Interviews: the basics.

So …your CV and condensed portfolio went down a storm and now it’s it’s time for the interview — here’s some advice that might help keep the stress levels down and save you from flinging yourself out the window in a blind panic!

First of all, why do we interview? Hiring anyone is a risk. Interviews give hirers a pretty good indication of the amount of risk.

A hirer not only wants to know you have the tools to do the job, they also want to find out whether you’ll be the right ‘cultural fit’ and so, because in most cases it’s impractical to try you out for a month, asking the right questions and gauging your responses at interview is the next best thing.

So how best to prepare?

First up, and somewhat obviously, research. Find out as much as you can about whoever it is you’re meeting — both the company and the individual. How well you do this will have an enormous impact on how well your interview goes.

If you’re working with a recruiter, this is a the part of the process when you can really lean on their knowledge. Find out all they know about the the company and who you’re meeting and if your recruiter has worked with them previously, gain the benefit of their experience of interviews passed. If they’re halfway decent, they ought to be able to give you an idea of what to expect from the interview itself — will it be an intense grilling or does the hirer have a more conversational approach? How many stages are there likely to be? Will there be knowledge/skills tests? How quickly do they typically make a decision?

Their insight alone shouldn’t be the end of your work though. Make sure you take the time to research yourself and get the lowdown from any friends/friends of friends that might have links to them in their past.

What about the bigger picture? What’s the big industry news at the moment? Who are their competitors and what are they up to? Have there been any award winning work recently released?

Knowledge is power and if you know what’s going on in the wider world it’ll give you something to talk about in the interview and it’ll demonstrate you’ve a genuine interest in sector you’re hoping to become a part of.

Ask questions of your own.

Talking money is a big turn off — if your hirer brings up the subject then obviously you need to participate in the conversation but try not to bring it up yourself — particularly at first stage interviews.

Progression is a slightly tricky one too. You’ll almost certainly want to demonstrate ambition but you’ll also want to reassure your hirer that you’re 100% committed to the role you’re interviewing for and not aiming two or three steps ahead from the get go — don’t try to run before you can walk.

Instead ask about training opportunities. What skills can you pick up as part of the role? Are there conferences, seminars, industry events that you can attend and involved in?

Remember too that interviewing is a two way street, so take the opportunity to ask some questions about the role, the company and the hirer themselves so you can be certain it’s the right one for you. Why did they join the business and what do they think is the best thing about working there? Where do they see the company developing over the coming months/years? How do they see this particular role developing?

If you’re brave, closing them at the end of the interview by asking ‘how do you think I’ve done?’ can be a good idea too — particularly if the role involves any sort of sales or presentation tasks.

2nd interviews:

Although there are exceptions, to land a job offer, most people will need to have a second interview, and typically, this is where things get serious.

If you get called back for a second meeting it means there’s real interest in hiring you so make sure the feeling is mutual. If you’ve no intention of joining, save your time and and theirs by politely declining the invitation.

Know that the hirer will have liked how you came across first time around so the purpose of this meet will often be to get a second opinion from a colleague and to reassure them you’ve got the skills they need so expect a more specific, often more technical, line of questioning.

After some reflection, you might find you’ve a lot of questions of your own as well — first round meets often generate more questions than answers — so make sure you’ve got these written down with you.

Read the room and depending on how well it’s going, you should be able to ask more specific questions. Typical working hours, holidays, added benefits and even salary could all be on the table at this stage — if it matters, then ask it — the point being that you need to make sure that once you leave the meeting, you have all the information you’ll need to accept if an offer is made.

Hopefully this guide will give you something that you can use the next time you’re on the hunt for a new role. Let me know what you think in the comments below and tell me about the best piece of advice you’ve had in the past.

Portfolios: the basics.

So you’ve got your kick-ass CV in front of someone, they love it, now what? In our industry it’s work samples. Ultimately these are what’ll get you sat in front of someone for an interview.

Lots of designers have their own websites, that’s great, but actually I think a small PDF of work, fronted by your CV, is still the best way to get the conversation started. Everything is there in one place, no clicking required so less opportunity to be distracted.

Work on two sets though. A condensed version that your CV fronts — typically a 5–10 sheet PDF of your very best, most relevant work — a sort of snap shot of what you’re about — and an extended version that goes into more detail that you can use at interview.

With your condensed version concentrate on what packs the most punch. Remember, we’re dangling carrots here, inviting the viewer to spend a bit more time with us at each stage. Show work that’s actually run and chimes with your viewers client base and try to avoid too many extreme close-ups or cutesy logos for your Mum’s mate the mobile hairdresser. As delightful as some personal projects are this is not the place for them.

“if in doubt, leave it out!”

Your extended portfolio is where you can go into finer detail and offer up some more unusual pieces. You should have the luxury of time here — well, at least a bit more than before — so make the most of it. That being said, don’t be tempted into showing work that’s old and/or below par — your viewer won’t know that, so if in doubt, leave it out and only show projects you’re proud of and happy to be judged by.

In terms of how to structure your portfolio, If the aim is to get hired, remember that hiring someone can be a box ticking exercise. Putting your very best, commercial work at the front and centre should help you cover all the core things your hirer is looking for as early possible (concept, layout, typography etc). Once you’ve done that, you can use the second part of your portfolio to show off some added extras, the quirkier pieces that’ll get across what you bring to the party that others may not.

As designers we’re really lucky; CV’s and portfolios give us a chance to shine before we even walk through the door so it’s well worth spending the time putting them together.

Interviews still have to be negotiated though so I’ll give you a few tips and tricks on how to make the best of them in my next post.

CV's: the basics.

A few years ago, I wrote my most popular post ever; Advice for design graduates. Much of that advice still holds true but It’s obviously been while …it’s been a while since my last post full stop really.

So here’s an update and rather than a complete rehash, this time I’m going to break it down into a few posts — what with all the talk of dwindling attention spans…

First things first then. If you’re actively looking for a job your CV will most likely be the first communication your prospective employer will see of yours. It’s important. Very important, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw everything at it.

I often describe landing a new role as a ‘carrot dangling exercise’ and your CV ought to be the first ‘carrot’.

(Best stock image ever?)

(Best stock image ever?)

Remember that, first foremost, it’s a utilitarian document that’s main purpose is to communicate your name, how to contact you, a BRIEF indication of your work history and/or educational accomplishments and — at a push — a line or two about yourself to inject a bit of personality.

For designers especially, I think it can be helpful to think of your CV as the first page of your portfolio (2 pages at a push). It’s an easy opportunity to tick a few boxes right from the get go — have you got an eye for layout, grid systems, how are your typographic skills, colour palettes etc.

“Always leave them wanting more…”

I said earlier not to throw everything at it. The best CV’s are visually clean and concise. Huge blocks of text are intimidating and are rarely read so the trick is to provide just enough information to ignite interest then direct your reader somewhere where they can find out more.

For example, In a recent role I’ve worked there were over 200 other applicants and with the best will in the world, I will not be reading 200+ CV’s front to back. I’ll scan them and the ones I like — great laid outs, recognisable clients and/or work history — I’ll spend more time with.

Those that use, have multiple pages, demonstrate poor typography or are simply visually unappealing get left behind because if you can get those things right, you’re not who we’re looking for.

And that’s the next point — make sure you point your reader to where they should go next. Even a great CV can only do so much — unless you’ve got a stack of top drawer agency names in your work history, your CV alone will seldom get you to an interview by itself. Your work should do the talking, so make it easy for your reader to find.

What, where and how should to show your work? We’ll talk about that in the next post.