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How to get a design job — A Creative Directors perspective

We’ve recently recruited in-house to bring on a new designer. It’s been a great experience and we thought it would be useful to put together some advice on how to standout and ultimately help you towards scoring the job you’ve been looking for or even open up the possibility of new avenues.

Despite the extremely high caliber of applicants, it was amazing to see how many simple things were overlooked. Some of this might seem really obvious, but its worth taking the time to consider all of this.

We believe it’s important to invest time in the recruiting process to find the right person. We value that our applicants are investing time too, so we are always happy to provide feedback to any unsuccessful applicants with the hope that it helps them to find their perfect fit somewhere or may be even come back with a fresh outlook in the future. Our response to this is overwhelmingly positive.

Change is good. So you want a new job? Here’s our tips on how to standout and feel confident doing it.

Do you want a job, or do you want THIS job?

U wot m8.

Honestly, this is like night and day. It’s blindingly obvious when you are copying and pasting an email and just attaching your CV & Portfolio (at least try and format all the fonts to be the same if you’re doing that 😂). Some people even skip all the formalities and literally just send a Portfolio or a CV. Honestly don’t even waste your time. It comes across as either lazy or arrogant, is that the first impression you want to give a potential employer?

“Some people even skip all the formalities and literally just send a Portfolio or a CV. Honestly don’t even waste your time.”

Some context for consideration. We are a studio of 9, based in the UK & Asia. For our recent role (Junior — Mid-Weight Designer) we had over 100 applicants within about a 2 week period. This was fully localised targeting to Bristol and we only listed the vacancy via our own social media platforms and one local job listing site, not using any recruiters. I’m sure you can get an idea of what numbers would be like for a much larger agency.

The hard truth is that there are more designers than there are agencies and positions available right now. Due to the current climate and recent uncertainty in our country it is more common to hear of redundancies and agencies closing than it is that someone is expanding or a new agency has started up. That’s not to say it isn’t happening, but there has been a noticeable shift in the last few years. Job security has been an ongoing theme that applicants brought up that they are looking to find within their role.

So ask yourself. Do you just want a job, or do you want THIS job? If you really want the job you are applying for, show it, because other people will and they will get the job over you because of it.

Research the company

Don’t stress. There are still a hell of lot of brands, agencies and studios out there. If you have heard of the company before, or even better, you’re a fan of their work then that’s great. But the reality is, if you are actively looking for job vacancies you haven’t heard of a lot of the places you are applying for, and that’s ok. What ever you do, don’t fake it, because you’ll get caught out and it looks bad. Every week someone mentions an agency I’ve never heard of that’s literally around the corner and I feel I’m pretty on top of the landscape . That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the potential to be your dream job.

Spend time to do some research on who you’re applying for. Here’s 2 good reasons why:

  1. If you’re come across a job vacancy through a 3rd party listing, see if there is a more direct route to apply. And I don’t mean find the CEO’s email and contact them directly, this a great way to get aired straight away. The majority of the time companies will have a jobs section on their site, or as we did, listed it on their socials which has a process to follow. It just looks better to see that you have come direct from the brand itself. Follow the application process correctly.
  2. Knowledge. It’s really obvious (especially at interview stage) where you can tell someone really doesn’t know your brand and the work you’ve done. We aren’t expecting you to be our biggest fans or even to have knowledge of us prior to the application (this is always great to hear though) but a lot places will. That said, we do expect you to know a bit about what we do and so will everyone else, so it’s really valuable for you to invest a little bit of time to have that insight. Find something you really like about them that you can confidently talk about.

Don’t tell your life story

Covering emails/letters will not get read in detail initially. They are there to be skimmed and quickly separate the stand-outs from the zero efforts. They should be a direct response to the job description.

Keep it short and personal.

This is the baseline of a great application, follow this and you’ll set a good foundation:

CV — The Facts
Keep it clean, easy to read at a glance and reference. Ideally a single A4 page pdf.

  • Your contact details.
  • Your skills.
  • Your previous experience / job history.
  • Software you are familiar with.
  • Education (Not as important unless industry specific/relevant)

Portfolio — The Sell
This your opportunity to shine and show off your best work. We would recommend it be a landscape 16:9 (1920 x 1080px ideally) pdf file. Don’t try and get fancy with other ways of presenting it. This format works best as its the most viewable file format and it’s easy to view on screen and some agencies like to print them out (think of the trees), this size format makes it easy to do.

It’s becoming more common place for people to have website portfolios. This is great, but this should ideally be in addition to a traditional pdf portfolio.

  • PDF Portfolio — 16:9 (1920 x 1080px Minimum).
  • Website (Optional & In addition to pdf version).
  • It should contain your best, but also importantly, your favourite work.
  • Don’t just show the designs and mockups. Briefly explain what you did, why you did it and the result.
  • If possible, tailor the work in it to the job you’re applying for. It’s better to have 3–5 great relevant pieces rather than having to sift through 10+ that have no context or relevance.

Covering Email / Letter — Your personality & awareness
This should be a direct response to the job application. It’s also the first opportunity you have to inject some of your personality. Most will usually ask for a reason why you think you would be best for the role. Keep it short, don’t waffle on brown nosing and do not list off all the things in your CV and Portfolio.

  • Include anything relevant to the job description that your CV or Portfolio does not cover.
  • Keep it short and sweet, a paragraph or 2 at most.
  • Inject some of your personality, may be a line about yourself outside of work.
  • Read it back out loud. Does it sound like how you talk in person? You are not a list — you’re a human, make it sound like that.

Tailor your application

If you’re applying for lots of jobs, set up some templates so it’s more efficient for you to apply with more variety. Work out where it’s valuable for you to inject some personality and details specifically for the company you’re approaching.

Have you actually read the job description?

This brings us on to the job description. Not all of the advice we are giving here will apply to every role; this is very much a guide, not a set of rules. One thing is for sure though; no two jobs will have the same job description.

Don’t waste your time or the people looking to employ you.

If you don’t read the job description it’s probably not even worth applying. It’s a waste of your time and the companies that you are applying to.

You should be able to work out from the the job description if this job is the right fit or not. Most places will have a minimum required skill set and then desired / additional skills.

If you’re missing required skills, ask yourself if you could do that. If you think you can, prove it to yourself. Learn a new skill or even a few and create a sweet portfolio project out of it.

Are you relevant?

You have all the skills required. You feel your portfolio is the best it can be. But you feel like you are still hitting a wall?

Are you stuck?

Design is as much about the now, as it is the what’s next. We are problem solvers and innovators. Have you got caught in a routine and subconsciously fallen into a rut?

There are plenty of creative sites out there to drive inspiration, and with showcase sites like Behance & Dribbble at our disposal its easy to see what is current with design trends and the level of expectation from clients and ultimately the designers who are creating them.

Also check news sites like Brand New, Creative Bloq & It’s Nice That to find out what going on in the industry and get yourself inspired.

Or just step away from a screen for a bit. Go check out a gallery or just go for a walk somewhere new. Do you something out of your routine to get your brain funk going.

Get creative

With all of this is in mind, you’d expect that most designers can do good design. You would like to think the same about yourself, otherwise you wouldn’t be applying for design roles right? So what separates you from the others? What are your strengths?

Positive Vibes — Personal piece from myself.

I would always recommend people have a passion project in their portfolio. It shows you are passionate and have the drive to do more. It’s also a perfect opportunity for you to create your dream brief or do something you’ve been craving to create. As mentioned above, may be even learn something new and most importantly showcase the breadth of your skills. If you get to an interview stage, nothing is more appealing than seeing someone genuinely excited and passionate about a bit of work they have created.

When the brain funk kicks in.

Health is Wealth

This section is subjective. This is very much an opinion and you should form your own decisions about how you value yourself, I am certainly not trying to imply you should ever undervalue yourself. However I feel some of this is often overlooked as a consideration when applying for jobs based on the salary. It can be quite damaging to your confidence if you focus solely on how much you are going to earn.

Most people will have a salary expectation and if you don’t you can quickly get an idea of it by asking friends in the same industry or viewing job listings. We have a tendency in the UK to find talking about salaries as a bit of a taboo, but it’s a really important part of applying for a job, so you should feel confident about your expectation.

It’s a given that a category such as design would have wide range of salary’s. They will usually be related to:

  • Job Title / Position
  • Experience
  • Skill Set
  • Location
  • Size of Company*

Skill set, experience and location are common expectations when it comes to valuing a role. Job Titles can get blurry, I would always advise to check the job description over the job title as people have different interpretations of them which can lead to wildly different salaries for the same “position”.

Which leads me into something people tend to overlook, the size of the company and it’s own positioning. Something which can either be found in the job description, or having knowledge of the company. A general rule of thumb is; the bigger the company and it’s client base, the higher the salary. I like to call this *SAT (Stress Added Tax).

Commonly a large agency will pay a higher salary for the same position as a much smaller studio, there are lots of factors for this and there are pros and cons either way and this is not the place to list them. However when you are applying for a role you should give yourself a fair range when considering who you are going to be applying for.

If you have a figure in your head, don’t get too fixated on it and work out where you can negotiate on that. One figure doesn’t really fit all.

Free pizza Fridays? Hecking yes!

What you want to consider is the value of the position. Salary is just one part of that. We spend a huge amount of our lives in our workplaces and so you should look at the bigger picture. Will you be happy working there. Are there any additional benefits to working at this company. Is this a fixed position role or is there opportunity for you to up skill and work your way up in the company. These are just a few things to consider and there’s no right answer, it’s what you personally want to get out of it, but you need to think about that and should have a strong idea about what you want to achieve in the role and where your value in the position of the role is weighted.

Contact your dream brands & studios

Dare to dream. Feel like the right job just doesn’t seem to exist? Maybe it does, but that someone doesn’t know it yet. Or may be you are aligned with someone just as they are about to start the process to find someone like you.

Introduce yourself to your favourite agencies, studios and brands. Putting yourself on their radar might lead you into a great opportunity. They might even know of another place that would be a great fit for you. It’s also not uncommon that they might be due to advertise a role in the not to distant future. If you end up applying for a role with someone you have already touched base with you are going to be at an advantage of interest already.

This is also a good opportunity to ask for feedback. What would it take to work for this company. Quite a few companies have processes in place to get to certain roles, it’s always worth getting insight into this if you can.

However, don’t expect a response…

The Follow Up

Ask for feedback, but don’t expect it

If you’re unsuccessful don’t beat yourself up too much. It goes without saying that in terms of landing a job in this industry it’s very competitive. There are plenty of opportunities out there and you will find your groove and get to where you want to be with a bit of work.

This goes well for a lot of things in life.

Asking for feedback is a great way for you to learn a bit more about why you weren’t the right fit this time round. However don’t expect to get any, you’re not entitled to get any, so don’t feel you have a right. Most agencies will not have time or capacity with the volume of applications to respond, so don’t feel disheartened if you don’t get a response, it’s not personal — they’re running a business. We will always provide feedback at Maya if it’s requested as we value our processes that we have in place and your time.

It’s important to an opinion. Always ask, never expect.

Interviewing

Firstly, congratulations for getting through to an interview.

Go you.

As with job applications, no 2 interviews will be the same. It’s highly likely the interview for the role you are applying for has been tailored to each person in some form.

It goes without saying — make some fucking effort.

  • Don’t be late.
  • Don’t have a shitty attitude.
  • Take care of your appearance.
Have you just been for walkies?

Give yourself some space before the interview. If you’re currently in a job and interviewing while at work, try to schedule it when you can give yourself at least 30mins of downtime before the interview. Turning up in a rush is not a good look. Communicate issues in advance. If you’re running late due to unforeseen circumstances, let the interviewers know as soon as possible. We’ve all had to wait around for someone without knowing where they were or them not letting you know they were going to be late… don’t be that guy, would you employ them?

We all have shitty days and they suck. Don’t bring it to an interview. If its a really important interview to you and things are really bad, see if you can reschedule. If you can’t, give them a heads up and make sure you give yourself some clear head space time before you go in, be honest with the interviewers but don’t use it as an excuse. It’s a waste of your time and the interviewers if your head isn’t in the right place.

Be professional. If you hit it off well with the interviewers that’s great, but remember they are looking to employ you as a professional person, not as a mate. Rain it in and save some of that for once you’ve got the job.

In the words of the ever wise Dizzee Rascal — Fix up, look sharp. You’re making a first impression and if you’re turning up like you’ve just got back from Glastonbury or just got out of bed, that isn’t going to win you any points. Keep it sharp — but importantly keep it true to yourself and own it.

If you’re lucky you will have been told what the interview will entail. If so make sure you are ready with answers to questions that will likely be raised. There’s nothing wrong with bringing notes. Bringing a notepad and pen is a great way to relax yourself and prompt you about things, taking notes shows you are genuinely interested and also helps to control the pace a little bit.

If you are going in blind, plan your own interview so that you can pitch and present yourself confidently.

Commonly this is what will be expected of you:

  • Why you are the right person for the role.
  • Your strengths & weaknesses.
  • Specific skill set requirement questions, usually on experience and application of these.
  • Your portfolio and talking through the work and what you have done.
  • Questions you have specific to the job role & about the company.
  • Salary Expectation.

You will more than likely be thrown off guard by something, usually a question you weren’t expecting. Not everyone is as quick to process responses so don’t feel rushed to give a snap response or skip over it without a response if you can’t think of something off the bat. Just communicate that it’s a really good question and you need a minute to think about it, clear your head and take the time you need. If you are getting a mental block, just be honest. We’re all human and sometimes the pressure can get to us. Make a note of it (if you’ve bought a notepad) and if you get an opportunity to come back to it, you can.

It’s more than likely you will get asked if you have any questions at the end. Think about this before the interview, if you are excited about the role you should have loads of things you want to know. Sometimes everything is covered in the interview, however if you don’t ask any questions this will usually look less than ideal. If you’re stuck, and can’t think of anything these are two great questions to ask the interviewer/s:

  • What do you least enjoy about working here?
  • What is the best thing about working for this company?

This can be very insightful into the value of some of the benefits and the quality of life being an employee there.

Good luck!

Remember to keep doing what makes you happy, as even if you don’t get the position you were hoping for, you can always keep growing yourself as a designer which may lead to new opportunities you weren’t even expecting.

You got this.

Every application and interview is more experience.

We’re very blessed to be in an industry where we can get so much enjoyment out of our creativity, so don’t lose that.

Hopefully this should fuel you with some confidence to get out there and start applying for jobs.

Words: @cllris
Images: @hellomayaagency / @colouryum / @giphy

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