This post is aimed at graphic design students about to graduate or those that recently did so, and will go to job interviews. During this weekend’s AIGA/SF Portfolio Day in San Francisco, I had a chance to review portfolios of several graphic design students: all asked how they could prepare for design job interviews.
During my 11 years at Landor, I conducted countless interviews whenever we had to fill internship positions. From the point of view of the employer, an interview is a way to remove doubts. There’s a need (e.g., an internship position to fill), and potential candidates offer solutions or risks. Your objective as a design student or recent graduate is to remove those doubts.
Of course a great portfolio helps. But there’s a lot more to it, before, during and after they get to see your portfolio. Here are some tips I gave the students I talked to at Portfolio Day. Of course, following them do not guarantee you’ll get the job you want. But not following them will make it even harder.
Research in advance
Visit the company’s website prior to the interview, and become familiar with the projects they feature. This shouldn’t be a problem: you want to work there because you like the work they do, right? Read the bio on the founder of the firm, and of the person interviewing you. If that’s not available on the firm’s site, you’ll probably find it on LinkedIn. If the company or they have blogs and Twitter accounts, visit them and read a few posts. Some of it could come up in conversation during the interview and you score points if you’re already familiar with that.
The way you dress says a lot about yourself before you even get to open your mouth. It’s important to dress elegantly and professionally, but not to appear so formal it makes you uncomfortable. A design job interview is not a funeral. Neither is it a dance club: stay away from flashy clothes that will distract from your work.
Be on time
Always aim to be fifteen minutes early to an interview. People are busy, and they have set time aside to meet you. Treat that with respect.
Anticipate that they could be late
While you should always be on time to an interview, the person interviewing you may be late. It happens: meetings go over, client calls unexpectedly, there’s some fire drill that needs solving right when your meeting was supposed to start. You just have to wait. Usually it won’t be for more than 15 minutes.
If you schedule several interviews in one day, have plenty of time between them. This way, late starts, longer-than-expected interviews, or any transportation problems shouldn’t be an issue.
Bring your portfolio
Bring your samples and process books
The interview may have been planned for only 30 minutes, but you’ve hit it off and they love your work. They may want to see a full project. Or they may want to see sketches, to understand how you got to a particular finished piece. Samples and process books are good to have.
Bring your business card and resume
Obviously. And several copies, so you can leave a handful if needed.
Plan what you’re going to say
In an interview, you are not completely at the mercy of the interviewer. You can also shape that conversation. I’ve always liked when candidates, at the beginning of the conversation, would either offer walking me through their work presenting it as they went along, or let me flip the pages and ask questions. I always let them present. Which was a chance for them to control the flow of the conversation. If they were prepared, it showed. If they were unprepared, it also showed.
How you talk about your work also talks about yourself. A portfolio presentation is not a dissertation, a police report, a poetry reading, or a TV show. While you should prepare what you’ll say, don’t turn into a different person when you begin speaking about your work. An interview is a conversation.
Plan you won’t get to say it all
Some interviews will last 15 minutes, others half an hour, others may go even longer. You won’t be able to control how much time they have for you. They may tell you in advance the meeting will last an hour, but when you are there the interviewer informs you she only has 15 minutes unfortunately. What do you do? Maybe show only some projects? Or all but skipping some of the explanations?Think of these things in advance.
Practice makes perfect
Just as in school you learned by doing countless projects, with interviews the more you go through, the better you’ll get at them. Don’t get dispirited if you make mistakes or stumble. People don’t want you to fail in the interview, and will typically be very understanding. Still, it’s quite possible that you won’t land a dream job on the first interview. It may take a few and that’s ok.
Be your #1 fan
You have to believe in yourself and your work if you expect others to do so to. It starts with you being your #1 fan. Because no one else is going to. If someone is, even better, you got lucky.
This is so important. Be positive about your own work. If on an interview you talk badly about your own work, you are wasting their time. People understand you are a student, and that you have more to learn (that’s why you are being offered an internship). Being a little insecure is expected. But don’t be negative about your own work.
Don’t forget to send a short follow-up email showing your appreciation for meeting you and seeing your work.