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How to Apply for a Design Job

January 24, 2013

How To Apply In Design

It’s that time of the year again. The time when mass panic spreads through senior studios because it’s almost time to face the cold hard world. (shudder)

I remember the fear and uncertainty I felt as graduation approached and I still hadn’t found a job. Gavin and I found ourselves running out of money and job prospects as graduation approached. I had so many questions: Why weren’t companies responding to me? Why wasn’t I the applicant they wanted? What was I doing wrong? I knew my work was strong, but for some reason I wasn’t getting the responses I expected.

I was doing almost everything wrong, and until I sat on the other side of the desk I had no idea. So here are some tips for those of you about to graduate. Keep in mind that I’m just one dude and these are my opinions.

While we were traveling we got a chance to ask some pretty rad designers for advice. Here is a short video with some great advice for students, from working designers, students, and educators.

Lets start with what you should do. Most of these bits of advice might seem obvious, but I wish I’d had this list when I was approaching graduation.

1. Do Your Research

You need to be familiar with the company you are applying to. Include some details about the company in your email and how you can help the company specifically. It doesn’t need to be a novel, just something that shows you’ve at least looked at the companies work. If you can, find our who you are emailing in order to make the email more personal.

2.Get a Website

Attaching a .pdf is an acceptable way to send over a portfolio, but a simple portfolio website is much quicker and easier for someone to look through. If you can’t develop a badass website, go grab a simple theme from themeforest or a similar site. The easier you make it for a person looking through a ton of applicants the happier they’ll be.

3. Send a Follow Up Email 3-4 Days Later

If you don’t hear anything back after a couple days it is okay to send a follow up email asking if they had any questions, or would like you to come in for an interview.  When the person hiring is swamped with emails, sometimes seeing someones work twice can be enough to get an interview.

4. Show Your Best Work

Put your best foot forward, and start your portfolio with your strongest pieces. Seeing something awesome can make the person sorting through the portfolios dig deeper into your work.

5. Include your Personality

Most designers are cool people, don’t write your email like your applying to be the Queen of England. I’m not saying address the email “Hey Dudes,” but putting some of your voice into the email is never a bad thing.

6. Include Social Media Links

Let them see who you are outside of work. Working in a design firm means you’ll be part of a team, and they’ll want to know if you fit in. Don’t worry about hiding those pictures of you at a bar, most designers will be happy to know you’ll come to the company happy hour. You want to fit in and be happy where you work, so showing them your personality outside of work can help you find that right fit.

7. Be Confident

Be proud of your portfolio, and let them know that you’ll bust your ass to produce great work. Passion and confidence are contagious, and everyone wants someone with those qualities on their team.

You’ve won the battle! Now don’t shoot yourself in the foot and lose the war. Here is a list of things that can really screw you over

1. Never “Drive by Apply”

It is terribly obvious when someone is sending the same email to 200 companies at once. These normally go straight to the “I’ll check that later” pile.  Sending a copy and paste email just comes off as lazy, and no one wants a lazy designer. Like I said before, include some relevant information about the company.

2. Don’t Sound Overly Formal

If I get an email that sounds like my high school english teacher wrote it, I have terrible flash backs and my eyes glaze over. Having a large vocabulary is a great thing, but your email needs to be as efficient as possible.

3. Stop sending Irrelevant Work.

Only send your best work that directly applies to the position. Don’t send me your mobile app portfolio when you’re applying to be a t-shirt artist. You could argue that there is some cross over there, but if everyone else is sending relevant work your portfolio comes up short in comparison.

4.Don’t Have 15 Sections on You Website (and send me to the homepage)

Companies love when people are multi-talented but I hate searching peoples site for relevant work. Direct me to the page you want to show me, and if I’m curious I’ll poke around. Also, if you have multiple categories on your site (designer/photographer/etc) make sure they’re all badass. Don’t put up a painting you did in a freshman studio to show your versatility, if its really bad it can tarnish your whole portfolio. Unless the job post asks for a multitalented person, they’ll normally have enough work to keep you really busy doing the thing you’re best at.

5. Don’t Send Silly Videos.

If you really want to jump on the video resume band wagon then show me your personality, be earnest, and show me some work. Sending over something like this just makes me cringe and move on. Videos are such a hard thing to pull off without being awkward that I would advise you to pass on them all together.

6. Don’t Send Your Work in Bad Formats

Please don’t send a Powerpoint. If you don’t have a website then a great looking .pdf will show layout skills and come across as professional. Also, don’t just attach 25 .jpgs and call it a day. Downloading and keeping up with that many files is a hassle for the person hiring – your goal is to make them like you by making their life easier.

Overall the most import thing is to realize that every company and job is different. You don’t need to just find ‘a job’ you need to find the one that is the best fit for you. You’ll need to be honest with yourself. Really look at the quality of work in your portfolio. There is no shame in working for a local magazine or newspaper until you get enough work to apply to that dream job.

“Work your ass off.” – Stefan Sagmeister

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