Plenty of people have advice to offer on how to get a design job. But there's no better source than the horse's mouth. Here, Jonathan Denby and Aaron Bali of full-service agency Digital Annexe, share the benefit of their experience on the employers' side of the fence, and offer 10 insightful tips to help you get your foot on the ladder...
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01. Build a toolkit
Arm yourself with the essential tools that you need to get employed. Over the years these have changed but the underlying principle remains the same: they’re designed to show off and amplify the message that you’re good and that hiring you would benefit the agency. But before we jump in, there’s probably a bit of housekeeping.
First? Your resumé. If you have a traditional one, we’d advise you tear it up right away. Resumés are a great tool if used properly but for many creative jobs, a simple Microsoft Word document probably isn’t going to cut it any more.
Next? LinkedIn. It’s a great tool, as are other creative networks, such as Behance and Dribbble - but only when used properly. Bad or partially finished content will just you look amateur. So clear out any useless works-in-progress that don’t put you in a great light.
Finally, if you’re going to publicise the fact you use Twitter/Facebook, be yourself, but spruce things up a bit and don’t allow every other tweet to be about Justin Bieber or One Direction. You want to come across as human - but maybe not that human.
02. Harness your creativity
You need to treat looking for work and applying for jobs as a design brief in itself. Show that you are what you’re trying to portray: creative. Your skillset should drive what you produce, not the vast amounts of what you see other people do because you had a quick Google search for "good resumé examples" (they’re mostly rubbish).
As with any agency looking for new talent, we’ve seen hundreds of resumés. Like snowflakes, they’re all unique, but most of the time they’re also all white, cold and boring.
- If you’re a graphic designer then make something as visual as you can
- If you’re an illustrator then pick up your pencil and paper and turn that into something that represents your style
- Skilled in motion graphics? Then produce a showreel resumé that outlines your skills as well as your visual experience
There’s a great deal of opportunity out there but the only way you’ll win someone over is by being as visual and as eye-catching as possible. Plus, it’s one chance you get to combine the two wonderfully indulgent worlds of creativity and narcissism. So get to it!
03. Use LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a powerful tool built to enhance your online professional presence and allow you to connect with relevant people in your industry area. It also helps you connect with professional groups, which you can use to push your knowledge out there for others to see, or to ask questions and start discussions.
Be sure to fill your profile out as much as possible. Remember:
- More is better: LinkedIn’s algorithm works strongly on key words and buzzwords. Drop them as much as possible into your bio, headline and previous experience areas: you’ll show up in more searches
- Keep it focused. Employers don’t want to know that you used to be a cocktail waitress or candy floss attendant at a theme park during the summer.
- Talk about all your (relevant) experience. LinkedIn has a great section called 'Projects': use this to add as many projects as possible from school/college/university, work experience and any current or past employment (providing the client has signed it off)
- Recommendations. Write recommendations for people in order to invite them to write about you. Target bosses both old and new, as well as tutors, and consider friends from courses and ex-colleagues as well. You can’t beat word of mouth
- Follow companies. Show you’re interested in the industry by following the agencies you’re interested in, as well as recruiters in the city/area you’re looking. This will help them match you to any upcoming roles and you’ll be notified in your feed about jobs of interest
LinkedIn also has a powerful jobs section. This allows you to, in a few clicks, apply for a job and track the progress of your application in a dedicated section on the site.
04. Use portfolio sites
Dribbble, Cargo Collective, DeviantArt and Behance are all great tools in which to get your work out there, but just putting it on these sites is no guarantee anyone will look at it. So make sure you also match your uploads with supporting posts on your personal blog and/or online design portfolio.
Be as active as you can on the web and use all channels possible to get your message out there. You never know where your next opportunity might come from.
05. Get experience
Many people find that offering to work for free, via organised internships and more loosely organised volunteer work, helps them eventually get their first paid job. You don’t necessarily have to do this, but the long term benefits are obvious - you gain experience, you gain industry contacts and you get a firm footing on the ladder.
If your financial sitation rules this out, though, then why not push yourself out there as a freelance professional? There are a range of sites and services, such as Blur Group or Freelancers.net, which have regular briefs and allow you to participate in what are effectively pitches. Here, you’ll present your thoughts and ideas against a brief and give yourself the experience you need to take things forward within an agency environment.
06. Look for openings
To find your first design job you'll need to scour agency websites like the plague. This way you’re doing a few things:
- You’re more likely to get an interview as you’re missing out the middleman - thus saving the agency a load of money on commission, finder’s fees, etc
- You’re going directly to the stakeholder who'd be responsible for you. Recruitment agencies will always go through a process of screening and, if they don’t like you, they won't pass on your details
- You’ll come across as proactive in your approach to employment, which shows your willingness to be a part of that team
- You can establish direct contact with your potential employers early, which allows them to get to know you better and breaks down the walls of formality
07. Try recruitment agencies
The above point doesn't mean you should discount recruitment agencies. Here in London for example, there are great recruitment agencies such as DigitalGurus, Source, Propel and Purple who you could try. You should also check magazine sites such as Marketing Week, Campaign Live, The Drum and eConsultancy, which will list the most up-to-date agency jobs.
Another site that we’re a big fan of is Creative Pool. You can set up different profiles depending on the type of work you’re looking for (permanent, contract or freelance) and a lot of agencies will use this service to put themselves out there.
08. Do your interview prep
So. You've tidied up your online presence, made a tasteful yet eye-catching design portfolio, and found a job you’d love. You've applied, got the call, and they want you to attend a job interview. Showtime.
What to wear
If there’s one piece of advice we'd give at this point, it's to be yourself. Present yourself well but don’t overdo it. The majority of agencies don't expect their employees to wear formal businesswear - suits, jackets, etc - so neither should you. That said, it’s still an interview, so they don’t want to see you in your battered trainers and ripped jeans. Just look the best you can, and keep a hint of your personality in how you present yourself.
Show your work
Ensure you prepare some decent material for the day as well. The interviewer will have already seen your portfolio and all the other bits we’ve spoken about previously.
Agencies often like to present you with a brief to work on before the interview. If that's not the case, then do something nice you can leave with them. If you can relate it to the agency's brand and it shows off your skills, then you’re on to a winner.
09. And that's not all...
It would be massively presumptuous of us to believe that following this advice alone will land you that job. It will certainly get a good way down that long and winding road of establishing yourself a career path, but the extra 10 per cent that lands you the perfect job comes down to you.
Think about the type of person you'd be looking for if you were in their shoes: a passionate, versatile, excited, self-motivated person who can work as a part of a team and is willing to go that extra mile to achieve real world results. And remember the following points:
- Be yourself throughout the entire process
- Always apply your creative skill set where possible
- Keep everything relevant, and cut out any superfluous noise
- Back everything up - university results, client feedback, LinkedIn recommendations
- Use every channel possible to get your message out there
- Be different
10. Further reading
You'll find more tips and inspiration to help you get a design job in the following articles:
- How to get a career in graphic design: 10 pro tips
- How to get a job at Pixar Studios
- Discover the top 20 networking tips for designers
- 11 brilliantly inventive guerrilla job resumés
- 20 inspiring examples of design portfolios
- Create a portfolio website using Behance ProSite
No one approach is ever the same when it comes to potential employers, so don’t be afraid to mix things up a little and step outside of your comfort zone when presenting. Other than that, we can only wish you the best of luck in joining us as a part of the big, bad but ultimately friendly creative world. See you soon!
Jonathan Denby and Aaron Bali work at Digital Annexe, a full-service creative agency with clients including Laura Ashley, Mercedes-Benz and Massey Ferguson. As DJs, illustrators, musicians, comedians and more, this versatile team brings the drive and enthusiasm they employ in their daily lifestyles into the digital space.