Your heart is racing. Your mind is swirling. You've just hung up with a hiring director who scheduled your interview for a graphic designer role.
Congratulations! Now what do you do?
I was recently invited to sit on a panel of communications professionals in NYC who got to speak with university juniors and seniors, all finishing their degrees, and who are now actively seeking internships and first jobs. After speaking on the topic of a typical interview process and portfolio review, it occurred to me that I've interviewed plenty of hopeful designers and art directors — some of which had been in the profession for many years — who just simply got it all wrong.
What follows below is my advice for nailing your upcoming graphic design interview. I hope that you find it helpful.
DESIGNING YOUR RESUME
Your resume will usually be your first opportunity to present your design skills. But don't overdo it. Keep your resume simple, clean and professional. Don't let the design overtake the content. Lead your reader through your resume utilizing design hierarchy and by showing a clear command over typography. Keep the information organized and approachable, making it quick and simple for your reader to locate the information they need. Don't be afraid to design yourself a simple logo or identity to help define your personal brand. If it's a great identity, it may just get you the interview before the hiring manager even reads your resume.
As you prepare the content of your resume, make sure the information is not overly wordy or difficult to comprehend. Nobody needs to read paragraphs of copy about how you worked one summer at a fast food restaurant, but listing relevant skills you learned there (i.e. how to perform under pressure, dealing with rude customers, etc.) could be a valuable addition.
Make sure you include hobbies that could be relevant as well. Things like photography, writing poetry or planning events all help round out your skill set and help to further define your personal brand. I don't personally subscribe to the "keep it on one page" rule, but certainly no more than two pages should ever be required for a traditional graphic designer resume.
This next resume tip almost goes without saying, but since I've seen it more than once I'll say it: Don't lay out your resume in Microsoft Word. Just don't. It's not a design tool. If you are claiming yourself to be a viable candidate for a professional design agency, then at the very least, you should make sure your resume is put together using the design and page layout tools that are relevant in today's agencies. Tools like Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress (and even Adobe Illustrator in a pinch) are acceptable page layout tools that should be used to show off your skills.
Whichever tool you use, be sure to generate a PDF that is small enough to be emailed. PDF files have become the closest thing we have to a universal file format that everyone is able to view, save and print. These are fundamental tools, and by not using them on something as basic as your resume, you are speaking volumes about your skill set and yourself before even getting to make that golden first impression.
Finally, take the time to run a spellcheck on your resume. Even after you think it is perfect, have a friend, who you consider to be a good writer, proofread your resume. Like any work, it’s always beneficial to have extra sets of eyes on something important before it gets released.
DESIGNING YOUR PORTFOLIO
You’ve followed my advice on your resume design and you've been awarded an interview. Now’s the time to start asking yourself the following questions: What work am I going to show? How will it be presented? How will I speak about my work? Just taking a few moments to ponder those questions will immediately put you ahead of the pack.
Maybe you've had a long, illustrious career. Maybe you are a fresh graduate out of design school. Either way, you've got a lot of work that you could show in an interview. Don't show it all.
Showing restraint in how many pieces you present is a valuable skill that I look for in designers. Research the company or agency you are going to interview at. What type of work do they do? What type of product do they market? You should tailor your portfolio to highlight pieces that are most closely aligned with the prospective company. It makes your work relevant to them. They'll be able to critique it more quickly and more accurately. Showing a media agency that only does corporate videos and animations a really fantastic identity system may not be as compelling to your interviewer as you thought. Plus, knowing how to edit yourself displays the ability to think critically and strategically about how best to present creative work.
I see a lot less physical portfolios than I used to. Most designers have a website to display their work or a section on a popular portfolio site like Behance.net. While not necessary for someone interviewing for a print designer role, having a digital portfolio shows that you at least hold a basic understanding of interactive design and can be an opportunity to share how you taught yourself HTML and CSS or use WordPress for your personal blog.
Bringing up a link to review your work is usually a simple task for your interviewer, but best to confirm before your interview if this would be possible. If not, it's totally acceptable to come prepared with a laptop or tablet to take your interviewer through your work. If you're applying for an interactive designer role, don't show up to your interview with a big leather portfolio case under your arm containing printouts of websites.
It's time to think hard about what work you should and should not include. One of the things I look for when looking through designer's books is depth. The work needs to be smart and not superficial. Knowing the coolest design trends and how to express them is all well and good, but I need to be able to see your big idea beyond the design treatment.
Now that the nuts and bolts are out of the way, how are you going to talk about your work?
I recommend you take the time to think long and hard about each piece you have included. Each design has a unique story: a birth, a development phase and a final push out into the world. Tell the stories of your work to your interviewer. Just saying, "This is a poster I designed for so-and-so Client" doesn't provide your interviewer with any additional insight into the work. It also doesn’t tell what specific tasks you were responsible for, what your design process looked like, why you made the design choices you made or what the end results were.
Tell stories that you can only tell. And if a bit of excitement happens to get expressed while talking about your own work, that can only serve you well.
Finally, don't forget the basics of common courtesy surrounding job interviews.
Send the hiring manager an email confirming the date and time of your interview — this immediately communicates that you have a basic sense of organization and order to your life.
If you're confused about directions, or what train to take, ask at least a day before your interview. Don't risk being late.
Last but not least, take the two minutes to write a brief thank you note after your interview. It doesn't need to be handwritten, but it does need to be personal and specific to your interview. Hiring managers can smell a form letter a mile away.
The takeaway is that your success will not only depend on the quality of your work and experience, but in how your work and experience is presented. Design yourself.
I wish you the best of luck and hope that 2015 brings you new success in your job search.