Recently I have been in a position to hire a new Experiential Graphic Designer for my department, and while the title sounds very focused the job requirements are slightly broader than the name implies. A detailed job description was posted in all of the major outlets, and the link to the localized description on my employer’s site was linked to via a handful of social media sites by myself and other employees. The word went out and we received just under 100 potential applicants. Let me rephrase that. We received just under 100 applicants. Not that many were even close to being potential for several reasons. Lack of experience, a complete misunderstanding of what the job is, a portfolio that demonstrated little to no skills required for the position, the complete lack of a link to any design work in either the resume or cover letter.
Perhaps it’s where I am at in my career, and the fact that I have applied for so many jobs over the years but I have a word of advice for not only those just starting out as well as those with experience under your belt. READ THE JOB DESCRIPTION, and after reading it ask yourself, “Am I really qualified for this position?” before submitting your application. Then take a step back, look at your design portfolio and ask yourself the following questions. “Does my portfolio reflect the kind of work I’ll be asked to perform?”, “Do I need to edit my portfolio, or add to it?” The reason I say this is that it felt like the majority that applied for my open position did not. Almost half of the applicants for the designer position that I posted lacked the required experience, and software skills, or showed a portfolio that was completely off track for the job at hand.
I was looking for a designer with at least 3 to 5 years under their belt. The ability to use more than InDesign with a level of proficiency. I wasn’t looking for were photographers, illustrators, 3D animators, videographers, or stationary designers. And yet I saw so many portfolios that fit that bill. Look I’m not knocking anyone’s talent. What I am saying is, if you are going to apply for a job, why waste your time or the person hiring if you and your skills don’t match.
Out of the 75 plus resumes and portfolios I looked through, more than a third of them were illustrators, and photographers claiming to have solid environmental graphic design skills, wayfinding design chops, publication layout skills, and more, but their portfolios didn’t reflect it in any way shape or form. In many cases, they showed absolutely nothing or little that would be considered graphic design, experiential design, or environmental design at all.
So, here are some things you might want to consider when you are applying for a design job.
Read the job description. Read it and then look up the organization that is hiring. Ask yourself honestly, am I qualified for this position? Am I overqualified for this position? Do my skills match what the job description is asking for? Will my current skills translate to the requirements they are asking me to fulfill? Don’t just skim the posting and fire off your resume and cover letter thinking that the hiring manager isn’t going to look at your background, your portfolio, and your experience.
Before submitting your resume and cover letter, make sure there is a link to your portfolio in it. If you are submitting a PDF of your resume, include an active link to your portfolio in the PDF. If there is no link to a portfolio in your resume or cover letter I immediately pass. If there is a URL and it isn’t an active link I hesitate. Most people reviewing want to click and go. Make it easy for the people hiring to get to examples of your work. No QR codes, no files to download, nothing that requires me to request permission to view. Things like QR codes might seem clever, but unless you are designing mobile apps and applying for a UI/UX design position most people don’t want to look at your graphic design portfolio on a small phone screen. Downloads and permissions are nothing more than a roadblock between the hiring manager and your work.
Look at the required software skills and do an honest assessment of yours. Are you an expert in every application in the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite? Seriously, are you? I had so many applicants grading themselves as experts in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere, After Effects, Audition, and XD it made my head spin. Knowing how to use an app and being an expert in it are two different things. I’d rather talk to someone that is truly an expert in one or two apps and is willing to learn others than someone that claims to be an expert in all and is a master of none.
Don’t include your assessments from job sites like Indeed and GlassDoor. You might have taken an online skills test and scored expert or highly proficient in verbal communications, work style, workplace safety, or something else but it means very little, at least to me. These are things I’ll find out when I interview you for the position, and they will not sway me to consider you for the job when listed on your resume. Here is a reality. Those skills tests are geared to the lowest common denominator. Why? Because Glassdoor, InDeed, LinkedIn, and the like make money from placing candidates. Those assessments are a tool that benefits them more than you.
Take a long hard look at your portfolio. If you have everything you have ever made in the last 5 to 10 years it’s too much. Learn to edit. If you are just starting out and your portfolio only shows 5 or 6 projects consider adding more – yes even more student work if it is quality work. You want to show a variety of work that demonstrates you know how to use more than one creative program. Some people list the tools used to create their work. That’s fine, it gives an insight into your toolkit and if you make it to the interview round, it gives the interviewers something to ask you about. Add descriptions. Not just what the project was about and the problem you solved, but how you interacted with a team to achieve the end result and the possible return on investment from the solution you provided. Did you work with a copywriter? Did you lead a team? Did you work with someone writing code to help realize your vision? Was the project multi-faceted, and if so how did you solve for multiple formats and deliverables?
Finally, you might be the best painter of dragons, robots, aliens, monsters, and Vikings in the world, but that doesn’t make you a graphic designer. You might be the best painter in the world of robot aliens fighting Viking dragons, pulling a chariot of imps on their way to a Game of Thrones rally at the local Holiday Inn, but that doesn’t mean you are a graphic designer. If the job description calls for design skills and you submit something completely off base, you’ve wasted not only your time but the time of the person looking to hire. If your passion lies outside the job offering, then pursue your passion and be happy. Life’s too short.
By the way, I really did see a bunch of dragons fighting Viking like people and robots. Aliens too. And Fairies.