5 Tips to Nail Your Design Job Interview

Design Interview - Title

You’re sitting there, in a remarkably comfortable office chair that you wish was your own. You’re thinking about how many business cards you’ll need to hand out, and whether or not any of them were accidentally bent in your wallet. You’ve brought your laptop, but have no idea if it was necessary to bring it along. Suddenly, two guys dressed a lot more casually than you are enter the room. You’re told: “So you’re a designer, tell me about yourself.”

Job interviews are always a challenge, and they’re made even worse in the current economy, where dozens of applicants are interviewing for the same position. Designers may have an even harder time, with thousands of new design graduates each year and only a handful of positions.

Not every aspiring designer will land a job. In fact, many will give up and move onto other career paths. Fortunately for you, you’re reading my blog, so here’s some tips to help you land that killer job. These apply to job-seekers, interns, and freelancers alike.

1. Don’t be nervous, nerd.

Maybe it’s your first interview, or maybe it’s your twentieth: either way the process can be pretty stressful. You never know if you’ll be speaking to one person or five, if you’ll need to answer questions about your work, or your favorite font; you may even be asked to draw something on the spot. The bottom line is that there’s a lot to think about, which leads to a lot of anxiety.  Here’s the good news: having given a few interviews, I can tell you this: We care a lot less about this interview than you do. If it’s before 12, we’re thinking about lunch… if it’s after 12, we’re thinking about what we already ate for lunch. Job interviews are probably the most relaxing part of the day for your interviewer.

Employers are used to lackluster interviews; they’re used to sitting through a lineup of mediocre talent, and they’re  waiting for someone interesting to come along.  So be interesting! Express your opinions, project your voice, make jokes, make it an interesting conversation. The fact that you’re in the room at all means they liked your portfolio, you just need to show you’re smart and capable. So be yourself, pretend you’re talking to your friends. Handle yourself the way you would if you were working there on a day-to-day basis, because that’s what they need to see. If you have fun with it, and you work is good, you may have just landed yourself a job.

Design Interview - Slide 1

2. Have a website

This should be obvious, and the fact that you’re even getting an interview means somebody probably went through your website already. But perhaps you don’t have a website and you simply wrote a good cover letter, or you were a referral from a friend, or they saw a specific piece of yours out in the wild.

I know this is more of a tip to help you get an interview than it is to help once you’re there, but I’ve been to plenty of interviews where they’ll throw your website up on a projector or laptop. If you’ve put together a great collection of your work online, and they ask to see it in the interview, then you’ve scored a solid 10 minutes where you have a lot of great things to talk about. Let’s face it, we’re all very visual people,  so the more time you can spend talking about yourself with a visual aid, the better.

A lot of these ideas apply to print portfolios as well, but honestly, most people would rather browse your website than flip through a booklet.

If you’re not a web designer, don’t worry. All you need is a clean collection of your work online. Use a WordPress theme, or try Squarespace. There are also  quite popular and easy to use portfolio services such as Krop, Cargo Collective, or Indexhibit.

3. Tell stories

Simply answering questions in rapid succession is a good way to make your interview go fast, but it’s not a good way to get hired. Opening up and telling a story is a good way to avoid awkward silences, and it can usually help you loosen up.

Obviously you shouldn’t just go on about anything; try to think of an interesting story with a past client or project. Maybe it was a  past mistake of yours—maybe something really funny happened to one of your websites—just think of something that can keep people interested for a few minutes.  And while you have their attention (this is important part), make sure you include plenty of details that show your mastery of your craft.  If you’re a UI designer, tell a story about how you solved some crazy e-commerce checkout problem. If you’re print designer, talk about how you fixed a bunch of files with a ridiculous deadline because the client’s printer was a huge problem.

Telling a story allows you to be interesting and intelligent at the same time, which is always a good thing. Plus, a good story can reveal things about you or your work than your interviewer may have never known otherwise.  Remember, those who are hiring you are often not expert recruiters—they’re just trying to get a handle on who you are. They might not always ask the best or most pertinent questions. It’s up to you to make sure they hear everything they need to hear, and stories are a great way guide that conversation. Just don’t talk too long.

4. Care about the company

We already know you enjoy Facebook stalking your friends—here’s where that pays off. Google your potential employer, look through everything in their portfolio, read about their clients, and definitely read their ‘About Us’ section.  Reading about the history of the company can give you a good understanding of their values—and more importantly, the kind of people they’d like to work with.

Ultimately the purpose of an interview is about determining whether or not you’re a good fit. Stalk everyone’s LinkedIn profiles, check out the company’s Yelp rating (if it actually has one), be as creepy as you need to be. Just make sure you don’t walk in only knowing the company’s name. The more you know about what they do, the more you’re able to tailor your conversation to what they’re looking for.

The unfortunate drawback to this step is that after Googling your potential employer for a while, you might find that you do not want to actually work in that environment. This could result in you cancelling your interview, but I would highly suggest going to speak with them anyway.  You never know if a company’s website is a gross misrepresentation of who they are.

Design Interview - Slide 2

(That’s me. You should get those glasses.)

5. Dress like a designer

If you wear a suit, you’re going to feel awfully out of place. You can wear a tie, but only if it’s a really sweet tie that you actually enjoy wearing. If you feel out of your element, this can affect your demeanor, and lead to an awkward interview. Ladies, this means don’t dress like Hillary Clinton… not that I’ve ever seen anyone come in dressed in a pant suit anyway.

Ultimately, it’s all about honesty. Dress like you normally would, talk about real projects, and care about the company if you genuinely like them.  If you’re a talented and cool person, you’ll go far in this industry.

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