewer by their first name and thank them for their time. Yes, you can send snail mail but I suggest firing off an email because they’ll receive it faster and it won’t get lost in a pile on someone’s desk!

11. Be persistent but not annoying.

There is a fine line here, as we all know. If you don’t hear from your interviewer right away, follow up within a week. When I was trying to line up my first-ever internship while still in college, I spent about 2 months emailing and calling two contacts at a design studio. I had a recommendation email from my instructor but it still took awhile to get through. Finally, the week before I went back to school, I landed my first interview and got the internship. Instead of lasting a quarter, it lasted a full year and resulted in my first full-time job in the industry. If I had given up after that first email, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Once again, studios are busy. Sometimes, it just takes a few times to get through.

In closing: Be yourself. Be prepared. Do your research. We’re all human — interviews are rarely easy. Just do your best, follow up and keep your head up. And, go to every interview you possibly can. With practice, it does get easier.

Readers: Do you have any more tips on how to seal the deal?

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