Looking to pursue a career in graphic design? Here are our top tips on finding your dream job.
Over the years as a senior designer in an agency, I have read plenty of CVs, reviewed portfolios and interviewed designers. The reason why designers who made it to interview stage over the candidates who did not, was because they got their approach right.
Attention to detail will give you an advantage.
A career in graphic design can be rewarding, but is met with competition from start to finish. To present yourself as a candidate for a job, you are open to the scrutiny of fellow designers and creative directors — who can be very fickle creatures.
There a plenty of talented designers out there, but competition for graphic design jobs is high, so any flaw in your approach will be found.
I have put together some pointers to help students, graduates or anyone else who is approaching design studios, whether it is a speculative application, or applying for an advertised graphic design job. Some of these things may seem like basic stuff, but it’s the attention to details which will give you an advantage.
Never address anyone on your application with; ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, ‘Dear Manager’, or ‘To whom it may concern.’ Make it your mission to find out the name of the person who hires designers. Look at the company website, try LinkedIn or failing that, pick up the phone and ask for the persons name. Once you have the name you must make sure you spell the name correctly – ask for the correct spelling if you are unsure.
Applying for graphic design jobs takes a fair bit of energy, time and focus, and to stand any chance of bagging an interview you need to sell yourself. This means telling the recipient of your application what job role you want and what you can offer as a designer and what make you different from the other candidates.
You are a designer right? Then why are you sending out CVs in Microsoft Word? Why are you even using Microsoft Word? Adobe InDesign or Illustrator are the tools of choice for laying‐out your CV.
Do not over‐design your CV. This is not the place to demonstrate your design flair – that is what your portfolio is for. Remember to keep your CV to two sides of A4 maximum.
A CV should show an almost unhealthy obsession to typographic detail – this is something which is often overlooked, but laying out paragraphs of copy is a fundamental graphic design skill. There are many techniques you can employ to turn average typography into great typography. Any decent creative director or designer worth their salt will notice those typographic touches, and if you are noticed for the right reasons, you stand a good chance of bagging an interview.
There are loads of great books on the subject of creating great looking type, but as a starter, I highly recommend Details in Typography by Jost Hochuli.
If there is one thing that will get your application thrown in the bin, its a typo. There may be cases where a rogue spelling mistake can be overlooked in a job application, but in the world of graphic design job hunting, a typo is the death‐knell for your application. Attention to detail is a prerequisite of a graphic designer and creative directors will be looking for this quality in every aspect of your application. Typos are unacceptable in client work, so why accept them in your work? Always use the spellchecker, get other people to read your CV, email and covering letter and spellcheck again!
The Graphic Designers Portfolio
There are many ways to present your design work. Most portfolios are now in some form of digital format such as a website or PDF, but the once ubiquitous leather portfolio should not be overlooked, particularly if you are a print designer, photographer or illustrator. If you are a web designer, then you really ought to have designed your own portfolio website.
Your portfolio is, and will be one of the most important tools you own. It is your shop window, a showcase of your wares and the keys to getting paid work.
These days it is rare for a designer to use the postal system to send a CV, covering letter and work samples to a studio. It is a time‐consuming process, but hey – if by putting in the extra effort gets you noticed from the other dozens of applicants, then go for it! Applying for jobs via email is the ‘norm’ and attaching a PDF of your CV and portfolio is common practice, but remember to keep those file sizes down – try not to exceed 5mb for your portfolio.
The preserve of the print designer. The days of lugging an A0 leather portfolio, bursting at the seams with work, into studios is a rare sight, but a well‐considered folio of print work may be just the thing that gets you remembered at an interview. There is nothing better than the tangible and tactile qualities of print and can be a refreshing departure from gazing at laptops and tablets.
There are some very slick portfolios on the market and if you wanted to really make a statement, consider investing in a handmade portfolio. Hartnack & Co make some fine products for creatives:
Nothing wrong with showing work on an iPad, just make sure the work has been photographed properly with good lighting (daylight is best) and images are pin‐sharp.
Your portfolio is, and will be one of the most important tools you own. It is your shop window, a showcase of your wares and the keys to getting paid work. Make sure your portfolio is up‐to‐date and you know the work in a way which allows you to talk about it to interviewers. Talking about your work is a skill worth learning because if you don’t know what to say about your work, then it will be very hard to ‘sell’ your designs to future clients. Look after your portfolio and it will look after you.
Much is written about personal branding, but don’t get too hung‐up on it. The main thing is to be consistent with your use of type and colour. Don’t use more than two fonts and stick to a limited colour palette. You may want to design yourself a logo, but keep it simple.
If you are a user of social media, it would be a good idea apply your ‘brand’ colours and logo to these pages. Your social media feeds should show you in a positive light. If your Facebook feed is a record of debauchery and vice or your tweets are offensive rants, then you better hope nobody sees it because the people who do the hiring WILL be checking‐out your online persona.
Feedback and Critique
Get used to feedback and critique – it is something you will get plenty of from future clients and fellow designers, and you have to take it on board If you want to develop as a designer. The way you handle feedback will be a main factor in your development as a graphic designer.
The way you handle feedback will be one of the main factors that will shape you as a designer for better or worse.
There’s lots of design talent out there and studios are spoilt for choice when it comes to hiring people. Ultimately they looking for well‐rounded designers – ones who have their own unique opinion on what is good design, can fit in with the rest of the team, can talk about design to clients and ones who never stop learning the craft of graphic design.
Who the hell is Dean?
Dean is a graphic designer and owner of Type Twenty Five. He’s been producing engaging and effective design for over 15 years for clients including Save the Children, Huhtamaki, Greenpeace and General Electric.
After 10 years in creative agencies, he now helps small businesses find their voice across print and web.
Dean has written 3 Ways to Improve Your Marketing Materials – a free guide for businesses who want to become a customer magnet.