As the year winds down and you have some free time to reflect, now is the perfect time to start thinking about what steps you can take to land your dream job.
The thing is, there’s nothing worse than putting in some serious effort when applying for a job only to receive the tired response of, “You’re not quite what we are looking for” or worse yet, no response at all. As creatives, we want our work to get noticed by the right people. I often receive emails from recent design graduates asking how they can land their first professional position but the competition for spots at design studios and ad agencies can be notoriously tough.
Today, I’m sharing 10 tips gathered from personal experience — over the course of seven years, I worked full-time and freelanced at a total of seven spots ranging in size from less than 10 employees to a few hundred. Each experience was slightly different but I used similar techniques to get into each.
10 Helpful Tips
1. Do your homework.
Before walking into an interview, take the time to research your employer. What is their visual style like? How do they communicate on their website? Is their copy buttoned-up or humorous? In a sea of creative studios, what do they stand for? Do they mostly work with corporate clients or small businesses? All of these pieces of information are cues for how you should present yourself and your work. Even if it means pulling an all-nighter, re-jig your presentation for a particular interview and study up. If it’s undeniable that you “get” their style (and sense of humor), you’ll be a shoe-in because they already know that you’re a good fit. I’d obsessed over Cinco’s work for years before I ever had an interview and because I knew their work well (and referenced it), I was able to get into one of Portland’s best agencies.
2. Design a resume that stands out.
When applying for a creative presentation at a studio, a standard Word document won’t make the cut. This is the perfect opportunity to show off your personality and turn a traditionally boring document on its head. In need of inspiration? Check out this roundup. Don’t go too crazy with the design, though — the bottom line is that legibility matters most. Before sending out your resumé, print it. Are the fonts you chose easy on the eyes? Does the hierarchy of information make sense?
3. Replace school projects with real world client work.
Start freelancing as early as possible to gain actual client work. Employers want to see what you can do outside of the very structured confines of school. Can you handle difficult clients, sometimes ridiculous timelines and still deliver beautiful work? Because honestly, this is what the world outside of school looks like. Client work conveys that you are a self-starter and took the initiative to create a well-rounded portfolio. Not every project is going to pay well in the beginning but think about it as an investment in your future. I did many $200.00 logos while I was in school but that work later helped me get into the door of my first few jobs.
4. Expand upon each project.
Even if you’re hired to just do a logo, take the time to do a full build-out on your own. During my first few years of freelancing, my clients had small budgets so I’d often take their logos and build them into a full suite of collateral free of charge to create a much stronger visual presentation. An example of this was Semiospectacle who only had a budget for a logo at the time.
5. Brush up on skills affordably.
If your skillset isn’t quite up to par with the job you’re applying for, study online affordably. If you need to dive deeper into the Creative Suite and learn every little tip and trick about a particular program, Lynda is fantastic. If you want to learn a particular skill like hand-lettering or logo design, Skillshare is great.
6. Take the time to mock up your work.
Don’t just show a logo and flat graphics on a portfolio page because they offer no context. Instead, take the time to show a more complete visual story. Search out appropriate templates to give your work some dimension and relevance. For instance, if you designed a logo for a coffee shop, show it on a mug, a sign and across a suite of collateral. It shows that you understand the art of presentation, which agencies in particular appreciate….because once you get in the door, you’ll be helping to build out a whole lot of pitches. You can play up the outcome with templates from Creative Market, Pixeden and Live Surface.
7. Develop self-initiated projects.
If you haven’t found the ideal mix of clients to build the portfolio of your dreams, that’s okay. Take the initiative and create a few self-initiated projects. Self-initiated simply means that you weren’t hired for a project but built it out for fun. As long as you’re clear about this in the description and not trying to mislead anyone, these types of projects can show off different styles and skills to potential employers. If you’re looking for ideas to create well-rounded, amazingly branded projects, Good Design Makes Me Happy is a great source for inspiration.
8. Polish up your web presence.
Remember, your interviewer can Google you in 5 seconds flat. Give them something good to look at! In your online portfolio, include more information about yourself, your accolades and an extended selection of projects if you have them. Before I launched my design studio, I used Cargo Collective as a platform but WordPress and Squarespace also work well.
9. Spell check, use proper grammar….and if all else fails, hire a copywriter.
Nothing is a bigger turn-off for a potential employer than opening a resume or portfolio and spotting one spelling error after another. It’s sloppy and conveys a lack of attention to detail. Whether you’re formatting your resume, the bio on your website or descriptions for your portfolio projects, always run spell check. In InDesign, go to Edit > Spelling > Check Spelling.
10. Always say thank you.
Manners go a long way. After an interview, send a simple thank you the next day. An email or a card are both perfectly fine. Studios are busy places and the fact that the interviewers blocked time out of their busy schedules to meet you means that you’re a definite contender. If you have impeccable taste and manners, they won’t be able to resist you!
I hope these tips help you land a position you love in the new year. Good luck!