Update: (9/14/2015) Parts 2 and 3 of this article were never written. I either got too busy or lost steam. Apologies. Hopefully you'll still find value in this bit here.
Congratulations, you’ve finally identified the job you want. You’re confident that you could spend long days solving delicious design challenges for this company. Then it hits you like a ton of bricks and you think to yourself, I don’t have the experience they want, there’s no way they’ll hire me. Don’t pack your bags quite yet, I’ve got some good news for you.
Article 1 of 3
** This is article 1 in a 3-article series dedicated to walking you through the major steps in getting that job you’re after, even without years of experience. Though I can’t guarantee that you’ll get the job of your choice, I promise that if you incorporate the tips outlined in these articles, you’ll increase your chances of success. **
Note: Anytime an * (asterisk) appears throughout this article, it means there’s a bonus resource at the end of the article. You don’t want to miss these.
It’s May and you’ve just graduated from your school’s industrial design program. You’re ready to hit the road and conquer the world. The sun is bright and the weather is warm. And you need a job. How do you make the jump from student to professional job candidate? I’m going to walk you through the steps that will at the very least give you a fighting chance of getting that design position you’re after. If done well, following these tips will help you land the job.
This article covers what I refer to as the Pregame phase of the job acquisition process. As the name suggests, the pregame is all about preparation. What, you thought you could just waltz in, name your salary and sign the contract? Nice try Fonzi. If you’re trying to out-game other designers with years of experience, you need to identify battles you can win. For example, ‘years of experience’ is not a battle you’re going to win if you just graduated, or are new to the design industry. Areas you might be able to out-perform your peers in an interview are often the little things that new designers tend to overlook.
Here are some examples of ‘battles’ you can win
- Story-telling skills
- Technical skills
- Presentation skills
Why you can ‘win’ these
With years of experience, a designer’s auxiliary skill set will inevitably grow, but some faster than others. Just because someone has more years of experience or bigger names on her list of internships, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance to compete with her.
How you learn, and how you choose to spend your time can help you to gain relevant experience. So much that you can out-perform your creative comrades. Your job is simple. Identify your relevant skills or experiences and articulate them to anyone you’re speaking with.
How you win these battles
Consider every past job, internship, summer camp, class, mentorship, leadership role or life-changing event and try to recall the highlights of each. Make a list in your favorite *note-taking app and actually spend an hour or so doing this. You’ll be very surprised at what you can come up with. Don’t edit the list, just add everything you can think of.
Next, bold each of your experiences. Then, try to list at least 3 big lessons or major takeaways effectively summarizing these experiences. What skills did you walk away with? Make notes of these items under each bolded 'experience' item. See an example of mine below.
Summer Job - Artist's Assistant
- Managed a production warehouse
- Used color-theory to match paint
- Operated wood shop to design and build custom wood frames
- Used creative problem solving to repair warehouse equipment in emergencies
- Once you’ve run though your list, you should have a very substantial and succinct summary of nuggets of relevant experience.
In a previous *interview I did with the Director of Design at Smart Design, Russell Blanchard spoke to the importance of showing that an interviewee understands a company’s core values. You should be able to connect the dots between your work samples and the work of where you’re interviewing at.
Companies want to know you did some research before attempting to woo them in an interview. You also want to make sure your presentation and work resonate with your interviewers. How do you do this? Research. Begin by hopping onto the About page of your target company’s website. While you’re at it, go through their entire website. Make note of their philosophy, ethics and mission. What do they value and what do they believe in? What’s their culture like? The purpose of this research is to show genuine confidence during the interview. It says, “I know what I want, and this company is a good fit” without actually speaking it.
Continue to research
Next, move onto LinkedIn. Does your target have a company profile on LinkedIn? Research employees such as other designers or your potential supervisor on LinkedIn. Make note of any first impressions of the company and its employees if possible. Continue your reconnaissance on other social media websites. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and even Instagram are great places to learn more about the company you’re targeting.
All of this is important because the more you know your target company and its employees, the more intelligent you’ll sound. You don’t need to go repeating things you read online, but simply knowing and speaking about the company in the context of your conversation will do.
Prepare your resume
Your resume is going to accompany your portfolio, but your resume needs to stand on its own and do you justice. Simply listing previous employment and education is not going to do. Tailor your resume to the target company. Make it obvious that this resume was made for this one purpose and company. Using colors, graphics or a typeface used by the company you’re wanting to work for should make it obvious that you’ve tailored your resume at first glance. But hold on. First glance is like getting the front door cracked open.
Next, you need to get your foot in the door. Do this by tailoring the actual content of your resume to speak directly to the position and company you’re interested in working for. This is where your list of relevant experiences I had you create comes in handy. Mention specific values held by your target company. Then provide an example in which you held to the same value and got a positive outcome. Highlight the skills you’ve acquired that will be put to good use at this company and the more specific, the better. Your research will come in handy and really shine though at this point. *Sample of tailored resume linked in the resources below.
Prepare your portfolio
Now, this wouldn’t be complete without speaking to your portfolio. Treat your portfolio the same way you did your resume and tailor it. However, don’t spend an unreasonable amount of time altering every project in your portfolio. The idea is to make sure that what you’re presenting is relevant and applicable within the context of this company you’re targeting. You must also show only your best work. Highlight projects that required you to use skills that would be used regularly at your target company. Your portfolio should show as wide a range as possible when it comes to design projects.
Let your skills and processes tie the projects together, not the subject of each project.
Practice sharing your work
Pro tip borrowed from Roger Jackson, Creative Director of Teague: Find somebody who isn’t a designer and present your portfolio and resume to him. Run though your design projects and ask him to explain the goals, highlights and results of each design project to you in his own words. If he’s able to, it’s a good sign that your portfolio reads well and is easy to follow. This is crucial, since as a designer, you’re so close to the project, you inherently understand the whole thing. Don’t forget to make sure your audience is able to understand what you’ve done, why you’ve done it and what the results are.
The Pregame Wrap-up
We’ve run through the steps to get you though the pregame. This includes idnetifying how to stand out against more experienced designers in an interview. Next, we walked though how to create a list of relevant experiences that can be used to spark conversations and add the right kind of substance to your resume your target company is looking for. Then, we looked at tailoring your resume and portfolio. Finally, we discussed the practice of sharing your work so you’ll be ready when it's interview time.
** Reminder: This is article 1 of 3 in a 3-article series dedicated to walking you through the major steps in getting that job you’re after, even without years of experience. Stay tuned for part 2 of 3. **
- I recommend Evernote. Sign up for the PDn9 news letter, send me an email and I’ll refer you so you’ll have access to Evernote Premium. (Expired)
- Read the full interview with Blanchard of Smart Design as well as 3 other designers in my article featured on Core77: 7 Tips for Nailing that Industrial Design Job Interview
- Make sure to tailor your resume for the position you’re interviewing for. In this impressive example, Florian Holstein created an entire website targeting a job at Adidas, which he was hired for. See it and his resume here.