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No Work? No Problem, Part I: Shaping Your Image
It’s summer, a fresh batch of creatives seek work. Some just left school; others want to reinvent themselves. No matter who you are or what you seek, you may not find work right away. While looking for that high-paying job, keep yourself busy in constructive ways. Whether full-time, part-time, or contract gigs, consider the following, and most importantly, keep a positive frame of mind. You control your design destiny.

So where do you begin? First of all, you’ve got to talk with people. Network. Get out of the house. Leave your studio. Don’t sit in front of the television. Don’t waste your money at the shopping malls or on new computer gadgets. If you haven’t joined your local AIGA chapter, do so. You’ll meet people in and around the community that have the scoop on design work and opportunities. And if you know vendors in printing or other production services, talk with them. They see the ebb and flow of annual reports, direct mail, brochures, catalogs, packaging, and signage. If there’s work, they know which firm has the client with money to spend, and who has the money to hire.

Not every night can be devoted to an AIGA lecture or convention. You won’t always have the energy to roam through parties talking about what you do and what kind of work you hope for. So during your downtime, update your book. Truthfully, it should be updated whether or not you have work. Keeping your bio materials fresh and current lets you hit the streets if you’re fired on whim or are still waiting to be hired. Like a soldier of fortune, always have your book armed and ready. Plenty of resources exist to help you craft a well built portfolio. Steff Geissbuhler’s article at the AIGA site covers some valuable dos and don’ts. Your book demonstrates your visual capabilities, and how well you use an X-acto and spray mount. Craft skills are important, and so is organization.

When the book is built and you’re ready for feedback, get in touch with a local agency. Most of them provide portfolio reviews either weekly or monthly. Call them up, and find out who looks at them. It doesn’t hurt to email your resume in advance. Even if the firm isn’t hiring, having them see your work gets you into the door. This helps your chances of them contacting you when work does come up. Most importantly, you’ll get constructive criticism, “You need more logo work. I didn’t see enough color usage, most of your design is black and white with spot colors.” Don’t be bitter. Don’t cry. They base feedback on the work they do and the experiences they have. Take it all with a grain of salt, breathe in, exhale, and then consider how you can make your book better. Looking better may mean increasing the range of work you show: more logos, less websites, and fewer fantasy projects. Having your portfolio look smarter through tone matching doesn’t hurt either. When you tone match, your portfolio mirrors the firm’s. You match aesthetic biases and/or clientele to evidence that you’ll fit in, and hit the ground running. But don’t go overboard here. You always want to produce unique work that’s targeted and focused. Don’t fall into the trap of constantly building a portfolio through mimicry.

When it’s time to pick up your book, do so graciously. Thank the person at the main desk. Say something complimentary about their appearance. Remember their name, because you may see them again. Lastly, send a thank you note to those who saw your book. Whether or not they had an open schedule for your portfolio isn’t the issue, showing them you’re a considerate person who appreciates their valuable time means more.

Once you have your physical portfolio assembled and gotten some feedback, update your online presence. If you don’t have a website, getting one can be critical. Jobs won’t always be down the block from your condo or two bus transfers away. Work can be found from one coast to the next. If you live in Kansas and the person reviewing your portfolio resides in San Diego, the Internet mediates them seeing your design.

Most designers already have an online portfolio. But for those who don’t, consider what your Internet service provider can offer (AOL, Earthlink, and Comcast provide free webspace for most of their customers), look into web services like CommArts, or research the provisions universities give their alumni. The above options can save you some cash when you don’t have a lot to spend. And these days, setting up your own hosting doesn’t take much more than a Windows or Unix box. A friend of yours may be doing this in his/her basement, so check with your digitally-minded pals. Now if you have a fat wallet and feel luxurious, go ahead and cough up the money for your own unique web address (such as designrocker.com). Separate yourself from designers out there with the long-winded addresses (http://home.earthlink.net/~univers72pt).

Your online portfolio should mirror your physical portfolio. In other words, don’t over design. There’s no reason to have the online portfolio full of bells and whistles (literally). Even if you specialize in motion graphics, video, sound design, and animation, just let the work tell that story. Human resources agents and headhunters I’ve spoken with consistently tell me, “Let the work stand out, not the site.” Your Internet portfolio can either hold your design like an art gallery (clean, structured, and considered), or it can rock out to fancy beats like a night club (competitive, bombastic, and unfocused).

Work aside, you must stand up on paper too. A concise resume narrates where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and the accomplishments you’ve achieved. Art directors and creative directors will go to your work first and then your resume; human resources and marketing may look at your resume first then consult with the creative team. Both of these divisions serve unique purposes, and your resume should speak to them both. Avoid designer jargon, “I crafted advertisements using a structuralist approach that spoke to my Cranbrook audience,” that a marketing director won’t understand. Instead, demonstrate how you’ve made a difference objectively, “Through the redesign of the OOtico logo, the company sales saw a 10% increase over a three month period. Audience analysis stated the new look gave customers a greater emotional connection.”

Here’s a note on details: when putting together your resume, don’t be in a rush. Take time. Spell check. Have somebody else read it. And avoid some of these mistakes pointed out by Petrula Vrontikis. Neither Petrula nor I enjoy seeing our names butchered, and the person you address your resume to won’t either. Research everything, from names to the kind of work the studio does. Knowing the firm is over half the battle.

In the end, you can do all of the above and still be jobless after three months. No sweat. It’s common for job placement to take 1-4 months. Firms have a lot of resumes to sort through, and the interviewing process is time consuming. Just be patient. And don’t settle. Know the kind of work you want to do. Be mindful of the salary you should accept. Have a clear understanding of where you’d like to fit in, and the people you enjoy surrounding yourself with. A successful and rewarding job will be shaped as much by your peers as by the kind of clients and design projects you interact with.

The process of finding work can be a nail-biting experience. Don’t let it wear on you. Smile. Use your free time and build your image—both the portfolio and resume—to the best of your ability, and do so carefully. Maintain your personal image too: exercise to keep yourself loose and limber for interviews, don’t sleep in through the noon hours, and groom yourself for heaven’s sake. When it’s all said and done, if you still have downtime, read about things we sometimes overlook during our job search in Part II: Distinguishing Yourself.
Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Jun.26.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Jerry Reyes’s comment is:

Thanks for writing this. It comes at a very opportune time for me, as I am making the transition back to design after a couple years as a letterpressman after getting my BFA (in design).

All very valid points.

’Looking forward to the next one!

On Jun.26.2004 at 05:43 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Thanks, Jerry. Glad to hear you appreciate it. I hope plenty of designers can offer up their own tips, tricks, or mistakes. And likewise, I'd love to hear from those in the hiring positions, that screen who will or won't get the job.

On Jun.27.2004 at 01:52 PM
Anthony Edwards’s comment is:

Yeah. I've done all this (recent grad with five years of experience before I went back to school) and I'm still looking for work. Possibly it's because I'm in a small city (Jacksonville, FL) not known for forward thinking design. I've gotten so many good comments on my online portfolio, but so far no work. I'm constantly working on new material whether it's personal or for the little freelance I attract.

It is very taxing and takes up a huge amount of my day. It wears on the nerves and makes me feel that maybe this is not my calling, only my love.

On Jun.27.2004 at 02:25 PM
John’s comment is:

I have just been through a few interviews, and the best ones for me are those where the interviewer talks first perhaps describing the firms' philosophy, work, process and who they're looking for. It enables me to fashion my presentation around their needs speaking more about my work and experiences that best relate to them.

Having already done your research on the firm, perhaps interviewees might consider asking a few questions about the firm first (if the interviewer doesn't initiate this). Besides getting to know them better since you're also interviewing them, this will help you get warmed-up to the interview and speak to their needs.

On Jun.27.2004 at 02:36 PM
Steve’s comment is:

Looking for summer internships, this shapes things up for me. Jason, I am unclear on the "tone matching" thing. Do designers really do this or is it just something you've adopted? And does it make a difference whether or not your work looks like the place you want to work?

On Jun.28.2004 at 12:39 PM
James’s comment is:

In light conversation over beers one afternoon my boss/hiring manager divulged that there are more important things than resume qualifications and work. She said she hired me because I said I was fun in the interview, which is the kind of environment they like to promote. The guy before me got hired because he said he just wanted to work. Somethin to think about I guess

On Jun.28.2004 at 02:45 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Jason, I am unclear on the "tone matching" thing. Do designers really do this or is it just something you've adopted?

Steve, when I first read that I was also slightly confused. But smart guy that I am I eventually got what Jason meant. So say you are interviewing at Modern Dog, if you have the luxury of selecting pieces to include in your book you might want to mostly show vibrant, typographically playful and colorful work that talks to not only the people at Modern Dog, but to Modern Dog's clients and ultimately to Modern Dog's clients' clients. Whereas if you were to apply for a job at SamataMason, you would want to include work that shows typographic restraint, good use of photography and color, etc. Mimicking a firm's look to get in the door is indeed rather silly (and logistically hard), because you want to compliment the firm not just add another body that churns out similar looking stuff.

If one doesn't have such broad selection of work (which most people don't) you try to "tone match" with language and intentions. Put a spin on the work you have done, how will your approach to your work benefit the firm? Spin it, match it, get it!

> She said she hired me because I said I was fun in the interview

This equally apllies to why you don't get a job. There are endless, sometimes dumb, reasons why a firm won't hire you so don't take it personally. Actually… it is personal… but still, don't let it get to you.

On Jun.28.2004 at 03:07 PM
Jason’s comment is:

James, you couldn't be more accurate. You've got to find a balance between all of the things you mention. Portfolio and resumé don't make you 100% capable of getting the job. Think about all of the people out there who lie on their CV or include work in their book that they didn't really do!

And Armin, thanks for clearing this up. It's not always the best course of action because nobody likes a copycat. Demonstrating that you're a new addition with a fresh vision is far more important. (To be continued in Part II.)

On Jun.28.2004 at 03:34 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>So say you are interviewing at Modern Dog ...typographically playful and colorful work that talks to not only the people at Modern Dog, but to Modern Dog's clients.

But be very careful here. Just to add to Armin's point.

Robynne Raye once lamented to me that many of the portfolios they see at MD look the same — meaning that people always try to show work they think Robynne or Mike will like and do. They match tone and style to the Nth degree.

Robynne's response is (paraphrasing her here, my apologies) "Why the (bleep) would I hire someone who designs exactly like I do? Mike and I already do that, and we do it better...so why would we hire a copy of ourselves?"


>I'd love to hear from those in the hiring positions, that screen who will or won't get the job.

ok, just some random advice.

1. Your resume/CV (ahem) shouldn't be longer than 1 page. It's a reference sheet, not a biography. Few people have enough deserving accolades and accomplishments to fill more than 1 page of information. A short, succinct resume also shows your self-editing abilities.

2. Online portfolios aren't as popular as you may think. Not all principals have good computers w/ T1 connections. Many of the older fogies know little more than how to email, let alone if whether or not they should click on the Flash 6 version, or the HTML. And most won't visit twice if they have to sit through a long intro.

A few issues back, Ellen Shapiro had an article in CA about pdf portfolios. They're much more universal, easier to send, and easier for employers to file/keep. Most art directors still prefer tear sheets or samples, but pdfs are becoming quite popular.

3. Fresh breath at all times, please. I've had to cut interviews short before because the applicant had such bad breath. Really.

4. Rehearse your interview w/ someone. Ask yourself the hard questions — like "Why do you want to work here?", "What was the most valuable thing you learned in school?", "What is your goal after your first year here?", and other ambiguous questions like that. In those cases, the answers themselves matter less than the manner which you answer them. Practice being relaxed. Practice being cordial. Practice.

On Jun.28.2004 at 03:51 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Well, Tan. I've broken your rule #1 to the Nth degree many times for sure. I suppose brevity means something when it comes to talking about yourself on paper. I'll be busy tightening up my CV the rest of today.

On Jun.28.2004 at 04:02 PM
Maya Drozdz’s comment is:

Ask yourself the hard questions — like "What was the most valuable thing you learned in school?"

Try to anticipate even tougher questions [err, tests], such as, "What was the least valuable thing you learned in school?" "What is the biggest flaw in your work?" Yes, you have to be relaxed but also quick-witted enough to answer difficult questions naturally and diplomatically [and to always cast yourself in the best light possible, even when you're being self-critical].

On Jun.28.2004 at 04:10 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> "What is the biggest flaw in your work?"

And PLEASE don't answer "I don't know" or, worse, "nothing". When you acknowledge flaws you acknowledge that you are willing to learn and that you recognize where you need help that the person interviewing you could help you with.

And don't write long-ass and convoluted sentences like the one I just wrote above.

On Jun.28.2004 at 04:26 PM
Jerry Reyes’s comment is:

Dear Colleagues,

Regarding the portfolio: What’s to be said about personal style? Should all pieces look stylistically similar, or is it better to show breadth? Also, should you strive to have a little bit of everything — logo/ID, poster, magazine/book spread, CD cover, ad campaign, packaging, etc.?

On Jun.29.2004 at 01:22 PM
Jerry Reyes’s comment is:

I guess there is no definite formula in the hiring process:

A good portfolio is going to get you in the door, but it’s how a person talks about their work and how they express their ideas that’s a large part of it. I remember hiring someone who had only one piece to show me, but she had such energy, and the piece that she showed me was good. I hired her on the spot.

— Bill Cahan

From Designing a Digital Portfolio, Cynthia L. Baron, New Riders Publishing, 2004

On Jun.29.2004 at 01:40 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Formulas are for politics and physics experiments, but having something that's tried and true doesn't hurt. I like Bill's comment. Who doesn't want to be hired on the spot when looking for work? It's important to know the difference between what works and what doesn't. Maybe hiring game suits the experience better than hiring process.

On Jun.29.2004 at 02:56 PM
Armin’s comment is:

An acquaintaince once told me he hired a designer because of the doodles he had made on a napkin while waiting for him at a coffee shop.

On Jun.29.2004 at 03:15 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Should all pieces look stylistically similar, or is it better to show breadth?

Breadth is good. But consistency is better. If a designer has a steady "style" — a good one of course — you know s/he will be able to translate any brief into a well-crafted piece. However, a "style" that is similar by all the work being set in Helvetica Medium and a range of 4 PMS colors is not good.

I know a designer whose portfolio, a year or two out of school, had an incredible depth but in the past years hasn't been able to do any two pieces that you could tell any difference between them.

A great interviewer is one who sees potential — for both crap and greatness.

On Jun.29.2004 at 03:27 PM
Tan’s comment is:


I'm in the process of reviewing some portfolios right now, and I have to tell ya — the word 'concept' seems to be a forgotten term.

So many graduates have stylistically pretty work that's completely vacuous. Slick boards and expensive printouts do not compensate for conceptually-barren work.

I want to see original thinking and execution. I want to see work with some true wit and unique style. I want to see work that has some thought behind it, and actually communicates something.

I don't care if your 'piece' can really be produced. I don't care if you treated the project as if it was a real client. I don't care about how nice your case is. I just care about the quality and intelligence of the concepts behind the work.

Just once, I'd like to see a shiny Pina Zagaro case with smart work inside.


On Jun.29.2004 at 06:25 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Just once, I'd like to see a shiny Pina Zagaro case with smart work inside.


If this bad boy wasn't retired I'd send it to you Tan.

On Jun.29.2004 at 09:36 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Tan, I hear you. To conceptually-driven work in green portfolios, it's got to be difficult reviewing those books without the designer there. Perhaps there is something beneath the surface, but without the creator narrating process and outcome, you can't recognize it.

I've had trouble believing that design can stand up on its own, without cause, methods, process, or objectives behind it. When you're absent from your book, Geissbuhler suggests designers add caption tags to their boards that reveal how the design came to be. But, even captions and creative briefs can't make up for unauthentic chic.

On Jun.30.2004 at 01:02 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> it's got to be difficult reviewing those books without the designer there.

One of the best interviews I ever went on, the interviewer had reviewed my book without me, he had it for a few days and I wasn't there to yack his ear off about the process. When I came in, we talked about everything but the book. I think this is a good way to eveluate a designer: get to know the work, then get to know the person, if the two click and match you've got yourself a winner.

> I've had trouble believing that design can stand up on its own, without cause, methods, process, or objectives behind it.

It can and it should. It's not a grad school project.

On Jun.30.2004 at 01:10 PM
Jason’s comment is:

It can and it should. It's not a grad school project.

Yes, Armin, I agree that design can stand up on its own whether commercial, educational, experimental, or otherwise. But expecting it to always do so is a huge wish. Sure, the biggest test of all is when the design faces the audience---the people out there, consumers, readers, patrons, etc.---who rarely concern themselves with the design's birthing process. However, in the context of portfolio drop offs, you've got to hope that the work does its job without you there. Who doesn't get separation anxiety during that leave behind process?

Ultimately, personality plays a large role. Your anecdote about not talking about the work is valuable. The person who plays the role of designer carries just as much weight as their work. (There's an analogy looming here.)

On Jun.30.2004 at 01:59 PM
Armin’s comment is:

You are right Jason, I didn't mean to devalue the importance of being able to walk an interviewer through your portfolio. Just saying that srong portfolios deal with separation anxiety better than their owners.

On Jun.30.2004 at 02:07 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Sure, Armin. Perhaps it's just me---the consummate skeptic. I doubt the credibility of my work too often. Furthermore, I just like to talk about my own work. (Skeptic, insecure, egotistical.)

On Jun.30.2004 at 03:06 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Skeptic, insecure, egotistical

I would hire you in a second!

On Jun.30.2004 at 03:08 PM
Anthony Edwards’s comment is:

I'm in the process of reviewing some portfolios right now, and I have to tell ya — the word 'concept' seems to be a forgotten term.

Tan, I wish you were interviewing me.

On Jun.30.2004 at 03:16 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Armin, I've booked a flight to Chicago!

On Jun.30.2004 at 03:20 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> I've had trouble believing that design can stand up on its own, without cause, methods, process, or objectives behind it. /Armin/ It can and it should.

Armin is correct. That's more what I meant — so much work lacks clear communication. Good design works independent of its author. And I don't mean to sound harsh, but I really don't value a designer explaining his or her own work to me during an interview. Talk about the work, but don't explain the work. There's a big difference.

Sure, circumstances like scope of work, timelines, process, whatever challenges you may have had is interesting — but in the end, it's just fodder for conversation during an interview. It won't compensate for conceptually-bereft, uninteresting work. (Not that I'm saying yours is, btw.)

That's another good piece of advice for interviewing. Know when to shut up. Don't be a chatterbox. Remember who you're interviewing with — they are not your peer or classmate. Most likely, it's a seasoned art director that's seen hundreds of student portfolios, is familiar with the nature of all school projects (and master theses), and spends much of their days evaluating designs from their own office. They know what they're looking at, how to evaluate it, and will ask you specifics about the work when they want.

Having restraint from over-explaining your work shows confidence. It's a difficult thing.

And I can't believe I'm saying this, but Geissbuhler is wrong. Caption tags are superfluous.

On Jun.30.2004 at 11:54 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>Tan, I wish you were interviewing me.

Hey Anthony, the job is posted on Landor.com. All those wishing to have their work scrutinized and judged under my tyrannical, bastard eyes are welcomed to apply to HR.

And don't complain afterwards — you've been forewarned >:-|

On Jul.01.2004 at 12:04 AM
Jason’s comment is:


On Jul.01.2004 at 12:38 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>Know when to shut up. Don't be a chatterbox. Remember who you're interviewing with — they are not your peer or classmate...They know what they're looking at, how to evaluate it, and will ask you specifics about the work when they want.

I want to take this back. It's way too harsh, and not what I really meant.

Look, an interview should be conversational, casual, enjoyable. It's a date, not a test. You can talk about whatever you want, and be enthusiastic as you want about your work. Chatter away. Just don't be so formal that you think you need to explain every piece in your portfolio. Some art directors may find that interesting — but most won't.

Instead, find a way to get them (the AD) to talk about themselves. Do your homework about the firm first, then ask lots of good questions. Try to make a connection with the interviewer.

On Jul.01.2004 at 09:45 AM
Jason’s comment is:

Nah, Tan. I didn't feel your first reply was too harsh, but appreciate that you've rephrased things. Looking at the interview as a date is a good analogy. Make it conversational and relaxed, not loaded with one-sided preaching. And like a date, you do want to make a connection. Whether or not it blossoms into a loving and longterm relationship will be up to both parties involved.

On Jul.01.2004 at 03:47 PM
Jerry’s comment is:

I’m appreciating much of the advice listed above. Is there any way some/one of the seasoned portfolio reviewers/interviewers can create a post where they basically talk about things that irk and please them about job-seekers and their books?

On Jul.03.2004 at 12:51 PM
Jason’s comment is:

A splendid idea, Jerry.

On Jul.03.2004 at 05:51 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

For what it's worth, Jason:

A month or so ago I was asked by a university to join other creatives (CDs, ADs, photogs) in reviewing student portfolios. Usually I don't go in for such things, but I wanted to see what its like on the other side of the table again, having been an art director several times over in the past....

My major impression is not the lack of confidence ,nor the trembling hands, and awkwardness, nor even the hipness of their outfits and carrying case, but, instead, the sincerity and courage of that individual to withstand real world criticism and show their humble but best work nevertheless. I've had some really cruel critiques in my time, and I wasn't going to subject any of these students to how that feels.I pity the creative director who thinks himself/herself a little thunder god.I found something good to say about each and every one of them without insincerity or indifference. We all started at the bottom at one time, right? And every once in a while I'd see a glimmer of real enthusiasm for entering this hard and hardened profession. Talking vs not talking: it's all a fleeting impression anyway. I'd say dare to be different and you'll at least get rejected or accepted on your own talent and not borrowed ideas. Besides,there are some good books and articles out there on the subject that have a lot of helpful advice, if you look for them.

On Jul.07.2004 at 11:22 AM
Jason’s comment is:

Pesky, you touch on some valuable points. Dare to be different sticks out the most. I'd second your suggestion. Strength and endurance mean a lot, but being yourself really makes you stand out from the rest. I've not been fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to review work in your capacity, but having been on the receiving end, it's always a huge challenge. I for one believe that designers have thick skin. We're trained to. Taking criticism well... now there's a whole new topic.

On Jul.08.2004 at 10:15 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, so I have a question for graduates and those going on interviews: what is your ideal interview scenario? What are you expecting to talk about and why?

You're not at the mercy of interviewers.

Instead of this thread being a one-way information dump, it can perhaps also serve as a dialogue for those of us doing the interviews. I'd love to be able to improve my interviewing skills as well.

Do you hate dressing up? Do you want to sit on the same side of the table instead of across? Why do so many of you create online portfolios?


On Jul.08.2004 at 11:33 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> Do you hate dressing up?

Oh heavens, YES! Here is what I think, one should present him/herself to an interview dressed just like any other day, perhaps take it up a notch. As an interviewer, I think you would want to see the "real" me, not the "dressed up" me, which you might never see again. A nice, clean pair of jeans, a decent button-down shirt, and cool shoes should be the norm for a designer-level position.

On Jul.08.2004 at 12:11 PM
Michael Browers’s comment is:

I recently completed my job search and happily secured a new job that I believe will be a nice step up for my career...

so to answer Tan's question from my perspective is remember that you are being interviewed every bit as much as your are interviewing. I have had potential employers read my resume for the first time in an interview, been completely unprepared when I arrive, complain about a past employer when explaining why they started their own business, and so on. None of this would reflect well on someone you are interviewing and likewise it does not reflect well on potential employers.

On Jul.08.2004 at 03:24 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

That's a great point, Michael.

When intern Pete breezed through here, he asked if he could ask us some questions. About the work, the job, about our lives.

None of us being real experienced interviewers, we appreciated that and took note. So yeah... it works both ways.

On Jul.08.2004 at 03:35 PM
Michael Browers’s comment is:

I just forgot one other thing... be educated on what questions are illegal to ask. Most places I have interviewed at are aware of this and avoid such questions, but for me it is a red flag when such questions come up because it either means the interviewer is ignorant that the question... or he person knows that what they are asking is illegal, but decided to ask it any way. Either way, it reflects poorly on the interviewer.

That said, overall I have had positive experiences in interviews. In general I find that my positive attitude and enthusiams makes for comfortable interviews. I think the bottom line is that people being interviewed must understand that they are not owed a job by anyone and must demonstrate why they are the right person for the job. Likewise businesses are not owed employees and must demonstrate why their company makes a good a match for the potential employee.

I treated my interviews the same way as I treat client meetings, with profesionalism, respect, and friendliness. My favorite interviews were with employers that treated the interview the same way.

On Jul.08.2004 at 03:44 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Tan, I want more snack options and a better selection of beverages. Would an espresso be so difficult to drum up? Pepsi isn't the choice of every generation. Really, what's the problem with having an online portfolio? When we land a job at the big firm, then maybe we can point friends and family to that site. Until then, the online portfolio's a way to showcase my work. Having a number of contract jobs over the past three months, it's the best way to have people see my abilities out of state. And speaking of out of state, has anybody seen or heard from graham?

On Jul.09.2004 at 12:23 AM
Jerry’s comment is:

Tan, now that you mention it — sitting on the same side would be better. I feel like I’m looking at work with a colleague (albeit mine, but more objectively so). It helps ease the nervousness.

I decided to get a my own domain for the reasons Jason explained in the entry and above:

1) Most, if not all of my audience (and family, freiends) can view my work whenever, wherever .

2) I can tailor the wrapper for my work the way I best see fit without ads or maximum upload quantity.

3) I’m more than a mere backslash away from other candidates.

4) PDFs acquire substantial disk space, thus email quota. I'd rather send you a slim message with my URL.

5) CDs get scratched or lost. Much worse, I’d hate to find out that my CD’s label damaged someone’s drive. (I know most people say it’s never happened, but it could.)

6) People will be able to see your latest work (assuming you update it).

7) It serves as a sampler or teaser. I want to save you time. If you see my site and feel that I’m not a good fit, I don’t expect you to contact me for an interview, ultimately saving us both the effort.

8) Lastly, I’d rather learn some XHTML and CSS than risk my pristine book mangled in the shipping process more than it needs to or have a $2,000 airfare budget just so people in other parts of the globe can see my work.

On Jul.09.2004 at 11:47 AM
Michael B.’s comment is:

I may be alone in this (or perhaps I'm alone in printing a job with a $86,000 error in it that I had to help swallow), but if I see spelling mistakes in a portfolio, I have trouble seeing anything else. (And that includes the difference between "its" and "it's.")

On Jul.09.2004 at 12:01 PM
Armin’s comment is:

An interviewer catching typos is always embarrassing. There is nothing that you can say that will make it OK. For a badly-cropped photo or an ugly color you can always blame the client: "The client made me do it", because chances are that the interviewer will not call your client.

RE: Online Portfolio. There is not a single reason as to why not have one. Other than an outdated portfolio there is no glaring con, it's all pros baby.

On Jul.09.2004 at 12:11 PM
Jerry’s comment is:

Re: Typos. Don’t you ever wish you had read it once more before hitting �post’? I assure you my formal letters are spotless, and so will my future SU posts. ;)

On Jul.09.2004 at 01:06 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>There is not a single reason as to why not have one.

no, there's no reason. But my question is more about effectiveness. Has anyone out there been hired based primarily/solely on their portfolio site? (Interactive designers don't count). Or is it just an extra that every assumes is an effective tool.

In my experience, most everyone's work looks good at 200x200 pixels. But I've been disappointed so many times when I finally get to see the applicant's real portfolio — and see that craftsmanship is poor, type is unfinessed, typos abound, etc. This has led to my mistrust of online portfolios completely. I don't even bother looking closely anymore — I just figured that if a designer is really serious about the job, he or she will be anxious to show me his/her real work/portfolio and be proud of it.

> if I see spelling mistakes in a portfolio

Unfortunately, I think most art directors seem to have a sixth sense for typos. It's a Darwinian/survival skill mastered through screw-ups.

I've seen "experience," "position," "stationery," and "principal" mispelled more often than I can count.

Same goes for my name. It's Le with one "e" not two — I usually immediately trash resumes that mispell it. It's not because I'm vain about my name, because I'm used to it being mispelled. I trash the resumes because that mispelling shows the person has poor attention to detail, and most likely knows nothing about the firm or the firm's work. As an applicant, it's your job to do the foot work and research for your interview, not mine.

Employers look for reasons to weed out applicants. Try not to give them any.

On Jul.09.2004 at 03:46 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Same goes for my name.

Good thing that is not a problem with Michael Bierut. Actually, Michael, you should just encourage applicants to address resumes to Michael B., save people some trouble. I was flipping through this book the other day and lo and behold Michael's name was misspelled… I mean, you'd think that either Sean Adams, Noreen Morioka or somebody at Rockport would have caught the dreaded Beirut.

On Jul.09.2004 at 03:59 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

Yeah, it's i-e-r as in "sexier."

Or just B. is fine with me.

On Jul.09.2004 at 06:13 PM
mitch’s comment is:

RE: re: online portfolio:

so my question for those of you doing the interviewing: does not having an online portfolio appear as a detriment? I think that the absence of an online body of work is only good in that there is so much crap on the internet that you theoretically save yourself from looking bad with a poorly designed site. remember, the Web is like a toilet: it looks all shiny from the outside but inside its generally full of shit. I have seen more online web garbage from those who are otherwise proficient designers than i care to remember, and it makes me wonder how a potential employer would look at someone who does not have a site. Or is it just assumed that a designer looking for work has a website?

On Jul.09.2004 at 07:43 PM
Jason’s comment is:

I see Tan's point on legitimacy and quality. Some designers use the media to their advantage, a lot like a Michael Moore film where fiction can easily become nonfiction. Fabricating a billboard, annual report, or stationery in PhotoShop isn't criminal. It demonstrates that the designer considered how the work could exist.

But craft skills, now that's a different story. Nothing beats having your job roll of a Heidelberg press. HHHhhhmmmmm. But budding designers don't always have the luxury of implemented work. So when you cut and mount your comps and laser prints, do it right and do it well. Spay mount. YUMMY. Sharp razor blades. OH yessss.

Not all designers are capable of cutting, pasting, and mounting. I feel this motivates them to work harder in other areas. Maybe that's too bad, but at least they're making an effort to showcase their work someplace. And why not? Design a website. Wouldn't doing so demonstrate one's ability to organize and create a structurally sound interface? It's typography, color, and hierarchy. That's design. So... what the hell?! The idea of book is always changing, and I see nothing wrong with designers moving their books into a global media where people view, interact, navigate, and glance through it. Print isn't dead, it's just got some competition.

Someplace out there, I recall a Poynor article on digital vs. analog media. Something about archiving photographs or art work. Might have been in Print or How or something else. That article really touched on the difference and distance between print and pixel.

On Jul.10.2004 at 01:45 AM
Tan’s comment is:

You're missing the point a little Jason.

I'm not just judging handskills for the hell of it. I need designers who can make a perfect 36 page annual report comp, or help mount 20 perfect strategy boards, or understand how to cut and assemble a 1/2-sized comp of a software box, etc.

How do you think firms present their work to clients these days? All PowerPoint and extranets? Hardly. Good hand skills are still essential everyday.

Besides, I've always found that a designer with meticulous handskills also tends to be a meticulous designer and typographer. It's about appreciating the craft of details. Something that's hard to show via a website.

Yes, good Photoshop skills are essential. And basic html knowledge will come into use occasionally. But if you're applying for a print design job — don't expect too much from your well-coded portfolio site.

Of course, I'm definitely speaking from a print perspective. Interactive agencies have completely different rules of engagement.

>how a potential employer would look at someone who does not have a site. Or is it just assumed that a designer looking for work has a website?

I assume all graduates have their own sites these days. But I don't expect it, because like I said, it can't show me what I want to see in person.

I've seen lots of talented, amazing designers that could care less about having a website. Really, I don't think anything of it.

I expect them to have their portfolio perfect and ready to send to me if I ask. Otherwise, don't bother applying in the first place if you're just going to point me to a website.

On Jul.10.2004 at 12:16 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Of course, I'm definitely speaking from a print perspective... Surely, I see your point, Tan. Those designers who can build the perfect comp are valuable in your domain. The interactive firms will appreciate the online portfolio and skills needed to assemble a website too. Good hand skills are still essential everyday. This sums it up in the clearest possible way. And the more you keep those hands in shape, the better. Whether punching away on a keyboard or mouse to build a website or cropping your trim marks with a clean blade, each craft is as valuable as the next. And frankly, I'm happy doing them both. Most designers I know feel the same way whether they have a job or not.

The focus of this original post never stated whether those jobs applied for were full-time, part-time, contract, on site, or off site. (That's such a wide gamut to cover.) In terms of opportunities, designers that work for contract (freelance) present their work online to reach a broad audience. It enables them to point a potential client to that URL and see what capabilities the designer can offer. I see how having an online portfolio when you're working full-time for an agency would be a conflict of interests, but it's not evil to have one while you're trying to get into the door. Is it? Perhaps it's not given much attention by some creative directors and art directors.

Ultimately, where I see you clearly is on the truth/myth issue, Tan. It boils down to quality and reality. Seeing the actual work in front of your eyes does not equal the experience of glancing at it through a 1024x768 pixel screen. I agree 100%.

Cathode rays just don't represent the work the same way as in person and hand skills are undervalued these days when students are raised in a MacLab environment. Sadly, in 1999, an institution I taught at cleared the entire production area out in order to make room for a 40 deck G3 computer lab. Students had no area to cut, mount, paste, or prep any of their print work. Most of them did it at home, without any supervision or training from an instructor. This whole discussion reminds me of some other posts: (01) and (02). Or maybe a new one will take shape...

On Jul.10.2004 at 04:30 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>but it's not evil to have one while you're trying to get into the door. Is it?

no, no, it's not evil.. And yes, it's a great tool to have if you're looking for freelance work, and/or working with a placement agency. That's how they market their people.

But just look at it this way. If you have 100 hours of effort/resources to dedicate to your portfolio, instead of putting 50 into a website and 50 into your book — it might be better to put more effort back into your work. Everyone has old pieces that needs improvements. Revisit an older brochure comp, tighten up the concept on that annual report, flush out that events campaign with some more pieces. Believe me, everyone's book can use some revisiting. Resist the urge to make a shiny website until your work is at its optimal condition.

A fancy portfolio website is like that shiny Pina Zagaro case I was talking about earlier. They're both just something to present the work. And in the end — it's about the work, not the thing that carries it.

On Jul.12.2004 at 12:48 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Jason, you referenced "sketching on the computer", one of Armin's observations via a link to his The Eternal Debate discussion: As one who sketches fearlessly - pencil on paper - just about anywhere I am awake (and sometimes not even then), it struck me as odd that I never sketch on the computer. I type or shape something, but those shapes never deviate from the cathode ray flatness.Not that its not valid, but drawing is like touching skin with your eyes.... I think drawing/sketching refers to a pre-computer activity. Call me a classicist, but a computer hand doodles, a live hand sketches, and even though a pentool or a Wacom tablet may simulate sketching, it's not the same.

Still, William Blake in front of a computer sketching would be an amazing thing...

On Jul.13.2004 at 10:02 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

"Do caption tags." "Don't do caption tags." "Show sketches." "Don't show sketches." "The packaging is critical." "The packaging is irrelevant to concepts."

Could all of us involved with interviews please recognize that what suits one art director or CD may not be relevant to another art director or CD? Other than some univerals truths (get the ketchup stains off your book; spell my name right, etc.), there is a lot of variation in what a book needs to have. When giving (or receiving) feedback, keep in mind the context that it is being given in, and please don't assume it's handed down on stone tablets.

On Jul.16.2004 at 11:27 AM
Jason’s comment is:

I never cared for the Ten Commandments myself. Even the Catholic religion has room to move laterally--at least I believe so.

On Jul.16.2004 at 11:36 AM
Bryan Rogers’s comment is:

Do you hate dressing up? Do you want to sit on the same side of the table instead of across? Why do so many of you create online portfolios?

I am a student right now going through an Art Institute program and I have had quite a few informational interviews in the past year or so. My favorite one so far has been one where a designer sat down with me on the same end of a conference table. We talked for probably an hour or more. He looked at my student work and critiqued it and then showed me other designer's portfolios to show me what was coming in, both good and bad. I completely enjoyed this because as a student it helped me to relax and take the critique. It also allowed me to see what a design firm considered strong work versus the crap.

On Jul.21.2004 at 10:13 AM
Mutok’s comment is:

My second real interview in the graphic design field (besides school reviews and admissions) was a big one: I met with Jan Wilker from karlssonwilker at his studio and showed him my work. He and Hjalti are going to be team-teaching a class next year at SVA, and I was trying to budge myself into it. They made it very clear on the phone that the class was full, but I asked if they would crit my stuff anyway. They gave me an appointment and were very friendly throughout the whole process. I showed up with non-sorted work from my classes with the intent to improve my work and select the best for my Sophomore portfolio. Hjalti was busy with something so I met with Jan alone. We sat down on the meeting couch and chair (see tellmewhy for more information) and I whipped out the giant Pearl Paint bag (anyone who goes to art school in New York knows about these) closed with duct tape and felt very self conscious of the shabby state of my presentation. He was not used to people coming to him for crits without wanting something from him like a job, internship, etc. so we both felt our way through the interview. He was extraordinarily harsh but constructive, spending an hour and a half analyzing my work and chatting. When I left I felt castrated, but I had ideas, a direction, and motivation. And do you know what? He really liked some of my stuff too. Here are a few points that Jan made about my work that could probably help a lot of people:

  • Pay attention to every typographic detail. Don't allow yourself to get lazy and miss those little kerning problems.
  • Push your ideas further – if you're going to say something, really say it. Extremes, if the content supports it.
  • Along those lines, unify your ideas and don't cloud them with other intruding ones.
  • Authenticity of voice is essential.
  • A great idea is worth much more than style.
  • Keep a sense of humor about your work.
  • Presentation should be a high priority. (I know, I know, I know...) e.g. coordinate down to the formatting and positioning of the barcode as a design element of your book jackets.
  • The expensive black case your work comes in doesn't matter, but the box that's part of your work does. Package your designs. Book jacket? Put it on a dummy book. Or an actual book. Better yet? Design your portfolio case too. It's packaging.
If you're curious, my first GD interview was with the Art Director of Good Housekeeping. That one went well too.

On Jul.23.2004 at 12:18 AM
Jason’s comment is:

Very cool, Mutok. KW's points are all valid tips. Thanks for sharing them. The last one is especially interesting, The expensive black case your work comes in doesn't matter, but the box that's part of your work does. Package your designs. Book jacket? Put it on a dummy book. Or an actual book. Better yet? Design your portfolio case too. It's packaging. That's real attention to detail. I've yet to see anyone that designed their own portfolio case. I'd love to see some samples of that.

On Jul.23.2004 at 10:19 AM
Mutok’s comment is:

One thing I do feel obligated to say about the last point is that it is much more important to be concerned with the quality of the work than it is incorporating a neat case (unless you're applying at a firm that designs neat cases). I don't think I'll get to the point soon where I'm making a DIY case because I can always improve my work and I spend my time doing that. I talked to our department chair, Richard Wilde, after our reviews and he said that putting too much into mounting on foamcore, cutting windows, etc. was a waste of time and looks gauche to the person who is reviewing your book. They just want great work. We might not even be doing case portfolios next year Ó the trend now is to put all of your work into a designed hardbound book (hey, a way of making your presentation be part of your work). Remember to include three dimensional work as actual objects if it is possible. People want the tactile experience over just looking at a photo.

On Jul.23.2004 at 10:46 AM
Jerry’s comment is:

Remember to include three dimensional work as actual objects if it is possible. People want the tactile experience over just looking at a photo.

This brings up a good point. I have a few CD packaging and book projects and had mounted them (but can be unattached) on the backing of their respective sleeve. The plus is that you get the tactile experience of the actual piece, the downside is that it creates a bulge in the other pages before it and don’t lay flat. Is this a big deal? Any other options? Also, since this work can be removed from the portfolio, should I worry about it getting lost?

On Jul.25.2004 at 03:25 PM
Kristin Chaney’s comment is:

Hi Jason, my name is Kristin I am a student at Arizona State University, I am a graphic design major and in my visual communication class we have been assigned to compete in the Speak up Poster contest so, the quote I would like to use is from your "No work No problem" part 1 essay. I need to obtain an email from you giving me permission to use the quote "You control your design destiny." I am also fond of the quote "because you may see them again". Please send me an e-mail of permission to quote your essay, I will credit you as the author of the quote. here is my e-mail Kristyilb@hotmail.com thank you!

On Aug.29.2004 at 09:52 PM
Leanne’s comment is:

A comment on pdf portfolios...

This summer I've been on the recieving end of over 200 pdf portfolios as I was hiring contract work. In the end, I only hired one person--and there were only three on my short list.

Why is this? Well, for the following reasons:

1. Don't send me a high-res pdf of 76 different portfolio projects and clog up my mailbox--if you're a really good designer I only need to see 10 projects or less.

2. Don't send me a resume file and call it "resume" and a pdf file and call it "portfolio". There are 75 people ahead of you who have already done the same thing. I don't want to open the file, find out your name and rename it for you.

3. Don't send me a blank email with no text, no subject line but your attachments--how can I expect you will communicate well with my staff?

On Sep.03.2004 at 10:47 PM
allison’s comment is:

Hi everyone, this is the first time I've posted. Reading this discussion made me think about myself and my situation. I am in my last semester of school at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. I recently got my first design-related job (never had an internship). The job is the in-house graphic designer at a very small family owned print shop. By small I mean it's the owner, her daughter, and me. All I do all day long is "re typeset these forms please. exactly how they are here" or occasionally I'll get to design a pamphlet for a small company. What I'm wondering is, will this job get me in the door at a more creative design position? Or do I need some other kind of experience. I like the job, I just feel like in the eyes of some of the people here at CCS, it's not "a real design job".

What do you think? Please help me.


On Sep.24.2004 at 03:29 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Allison — all jobs are real. The important question is whether or not you can use any of the work that you do at this current job to replace/supplement your student work in your design portfolio. If you can't, then it won't get you in the door at another agency as a designer.

It also depends on the kind of work that you're producing for this owner and daughter team. Is it good work to begin with? Your experience at this place will be worth something (time management, multi-task, organization), but just not in a design capacity. It might get you in the door for a production position though. But ultimately, your ability to show your design skills is important for any future design position.

On Sep.24.2004 at 06:28 PM
Milusha Ravi’s comment is:

I have read your article and I have been looking for work for now over 6 months (have had 2 years experience though). I have done everything you mentioned and more; people tell me that they like my work, that I sound professional and that they like my cover letter and resume, yet, I have hardly had any interviews if at all. My spirit is wearing thin on me.

I must also mention that I have changed my resume many a time and have updated my portfolio as well. The problem with networking is that there are so many of my friends looking for jobs as well that it is hard to ask someone to keep a lookout for any design jobs in the semi-small city that I live in. Any extra advice to cheer my weary spirit?

On Jan.03.2005 at 12:15 AM