20 tips for design interview success

Whether you're an absolute beginner or a seasoned professional, you're probably striving for that ultimate dream design job. The design job interview process can often seem an intimidating maze of challenges that can put you off applying in the first place, but you shouldn't give up on pursuing your design ambitions. 

If you've got the skills, and the right attitude and the right design portfolio, you deserve that job – so let us walk you through some simple but effective tips to both landing that design job interview and sailing through it to get the job...

Getting the interview

Design Interview Tip 6

01. Don't be shy

These days, not every job is advertised in a newspaper or on a website. You have to keep your ear close to the ground. As freelance web designer Jack Osbourne explains: "It's important to make as many connections as possible. Online communities such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook will help you interact with other designers while sites such as Digg and Design Float can provide you with free marketing and help to get your work out there.

"Posting links to your social network profiles also helps you make connections with people, who until now will have been nameless and unknown. When networking, the golden rule is this: don't be shy!"

02. Don't wait for vacancies to appear

There doesn't need to be an actual job vacancy in order for you to get work. If your experience and skillset will help a studio or agency win business, improve its offering or bring an innovative approach to the table, then that studio may try to make a space for you.

Added value cannot be underestimated. Creative agencies are busy places, so if your details hit the right screen at the right time, you could make someone's life easier and bag your dream job interview.

03. Get involved

Creative studios are usually very sociable and like to share their successes. Follow their blogs and tweets, and make insightful comments by way of an introduction. Before your design interview don't just randomly try to link with people you don't know on LinkedIn; join one of their groups and interact first.

04. Get the knowledge

One of the advantages of working within the creative industry is that we are at the cutting edge of innovation. There are lots of really good sites that can keep you up to date with what's new and what's yet to be new, all providing as much or as little info as you require.

Passing the interview

05. Be punctual

It may sound obvious, but arriving late to a job interview creates a bad impression, and feeble excuses about late-running trains or traffic congestion just won't impress anybody. Clear enough time in your schedule that you'll be there in good time and without sweat pouring off you.

06. Do your research

This is the most obvious thing to do when preparing for a design interview, but is all too often forgotten. If your excuse is you 'didn't have time' then you don't want the job enough and your prospective employer will know straight away. Take a close look at the company's site and search the creative press for stories about them. Make sure you also have some questions lined up that show you've done your research.

07. Don't be modest

"One of the most common mistakes in interviews is when a graduate plays down their work" says D&AD judge Ben Casey. "Practise your presentation and don't say 'this is only'... It's hard if you're nervous, but when you've spent weeks on a piece of work you must present it in a positive light."

08. Dress the part

How you present yourself is very important. A good rule of thumb is to dress smart-casual. Wear clothes you are comfortable in: this will also help portray your confidence in a design interview scenario. If you're meeting a creative, don't wear a suit because they won't be. But turning up in shorts and flip-flops for client-side interviews will speed your exit out the door.

09. Sell your skills appropriately

Studios are always looking for people who can add something new to their business, but not at the expense of what they actually want you to do. So don't blurt out your skills with, say, augmented reality apps, before you have given them confidence in your ability to do the specific job you're interviewing for. Instead, portray these additional skills as a good way to add value to the business in future.

10. Remember your resume and portfolio

Just because the company interviewing you has already seen your resume, don't assume that part of the application process is over. You may well be asked to talk through your resume in the interview, so make sure you bring a number of copies in a presentable form, and familiarise yourself with what you say you've done and what you're able to do. And you will almost certainly be asked to talk through your portfolio, so the same goes for that.

Preparing your resume

11. What to include

Start with a mission statement that captures who you are, and really sell yourself. Name-check clients and brands you've worked with in your design interview, and always list your employment in reverse order, current job first. Don't say: "I work well individually, or in a team" – everyone does, it's not a unique skill.

12. Have more than one resume

Creative and digital job titles are invariably ambiguous – as are creatives' abilities. If you can comfortably do three different jobs, then create three different resumes, making sure that each one plays to your relevant strengths. Just remember which one you used to apply for which job – and bring the appropriate one to the interview!

13. Avoid the novelty option

Jason Arber of Pixelsurgeon has had his fair share of novelty resumes. "I've had resumes written on scrunched up paper; arriving in the form of a jigsaw; and playing cards. I've had giant resume posters, inflatable resumes and resumes crafted using delicate and complex paper engineering.

"Obviously these resumes stick in the mind, but they also seem like novelty resumes, too, so if you choose to go down this route, it's a calculated risk. On the one hand you might appear like a creative thinker, on the other it might seem pretentious and excessive. It depends on the recipient."

Preparing your portfolio

14. Print or digital?

Jon Schindehette, art director at Wizards of the Coast, says: "The truth is, you must have both a digital and a printed portfolio. The latter can be a basic mailer or brochure of your work. As far as an online portfolio goes, a bespoke site is always best – but that doesn't necessarily mean coding from scratch. All art directors will agree, though, that you have to follow the Keep it Simple, Stupid formula with your online portfolio, because if it's not simple in its navigation and design, you'll be the one who looks stupid. Oh, and never use Facebook photos to showcase your work: it screams 'amateur'!"

15. Show your best work

Make sure you have a dozen good projects, but always have the strongest three or four in your mind so that you can confidently talk through them if time is short.

16. Empathise with your client

Ben Cox, head of the Central Illustration Agency, reveals what it takes to create a cracking portfolio: "The trick is to empathise with the client at all times. If you were an art director in need of an illustration in a hurry, would your portfolio or site deliver an inspiring and accurate view of your visual language within the first few pages or clicks?

"Would that impression then last throughout if the client decided to spend more time exploring your work? Excite them, yes, but make their job as easy as possible."

17. Focus on quality, not quantity

Although the amount of work included in your portfolio will vary from person to person, that doesn't mean you should cram it full with the kitchen sink. "The thing is, a portfolio is simply a vehicle to show off your talent and attitude," says creative director John McFaul. "Don't stuff it with fluff and crap to make up the numbers – we can see through all that."

18. Tailor your examples

This is a debatable point, with some illustration agents advising against tailoring your portfolio to a particular project pitch or job application, and prospective employers concurring – but tailoring is advisable.

The 'no' camp suggests they want to see your 'whole character' through different styles and projects. But if a subset of your work is wholly irrelevant, or even poor by comparison, do you really want to be judged by it? If in doubt, leave it out.

19. Showcase your personality

Ensure your personality shines through in the interview and your portfolio. Lawrence Zeegen, design guru and lecturer at Ravensbourne University London, explains: "The best portfolios are expressions of the owner's personality, both as a creative designer and – equally important – as a person with opinions, a point of view, a standpoint and a life outside of design.

"The most effective portfolios are those that take the viewer on a journey – tell a story, inspire, impress and innovate. These portfolios are rare, of course, but they are in a place that the most ambitious should aspire to reach."

20. Set yourself briefs

Worried you don't have enough work to present? Want to showcase examples that are specific to the agency? Cox suggests setting yourself briefs.

"If you see an advert or book jacket that strikes you with either its high or low design quality, commission yourself to produce your own version of it, and then include it in your portfolio. You can even layout the body copy to further demonstrate how your self-initiated images can be used in a commercial context."

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