Outside of being asked to do work for free, the most common question I get asked is, “Are You Hiring?” This email is usually followed up with an attached PDF of a resume and portfolio samples or a link to a portfolio website. While these are all great tactics, the information contained in the resume, samples or websites are often more miss than hit. Sadly, marketing yourself as a designer is rarely a skill taught in design school, and it’s more important than the body of work you have to show. I thought I’d put together a simple list of strategies that worked for me as I was graduating from college and looking for an entry level position at a local design firm.
You’re marketing yourself, so it makes sense to use the golden rule in marketing. Research the agencies and firms your interested in working at. Would an in-house position at a corporate headquarters best suit your skills and goals, or does a small boutique design shop sound like more of your pace? Think of the type of work that you really enjoyed doing in your classes and find an agency that specializes in that type of work. If possibly, try to connect with someone that works at the firm you have your sites on, or better yet, someone who used to work at that firm. These are the connections that will give you the most unbiased opinion of your target agency, and you can find out the more important factors like company culture, how teams work together and opportunities for career growth. You’ll develop a better understanding of the type of work, atmosphere and obstacles that you’ll be faced with if you do a little research ahead of time. Your work is important, but it’s only a factor in the complicated equation for hiring a new employee.
You’ve done your research. You’ve found five small design firms that interest you, but no one is hiring. Maintain a reasonable amount of contact by following up with interesting links via twitter, stay active on the agencies’ Facebook pages, Pinterest boards or Dribbble sites. Don’t become a stalker, but do show your interest. You’ll also be focusing your social media message which shows your interests in the field. Plus, you’ll continue to stay top of mind, as long as your delivering valuable content. Just because your dream agency isn’t hiring now, doesn’t mean that they’ll never be hiring.
The biggest mistake that I’ve seen from most student portfolios is a lack of focus. It’s okay to have a wide range of skills. Most creative directors expect that coming straight out of school, however you should only show work that fits within the scope of what your hopeful new employer is doing. Don’t show logo work to an advertising agency if they don’t do logo work. It’s okay to have one or two pieces that show an additional skill that you feel is crucial to who you are as a designer if it’s a great sample of your work. Just keep in mind that at least 85% of your work should demonstrate that you understand what that agency does. Also, don’t include work that isn’t your best. The distance between your strongest and your weakest piece tells a creative director how consistent you are. Your portfolio is only as strong as your weakest piece. If you need to create projects to help beef up an area of your book, do it. Illustrative designer Von Glitschka said it best, “Show the work you want to do.”
Keep your focus on the most important thing in marketing — your target audience. If you know who your speaking to then your message and samples will be that much easier to deliver effectively. Your portfolio is likely good, but it’s often not the determining factor for you getting your dream job. Find where you belong in the industry, and sell yourself to that market. Sending your resume and samples to every agency you can think of will probably land you a position, but it’s likely to not be the best position for you.