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Design career special: Pentagram partner Michael Bierut reveals how to make the cut – and what makes him want to cry

Pentagram partner Michael Bierut looks for three things in prospective employees: “Intelligence, curiosity and passion.” But that, he says, isn't always enough...

“I like people who, in talking about their work, scratch below the surface," he explains. "Don’t talk about typefaces and Photoshop effects; talk about the subject matter, and how that interested and inspired you."

This article was first published in The Design Career Handbook, on sale now. You'll find the print version here, and the digital version on Apple Newsstand (UK edition or US edition).

This article was first published in The Design Career Handbook, on sale now. You'll find the print version here, and the digital version on Apple Newsstand (UK edition or US edition).

Bierut has worked on iconic projects for brands including Benetton, the Walt Disney Company and the New York Jets, winning hundreds of awards in a career spanning four decades. In this time, he’s learned a thing or two about what makes a successful design job applicant.

“The best,” he says, “are people who are bright and articulate, and have great work in their portfolio. I could sit with them all day. The second best have great work but can’t talk about it intelligently. That takes work, but still it’s worth the effort.”

These applicants, Bierut adds, will have invariably researched the company and position they’re interviewing for. A little fact-finding goes a very long way. And when a lot of the information you need is just a Google search away, there’s no excuse not to.

“Next,” he continues, “come people who have terrible work and who are inarticulate. In this case I just try to be polite."

"The very worst are people who have terrible work, but somehow are bright and articulate in describing it – detail after awful detail. This is an unlikely and terrifying combination, but it does exist, and it makes me want to hide under the table and cry.”

Pentagram interviewees: you've been warned!

This article was first published in The Design Career Handbook, on sale now. You'll find the print version here, and the digital version on Apple Newsstand (UK edition or US edition).