Amid the volume of conventional wisdom you can find in books and online about how to ace a job interview, it’s hard to locate and pinpoint the most valuable tips that apply specifically to your industry. Besides, some of the advice can be confusing or can directly contradict other nuggets you’ve come across or experienced yourself.
When it comes to design, in a perfect world the work would speak for itself. However, designers must advocate for themselves in much the same way others do. In a way, though, designers are better equipped than most to achieve strong results and to get the “Yes.” After all, communication and storytelling is inherent in what you do and try to convey in all of your work. The difficult part for some is in taking what’s on the page and in the portfolio and making it come alive with words. Here are some basic principles and best practices for landing that coveted design job:
1. Do your research
You could be the best person around at creating a certain graphic style or typography, but if the place you’re applying to work doesn’t value that skill, you may be passed over. So much information is available at your fingertips to research and understand what a company or client is looking for from candidates. Know the agency’s client list ahead of time, and familiarize yourself with their featured projects. Through that process, you can identify details of their strongest work and mention why you think those details contributed to the project’s overall success.
This research and knowledge is important for reasons other than to show that you’ve done your homework. It demonstrates that you care and are the kind of person to invest yourself fully in a project. You can showcase similarities inside your own portfolio that speak to the same concept or audience. If they have a strong sense that you can jump right in after basic training and require minimal oversight, they’re more likely to bring you aboard.
2. Share your most relevant portfolio samples first
Within many different design disciplines, agencies most typically specialize in specific areas. After you have a handle on where they focus, be sure to arrange your portfolio in such a way that illustrates in a straight-forward, direct manner how you match their aesthetic. Focus the conversation on one or two examples from your portfolio that best show that you would be a good match for them. Be sure to respect your interviewer’s time. Don’t overwhelm them with everything you’ve ever done, even if you’re equally proud of other examples.
The first example should be the one that fits their client base and what they’re seeking. Just as someone will redo or tweak a cover letter to fit a respective employer, make sure to revisit your portfolio and investigate its contents and its sequence. You can create a custom page showing highly-targeted work just for that particular agency. If you know what they’re looking for from you, then you can put it in front of them.
3. Mind your manners
Sending thank-you emails after an email is par for the course across all industries. With design job, though, there’s a unique opportunity to impress the interviewer afterward. A physical thank-you card goes a lot further than an email can, and if you can send them something you designed yourself, that’s another nice touch.
There are any number of capable, qualified designers available. It’s a competitive landscape with more people than positions. Their choice might ultimately come down to the small, but notable differences between you and another candidate. Because so much of design work is collaborative, they want to make sure they are choosing wisely and will want to work with you on a daily basis. That vibe has to be right within a creative organization. Even though many designers can do the tasks of the job, not everybody is the right creative fit for the job.