How To Properly Apply for a Design Position
Back in 2004, I wrote an article called “How to Make Friends and Influence Art Directors” that continues to get a surprising amount of traffic. In the course of opening up a new design position at Newsvine/msnbc.com and seeing the applications, however, I feel like I need to update the article for 2010.
We’ve gotten so many poor applications for this position that it really makes me wonder if designers today are aware of how art directors actually hire people.
If you’re a designer and you’ll ever be looking for a new job in your life, you should read this.
First, let’s start with what matters and what doesn’t. There are exactly three things that matter to me when I evaluate you as an applicant:
- Is the stuff in your portfolio well designed and in keeping with the creative style I’m looking for? Note, “stuff” could be your blog, your personal site, or even fake clients you’ve done fake work for. It does not mean how big your clients are or how many projects you’ve worked on. As far as evaluating your design work itself, all that matters is how your stuff looks and feels.
- Are you a cool person to work with? This sort of thing can come out in a personal interview but it can also come through blog entries, tweets, or anything else that shows your personality off. It generally does not come from a cover letter though as I know you’re specifically crafting those words with the intent of landing a certain position.
- Do I know anyone personally or professionally who can vouch for you being a cool person to work with? The answer to this question does not need to be yes, but it of course always helps to know someone who knows someone. This is why.
Everything else? Doesn’t matter.
Résumé? Doesn’t matter. Where you went to school? Doesn’t matter. What societies you are a part of? Doesn’t matter. None of this sort of stuff matters unless and until you make it past the big three tests above… or at least the first two. Does that mean you shouldn’t spend time on your résumé? Of course you should, because if you get past the first stage, someone will probably look at it. Just don’t think it’s going to be your ticket towards getting noticed or getting in the door. I’ve seen résumés of design instructors with 10 years teaching experience and masters degrees in design who have the portfolios of junior high school kids. This is why we pay little attention to résumés.
How should I apply then?
The following, in my mind, is the perfect job application:
I’m very interested in the ______ position at ______. I’ve used/admired the service for _____ and would love an opportunity to be part of its design team (you can substitute this sentence with anything that makes you sound uncommonly qualified or excited for this position). My stuff can be viewed here:
Blog/Personal Site: http://____
Portfolio with samples: http://____
Twitter account: http://____
Favorite thing I’ve done recently: http://____
I’ve attached my résumé as well if you’re interested in my background or who I’ve worked with. Look forward to hearing from you.
That’s it. No long preamble. No links buried in a PDF or Word document. No hoops for the art director or HR person to jump through in order to see your stuff. If you want to add some more flavor towards the end, go ahead, but that’s the general recipe.
Almost none of the applications I have received follow anything close to this form, so I can only assume most people simply don’t know how they are being judged. Other professions are undoubtedly different, but in design, it’s simply a question of how sick your stuff is and how easy you are to work with. Give a hiring manager a good impression immediately on both of those fronts and you’re going to get an interview.
P.S. If you’ve already applied for the position mentioned above and haven’t heard back, it’s likely your style might not fit with what we’re looking for. It doesn’t mean we don’t admire your design skills.
P.P.S. If you haven’t applied for the position above and would like to, please do! We’re looking to hire the right person immediately.