10 Tips for Doing Well in Design Interviews
Creativity is a rare beast. It’s a blessing if you’re born with it, a feat of accomplishment if you can learn it, and an act of kindness if you teach it. Right now, the pool of great designers is stocked with those just getting started in their careers and those who are looking to move on to more interesting opportunities. No matter what your reason is for seeking a creative career, or how great your work is, I’d like to share some tips and tricks that can help you ace your job interviews.
1. Be Yourself
There’s nothing worse than trying to be someone you’re not. Embrace who you are and your own creative process.
And if you’re nervous before a job interview, that’s alright. If you feel a little uncomfortable at the start of the interview, just admit to feeling a bit anxious, smile, and get on with it.
Own that nervous energy. If you care so much about getting the job, it’s normal to be a bit nervous. And that’s a good thing.
2. Dress for the Part
People are most comfortable and receptive when dealing with people they have something in common with. An easy point of alignment is appearance.
Knowing the culture of the company you’re interviewing in can give you strong clues on how to present yourself.
If you want the job, start by visually fitting in. That may seem like it’s in direct conflict with the tip above about being yourself, but for the first meeting at least, let all of the bold statements come from your work or from you, and not your clothing.
3. Show Your Best Work
What should you show? Only show your best work.
For a completed project that you’re presenting, you can discuss the following:
- a brief overview of the project
- your role in the project
- the creative process you used to get your job done
You can show sketches, mood boards or anything that tells a compelling story about you and your projects.
What’s your specialty? Is it identity design, web design, ad campaigns, mobile app icons? Everything? Find the things you love to do most and focus your story on that.
Feeling like your existing portfolio of work doesn’t quite tell your story? Make more work. Open up Photoshop or Illustrator and start making things. You could choose some of your existing pieces and then redesign it. You can also create new stuff. Do whatever makes you comfortable with your portfolio.
4. Be Honest
Be clear about what part you did on the projects you’re discussing in an interview.
Give credit to your managers, colleagues and subordinates. There’s nothing worse than a designer with a brilliant portfolio that gives no credit to his or her team.
Also, you should talk about your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Good agencies will hire someone who is passionate about their work and who has the right attitude, over someone who’s great but has a bad attitude. Don’t be afraid to be upfront with your personal weaknesses. Nobody’s perfect.
5. Do Your Homework
Know the company and the job you’re applying for. Dig into their portfolio, case studies, site content, etc.
If you know someone who already works there, you can invite them to grab coffee with you and chat about the company.
Great designers do everything by design, including how they interact with people. This applies to job interviews. Know the people you’re interviewing with. Cyber-stalk them. (Stalking is a good thing here.) Understand their passions, interests and find a common ground. Know if you’re speaking to a creative director versus a project manager versus a business development person because these sorts of things all matter.
During the interview, ask your interviewer/s lots of questions. You’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you.
If you do nothing else, at least be prepared to answer the question, "Why do you want to work here?" and other variants of that question.
6. Be Proactive
Agencies get hundreds, or even thousands, of applicants each year. If you send your stuff out and don’t hear back, don’t be afraid to follow up. Dig up their phone number or send a handwritten or well-designed letter.
You have to do something to stand out from the crowd because — spoiler alert — you aren’t the only designer applying for the job.
If you really want to work at a particular company, you can even design your way into their company. Do an uninvited design of their site or one of their client projects; make a digital or printed love letter (seriously). Things like that have made people like Dustin Curtis (who redesigned the American Airlines site) stand out and have helped the likes of Andrew Kim get a gig at Microsoft to lead the company’s branding and marketing.
During the interview, ask them pointed questions like "If you decided I was a great fit for your team, what areas would I be able to help you with?"
7. Learn to Sell
David Ogilvy said it best, "If it does not sell, then it is not creative."
If you can’t sell yourself and your work, you’re going to find it tough to land a good design job.
Learn how to articulate your work, the design decisions you made in them, and how these decisions affect the audience of your work.
No matter what the medium is, it’s important that you’re able to describe the "what" and "why" of your creations. No matter how good the work is, it will not sell itself, especially if the person viewing it isn’t a designer.
And, nine times out of ten, people you present your work to will not be designers. Learn some business terms to link with the design process.
8. Be Confident, Not Cocky
Nobody likes a design diva — they’re not fun to work with.
You can be bold and confident about your portfolio and make an effort to make a good impression by sharing your strengths, but don’t be cocky. The best designers are often the ones with the greatest attitude or outlook on things.
People want to work with other people, not "rock stars" with bad attitudes or know-it-all mentalities.
9. Have a Thick Skin
Design as a career is tough. It requires focus and drive, as well as the ability to throw your hard work away and start over if it’s not right for the project. Whether you’re a student applying for your first internship or an executive creative director pitching a CEO, you will always encounter criticism. You have to learn how to deal with your critics well.
During your interview, go ahead and defend your work appropriately, especially if it’s something you’re truly proud of, but also learn and take feedback no matter how harsh it seems.
Learn from one of the greatest athletes in history, who has practiced and failed thousands of times, in a quest to master his craft:
"I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career.
I’ve lost almost 300 games.
26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.
And that is why I succeed."
10. Design is Not Art!
Design exists to enhance and advance the message being sent.
Art is primarily for self-expression, while Design benefits someone (or something) else: your audience, your clients, your bosses, and your career).
Design is business with artistic components. The best designers know the intricacies of user experience design and other buzzwords that focus design towards those that are meant to view and use it.
As Steve Jobs said, "Design isn’t how it looks, design is how it works."
We can take that statement both literally and metaphorically. The best designers serve the needs of their viewers/users.
During your interview, you must show a great understanding of your audience.
You should also show how deeply you know your craft. Study and know the fundamentals. Be great at the fundamentals.
Some great reads for designers trying to master the craft of design:
- Design Is a Job
- The Laws of Simplicity
- The Elements of Typographic Style
- Ogilvy on Advertising
- Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Deliver
- slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations
- Primalbranding: Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company, and Your Future