As May transitions into June, the subject of interviewing (for design jobs) has been on my mind a lot recently. We’re six months into 2012 and I’ve gone on a TON of interviews in the last six months, I had two interviews just yesterday. With each interview I learn something new: a new (or better) way to talk about my work, what to say (and more importantly, what not to say), and other trips and tricks that make the process a little less painful. Let’s face it, interviews are awkward and uncomfortable. I say it many times, interviewing is just like dating. And that first interview is just like a first date. You’re nervous. There may be awkward lapses in conversion. Will they like me? What should I wear? Will they call me again !??! It’s exactly the same!
.. why hasn’t s(he) called!?!?!
That said, if you prepare for interviews the same way you prepare for a first date (or vise versa!), the whole process can be a little more natural. In the last six months, I’ve probably been on about 15 interviews, for new jobs, freelance projects and full time positions. From those interviews, I’ve held design positions at two companies, won three new freelance projects and even turned a few jobs down. So my interviewing/dating odds aren’t that bad! But I’ve had some help along the way, and I’d like to share some tips with you (and to remind myself as I continue to interview).
Many of my tips come from the wonderfully amazing Debbie Millman, former president of the National AIGA and president of Sterling Brands. In January 2011, I meet with Debbie at her office at the SVA Masters in Branding studio to talk about my Pratt MFA thesis and show her my work. I blogged about my experience in full here. Debbie gave me tips on how to arrange my work, what to show and how to present myself. Other tips I’ve learned the hard way, some from making mistakes, others come from experience and the experiences of others. So here at my top 8 tips to interview for design jobs!
1. Pick a format that works for you. I’ve heard lots of debate with print vs. digital portfolios (i.e. iPads, laptops, pdfs, etc), and the solution is simple. If you’re a print designer, or showing print pieces, use a printed portfolio! Or bring the physical piece, if it’s not too large. Your book may look great on a iPad, but if you’re interviewing to be a print designer, or that’s part of the job description, people want to see the actual thing. Digital portfolios can hide a lot of details and mistakes, and designers look for that type of thing. I think iPads are great, but best to be safe and bring both. I’ve heard horror stories of designers only bringing an iPad to a print design job, or even worse, someone bringing a USB and needing to use someone’s computer to show their pdf. Bring everything YOU need to interview!
I use this black 11×14 portfolio I got it at Michael’s. It’s big enough to see work clearly and also small enough to carry easily on the subway. It also zips on the sides so I can store work and resumes inside.
Use a simple intro page to start off your portfolio. And KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Small detail on right, full size on left. This format is applied through entire book. Keep it consistent.
I keep physical pieces in the back, such as books and fold-out posters. If you’re showing spreads of the book, why not show the actual book?
2. Never put a piece in your portfolio just to show you can do something, or worked somewhere. It seems to be established that a good portfolio should be between 6-10 of our strongest pieces. When I met with Debbie, my portfolio had way too many pieces in it. For example, I had a piece I designed during my internship at Diane von Furstenberg. I needed to use name, and thought it would impress people. Debbie told me, so what if it’s DVF – is it your best work? She was right, while the work looked fine, it wasn’t my best. Names are for resumes, your best work is for your portfolio! Also never show something just to say you can do something. Don’t show a brochure just to say, “I can design brochures!” Is it something you’re most proud of? If not, then leave it out.
3. Start and finish with your strongest pieces. Your portfolio should tell a story of who you are as a designer. One of the best things you can do is show your work to someone that has no idea about any of the projects, someone objective (I’ll expand on this later). I used to arrange my work in chronological order. And why not? I always thought presenting work in this way would show my growth as a designer, and how far I’ve come. Big mistake. If this is true, then I’m opening with my worst piece! Always start (and finish) with your strongest work. It sets the tone to start, and is that last thing they’ll remember. As a recent design school graduate, a lot of my pieces are still school work. I like to mix them up, show a school project or two, then show a corporate freelance project. It shows variety and tells my story as a designer.
4. LESS IS MORE! At this point you’ve picked your 10 best pieces, so how do you display them? This applies for a digital pdf and a printed book. When I showed Debbie my book, she was painfully honest with me. She said you have a lot of work; too much work in fact and too many little things on every page. For the next 45 minutes, Debbie literally cut my portfolio apart. She took scissors and tape and rearranged my portfolio in front of me. See – painfully honest. Projects that I really liked were discarded .. only showing two spreads of this book, you’ve can’t be serious! But of course she was right. Let me show you some examples:
Before (above), 8 things in a spread.
After (above). Do we see why this is better? Less work allows the design to actually be seen!
Another example, before (above).
And after (above). Clean and minimal.
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