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No Work? No Problem. Part II: Distinguishing Yourself

In this session of No Work? No Problem, we’ll open up the floor to those in need of work, those who’ve found work, and those who hire those who work.

There’s no formula to finding a job, and this holds true for graphic designers as well as anyone else. However, ours is a visual domain, one that requires us to present our best self and our best design solutions. Whether you call yourself a designer, project manager, art director, programmer, typographer, educator, or creative director, it boils down to whether or not you and your skills can fit in and how you will contribute to solving visual, marketing, and/or communication problems.

We touched on portfolios, resumes, and networking in Part I. In Part II, let’s focus on the interview itself. When you arrive at the interview how do distinguish yourself as somebody the company should remember, or more importantly… hire? And for those who’ve sat on the other end of the desk asking the questions, what attributes and traits do you look for in a candidate during the interview process?

Lastly, please comment on your most recent experience looking for work (or hiring) and share any pitfalls you’ve encountered (or never want to encounter). It’s an open forum to help us build on the forthcoming Part III.

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PUBLISHED ON Sep.07.2005 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

In a recent phone interview, I was point blank asked "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you want this job?" It was the scariest question ever. This was at the end of the interview when my excitement had died down a bit after realizing the job description. But I had about 2 seconds to think about it. Lie, and get the job (I felt they liked me) or be honest and maybe not get the job. I said 8 (which was probably one more point than I really felt).

They called me back after 3 minutes and offered me the job. They said I was the only one that didnt immediately answer 10. That slightly worried me, because what if everyone else had been completely sincere in answering ten? I declined the job after a day or two deciding that I couldnt take the job if i didnt love it and if there might have been someone who did.

I've gotten in a lot of trouble in interviews when being completely honest with employers. Sometimes it really pays off. Other times I think its seen as blunt and I get taken off the list immediately. I'm still searching for that right mix, but this was one of the few moments where it felt good to be (fairly) honest.

On Sep.07.2005 at 10:35 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

So that honesty might have won them over, but it really helped you more than them by gauging your own passion for the job. Sounds like their question backfired.

On Sep.07.2005 at 10:39 PM
Randy’s comment is:

I wouldn't say it backfired. The hiring entity wants a good fit (if they're smart) as much as the potential employee. If their question led one to realize it wasn't the gel they had assumed, all the better.

On Sep.07.2005 at 11:44 PM
design is work that is sometimes hard to get’s comment is:

do any of you feel like really being yourself in an interview has hurt your chances, or kept you from getting a job?

On Sep.07.2005 at 11:54 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


I usually don't participate in these discussions.

Having been on both sides of the fence.

In all HONESTY. The Best Jobs, First Tier Jobs you're Recruited. They're almost no WALK ON POSITIONS in this arena. Those Jobs are almost never advertised. Filled by a very narrow pool of referrals.

If a Job is a WALK ON POSITION chances are the employer is desperate. Not worth your while.

These are the Skull Duggery Positions. The Jobs that lure you in chew you up and spit you out.

These are also the revolving door positions

where people don't stay long.

Reason, there are so many sources an employer can tap to acquire creative talent.

The Law emphatically state if you have a Position Vacancy you have to advertise the position. The Law cannot tell you whom to hire for the position.

Hiring Practices are not Honest!!!!!!

never were and never will be.

It used to be the Best Qualified Person got the Job. Not anymore. Today, Human Resources and Personnel Departments will tell you "The Selecting Official or Hiring Manager can Hire whomever they Desire in leu of Capability, Experience, Education and Talent.

Most of the Positions Advertised are written for someone already in the Position. Again, the Law state you have to advertise the Position if you have a vacancy.

I trust my Honesty doesn't put a Damper on your Discussion. That's the name of the Game.

Getting any Job is based on WHO YOU KNOW!!!!! And how they met you.

Being the right fit for a Job is Human Resources and Job Discription Gobledegook. You can train anybody to perform most of the run-of-the-mill stuff in Graphics. Especially production, trouble shooting and correcting files. Which is generally not performed by Trained Graphic Designers. That's not etched in stone.

If you get a WALK ON POSITION you're Extremely Fortunate.


On Sep.07.2005 at 11:56 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Follow Up:

Those that think my post is Fabricated or not factual. I only speak from experience. Before you try to Lambast my Bullet Proof Post. Read for your self in Rita Sue Siegel's own words, Preeminent Creative Recruitment Specialist. Allegemeine Gewerbueschule aka (Basle School of Design).

Rita Sue Siegel recruited the Best and Most Brilliant Designer and Creative Personnel for Identity Consultancy's, Design Firms, and Ad Agencies. Most were recruited from the Best School in the World The Allegemeine Gewerbueschule aka (Basle School of Design.

If you're old enough you know this is how it's done. First Tier Consultancy's wanted to stack the Deck with the Best Talent they could afford an interesting read to say the least.

This is not dishonest or what I was alluding to in my earlier post. I thought I'd post this for all the hopefuls waiting to get Jobs at Landor, Lippincott & Margulies, Enterprise IG or any First Tier Identity or Design Consultancy. This is what you're up against. Dream On.


On Sep.08.2005 at 01:25 AM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

How timely and relevant. I interviewed just today and am weighing an offer. My problem is that I’ve only just started looking, and think I can do better. That’s my gut talking. My wallet sings a different tune. (But then again, these two don’t always get along so well.)

With my background, the possibility of advancement is very important. I feel as though I should only give my commitment to a company that can provide that opportunity, as opposed to “learn here—advance elsewhere.”

Bottom line—how long should my commitment horizon extend? How fast to smell a dead end?

On Sep.08.2005 at 01:49 AM
Tan ’s comment is:

My dear Maven, let's not scare the crowd.

I agree with your point about recruitment. But the fact is, even if you're recruited, you still have to interview with your respective employer, and in most cases, your new team. And it doesn't matter who you are, even if you're the new boss — there is always another boss on top of you.

The context of the interview may be different, but the importance is no less.

On Sep.08.2005 at 02:38 AM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Mark, these are all personal questions you ask and the decision you make will be based on your wallet's breadth or depth as well as your own interest. How long have you been out of work? Does this feel like a good opportunity? And if you take the job, then something "better" comes your way down the line, why not take go after the other job with more promising advancement?

On Sep.08.2005 at 05:55 AM
Greg’s comment is:

I just went back to Part I, and a lot of this is covered there... and I could use a good dose of that post. But I digress. Let me share my most recent interview with all of you—

9:00 A.M. Last Wednesday— I find a job that interests me on careerbuilder (I know, I know... see the first sentence of this comment), and decide to apply.

9:30 A.M.— The Job calls me up, says they want to get together for an interview today, they are very interested, please come in ASAP. I take this as a good sign.

11:00 A.M.— I arrive at the Job's office, and wait for 15-20 minutes in the lobby.

11:20 A.M.— Interviewer J. arrives in the lobby, introduces herself, and the interview commences. I'm doing fairly well, I go through my portfolio and tell J. what I was trying to accomplish with each piece. Basic portfolio spiel. She talks a lot about the job, how they want someone whose personality matches the office, who is fun, etc. I resolve to crack more jokes, and dampen my rather dry wit.

11:45— J. says thank you and stands up, leading me to conclude that the interview is over. She says no, she just wants to go get her boss, Joel. Ok. Ten more minutes in little conference room looking at large map of Florida. J. seemed interested, but I had already gotten that from the phone call that got me here...

11:55— J. pops her head in the door, and asks if I've eaten. I hadn't, so she leads me into the large conference room with her, her boss, and five or six other women of approximately my age (late 20's). They ask all sorts of questions, I try to be funny, I only eat one piece of pizza to not seem like a pig, and everything seems to be going well. Boss Joel is mostly quiet, but makes one joke to me that I couldn't hear from the other end of the table. He repeats himself, and I laugh politely. hmm..

12:20— Joel pronounces lunch over, and asks me to go back to little conference room to review my portfolio. He looks briefly through it, flipping pages faster than I can explain anything, but I figure if the work can't stand on its own...He tells me about the job, but makes it sound a little different than what J. said. He asks what J. told me, I tell him, and he frowns a bit and asks if I'm ok with what the job would entail. I of course say “of course.”

12:25— Joel stands and says thank you, leading me to conclude that the interview is over. He says, no, he's going to get J. again. Five more minutes looking at map.

12:30— J. comes in, says thank you for coming in, we'll be in touch in the next couple of days, and hustles me out the door. I walk down to my car, and as the base of the stairs I see one of the girls that was in the large conference room, talking on her cell phone.

“Are you hired?” she asks me.

“I don't know yet,” I reply.

“Did you take the personality test?” she asks me.

“No,” I reply.

“Oh.” Five seconds of uncomfortable silence.

“I'll let you get back to your call,” I say. I get in my car and go home.

11:00 A.M. Friday— I write an email to J., Joel, and A., the woman who I talked to on the phone that day, thanking them for their time and consideration.

1:00 P.M. Friday— I try to call to see whether or not I got the job, before the long weekend. I only get voicemails.

As of today, I have only gotten an email back from A., saying she was out of the office Friday, and if I have questions, I can call her. I've called a couple of times, and only gotten voicemail.

Does anyone know what I did wrong, besides (I surmise) showing up and not being a pretty 20-something-year-old woman?

On Sep.08.2005 at 09:11 AM
Chris Johanesen’s comment is:

I'm relatively young and inexperienced in the design field, but having worked for 10 years in another industry, I can say it's not as simple as "Best and Most Brilliant" employees and companies. Everything is too subjective, and I believe personalities shape the job experience more than anything else.

Having worked with people who were very nice, but completely incompetent, and people who were "brilliant" but were total a**hole prima donnas (who never showed up on time), I can say it's a lot more complex then good/bad employees or employers.

I would rather work for a designer at a small company who is patient and going to teach me a lot, then work at a GiantFamousDesignCorp, with a creative director who is arrogant or hostile. [I'm not referring to anyone in my experience, just speaking hypothetically.]

On Sep.08.2005 at 09:12 AM
Doug Fuller’s comment is:

Having recently gone from my own studio of 10+ years, to now working in-house, it was an interesting experience going from employer to employee.

I ended up in my current position because I created the opportunity. I was looking to make a change and happened to interview someone (he wanted to do freelance work for my company) who worked where I am now. Reviewing his portfolio, I was impressed with the quality the work coming from his in-house design department and what he had to say about the work environment.

I later set up a lunch with him and asked him to set up a meeting with his boss, the creative director. There was no opening, but I planted the seed in their mind so when there was one, I was the first one they thought of. It took a while (almost a year), but I eventually I got the job and it has been a great move.

The point is, I made the opportunity instead of waiting for it to happen. Not everyone has the luxury to wait that long, I understand. I tell students that good employers are always looking for great talent to add to their teams and will often make room for that special someone who comes along.

On Sep.08.2005 at 09:20 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


I thought about that and couldn't take it back.

So wonderful to be an author and be able to delete.

My point of contention is that most WALK ON Jobs Advertised are very similar to Greg's Experience.

In my younger days, I've gone through the same thing. Worst case scenerio's were the TEST. Inking in the old days. Very Clinical Quark, Photoshop, and Illustrator test in the 80s.

TAN, I'm just trying to say to get to where you and ARMIN are you in your careers one has to be RECRUITED and posses an enormous amount of skill. Notwithstanding being well connected.

There's nothing wrong with being connected.

I trust you read the pdf in my former post on Rita Sue Siegel recruiting for Bass, Landor and the rest of the BIG BOYS.

Chris Johanesen

I don't think TAN or ARMIN are a**hole prima donnas.

Guys before anyone is offended just being :-D and :'(

To clarify an earlier statement. I was mostly referencing NEPOTISM in the job market.

Not the recruiting process by First Tier Consultancy's which is totally honest.

Not even a Prima Donna as Elite as Mr. Maven has made the list.

That's why I'm not going to BOSTON I may go POSTAL. LOL


On Sep.08.2005 at 09:53 AM
ben... (pessimist no more)’s comment is:

I've dressed up for interviews and I haven't. So far it really hasn't mattered one way from Sunday how I was dressed, because they just wanted to look at my portfolio. I feel that your portfolio does most of the talking at the interview, but the ability to talk about each piece is important. Taking someone on a narrative journey through the thoughts and ideas that comprise your portfolio is the most important part of the interview. If you speak clearly, concisely and present everything professionally they will not have a 2x4 to smack you over the back of the head with at the end of the interview. One thing you must keep in mind: 8 out of 10 design jobs you obtain will be based on who you know. If you can make a few key contacts, you are set. AIGA is good in that it places you in the middle of a networking designer's wet dream. There are multiple people to talk to your age as well as the veteran's of the game that can instill wisdom and ideas. Being in the company of other designer's boosts confidence and provides security that you can take with you into an interview.


gender: male

age: 26

years experience: 1.75

need a better job?: yes

currently working in 'the industry': yes, corporate

home: virginia

On Sep.08.2005 at 09:59 AM
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

Greg, I've been in your shoes before. Had a similar type of half-day interview (I actually did take the personality test). The whole process took apporximately 3 to 4 hours.

I thought for sure since they invested so much time in getting to know me, they must have been very interested in me.

It took about a whole week before I heard back from them, and it was a short email with little explanation. It said something to the effect of:

"Thanks for your time, however we've found someone else."

Like you, I was scratching my head trying to figure out what I'd done wrong. After that interview I shamelessly did a handful more trying to refine my performance. I can be a fairly personable guy, even if I'm nervous. The thing I discovered is that unless it's a slam-dunk for both sides (and you will be able to tell), they won't hire you unless they're in a jam and they need *someone.* And even then they might not hire you.

It could have nothing to do with your skill set, and maybe nothing to do with your personality, and it may just be that you're not a pretty 20-something-year-old woman. They're looking for someone to fit in their office all the way around.

For me, the bottom line was that it just wasn't meant to be. I figured there may be a better opportunity out there for me. I bet the same can be said for you.

Oh, and I also discovered that an interview is 75% just being yourself, and 25% is being a polite guest in their "house." No performance of any kind is needed.

On Sep.08.2005 at 10:20 AM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Just 25% being a polite guest? Is that really an adequate breakdown? What if 100% of you being you amounts to being a really impolite person? (The thought of crunching these numbers makes my head hurt.)

I'd go out on a limb and say that being polite is 100% a part of the interview. You lose that attribute or say the wrong thing to somebody (a secretary or somebody in the elevator) and you may wind up being crossed off the list before you have a chance to sit down for the interview itself.

By nature, I am a person that is very reactive, sometimes without much prior thought or consideration of the outcome (the nuts and bolts of that trait are for another time and place). I have to turn that part of me off whenever I go to an interview. Driving to the interview site, I resist any temptation of flipping off the person who cuts in front of me on the freeway. In the elevator, I try my best not to make any obnoxious noises. When I meet the person answering the phone at the front desk, I speak with them on a first name basis and smile (more than needed), saying thank yous after each and every exchange.

Few of us are pretty twentysomething as Michael addresses, so do your best to be pretty damn nice. Your genuine qualities should show through and not be repressed by any "performance" you have to put on.

Lastly, and really, does being a pretty 20-something-year-old woman have anything to do with finding work? If anything, the amount of designers out there who are female probably does outnumber those that are male, but who cares if you're pretty. It should be more than skin deep.

On Sep.08.2005 at 10:46 AM
kleid’s comment is:

If my last job interview would be divided into percentages, I would say that 84% of it was me asking questions, and the interviewer answering.

At one point he asked me, "hey! who's conducting this interview?"

I got the job.

On Sep.08.2005 at 10:49 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

"they won't hire you unless they're in a jam and they need *someone.* And even then they might not hire you".

Guys and Dolls, that's what I meant in my first post in reference to WALK ON Postitons.

'If a Job is a WALK ON POSITION chances are the employer is desperate'.

See you tonight or tomorrow, I'm needed in the War Room.


On Sep.08.2005 at 10:51 AM
feelicks sockwl jr’s comment is:

I interviewed a kid a few years ago- Christian Helms- really smart kid from portfolio center. Sort of an activist designer (the best kind). Anyway I sent him to one of these 1st tier agencies (whatever those are worth) to work on the latest Elvis "No 1 hits" CD. He did well but left after a few months to join Bielenberg on some non- profit work. I wish I wouldve hired that bastard.

Personally, I don't think knowing someone gets anyone a good job. You have to be good or you'll be gone. Its not who but what.= you know.

Anyone who disagrees is simply in a different kind of business - one rife with politics and laden with uncomfortable niceties.

On Sep.08.2005 at 11:03 AM
Adelie’s comment is:

So here's a question for all you experts:

I am currently working for a company doing packaging design for kitchy products. It's a good starting position and I'm learning lots more about PhotoShop and Illustrator. However, because we do packaging for kitch, I'm basically having to set aside what I learned in school.

An opportunity has arisen to move elsewhere. It's not an offer, just a chance for an interview. But, here's my dilemma:

The job I want to apply for is an hour away from when I work. Also, I have no personal or vacation days, but I don't want to lie about being sick.

Finally, I've only been here for a few months, and don't want to let my boss know I'm looking to leave so soon.

What do you experts recommend?


On Sep.08.2005 at 11:10 AM
Pete Ankelein’s comment is:

Adelie, if you don't want to call in sick, you could see if you can have the interview scheduled later in the day and leave early. That's what I would do.

On Sep.08.2005 at 11:59 AM
Adelie’s comment is:

Well, my boss also frowns upon leaving early. We're supposed to make doctor's appointments, etc. over lunch.

Also, what is the latest that is considered appropriate to ask for an interview?

On Sep.08.2005 at 12:07 PM
fatknuckle’s comment is:

cough!cough! Dont feel bad about it if you feel its in your best interest.

I agree with though with DM in that it is who you know, and also with FS one being geat when you get there.

I had a interview at a first tier agency in Minneapolis once back in the early 90's when design was really blowing up. Went through two rounds of interviews ultimately leading to a walk-on sort of test project to see how I fit in ith the "culture" of the agency. Great, after spending about a week there I nailed pretty much everything they threw at me and felt uber confident that I had made a good impression and they would call me with an offer. No dice, after hounding them for a while I somehow got the hiring manager who said they had given the job to someone else (even though the AD said that I was a shoo in and there was just some kinks to be hammered out. blah)

Needless to say I was completely crushed. Not crushed enough to not send them a bill for a nice chunk of change for my week of service. To this day I tell myself some nephew of some manager who just graduated needed a job and that it was out of my control. True? maybe maybe not but it makes the rejection a bit easier to swallow.

On Sep.08.2005 at 12:20 PM
pnk’s comment is:

I hired a designer just a couple months ago for our in-house design group. The people I knew who might be appropriate for the position were not available, so we posted on CommArts, Craigslist, and a couple other places. Got loads of resumes, a surprising amount of very poor ones, and a satisfactory amount of very good ones.

The 7 or 8 initial interviews I conducted were very revealing, and I quickly narrowed the field to my top two. I knew neither of them previously, and their work styles and experience were different but reasonably equivalent: both were very good, and both had worked with demanding clients. To determine my final choice I decided to have them each come in to present their portfolios to the non-designers in the marketing department who make up our client base. What a revealing contrast! The one we hired was much better able to explain his decision-making process, better able to explain design concerns in lay terms, and just generally better able to represent the value of good design in language our clients understood. Was he a better designer than the other candidate? Nope. Was he perfect in everything he said? Nope. Has he been working out? Yup: splendidly.

Someone once told me that all companies hire people for only one job: problem solver. When I was made to believe that this candidate was better able to solve the problems of my clients than the other, the job was his.

On Sep.08.2005 at 12:57 PM
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

Jason, I should have elaborated and I should have broken it down differently. I just meant to be yourself but also to remember your manners - but not to the point that you're not lettng your natural responses and reactions come through. Sometimes it's those unique and quirky things you do that the person interviewing you notices and really likes. Moments like that can tell tons about you.

> Lastly, and really, does being a pretty 20-something-year-old woman have anything to do with finding work?

Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. What I meant is that (in this circumstance) because that was the environment at the place Greg was interviewing, it would have helped a bit if he was like them. Just a guess.

Felix, it's who you know that gets you in the door and, with the proper recomendation, can practically land you the job. Being incredibly good at what you do is the final nail in the coffin and they extend the offer. But of course, to validate your point, you have to be incredibly good at what you do to know the right people and get those proper recommendations. I know you know this, just stating the obvious.

Adelie, if your boss is that uptight then you really shouldn't feel guilty at all for taking some time to go to an interview. Call in sick.

Wow. I got quoted by DM.

On Sep.08.2005 at 01:00 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

An interview in search of designer is as much about the portfolio as it is about personality, style and thinking. I tend to divide my time and attention in these two “sections”, which play from each other and are at no time separate.

Whenever I am interviewing, I want to know how you think, why this or that, what happens if I put you in a tough spot (being considerate of the situation of course), mostly in a personal opinion situation, what interests you within design and out of design, what kind of stuff do you do in your spare time, etc. this all gives me a better sense as too who you are and what you are able to bring to the table if you are hired.

I need to know that you will be able to perform, interact, get along and help everyone grow.

Also, you are your best selling asset. If you are not yourself in the interview, I can’t know if it will work out or not (and you can usually tell when people are hiding).

Finally, if you agree with me on EVERYTHING, I feel I can’t trust you.

On Sep.08.2005 at 01:08 PM
If You Can Point And Click With A Mouse, You Can Make $100,000 A Year Or More’s comment is:

"You don’t even have to be able to draw a straight line —

the computer does everything for you."


... oh those poor gullible souls

On Sep.08.2005 at 01:35 PM
fatknuckle’s comment is:

nice. sign me up...

On Sep.08.2005 at 01:46 PM
Garrett Lubertine’s comment is:

I came here specifically to post that "wonderful" link, it seems I was beaten to the punch... What an opportunity! All this time I thought I was creating the design work myself when in fact the computer has been doing everything for me. Who needs a masters from Allegemeine Gewerbeschule when you have an Apple G5?! I smell a revolution brewing...

On Sep.08.2005 at 03:26 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I just hired a couple of designers (a senior and a junior) and am in the process of looking for two more.

When I started the search, I first called friends and peers asking for recommendations — looking for good designers that I could cherry-pick from other agencies. That didn't work, so I ended up posting the position in a number of sources.

400+ applications later, I netted about 10 qualified, decent applicants that got call-backs for interviews.

Three never returned the call-back. Two were out of town or out of country and couldn't schedule an interview. That left five interview candidates.

I won't divulge how their interviews went, but I can pass along some general advice.

First, as a interviewer, I tried my best to be prepared. That means I was clear on what the job description for the position was; I was prepared to explain clearly and accurately what the responsibilities of the position would be; and lastly, since I had already reviewed their portfolio ahead of time, I made sure that I had specific questions about certain pieces or a certain part of their resume and experience.

During the interview, I tried not to over-talk the interviewee. I try to make it as casual of a dialogue as possible, asking direct, succinct questions that are relevant to the position and the agency. I don't like to review work piece-by-piece, but rather, I ask specific questions on a few. The answer is as important as the way in which it's delivered. It gives me a glimse into the candidate's communication skill and style, as well as their ability to engage in conversation about design. It shows me their confidence, their insecurities, and their passion for their own work.

As an interviewee, my biggest advice is for you to do as much research on the prospective firm before your interview. Find out who their clients are, what their latest work and client win might have been, and most importantly, why they are looking for the position you're hoping to fill. The more information you can scout ahead of time, the more prepared you'll be to talk about yourself in a way that's most relevant for the position. It's common sense if you think through it carefully.

Be prepared to answer anything and everything. You might get a direct, but difficult question like "Why do you want to work for us?" If you're unprepared, it'll be obvious you don't know firm A from firm B . You can also come across as too-needy or ass-kissy. If the interview goes well, you might be asked what your current salary is. Again, it'll be obvious if you've prepared yourself to answer that question.

Be yourself, but your most polite self. NEVER talk trash about your past employer or past client. Again, stick to what's relevant. Talk about your work, but don't over-explain each piece. And for God's sake, be absolutely honest about everything. Design is a small community, and everyone knows each other. Don't ever claim credit for work you didn't do or boast about projects you weren't involved in.

On Sep.08.2005 at 04:16 PM
Pete Ankelein’s comment is:

Someone once told me that all companies hire people for only one job: problem solver.

I can really relate to pnk's comment about being a problem solver. First off, let me just state up front that I've never attended design school...I don't have an MFA. There are many times I wish I did but that's a post for another day. I basically switched from a career in audio recording to graphic design and web development in the mid-90s. I found out that for some reason I had a knack for troubleshooting visual problems, moreso that aural ones...and I enjoyed it more. This, combined with years of self-study/observation, getting my foot in the door at various places, and learning from friends that were schooled designers and illustrators, has thankfully allowed me to build a solid career as a creative. What gets me gigs is the fact that I have experience in fast-paced environments, I'm versed in a lot of different areas whether it be graphic design, web development, product illustration, 3D animation, or writing music for a presentation, I offer quick turnaround, and I'm quick when it comes to problem-solving.

That being said, I do have alot of internal struggles before going to interviews sometimes just for the fact that I'm my own worst critic. Yes, I have experience but I also know what others, what I call "real" designers, are doing out there and realistically, while I can do the job, I tend to think..."man, there are guys, 20 times better than me...what am I doing here?" It seems like everything has been...get the job, then fly by the seat of my pants trying to learn things in order to keep it. At interviews in general, I tend to just be myself...I'll dress in whatever's appropriate for the company and just get a feel for the interviewer. Sometimes you get lucky with what you say....the CTO at the company I currently work for is a scientist and used to be into marine biology (which I didn't know at the time) but he asked me in the interview, "If you weren't doing web development or design work, what would you want to do for a living?" I basically said, "Either 3D medical visualization (I was into 3D modelling at the time and this is a pharma industry position), a marine biologist, or a rock star." That struck a common interest which worked in my favor. I joked with all my interviewers and made it pretty easy going...also mentioned why I wanted to work for them, etc. etc. Got the official call a few hours later. I beat out about 5 other people. I really think that learning to be a problem solver, having a good attitude, and a willingness to learn seem to be the most important things. Obviously, you have to have some skill in what you do and I'm sure at top-tier agencies, the portfolio is of crucial importance as well. But, like someone else mentioned, someone with the right attitude and mediocore skills, who can be molded may be better off than someone with the best design skills and piss-poor attitude. They used to tell us in audio school..."Attitude means altitude" and most of the time it's worked for me.

On Sep.08.2005 at 04:58 PM
mazzei’s comment is:

just because people are “recruited” doesn't mean your getting anyone better then doing a cattle call and using your own gut to decide what you need and who you want to bring in. I cant tell you HOW many times someone has said “this person is great” and their book is great but in a work environment they just cant perform. I’d caution using “recruiting” or being “connected” as having the “inside” to a job OR being a “good/better” designer for the same reason. it’s this kind of rationale that takes the unpredictable nature of finding someone killer at what they do that no one else knew about. i’m looking for a few people for my group right now and to be honest most people are so jaded I cant imagine having to jump start their “ego” for a year so they crack a smile and do some good work. it’s HARSH out there! I’m not sure what happened but most people I interview through recruiters or recommendations just don't seem dedicated to design or excited about it...I’d rather outsource stuff to great individual designers then hire a grumpy designer who thinks the industry owes them something...lastly, never assume someone has “gotten” someplace in their career until you have personally worked for them..you never know...

On Sep.08.2005 at 06:13 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

I must admit that I have only ever got jobs through knowing people. I'm always frightened that if I had to go through an interview process, I'd probably do very badly.

I'm not the most gregarious person in the world.

I always get the feeling that my clients really like my work - but they don't really like me very much.

I usually feel that my understanding of a brief comes from an attempt to re-think what the client has told me. And this often comes across as disrespect.

I'm not sure whether I could present myself to a stranger without looking like a dick.

Maybe I'm just paranoid.

On Sep.08.2005 at 06:44 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:


Not having a "job" of that kind in over 20 years sort of puts me in a different category. It's like Dracula looking for a job at Home Depot.

PERSONAL HISTORY: And when I fill out employment forms "homeless" sounds very offputting, so I put in the address where my house used to be since the post office was destroyed in my old neighborhood too. Or I put in a temporary address of the furnished basement I'm staying in.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Everyone who would have been a good recommendation is either dead or missing or scattered. All my clients are no longer in business from universities to corporations to agencies.

CLOTHING: And so it's a little extra wierd (since it seems besides the few clothes I evacuated with, I only took a crumpled white linen suit and no actual portfolio).It adds to that ghostly refugee look. What was I thinking? Category FIVE hurricane, that's what I was thinking. And now that the news is depressing I give off this aroma of survivor which isn't particularly upbeat, though I really try to get over the pitiful stares by smiling a lot and making statements that I'm bouncing back.

ATTITUDE: I usually refuse that first cup of agency coffee now that my hands shake, but I think I'll get that under control soon. That's my plan anyway. Cool as a cucumber.

PORTFOLIO: When I met with some sharp Atlanta agency boys recently they offered me free office space but no job. I had my G4 tower in a box in the back of my jeep that I carried in to hook up.

Lordy, the look on their faces was priceless.

On Sep.08.2005 at 07:05 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Pesky, come to Charlotte. We need more designers here and I can dial you into some work.

On Sep.08.2005 at 09:22 PM
Diane Witman’s comment is:

Does anyone know what I did wrong, besides (I surmise) showing up and not being a pretty 20-something-year-old woman?

Well I'm considered (by some people) a pretty 20-something (blonde) woman...and believe me this has not aided in my hiring. I am unemployed and currently in search for that next exciting position at a corporation surrounded by people who know and care nothing about design as long as it gets done. Although I love what I do with an absolute burning passion I am seriously beginning to form an anti-corporation attitude since my last experience.

As for the interview process, I have an interview tomorrow with a "small" design company in my area (Reading, PA) which is actually a two-person company (husband and wife) and pray that I only have to interview with the wife. I get along great with men and other women take this as some sort of threat, as if I'm preying on their spouse. (I am happily engaged and just happen to be somewhat of a girly-tomboy, whatever that means) As long as its just her and I, I think it will go well. I'm a bit nervous if it will be both of them, but I will be prepared either way.

This interview is for freelance work and what my questions is to all of you gurus on SpeakUp is; Are they interviewing me or am I interviewing them? This interview is happening because an acquaintance from my previous job referred me to them. So yes, referrals are extremely important in my case. I'm not sure if this applies to the previous posts since this is not a full-time position at their company. But take it as you will. Also, I am an honest (or a blunt) person and some people don't take honesty well. I am who I am, polite,yes but I don't kiss the bottoms of interviewers or anyone for that matter. Maybe I need to start puckering up, maybe this will land me my all-time design job.

This discussion was great timing and I will take what has been said into great consideration before, during and after my meeting tomorrow.

On Sep.08.2005 at 09:54 PM
Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

sorry, coming back late to answer Jason's question.

I wouldnt say it backfired. I'm sure they got someone who actually loved the job (actually, I know they did -- I know who they hired when I declined) and while he may have not been exactly what they were looking for, my bet is because he wanted it more than me, hes working harder to make up for difficiencies (sp?).

To answer somebody else's question, honesty has defnitely backfired on me in many cases. Though I must admit it was more in response to the stuff Tan was talking about (speaking ill of former employers, speaking ill of clients). That was totally my fault and just showed how new i am at this. But hopefully I've learned from it and will be better for it in the long run. I've had a few instances where I felt like my honesty stepped on some people's egos, and well, i wouldnt ever knowingly do it, but if their ego is so much larger than them that it gets caught by random sentences, maybe id rather not work there. Its just a situation where it always feels like the interviewee is being put on the block, that sometimes you have to be confident in your own employability to put the interviewer on the chopping block. I think what Tan says is really key.

On Sep.09.2005 at 01:01 AM
Greg’s comment is:

As far as rehashing my interview, I wanted to say that being a pretty twenty-something year old girl would have only helped in that one instance. It was fairly obvious to me, and to most people that I relayed the story to, that the boss there was more interested in what the Japanese call “office flowers” than in someone who could do the job. It may have to do with the fact that it was a marketing firm, and their clients just liked dealing with cute girls more so than some graphic design dude. Maybe, as my father so succinctly put it, the boss just wanted to be “the only rooster in the hen house.” Either way, aside from the brief sting of rejection, I'm perfectly fine with not working there.

On Sep.09.2005 at 10:50 AM
mc’s comment is:

Are they interviewing me or am I interviewing them?

Both!! They need to see your competencies, problem solving skills, personality etc... to assess if you would be a good fit for the company and relate well to clients. Some places have traffic or account execs who act as a buffer between the designer and client. However, in some small shops, the designer is in direct communication with the client. So the designer becomes a reflection of the company. Positive personality, great communication skills, understanding of the client (their business needs and goals) is all very important. This can not be assessed by a portfolio. One has to be dimensional and dynamic, flexible, open to change. A portfolio does not reveal this, face-to-face communication does.

Also, remember you are interviewing them! It does not matter if the position is freelance or a full time. Freelance could put you in the position for more work in the future or future full time employment.

You ALSO need to assess the company or firm. Is it a sweat shop, what is the turnover? What are the hours? What is the size, how does their operation work? What is the environment like? What can you contribute? Will you be able to grow? What is the job description and expectations (on paper), vs. real situation? Who would you be working with? What are their processes... (creative, internal processes, etc.)? What are the goals of the company? Short term and 5 year goals. Also important are co-workers, and how one fits with the rest of the team. If there are personality conflicts, this shouldn't interfere with the job... but often it does. A designer is also a communicator, one has to work and communicate with those on the team. Some designers are too one dimensional (although this goes with many people, not just designers). Can you work with the group, their egos, etc...?

Running out of breath... No job is perfect. There is something one can take away from any experience. My goal was to work in a small design firm/boutique. But I spent many years in corporate in-house departments. It wasn't what I wanted at the time, but I learned so much. When I work with my clients I understand their needs, I can speak their language. I bring more to the table. My portfolio is good (+), not amazing, but I am multi-dimensional and a great problem solver. I love working with people. Sell yourself, your accomplishments, your strengths. Look out for yourself and always grow.

Does anyone know what I did wrong, besides (I surmise) showing up and not being a pretty 20-something-year-old woman?

As an attractive woman, the above statement isn't true. How I wished it were though! You know the saying "don't judge a book by it's cover"... well some people do... human nature maybe. We all make those snap judgments. Sometimes I've wondered if I wasn't taken seriously enough. I'm also very nice, and sometimes that can be interpreted as being passive. But if the employer is thinking those things, then I don't want to work for them. They should be focused on competencies, strengths, personality. If I don't get the job then so be it. You'll never really know why, often it's something unrelated to you. Sh** happens. Next opportunity...

On Sep.09.2005 at 11:31 AM
Diane Witman’s comment is:

Well the "interview" went well and I met with "the wife" of the company. It turns out the company is her doing all of the design work and her husband paying the bills or doing the uncreative parts of the business. Strange, but in my instance I would rather learn to do the entire business on my own and know what's going on as well as being creative. And maybe later on have someone help me with that side of the business. They also outsource a programmer for their web projects, a proofreader, and one other graphic designer. Sounds okay so far. From my interview I learned it is a fairly new business with great potential for growth and maybe even promoting my own name. What the heck, it's freelance work and I'm always happy to meet other designers around here considering there are so few (that are actually designers).

mc's: I wish I would have had time to read your post before my interview because you brought up a lot of things that I did not think about when walking into this situation. But it went well and now I will send my Thank You note and hope for the work to come in. Freelance away!

On Sep.09.2005 at 02:55 PM
mc’s comment is:

Diane: Glad some you found some info useful. Again, it's just what I have learned in my experience... everyone's experience is different. I've learned a lot through the bad interviews too!

On Sep.09.2005 at 03:24 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Tom B.

"I must admit that I have only ever got jobs through knowing people".

The BEST Classified Ad in the WORLD!!!!!

The safest and surest way of LANDING any Decend Employment.

The next BEST thing to being RECRUITED!!!!!!!



Ya'll don't no nutin bout dat.

On Sep.09.2005 at 03:25 PM
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

Diane, sorry I couldn't get back online yesterday in time to give you some of my input. I'm a freelancer (I love that terminology much more than contractor) and have done a few interviews just for that as opposed to full-time work.

I find those kinds of interviews much less stressful for some reason, and even a bit relaxing. For me, it's an opportunity to meet one more designer, chat, compare notes, make some jokes. The people turn into good acquaintances (and sometimes even friends) rather than employers, so I actually like it. You can get a really good feel for people when you have a relaxed conversation and they drop their guard a bit and let you see what they're really like.

You're a designer, one of them, and are there to fullfil a role that is going to help them out. They want to like you, so you make it easy for them to do that and you learn a great deal about them in the process.

I think another reason is that it's not for some kind of large commitment (like employment), but rather for an opportunity. An opportunity for one project. That project is what tells them if you'll fit their need or not. And then of course if it works out well, they tend to refer you to someone they know who needs design work. And then you go on that interview and do the whole process all over again. Rinse, wash, repeat.

On Sep.09.2005 at 04:06 PM
Diane Witman’s comment is:

I have to agree. The interview was much more laid back than any other interview I've been on in a long time. I have a feeling she and I will end up friends and not just business acquaintances. It was good to meet someone else who enjoys design and wants to make a living out of something that they love to do. So as I said I'll send my pre-made thank you note and hope for the best.

Back to an earlier question. I always get confused in my freelance role. Are they my client, my employer or both? I think I'm getting confused over who should take more control over the projects. Of course I know that they are paying me to do the work but at the same time I am supposed to produce the best work I can for them. I guess this is an ongoing battle that many designers deal with. Anyone have advice on this? I just landed three new clients which is great but at the same time they are larger than what I usually deal with. Any help would be great!

On Sep.11.2005 at 10:58 AM
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

Diane, to try to answer your questions (assuming we are still talking about a design firm contracting work to you):

Are they my client, my employer or both?

They're your client, but I like to think of serving them in an advisory capacity. You're there to offer your expertise in a respectable equal-peer manner, but they make the final call.

I think I'm getting confused over who should take more control over the projects.

Usually they'll tell you what they want. If they don't, just ask. It's been my experience that most of the time they want you (the hired designer) to drive it almost all the way, and then they bring it home. I say this because they *say* they want you to do everything, but in the last 10 yards to the goal line they provide input which most of the time tweaks your work. This should be fine for you since they interact with their own client, have first hand knowledge of what is expected, and therefor should have final say in your work.

I just landed three new clients which is great but at the same time they are larger than what I usually deal with.

Congratulations on your new clients. It's daunting, but you can handle this a few different ways. You can try to do it all yourself or you can sub-contract (or maybe that would be sub-sub-contract since they are already sub-contracting to you) with other designers you trust. If you're looking to grow, get with another freelancer or two to help out with the big stuff. If it works, continue to take on large projects and continue to work with the designers you know and like and let that grow into something more. If you want to stay a one-woman-shop, manage your work flow and make referrals with your clients to other designers (you risk losing clients to the new designers if they like them, but you'll keep your workflow manageable).

One thing I can't stress enough: find other freelancers in your town who have been doing it longer than you have and make friends out of them. You may think this could be a conflict of interest, but what you'll find is that there are plenty of clients to go around. If you like and respect the designers, you'll find that you have friends within a circle of comradeship who will offer advice, give you referals, and watch your back (and you'll have plenty of opportunity to do the same). It'll be a give and take relationship which will yield incredible (but not always tangible) results.

On Sep.12.2005 at 03:49 AM
erin L’s comment is:

i am new. right out of school.

scared shitless about finding not just 'the' job but a job in general.

i want to ask all you others how you got your first designed based jobs... i myself have zero experiance and am right in the middle of a stressful relocating from ontario to Calgary.

i want to know what is the smartest why to go about this.

i know most places i have talked to tell me that they are looking for designers with experience...but what can i do with when i have none? how do i ask with out sounding so needy?

On Sep.14.2005 at 03:00 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Erin, Calgary is a pretty friendly city so I wouldn't stress too much. I would contact studios that you would like to work at and ask them if you could come in and show your book. They might not be in the position to hire right away, but you've opened a line of communication with them. Feedback is always good, and you never know what the future may bring. You could also contact Gwen, the GDC Alberta South President. Her info can be found at gdc.net - she might have advice from a local perspective, and there's always design events to volunteer for. Great place to meet like minded individuals. Good luck.

On Sep.14.2005 at 03:21 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Erin — a way to get some experience is to offer yourself as an intern, paid or unpaid, at a good studio. Find a reputable, large studio, then stalk them relentlessly until they hire you as an intern for 10-20 hours a week. In the meantime, to pay the bills, find a retail or barista job if you need to. Find yourself some freelance work on the side as well. The key is to be resourceful and creative if the traditional method of finding work doesn't seem to be working.

And everyone has encountered that same dilemma — how does one get a job that requires experience when in order to get experience, you need that first job. There are always ways.

On Sep.14.2005 at 11:12 PM