This is from a letter I wrote to the faculty of the Visual Arts Department at Brigham Young University.
Hello BYU faculty, I’m the owner of a firm in Draper that provides graphic and web design services. I get a lot of resumes, emails, and phone calls from recent BYU graduates and students of the design program. Although we do have positions open from time to time, and we do have opportunities to pass work along to freelancers when we’re overloaded, most of the inquiries I receive from students and recent alumni are not successful. This is not necessarily because the individual in question is not talented enough, but often it is because of how they go about the process of trying to get a job.
Perhaps you already have some sort of handout you give your students on the business of being a designer, how to get a job, etc., but if you find my comments to be in any way interesting or useful, please feel free to pass them along to your students. My disclaimer is that these comments are based solely on my own experience, and may or may not apply to other firms (although I suspect they do). I just wrote these up this morning because I got yet another resume from a BYU student and feel that he and others could benefit from a little advice.
10 Tips on How to Get a Job as a Designer
1. Don’t beg. As the owner of a creative agency, I want to hire the best designers. In my mind, the best designers don’t have to beg for a job, agencies should be begging to hire them.
2. Don’t brag. Don’t say things like “I would be an asset to your firm” or “I’m confident I can add value to your company” or “I’m the best designer ever and you’d be an idiot to not hire me for $100K.” Let the potential employer come to his own conclusions about whether you would be an asset, add value, or be the best designer ever. It’s like wearing a t-shirt that says “I’m cool” or something. If you have to say it, then chances are you ain’t got it. This leads to #3…
3. Let your work speak for itself. While things like honesty, a good work-ethic, personality, and the ability to work well with others are important, if your design isn’t up to par those things most likely won’t get you a job. The converse of this is that if your work is good it can cover a lot of other problems. It can’t entirely make up for those other things, but the point is that if you’re being hired as a designer, your employer wants to know that you can do great design, so make sure you have good work and then shove it in his face.
4. Show your work first. I can’t emphasize enough that it’s your work that will get you hired. If I’m right, then you’ll have better luck just sending someone like me an email with a link to your website and saying “I’m looking for work. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for your firm.” If I get an email with a resume attached but no link to an online portfolio then I can’t see your work. If you have a link to your website in your resume, I might miss it. Make it easy for a potential employer to see your work. And the best way to do that is with a website.
5. Get a website. Especially if you’re claiming to do any web design, you better have a website, and it better be a good one. If you’re not sure what a good website is, visit www.linkdup.com or similar websites and take a look at other designers’ portfolios. Make sure you have your own URL for your website. Even if you don’t want to do any web design, I’d still recommend having a website. I’d much rather look at someone’s website than their resume.
6. If you’re going to send a resume, use it to show your skills. I know I’ve played down resumes, but resumes are interesting and if you’re smart you can design your resume in such a way that it works to your advantage. I received a resume from a designer at BYU once that was fantastic. It was very clean, simple, and most employers not involved with creative design would probably never have noticed that it was also very well designed, but I did. That student is our creative director today.
7. Don’t call and don’t drop in. In general, I would recommend not calling a potential employer. That may sound strange (i.e. but how do I know they got the email or mail I sent?), but think about it from the employer’s point of view. If you call and he hasn’t received the email, he’s going to feel awkward, because he can’t remember if he got the email and forgot about it, deleted it, or just didn’t get it. Don’t take the chance of making a potential employer feel awkward. Dropping in is worse because you don’t know what might be going on when you drop in. You don’t want to interrupt a potential employer in the middle of a meeting, or even worse, during his lunch. So how do you follow up? Follow up by mail. It’s not intrusive, and unlike email you’re pretty much guaranteed they’ll receive it.
If the employer sees your work, whether by email or mail, and he likes it, trust me, you’ll hear from him. You won’t need to follow up. Now other agency owners might feel differently about this than I do, but that’s my opinion.
8. When sending mail, use it show your skills. Since I brought up mailing something to a potential employer I might as well say something about what you send in the mail. I was sent a resume by a designer a year and a half ago in the mail. I can’t remember exactly what kind of envelope it came in, but in general if something is hand-addressed it will get opened. Inside was his resume in a creative format. He also had a business card attached with a cool metal paperclip that I believe he designed himself. I didn’t hire him, but I was impressed enough with the presentation of his resume and the talent I could see in it that I held on to it and it’s still sitting on my desk. Granted, it’s under a pile of other stuff, but it’s still there and I see it from time to time. When I do need another designer, guess who’s going to be on the short list?
9. Get to know someone else in the firm. Most of the people I’ve hired have been referred to me by my current employees. Get to know the designers at a firm where you’d like to work. First of all, this will greatly aid your chances of getting an interview with whoever does the hiring, and second you might discover after talking to a designer that you don’t want to work for the agency he’s working for.
10. How do I get to know other designers? Networking. If you want to become known by other designers you’ve got to be social. Thanks to the Internet you can be social and anti-social at the same time. For designers in Utah, there is www.amputate.org, the only online community of designers in Utah that I know of. If you have a website you can also get listed on www.marketingtool.com, www.firmlist.com, or www.webdesignersutah.com and get your name out there. Attend the AIGA events (http://slc.aiga.org) and get to know employed designers so that when their employers ask them who to hire next they’ll think of you.
If you follow these tips, I guarantee your chances of getting employed at my firm will be much, much better, and I suspect they’d help you at other firms as well.Liked it? Share it!
Great list here Josh. I’m going to pass this on to my senior classmates at the University of Utah graphic design program.
I would add another one to your list. When I was Creative Director over at Omniture (nearly 5 years there) I did several interviews while trying to find junior designers. To my surprise nearly half of the applicants that passed the initial screening did not show up with anything to the interview. I realize it may be 2006 here, but I’m still an old fashioned guy and believe that if you’re going to meet with me, bring something to show me! “But it’s online”, they’d say… and then we’d hover around the computer screen and talk about their work. (“Click there”, no, “click there”) Even in the computer age, I want a resume to touch (did you choose an interesting paper?), I want a book to hold (how will they present to me as an employee, a quick email?), and most of all, I want to pull myself away from my computer screen for a few minutes and have a conversation with you, the applicant. Thanks for the great blog!
I have to totally agree with your tips, the amount of times I didn’t get a job because I said I would be a ‘great asset’, turns out they didn’t think so. 🙂