9 mistakes designers make so to be not invited for an interview

It has been two years since I’m working as an interactive art director in digital agencies in total. Last half of a year I’m doing this job for Nimax Agency, which is well-known prolific agency in Saint Petersburg. Everytime I have an upcoming task to hire a designer or to find a freelancer for a project I became disinclined as I know that the next two weeks I’ll be facing the same mistakes in job applications.
Watch this: we usually get 50 resumes for a junior/middle web designer, I go thoroughly through 20 of them (the rest get prefiltered by HR), 6 of candidates are invited for an interview, 1 we hire. It’s 50 to 1.

Here is the very last numbers for an advanced UI designer we looked for in this spring: 28–4–1–1.

And no, we are not that meticulous people, we don’t scrutinise a candidate under microscope, still we invite for an interview so few people and the only candidate has no rivals. The rest 49 must remember this 9 pieces of advice:

1. Read and reread a vacancy description

Seems obvious? If only everyone did this! You’re just wasting recruiter’s time by skipping it. Read it thrice, analyze and compare it with your abilities! Start your mail with reassuring receiver that you’re the best candidate for this certain position.

2. Make a short but memorable covering letter

Don’t underappreciate it. Covering letter is your chance to make a right first impression! You’re the one in a long line of letters in mailbox. Chances are creative director will not remember your name even. Add something peculiar about yourself. Then creative director can ask about you like that:

Hey, and how’s the guy who works on vertically orientated monitor doing?

Don’t do it neither too short nor big. 1–2 paragraph would be enough.

You should also try to make your covering letter looks unique, I’m aware that you’ve sent 3 requests this week, but work on quality not quantity.

3. Point out only relevant work experience

4 years in publishing and 1 in web development do not enough for a senior position in web. Сross out your McDonalds experience and leadership qualities you got there.

It usually goes like this:

  1. less than a year of relevant work experience for a trainee,
  2. 1–2 years for a junior designer,
  3. 2–4 years for a middle position, more then for a senior.

Yet if you want to emphasise the number of years in total or you’re switching your career dramatically make a summary, but not itemize your duties as an accountant when applying for a designer.

4. Think about a format of your portfolio

The most preferable way is a personal web site. It provides more information about a candidate as a designer than a template portfolio platforms as Behance do. It also shows the effort one did for demonstrating their works.

As I see it, personal web sites is a must have for a senior or an art director positions. Here is mine, by the way. I made it on Semplice which is not required you to know coding.

My second rate goes for Behance and similar basic portfolio publishers which have no much customisation options. It’s quick to make and predictable for viewer. But tells nothing additional to your personality. But if your a junior/middle it’s enough.

If you have a stellar Behance profile send it with or before your website link for any position, though.

On the top of that, add Dribbble account, it’ll give you points.

5. Show the best cases only

It’s time-consuming to go through cases and it’s easy to lost an interest. So show the best you’ve got!

  1. 3–5 cases for junior,
  2. 6–7 for middle,
  3. 8–10 for senior.

Certaintly 3 projects is not enough for senior position . Any team need a predictable quality, so demonstrate how you develop your style through projects and how confident you are.

6. Focus on one direction until you made it

Often you can see a junior designer which is doing everything: web, mobile, branding, calligraphy, whatever. It’s good to have an interest in different directions but usually the base is not that strong to handle everything. You better off mastering one aspect. Place 100% of your efforts on it and make you portfolio focused (have multiple portfolios for multiple positions if you like or can’t decide which one to choose).

When you start feeling ground in one direction, start experimenting. However don’t go to far, it’s a lot of things you don’t know yet, I’m dead sure. 80% of your effort should lay on one field. You better choose the one you like the most by now.

You can have as diverse works as you like when you’re senior, it’ll only evolve your style, not distract.

7. Check your social profiles critically

Episode from Social Network movie.

Cause an agency will do :) I’m not insisting on making your Facebook sterile, but be sure you match the company’s vision. If you’re not sure what vision the company has, check it’s public profiles and find people who work there.

Erase or hide what you find will inappropriate, it’s perfectly normal. Once they will know you as a person they will ok with your bachelor parties.

8. Add description and players in projects

Everyone wants to make sure their mockups look flawless, but to make them understandable is important too. Designer is not only about impecable pixels, yet about solving client problems too. Describe a problem, solution and your way between.

And don’t forget your co-workers and their roles on a project. If you had an art director emphasise what work was done by you in particular.

9. Pour some details and elements

By showing the details you demonstrate your love and involvement in a project. 4–5 screens is a minimum to display. Add responsive mockups, interactions, icons, buttons, anything that support your main idea.


Three years ago I had an ambition to work for Nimax, but they declined my application. I didn’t hold a grudge or lost faith in myself, I kept working and year and a half later sent them the second request where I discribed what I had learned during these years and chalked up to experience. Long story short, I have been working there since that.

So, “no” is not a fatal answer, it’s a trigger. Ask a piece of advice from the recruiter, if they liked you they will give you some.

Hopefully you will get only possitive ones :)

Cheers,
Inessa.