How to get a design job.

Getting a job can suck. It's a time consuming process and very frustrating when you aren't even hearing back from the jobs you are applying to. Hopefully this blog can elucidate a few things.

I have a couple of things that make me qualified to write about getting a design job. Firstly, I have a job, and I've had another prior. I also used to get work for myself as a freelancer. And secondly, I look at lots of CVs, Resumes, Cover Letters and Portfolios when looking for new people. I then interview them and pick out who comes on board. I've been on both sides of the table.

Before you even consider sending something though; get an adult e-mail address. You don't need you@yourname.com but you do need a G-mail that doesn't read like a 2001 Yahoo user name with numbers.

The Cover letter
It's the first thing I look at, and it should be something you put time into. Some people go resume first though. Don't skimp on anything.

This is make or break. It sets up who you are and everything I may decide to look at.

To lay it out you can do a few things. Firstly, and importantly, use my name. "Sir/Madamn" doesn't cut, nor does "to whom it may concern". Jump on the website or LinkedIn and try to figure out who I am.

Got my name right? Now name drop when you can. Do you have a common acquaintance, did somebody put you on to me? Let me know - it instantly builds trust.

Remind me what's going on. Where did you see the ad, and what was the job for. I might be running several job ads at once, and big companies run many. It also ensures that this letter is specific to me. 

Now maybe you're just looking online, but be specific in your searches. If you are going to roughly template a cover letter, ensure the content will transfer well. What are three proper and specific job titles that appeal to you? These sorts of ads should set up the things you mention here and in your resume. Also it's helpful to grab the vocabulary in the ads.

Please, lordy, forget saying “I am passionate", "I love your company". You applied on Pedestrian not on our website, so I call bullshit!

Instead jump to “I want a specific job at a specific type of business in this location". Be specific about the job title, whether the place is an agency, publisher, boutique, major firm, international ... and let me know that you are a perfect fit for us in doing so.

Now pitch yourself. Highlight relevant experience with a story if you have to, or statistics if you have them. This shouldn't just recycle your resume. A big part of it is about setting the tone you have which fits with the business. Are they an old corporate with traditional values? Or do they have bean bags and a PS4 in the office. Connect with how you write and what you write.

As you write use "I". Writing "about" yourself instead of "as" yourself is bizarre.

And instead of just writing "I", think about "them". What can you do for me? Look at the business and consider how you would contribute. If you can be specific, be specific;

  • Can you solve a problem?
  • Can you offer something I haven't considered?
  • Is there something you can do that wasn't even in the job description but would benefit me?

And please offer a little more than experience. Your resume can show who you are, and if I'm going to hire you, I'm going to have to sit with you everyday. So I have to like you. This doesn't mean listing hobbies though. You can do it with tone.

Resume/CV
Two approaches exist. The pretty, and the dry. I love the dry, formatted, word-looking resume, but not everybody does. It tells me all I need to know.

The pretty resume with graphs, colour and illustrations simply tells me you went to design school. "Everyone went to fucking design school! You're not special! Tell me what I need to know." Again though, some people still like them.

A few years back a couple of things emerged. Putting your name in bold (and pink if you're female) doesn't tell me anything.

A photo shouldn't but might however, and these are becoming popular. Your call.

You don't need to put your age, and you don't need to put your address. Giving out this information is odd to me.

The latest inclusion I am undecided on is the citizenship/PR status, and English language skills. It is actually a useful inclusion. If I am reading a resume with bad grammar and spelling (which I really shouldn't be. Get a friend to read it if you can) that mentions studying overseas, I often worry that there will be an early conversation about needing sponsorship. I don't mind having people seeking sponsorship, many people I know are doing it, but I want people who love what they do, and aren't there just for that reason.

Now you lay out your resume in numerous sections normally. But your resume is not simply a chronology. It’s a story. To tell that story please, for fuck sake, don't tell me you "can work in a team, independently, or lead". Even if it's true, everyone says it. If it reads like a cliche, drop it.

Also I really don't care about what you did in high-school or where you went to school. Anything that far back is redundant. Prefect at your school three years ago doesn't tell me who you have become since.

Now you could simply include facts. But what if instead you could actually be remembered afterwards?

Don't just tell me you studied typography. Tell me you used InDesign to lay out magazines based on a set brief. And don't tell me you love hand-lettering when there are no examples of it in your portfolio.

Portfolio
Not all portfolio's were created equal. There's some essential things you have to get right.

Numero uno - Eight best works. That's it.

  • Spent five minutes on it. No.
  • Not really the kind of work you want to be doing? No (You don't see web design in my portfolio because I hate it).
  • Got a credit? No.
  • Haven't practiced that skill since you first year of uni? No.

If you're a uni grad the portfolio may be less specific, and may only include uni work. If there is professional work done, clearly mark that it's commercial to differentiate it. And if you and everyone else has done a similar uni project, I don't want to see it if you didn't stand out. You and your peers are probably sending resumes, and I've seen what each uni does at this point.

I would suggest building a portfolio of 12 works in InDesign. For each job, reorder the pages, and cull what's irrelevant down to eight again.

  • Working with wireframes but applying for interior design? I don't need to see it.

Make an effort with each portfolio sent, as with everything you send. You'll have better results than throwing a hundred resumes out.

Give context to what I'm looking at, and give headings. Project name I don't really care about. Medium, potentially. And concept. Please and thank you. Don't give me just a brief, give me your thought process. If you're presenting work to a brief then fine. But if you were asked to be creative, explain that creative process.

Portfolios on Behance and The Loop are kind of shit frankly. I'll use it, but I'm not happy about it. At least switch from Behance to Adobe Portfolio.

This website is made with Squarespace. Simple to do. A PDF is usually ideal otherwise.

Interviewing
Scouts honour - be prepared. I remember hearing of a story (probably-definitely from Ramit) of pulling out information from a briefcase when they were expecting to drive the conversation. Make your own talking points, and frame the discussion. Make the interviewers life easy.

You could prepare an example of something you have done alongside with your portfolio, giving information I haven't already seen. You can not only try to nervously get in the door, you can excite me about having you come in.

If you have just nailed something, show me work in progress. It may be incomplete, but I'm happy to look at a PSD or AI with you. It may in fact tell me more about you than I would see anywhere else.

This process is a negotiation, and not just you selling yourself to me. Ask questions that matter to you. What's the company culture like? What does a typical day look like? What processes are you looking to change? Where will you be in 12 months? Then contribute to that conversation positively when appropriate. Keep everything conversational. Again - if I'm going to have to work with you every day I have to like you.

The anecdote is cheap. But if something comes up in conversation and you can tell a story do it. Make it contextual to everything - I don't care about your pets and new car unless we're selling cars.

Now consider; why you over everyone else? What's your edge? Haven't got one? If not. apply for a lesser paying job. (Or lie through your teeth and never say sorry!)

Key takeaways:

  • Customise everything you send out.
  • Sell yourself based on their needs.

Where to get a job from: