Interviews. Some people thrive on them, but most people dread them with every fibre of their being. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a nerve-racking experience—but try not to succumb to the paranoid gremlin inside your head. The studio liked your work enough to invite you in so the interview is just building upon those already positive foundations.

Our UK Director Sarah McHugh has over 14 years of design experience, and has interviewed a lot of people in that time! We enlisted her to curate a graphic designer’s interview guide and she didn’t disappoint. Starting with steps to take before the interview, to how to behave during and the best approach to take afterwards she’s covered everything a designer needs to ace their interview.

Before

You’ve had the call back and they’re interested in your work, so rest assured you’re over the first hurdle. Despite not being in the interview yet, the preparation starts now.

  • Consider your running order: You need to start on your strongest 2-3 projects. So you start off with a bang and really grab the interviewers attention. Finish off on a project that you like, and would feel comfortable talking about.
  • Tailor the content: This isn’t just a Shillington tip, when we interviewed some of our recent industry speakers they specifically highlighted the importance of tailoring your portfolio to the interview.

“If you are purely into digital work then just show work on screen, but if you have a keen interest in print bring that along as a physical thing. It makes a meeting much more interesting, interactive and ultimately, enjoyable.”—Michael C Place of Build

“Tailor your portfolio to suit the studio for example, we do a lot of digital work, so make sure you include some examples of web design.”—Andy Mallalieu of Nine Sixty

  • What would your Mum say?: An industry tip which often gets shared is to practice showing your portfolio to your Mum before heading to a real studio. While likely not a designer, if it makes sense to your Mum then you’re on the right track.
  • Make notes: Before your interview make sure you have gone through your portfolio and reminded yourself of each brief, deliverables, typeface choices and most importantly the idea behind your design. Remember not to refer to your projects as Shillington brief names, while familiar to you, no one in the outside world will understand.
  • Location Location Location: Always be prepared for the location of the interview. It isn’t always going to be an office. As designers locations can often be more low key, taking place in coffee shops or even pubs! If it is at the agency, remember that the interview panel could range from 1 to 6 people in some cases.
  • You’re not a banker: Dress smart, but don’t power dress. You need to be comfortable and you are applying for creative jobs, so no one expects you to dust off your power suit with shoulder pads. You will be nervous enough, so make sure you are comfortable

During

You’re in! This is your time to really shine, it’s the day of your interview and you’re ready to show them what you’re made of.

  • Timing is everything: Make sure you arrive bang on time, even if it means walking round the block or psyching yourself up in the nearest coffee shop. No one likes a late comer, but equally being too early can mess up people’s schedules so a balance of eagerness and awareness is encouraged.
  • Say yes to props: If you are offered a glass of water, take it. It will provide a prop, so if you’re feeling flustered, pause and take a drink of water. This gives you enough time to steady yourself and collect your thoughts. It can also help slow down your speaking so you don’t overwhelm the interviewer with machine gun speech.
  • Present outwards: Remember you’re not presenting to yourself. Always ensure your portfolio (whether print or digital) is facing the interviewer and you are taking them through it, rather than it facing you—trust me, it’s a common mistake.
  • Don’t be too over protective: Throughout the interview you will mostly be in the driving seat when it comes to showing your portfolio but don’t be too alarmed if the interviewer decides to move your portfolio closer to take a look for themselves. Don’t clam up, keeping talking and explaining the work. Watch those fidgeting hands!
  • Personality is paramount: While having a kick ass portfolio is what it’s all about, personality is also a major contributing factor to landing a job. No one’s asking you to be a stand up comedian but definitely try to get your personality across within the interview. Working in a design studio is all about team work so having a positive, amiable disposition will get you far.

“Anything you can do to set yourself apart from other grads is important. Interviewers are looking for what sets you apart, passion for the subject and going the extra mile. So much of landing a job is about your character in addition to your skill set.”—Luke Tonge of Monotype

“Nobody wants to work with assholes. Confidence sells, so present your work like you mean it.”—Theo Huxtable of Ideo

  • Less is more: Remember that you’re talking to a senior designer or creative director, they’ll be familiar with the process, so instead of sounding like you’re reciting a handout, focus on the concept.
  • The little things go a long way: Firstly, eye contact. Look people in the eye when you are speaking to them. Secondly, remember names, people like it when you remember their name so make sure you make a mental note of the names of the person/people who are interviewing you. Thirdly, have a strong handshake. If you’ve never shaken hands with anyone before, practise. Its all about making a good first impression and these three areas will never go amiss.
  • Come armed with questions: While asking about salary is important make sure it’s not the first and certainly not the only question you ask. Enquire about the culture of the studio, who else works there? Do they have any regular team activities? Remember you need to figure out if you want to work there and if its the right fit for you, as much as they do. Also, don’t forget to ask when they are making the all important hiring decision so you’re aware of timeframes.

After

Don’t get needy. I can’t emphasise this enough. Fight the niggling urge to berate the studio on whether or not they’ve made a decision, while one follow up can appear confident and interested—multiple will do the absolute opposite.

  • Bring a copy of your CV or leave behind: Chances are the interviewer will be interviewing lots of people. Make their life easier and come prepared. Anything you can give as a leave behind eg. postcards, a poster or anything tangible. This will help you stick in their mind—much more so than just a business card will.
  • Follow up, but don’t stalk: Send a follow up email, making sure you use the correct names. Thank them for their time and if there is any other information they need from you. Play it cool. Don’t continue stalking them, and ringing them every 5 mins. If they have given you a timeframe for when they will get back to you, respect that—don’t get in contact before then!
  • Don’t let knock-backs dampen your enthusiasm: Just because the answer isn’t always yes, it doesn’t mean you’re not a good designer. Our industry is a competitive one but there’s a job out there for all of us, so stay upbeat and persevere!

“It’s all about attitude and perception. Your attitude is probably the only thing you have control over. It’s not about what happens to you but how you respond.”—Paul Garbett 

  • Stay busy: Don’t stop after the first interview you get. Even if it’s your dream studio it’s in your best interest to apply to as many positions as you can, especially when starting out. Some agencies will take a while to reply so applying to as many as possible will keep you confidence up, and as they say—practice makes perfect.

Illustrations by Jeffrey Bowman

Shillington graduates, don’t forget  your #Shillumni network! Join the Facebook Group and keep your eyes peeled for upcoming events at all of our Shillington campuses. Your network of Shillington peers is your biggest source of support so don’t be shy about asking questions and sharing experiences.