Interview Tips For Landing Your Dream Design Job

January 21, 2016

kiteThere is no shortage of landing-the-job/interview tips articles in the world. In fact, some of my colleagues have written great Peepshow posts on this very topic (check out Tessa’s Foolproof Guide). But, two Fast Company Facebook posts earlier this week, What the Interview Process is Like at Google, Apple, Amazon, and other Tech Companies and How to Answer the 31 Most Common Interview Questionsand the fact that we’re actively interviewing design and development interns inspired, me to give my take on the topic.

I’ve interviewed my fair share of job candidates over the years. Primarily designers, but also developers, videographers, project managers, account leads, and even an HR manager. There have been fantastic interviews, so-so interviews, and then there are those interviews where you know in the first three minutes that it’s not going to be a fit, but you feel obligated to ask a few questions so no one feels completely humiliated (pre-list tip: don’t be this guy).

These tips are written with the young aspiring designer in mind, but many apply to any interviewee, regardless of industry or position.

  1. Be on time.
    Never show up late to an interview (this should be obvious and applies to everyone), BUT equally as important: never show up ungodly early unless asked. If the hiring manager requests that you arrive early to fill out paperwork, do so. If not, do not show up more than 5-10 minutes early. Sit and wait in your car or a nearby coffee shop if need be, but please don’t camp out in our lobby for 20-plus minutes. It makes everyone uncomfortable and makes the person/people you’re interviewing with feel like they need to rush to get to you, which is not a great way to make a great first impression.
  1. Bring (multiple) copies of your resume.
    And offer it to everyone in the room, even if we have a copy.
    Again, this sounds obvious, but I’m often surprised at how many people fail to do this. Yes, we’ve looked at your resume, it’s in part why you’re here, but we’ve also looked at dozens and dozens of other resumes. Help refresh our memory about your awesome achievements by putting them directly in front us. Additionally, your resume should be well-designed and thoroughly spell-checked, even if you’re a designer. A typo says you lack attention to detail, and that’s not a quality a company wants in any employee.
  1. Bring your book.
    Experts suggest having 8–12 pieces of work in your portfolio, and I’ve found that this is a solid number of projects to show your depth and breadth. Lead and close with your strongest pieces.

    • Have samples and mock-ups when possible: Designers are a tactile group; we want to feel the paper you selected, we want to see the binding techniques. However, sharing these materials can make for a clumsier presentation. Be sure to practice taking samples in and out of their sleeves/case.
    • For web/interactive designers, have a back-up plan: While presenting live sites is preferred, so you can better speak to features and functionality, you might not have wifi access during your interview. Be sure to have a version saved to your laptop or, at minimum, screenshots.
  1. Talk about your work.
    • Tell us the story behind the work: Don’t just describe the finished piece. Explain the brief or the challenge and how you met the objective. Highlight anything unique about the project. Bring sketches or discovery documents that help illustrate your thought process (again, make sure you practice how you introduce these support pieces).
    • Clearly explain your role on the project: Often, a finished project was a collaboration between many different people. You can include these in your portfolio. They show you can work effectively in a group, but be able to clearly define what was your role and responsibilities.
  1. Be yourself.
    Remember, we’re hiring a person, not a portfolio. Your portfolio will get you in the door, but that alone won’t get you the job. An interview is as much a chemistry check as anything else.
  1. Ask questions.
    Be prepared with questions, except this one: “What’s a typical day look like?” In all my years working in an agency, there has never been a “typical day”. Instead, ask about the expectations of the job, what types of projects will you get to work on, or what skills or attributes will make a person successful in this role.
  1. Ask for the job.
    End the conversation by telling us that you’ve enjoyed learning about the position and how excited you are by the prospect of joining the team. We want to know if we’ve passed your internal tests too…and that you really want to work here.
  1. Say thanks.
    I always love a handwritten note in my mailbox post-interview, but in our digital age, a kindly crafted email, expressing your gratitude and again your interest goes a long way.
  1. Be persistent, but patient.
    Finding the right person for a job takes time. If you haven’t heard from us in awhile, follow up, but don’t do so too often that you become an annoyance.
  1. Don’t wait for a position to be posted.
    At Fast Horse, as with most agencies, we’re always on the lookout for smart, creative thinkers and makers. Use social media to make connections and set up informational interviews. Not only will this allow you to get the inside scoop on a company, but if you make a good impression, you might land yourself a job without having to fight for it. (Bonus: Check out Cyd’s post on the top questions you should be asking in any informational interview)

Remember, the market is saturated with young designers and they’re all vying for the same job, but if you get your foot in the door for the interview, hopefully these tips help increase your odds of landing the job.

Good luck out there!