8 Secrets I Wish I Knew When Interviewing
After a few solid years of full-time design work (plus some freelance), and a handful of conversations with fellow designers, I think I finally have a grasp on what it takes to get a job in the design world. My experience getting a job was not perfect, but now I see that some of the mistakes I made are more common that I thought. It’s funny how when something in life isn’t going your way, you feel like you must be the only one who is struggling with it. But if you step outside your bubble, you’ll realize your situation is probably a lot more normal than you think. Design work is competitive, and nobody really talks about how hard it is to get a job, because, frankly, it can be embarrassing to talk about being unemployed, or rejected. And after some thought and experience, I have learned from my mistakes, and I think you can too. So let me set up this story for you…
You’re almost done with school… you’re starry-eyed, excited, and probably not prepared for the reality of getting your first real design job. You chose graphic design (or related) as your major because you’re creative and it’s fun! Way more fun than crunching numbers like your friends that majored in finance or bio… So its time to start the job search.
And then you experience a RUDE AWAKENING.
If you are anything like me, you finished school with such excitement and motivation to get your first job. They teach you about all the fun and exciting things you can do with design, and you’re ready to put your new-found skills to the test! And then that excitement and motivation slowly dwindles as you start interviewing. Countless applications are sent, interviews are had, and then the waiting game. Waiting for your hard work to pay off… I went through this, and most other designers do too. There’s always a few that get lucky with an internship turning into full-time, or scoring a job through a personal connection, but for the purpose of this article, lets forget about those *lucky* people.
Or maybe you were one of those *lucky* people, but the job didn’t pan out, and now you’re back at square one 6 months later. You don’t have enough experience, so you’re in the same boat as the new grads, looking for work. Getting rejected for a job, or worse- never hearing back after an interview, can be soul-crushing. When I was at my wit’s end, 200+ applications in, I wish I had someone to offer me the advice I am about to give you, to brighten my spirits and bring my expectations back down to earth, so here goes:
1. Confidence. Is. Key.
Getting interviewed is so intimidating. I don’t care if you are the world’s most confident individual… Sitting across the table from someone with way more experience than you, showing your work and trying to convince them that you are worth hiring is intimidating. But the truth is that interviewing is like the lottery, and you can’t win if you don’t play the game. You have to walk in there with the confidence that you deserve the position, and they would be lucky to have you. I remember my Dad telling me this same advice when I was interviewing. I brushed it off because I felt like there was no way someone with zero experience could exude such confidence. But after a couple interviews with no prevail, I started to just kindof say, “Screw it, I’ll pretend.” And it worked. You know what they say, “fake it till you make it”.
Because if you don’t believe in yourself, chances are the person interviewing you won’t either.
2. Get Your Ish Together
Nobody is going to hire a designer with a half-baked portfolio, or a resume that was made in Word. They are hiring you to make good-looking, professional level designs, so put your best foot forward. Resumes, cover letters, portfolios, leave-behinds, and your online presence are all important. When all of your cohorts are applying for jobs, and graduation is fast approaching, I know it can seem like you don’t have time… But take some extra time to get all of that together before you even start down that long road of applying. Let your portfolio do some of the work for you. It is the best way to show your design style and creativity to your future employer. Think about sorting through 200 applications… Give the person on the other side something to get excited about, and a reason to bring you in for the interview. Whether it’s a cleverly worded cover letter, an out-of-the-box resume, a well-designed portfolio, or a robust online presence- Find your own way of standing out. The more work you do ahead of time, the less work you have to do face-to-face. And don’t forget about your online visibility. There are SO many resources for making free websites now, so take advantage of it. In addition to a flawless website, make yourself a Behance portfolio, use LinkedIn, get on Dribbble and become a part of the online design community. You will be surprised at the connections you will make, and how impressive that looks to your interviewer!
3. Don’t Be Hasty
An extra 6 weeks or a even a couple extra months spent searching is worth finding the RIGHT job. Don’t feel rushed to take a job just because they are offering it to you. And don’t be afraid to turn one down if it doesn’t feel right. Working your same old serving job, or being unemployed for a little bit longer is not going to make any difference to you in the long run. What you don’t want to do is take a job with a super long commute, bad benefits, or a product that you hate, just because they gave you an offer. You never know, you might get another offer two weeks later that has a way better work environment for YOU, which brings me to my next point…
4. Be Your Own Advocate
Take the time to actually think about what is important to you at your workplace, and be practical. This might be hard if you’re just coming out of school, but even if you have no working experience, you can still think about what you might like at your job. Make a list, and rank the top 3–5 things that are the most important to you. This list might morph and change over the course of your career. You’ll see what you like and don’t like at different jobs, and learn what is important to you, but here are some examples: good healthcare, stock options, commute time, type of workstation, vacation time, etc. Prior to even interviewing, make sure you have a firm grasp on what you are willing to compromise on. Then you will know what to ask for or negotiate for, and if something is a dealbreaker for you, then you won’t be swayed by other things they offer. Cue #5.
Make sure you have a firm grasp on what you are willing to compromise on, and what factors are deal-breakers for you.
5. Beware of Too Many Perks (sortof)
With startups being so prevalent in the tech world now-a-days, offering flexible hours, free lunch, open floor plans and more- it’s easy to lose sight of what is really important to you (that list from #4). I’m not saying you should turn down a job because it has too many awesome perks… Just make sure they cover the basics, too. It is important to remember that at the end of the day, you should make sure you feel valued as an employee, your work is fulfilling, and you are getting what you need out of your job. That’s what makes being at work for 50% of your waking time worth the while. The lunchtime yoga, free snacks, and ping pong is only icing on the cake. And if the cake tastes bad, then there’s no point in putting icing on it.
6. Place Some Importance On Product
Emphasis on *some*. This one is short and sweet. Product isn’t everything, but it can impact your experience… If you find work in an agency setting, this won’t really matter because the work will probably be ever-changing. But if you choose to work in-house, choosing a company with a product you believe in, can make your work experience much richer, and more fulfilling. Likewise, if the company sells/does something you dislike, it can definitely sour your experience. For example, my interests skew girly-girl: makeup, hair, weddings, etc. Could I be happy at ESPN if the environment was good, and they fulfilled my list from #4? Sure! Might I be happier at a beauty company that also fulfills my list? Probably.
Choosing a company with a product you believe in, can make your work experience much richer.
7. Don’t Be Afraid To Negotiate
When you just want a dang job, I know it feels like you should take it even if they are paying you less than you wanted. But it’s worth at least trying to negotiate. When I was interviewing, I thought that companies gave more than one offer, and then hire whoever responded first. *Naivety at its finest.* I thought to myself, “If they are offering me the job I better take it before they change their minds.” And now I realize, that is not the case… The amount of work that goes into choosing a candidate for the job is more than you might realize. It means the managers, directors, recruiters, etc. have looked at loads of applications, narrowed it down to some interviews, then all agreed on someone to give an offer to. So if you come back asking for something more, (as long as it’s reasonable) they are probably more willing to appease your request, or meet you halfway than go through the whole process with their second choice candidate. Keep in mind that money isn’t the only thing you can ask for… If they can’t offer you more money, ask for them to pay for classes or conferences, your transportation (if you can take a train or bus to work), more vacation time, flexible hours, or something else that is important to you.
8. Remember That Work Is Just Work
I cannot recommend adopting this mindset enough. I have been talking to some friends that work in the design/related field about this recently, and I found that a lot of young professionals are so wrapped up or overwhelmed by their work that it’s causing them stress outside of work, and they are bringing the daily work frustrations home with them. It’s usually rooted in their passion for the work, which is a great quality, but almost to their own demise. I’m not recommending you start slacking off at your job… But the little things that irk designers are inevitable. Whether the project you just spent 2 months perfecting got killed, you’re getting frustrating feedback, working with a difficult client, or your coworkers are driving you nuts, you HAVE to remember that there is so much more to life than work. Take a deep breath and walk away… Think about your plans for the evening, or the weekend, (or think about making some)… and go back with a clear head. This advice also goes for looking for work. When you are overwhelmed and stressed because you’ve sent in 200 applications, had 6 interviews, and you feel like you’re back at square 1… Remember that work is just work. You won’t be unemployed forever, and one of those applications is going to fall into the right hands, and you WILL get a job. It might not be tomorrow, but once you get a job, none of that will matter, and it will all feel worth it. Also remember that every working designer has been in your shoes, and they all made it to where they are today because of it.
You HAVE to remember that there is so much more to life than work.
Thanks for reading my article. I hope it helped someone out there with their job search. :)