Skip to main content

6 ways not to get hired as a designer

Save 15% on premium images with code 15ISTOCK

When you're desperate to land that dream agency job, or clamouring to win that portfolio-crowning client, it can make you do funny things. Counterproductive, self-sabotaging things. And we're here to help you stop.

No more scratching your head in bemusement when you fall at the last hurdle of a pitch, crash and burn in interview, or fail to turn that internship into a steady job. Because all of these things apply regardless of the level you're at. 

Read on for six of the worst offences you can commit when trying to win work as a designer, and how to avoid them...

01. You're overconfident (or under-confident)

Puffed-up pigeon

Puffing up your chest and shouting your own praises won't win people over

Everyone, from a fresh-faced graduate to a well-seasoned creative director, can be guilty of this one – but of course it manifests itself in different ways. And that fine, dotted line between pitching yourself confidently and enthusiastically, and looking arrogant and entitled, also moves depending on who you're dealing with.

Design is about relationship building. It's about collaboration – both with your team, and with your client – and whether it's an interview for a job or a pitch for a project, if you come across like you think you're God's gift and won't compromise for anyone, that's likely to be an issue, regardless of the quality of your work.

At the other end of the scale, sometimes a little humility and gentle, self-deprecating humour can be endearing – but you'll shoot yourself in the foot if you take it too far. If you're not confident about your work, and the process behind it, why should anyone else be?

02. You forget that other skills matter too 

Block made from Tetris-like pieces

Employers are looking for a full package of skills, not just a list of software proficiencies

We've all seen those entry-level CVs that list very specific design skills or software proficiency. They're sometimes presented as a little bar-chart, with fairly arbitrary percentages applied: you are 90 per cent of the way towards being an artworking superstar, but your UX skills need work, so you're only at 60 per cent.

Word of advice: no one thinks in these terms when hiring, and if anything it'll only draw attention to the weak points. Rather than attempting to rate yourself quantitatively like this, demonstrate your creative skills, and your critical thinking, through your work.

Straightforward design skills and software proficiency aren't enough. Design agencies are multi-disciplinary environments where you need to pitch in at various stages of the process, contribute ideas and solve problems. In other words, you need to show the potential for being more than just a Mac monkey. 

03. You drown people in your entire portfolio

Tsunami wave

Don't overwhelm people with everything you've ever done – leave them wanting more

Again, this is a common mistake that can be made at different ends of the experience spectrum. Whether you're making a creds pitch to a potential client, or showing your first portfolio to a recruiting agency, curation is crucial.

Choosing what to put in your design portfolio can be challenging. As a fresh graduate, it's unlikely that they'll be many live client briefs to choose from – as you get more established, you may have the opposite problem. Know your audience, and tailor things accordingly.

If you're going for your first job, people want to know you understand the principles of design, and can put them into action – but they also want to know that you're passionate, and can develop interesting ideas. With this in mind, balance out college briefs with personal projects where possible – but be selective. It's much better to talk through three fascinating highlights in detail than to scroll through everything and watch your audience glaze over.

Likewise, a creds presentation doesn't have to turn into a blow-by-blow, chronological documentary. A few killer projects that show you have the right attitude, and demonstrate what you can bring to this particular sector or project is more likely to win people over.

04. You burn bridges in front of them


If you badmouth previous relationships in an interview or pitch, you might burn more than one bridge

The design industry is a surprisingly small place. Some creatives stay put for years and move up the ranks internally, others seek career development elsewhere. Whether from events, or pitches, or previous jobs, many creative directors know each other. So bridges should be left intact.

No one will be impressed if you badmouth others, even lightheartedly – after all, what's to say you won't do the same to them? Be diplomatic and professional. Focus on the positives. People want to hire upbeat, motivated staff who can make the best of every situation. 

They may be able to read between the lines, especially if they have first-hand experience of the nightmare agency or client you're discussing, but that'll make you appear all the more impressive for being able to manage the situation.

05. You reek of desperation

Woman draws heart on misted-up glass

You need them to want you as much as you want them: don't just profess your undying (unrequited) love

Gushing platitudes and fawning sycophancy will get you everywhere, right? Er, no. Sure, any agency will love to hear how passionate you are about their work and studio culture, and that you'd love to be part of the team. Clients want to know you respect their brand, and want to collaborate with them to take it to the next level. But remember to have some self-respect.

In similar way to point one, there's a fine dotted line. You need to play it cool enough to look desirable, but not so cool you look disinterested. Ultimately, it's a two-sided process with mutual benefit at heart. They should want you as much as you want them. If it looks like it's a massive favour to hire you, why would they?

Profess your undying love for everything a company does, and not only will it probably make them uncomfortable and awkward, but it also makes it look like they don't need you. Give thoughtful, considered answers that demonstrate what you can bring to the table, and why you'd be an asset that'll make them even better.

06. Your expectations are unrealistic 

Man with dollar signs in eyes


Going into an interview with a comically overinflated sense of your own value isn't going to do you any favours. Likewise, if a game-changing potential client asks you to quote for a job, don't just see dollar signs. Of course, confidence is everything and you don't get if you don't ask, but there are limits.

If a salary bracket is advertised, you have a guideline at least – although that's not to say a company won't be flexible for the right candidate. Pitch a little higher than you're expecting and there's scope for negotiation; pitch outrageously high and you're wasting everyone's time. If no salary is given, ask around and do some research into the going rate at similar agencies in the area.

When it comes to clients, the simple reality is that not all of them are used to budgeting for design – and may need the process, and the costs incurred at different stages of it, explained to them. Not only will this help justify your quote, but it'll also help foster a more open, collaborative relationship in the future that makes them feel like an active participant in the process.

Related articles: