As my third year students rapidly approach their final show, they’re realising that this huge event that they’ve been working up to, isn’t the end of three years work. It’s the beginning of their careers in the creative industries and questions have started to fly around the studio; ‘what sort of questions do you ask at interview’, ‘what’s the right size of portfolio’ and ‘what do you look for in a junior creative?’. These and many more questions reminded me of a few blog posts I wrote for Black Sheep in 2007, covering some of the issues raised and more, as we regularly receive applications that have been poorly concieved and executed, leaving us frustrated by the applicant. So, I thought it was time to review my early guide to getting a job as on reflection it needed a little bit of updating as the world has moved on since then, although many of the principles remain the same.
This guide is based on my experience of applications received whilst being Creative Director at Black Sheep in Cardiff, the good and bad, interviewing graduates, portfolio clinics, rejecting applicants and hiring them over the last 13 years. It’s by no means the diffinative guide to getting a job, more like some good basic principles of what I expect from a creative graduate and probably what most agencies like mine also look for.
So here is an updated guide to getting it right when looking for that first elusive rung on the ladder.
Before you start contacting potential employers
With the social media & networking revoluton fully taken hold, you can do so much more than commenting on your friends drunken photo’s or poking random people.
Build a virtual presence for yourself that communicates who you are and what you want to achieve. This can be done through a variety of free networking opportunities, there are so many online portfolio’s like Dropr, Veer and flickr to choose from where you can showcase your work, there’s no excuse not to have at least one.
Tip: Beware, that social networking can also work to your disadvantage. For example, if you don’t want a potential employer looking at your Facebook page or images of you without your consent, make sure that your privacy settings are tightly managed as colourful language in your post’s and in appropriate tagged images or video’s of your Saturday night shinanigans could put people off.
Make your own opportunities
Enter competitions, go to networking events in your area, ask for portfolio advice as a way of meeting and getting feedback on your work, offer your services to an agency by giving them a free work trial, all of these and more will showcase your work to them, whilst helping you build relationships with the creative community that you want to work in.
If you are waiting for the right job advertised in Creative Review or Design Week? It’s going to be a long wait, as they are few and far between at the moment. However, if one does come around? It’s a safe bet that you’ve got some pretty stiff competition. I say, find the company you want to work for and make your own luck.
Research who and where you want to work, as there’s no point in rocking up to an agency who produces work that you don’t like or want to do, it’s your career, make it about you and find the kind of work/agency that best suits your talents.
Make a list of 10 agencies that you’d really like to work for and follow the company and its creatives on Twitter. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can build relationships with these people by informing, sharing and commenting on their posts. This will arm you with all the relevant insider information that could prove vital in getting you through the door to an interview when they decide to recruit. You might even find that they start following you, if you’ve got something valid to say or share. Similarly, you can use Linked-in to the same effect. It’s a simple way of building a relationship with your future employer without them even knowing or you asking for a job, use it your advantage.
However, be careful not to hassle them as it will have the opposite effect.
You’ve got to ‘sell’ yourself
You want work in a creative industry, but your CV doesn’t demonstrate creativity or a unique offering! Standard type written, A4 CVs (even the nicely designed ones) are what’s required for stacking shelves in Tesco, not for a junior position at a creative agency. We want our new blood to be different, look exciting and bring something new to the party. We want WOW factor that’ll push us in new directions, not more of the same.
Make sure that whatever it is that you send to an agency excites you. If it doesn’t? Then it certainly won’t have that effect an employer. Showing off is what creative people do best, be different, abstract, have an angle. It’s a small window of opportunity you have to impress, put your best foot forward.
Here’s how not to do it; I recently received a speculative email from a graduate who addressed the email ‘to whom it may concern’, copying it in to every agency in Cardiff, whilst telling me that my agency was where they really saw themselves working. I respectfully said that we weren’t.
Horses for courses (what should I send?)
If you want to be a Graphic Designer working in print, make it look that way. If you’re a digital creative? Then, you’d be expected to have a site that showcases the skills that you have. Whatever discipline you want to work in, make your submission relevant to the company and job you want.
Tip: Spend as much time on your submission, if not more than you would if it were for a client, as this is the most important application you’ll make.
Who do I send my application to?
Whatever you send, be it CV, e-mailer, show-reel or promo DM piece. Send it to the appropriate person in the company that makes the decision about hiring or work experience etc. Phone up and get their name, there’s more chance of making an impression if it’s going to the Creative Director than the Managing Director. Do your homework on the individual, sometimes a simple sweetener can go a long way in getting your foot through the door.
Why some applications get filed in the bin.
Finding out who you are sending it to isn’t that hard. If you’re serious about working at that company then you’re going to have to talk to the people that work there. Addressing your accompanying letter ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ is a sure fire way of not getting an interview – trust me, I’ve discounted many applications because of this, it’s just sloppy. Phone up the company!
Sbellling, Grandma & tipo’s
‘Spell Check’ your application, then check, check & check it again and for good measure get someone you trust to read it over as a fresh pair of eyes as they will always spot what you’ve read right the last 10 times. There’s no bigger turn off, than a poorly constructed email or letter that is riddled with spelling, grammar or typographic errors (no doubt you’ll find a few here).
Agencies carefully manage their clients detail and is of the utmost importance to them, how can they trust you with it, if you can’t look after your own?
Tip: Never refer to letterheads, comp-slips & business cards as stationary (they’re not standing still!) it’s stationery, a simple mistake like this will see your application filed in the bin. When referring to yourself you must capitalise your I’s, you are important after all! As the saying goes ‘the devil is in the detail’.
Make sure your package or letter has the correct postage on it. I get really annoyed when a Royal Mail notice comes through the door telling me to go to the Post Office and pay for an under paid item that turn’s out to be up a really poor CV. Again, it’s also a sure fire way of not getting an interview.
You’ve got an interview!
Wherever it is that you’re going? Revisit your research and find out everything you can about the company, people, their work, before you go. Otherwise how do you know if you’re going to like what you’ll be doing when you get there? Worse still, they ask you, ‘So what do you know about the company?’, you answer, ‘errrr- I was going to ask you’. Wrong answer, a little research goes a long way. It demonstrates your interest in the company and the fact that you want to work there. Plus, employers like nothing better than a little bit of flannel when it comes to their company, so ham it up!
Whatever happens, don’t be late!
If you can’t arrive on time for the interview, are you going to be in work on time?
Don’t overdress if you don’t have to, especially if you’re not comfortable wearing a formal suit, as you probably won’t have to wear one at work. You won’t feel comfortable in the interview and arguably won’t make the right impression. Check the form with the company or interviewer before you go, usually smart casual is fine.
Big isn’t always best
There are no hard n’ fast rules about this, but I think that big portfolios are cumbersome, bloody heavy and hard to work your way around when you’re in front of an interviewer. They put an uncomfortable space between you and the interviewer making it more difficult to really connect with each other and the interviewer engage in presentation of your work. Plus, the weight of an A2/A1 sleeve with mount board and the visual in it, usually means that when you open up your folio, the binder mechanism has opened and your sleeves fall over the table. You start fumbling with it in a desperate attempt to hold it together, your sleeves are out of order, you’re flustered – not a great way to start. A3 portfolios are more than big enough – you could even go to A4 if you’re brave enough.
Needless to say, the work should be knock out, from start to finish. However, catch their attention at the start with one of your two best projects and finish with the other.
Easier said than done
Try not to be nervous! If you’ve made it through to the interview, it’s a safe bet they like what you’ve sent them as I’m never looking to trip someone up or catch them out, it’s all down to whether you’re the right fit for the team. Be confident, but not cocky or arrogant. Get the balance right.
During the interview
Your ideas are your currency and we want to see you demonstrate this. It’s your work, you should be able to speak confidently about it. Sell the work as though you’re pitching it in to a client. As we’re looking to see whether you can rationalise what you’ve produced, helping others to understand it as well as present the work to an unfamilar audience as you might find yourself in front of a client one day very soon.
With that in mind, all that’s left to say is good luck.