So graduation is around the corner and recently I made a visit to my alma mater to speak with design students about stepping out into the design industry. The students asked questions ranging from what makes a good cover letter to dealing with burnout and much more. Overall I could tell that students became overwhelmed when talking about the application process so I decided to put this short list together to answer some of those questions and help land you a creative job.
I also wrote an article last year about my experience 4 years after graduation, 4 Tips for Emerging Designers, so check that out as well.
Tip #1: Your Interview Portfolio is Key
For a designer, I think everyone would agree that their portfolio is the most important element of the job application but let's focus on the portfolio that you bring with you in person.
In my experience, your interview portfolio should include 3-4 of your strongest projects and showcase your interests and design skills. The portfolio can be hyper-focused around one facet of design or it can also include a variety of projects such as web design, branding, and illustration. The important thing is to show your strongest work. Take the time to edit and cut out some of the projects that don't have a strong brief and show only a few assets. As a new graduate, I believe it's completely okay to show an array of skills and how versatile you can be.
A minor note but something that I strongly believe in and practice to this day is to print out your portfolio. In my opinion, it shows that you spent a little extra time in a world that is dominated by screens. It allows the person that is interviewing you to hold your portfolio in their hands and creates a conversational dynamic that keeps both parties engaged during the interview. It also serves as something you can leave behind so the interviewer can share around the company.
Tip #2: Portfolio Website
Your website is the next big key that can unlock a lot of doors for jobs. In my experience hiring managers scan your website before contacting you. This means that you want your website looking sharp with all your projects but also don't be afraid to show off your personality. It's a big pond out there so ask yourself, what is going to set you apart from the rest of the design fish out there? Elements like typography, color, copy and even an image of yourself can go a long way.
One question I got repeatedly while I met with students was "Did you code your website?". My answer was simply No. There are a ton of website solutions out there that offer great templates for designers and creatives. I currently use Semplice which is built off of WordPress but you can also use Squarespace which is another great option. If you want something more advanced check out Webflow. They are making great tools for designers and I currently use them for my podcast website.
Tip #3: Craft a Unique Cover Letter for Each Job
This was something that was very worrying for students but you definitely don't want to fall into making a templated cover letter and risk sending it with the wrong company's name on it. I like to follow a simple format that I think has worked for a lot of my applications. Each cover letter I include what I admire about the company. How my experience applies to the role. And what I bring to the table that would either improve the company in some way or further their mission. If you're speaking with a hiring manager or directly with the team leader, they want to know that your interested in what they're doing and how you can contribute.
Don't be afraid to keep it short and direct. You can even send it in the email along with the application. The people that are doing the hiring usually don't have a lot of time so anyway that you can help speed up the review process can increase your chances of being contacted.
Tip #4: Reach out to your professors and personal network
Applying for jobs can definitely be exhausting but it can take even longer if everyone around doesn't know you're looking. I can recall more than a few times when I've responded to friend's facebook posts that were beginning their job search. Don't be afraid to also reach out to your professors that you are in good standings with. Most of the time they are involved with the community and may have a lead that they can pass on to you. I have learned that the design community is very friendly when it comes to this. I like to think it's because we have all been there at some point in our careers. My Mother would always say 'Treat people how you would like to be treated' and the design community is no different.
Tip #5: Listen to Industry Podcasts
This is sort of a new little hack that I like to recommend but there are a ton of podcasts out there that focus on design and creative industry. These podcasts talk to experienced designers that work at major companies or own their own. If a studio or company is hiring it can go a long way to understand their thinking, process and how you can be a part of all of that. I currently produce the Wellfed Creative Podcast where I talk with creative leaders about their careers, struggles, and some lighter topics as well. I spoke with the creative directors at Buzzfeed and Refinery 29 and also a few other guests in different parts of the industry. Another one I strongly recommend is Design Matters by Debbie Millman. This one is absolutely necessary for any creative as Debbie is prolific and so amazing. Her guests are always so transparent and discuss topics that every new creative will deal with at some point in their career.
Applying for jobs out of school can be overwhelming. I remember it like it was yesterday. But it doesn't have to be if you follow these tips.
Make sure you craft an awesome interview portfolio that will impress the hiring manager when you meet them.
Get your portfolio website in top shape so when company's visit they learn about your skills and personality.
Write unique cover letters for each job application but keep in mind why you admire the company, how your experience relates and how you can add value to the role.
Connect with your professors and personal network so they can you along in the process.
What are some of your tips that helped when you graduate school and made the job application process a little easier?