When I was 22 and looking to land a gig as a creative, I always wondered what the person doing the hiring wanted to see in my application. As a result, I did a lot of neat things, and sometimes got a call back. I also made some big mistakes. If I could talk to my 22 year old self, I’d probably note a couple things. First, enjoy your hair, it’s not sticking around too long. Second, I’d give myself some helpful tips for getting a Creative Director’s attention.
1. Don’t waste her/his time
Only apply for jobs that you are really qualified for. Learn about the culture of the studio, and how they like to work. Make sure you are a good fit, and only send a resume if you expect to take on the job.
2. Get the address right
Nothing looks as foolish as sending out a bulk email of resumes, or sending something out that is addressed to the wrong firm.
3. It’s all about the portfolio
Present a clean, simple portfolio, with a lot of diverse work in it. If you don’t have much experience, show what you have done well, and note what role you had in the projects you are showing.
4. They might even look at your resume
Personally, I only look to the resume if the portfolio gets me. And the first thing I’ll look for in the resume? That’s right, design. Send a resume in Word, with poor use of type and bad organization, and you go in to the “uninterested” folder. Send a 2MB TIFF of your resume, and you are headed there too. Design it well, and send it as a PDF. If your resume sucks, it bodes poorly for your future in this profession.
5. Spel chek
There’s nothing like spelling errors in a candidate’s cover letter. All of the programs we use have spell check functions. If you aren’t willing to press that button before you hit send, you will appear to not take details very seriously. As you know by now, designers work in a details world.
6. Show them that you can edit
You are a designer. You have to be able to show that you can determine which information is salient, and which is redundant. Don’t list your unrelated job experience (i.e. I worked at Wendy’s for three summers), and please, don’t jam every thing you’ve ever made into your portfolio. You’ll impress people by showing quality and ability to judge, over quantity.
7. Don’t lie
Some seem to think it’s a good idea to pilfer other’s work, or claim they were involved in something they weren’t. Everyone starts somewhere, but those who start by lying about their work stand to do big damage to their careers.
8. Show up on time (but not too early)
If you manage to get an interview, you can assume that something about your work is impressive, or fits the firm’s needs. The interview is a great way for the employer to scan for red flags. Someone who shows up late, or for that matter, thirty minutes early, exhibits poor time-management skills. Those are big red flags. Show up five minutes early. If you are hit by a bus or something equally unavoidable, call in advance and reschedule. You’ll stand-out as someone who deals with the odd curve appropriately.
9. Be nice, and answer the questions like a real human being
Most studios are not hiring solely based on skill level. A friendly, trustable personality can go a long way towards swaying a decision in your favour. Come off as a being arrogant, flakey or untrustworthy on the other hand, and you’ll have a slim chance of landing the job. Just talk to the person interviewing you. If hired, you might be seeing these people more than your family–it’s best that you can be yourself around them.
10. Stick around
If you do get the job, stay there for a while. A resume with a long list of short-term positions is not a good thing. Even if you have beautiful work, several “four month” stays at studios around town will quickly dissolve any advantage you may have had. If the employer feels that you’ll be searching for another job right away, she certainly is not going to waste her time on you. Do your homework and be absolutely sure before accepting a position.
11. Only ask for feedback when you want it
Most studios receive an inordinate number of requests for feedback, from designers on curious as to why they weren’t hired. I can’t speak for other studios, but I can give you a quick tip on behalf of smashLAB. When I receive these requests I generally do want to help out, but instead send out emails noting that we simply don’t give out feedback to candidates. This all stems from one unique individual, who cajoled me to respond until I finally acquiesced. After she received my feedback, she sent countless emails about her dissatisfaction with my feedback. We made a folder for her application. It was entitled “nuts”. Do whatever you can to stay out of that folder–it’s sort of scary in there.