Should you bring cupcakes?

Earlier this month, in the middle of my webcast, “The Only Marketing Tools You Need for 2012,” I made a request for creatives to send me guest blog posts. Here’s the first of several that came my way as a result. (Just proves that you sometimes get what ask for. In fact, that’s the heart of marketing.)

So, from Allison Manley, principal of Chicago-based firm, Rogue Element, an excerpt from one of her recent blog posts, “Advice for Young Designers,” with a bit of editorializing I couldn’t resist. This is all really good advice for anyone trying to make a good first impression, freelancer or employee, young or old, designer or other.

We frequently interview students or recent design school graduates who are eager to show their portfolio. Even if we don’t have a need to hire at the moment, we are happy to do this, since we remember all too well what it was like looking for work right out of school. The feedback from an established designer or firm is invaluable, so you should interview as much as you can. There is common advice out there about how to best do an interview . . . give a firm handshake, spell check your resume, and be on time come to mind. But we’d like to go beyond the obvious suggestions and instead offer a few that are specific to our industry. So here’s our short list:

1) Don’t wear jeans.
It doesn’t matter if the studio you are visiting has a casual atmosphere, or if most designers dress down. It is always best to dress up for an interview. When we see someone coming in our office in a pair of jeans, it sends a visual signal about how seriously that person takes the interview. If you must wear jeans, at the very least make sure they are nice and don’t look worn out.

2) Never say “because it looked cool.”
We take our client strategy very seriously. We don’t make things look pretty/cool/fun/etc just for the sake of it. We consider what’s appropriate to the audience who is using the end design. Even if a client says they hate yellow, we will push for using yellow if their audience responds to it in a way that meets the project goals. It’s about creating a product that works for our clients, not what works for us (we like to say “communication, not decoration”). The last thing we want to hear when looking at a potential employee’s work is that you made a decision on one of your designs “because it looked cool.” You should make your color/image/font/layout choices because they impacted the goals for the project. And you bet we’re going to ask you why you made those decisions, so be prepared to stand up for those choices.

If your goal for a project is to make cool-looking stuff, then guess what: you are not a designer. You are a decorator.

We’re not artists. We solve problems for clients. It’s not about what you want for your portfolio. Making stuff look cool has no value. There are thousands of kids graduating every year all over the world that can decorate a great-looking page, and do it for less money than you. Just look at any online “logo shop.” You want a career that can grow and sustain you? You had better be ready to offer clients something more than “because it looks cool.”

3) Bring cupcakes.
Not required of course, but bonus points if you do. We like cupcakes.

4) Show us how you think.
We can train people on software, best practices, printing techniques and the like. It’s fantastic if you have that experience already. But frankly, we want to know that you’ve got a good mind. So show us that you can solve a problem. Show us process sketches, or talk about the process of the project, so we can see how you got from your initial idea to final execution. We are more impressed by this than your experience with a ton of software.

(This goes for anyone offering a creative service. If they can’t see how you thought through a problem to find the solution, they won’t be able to value it and/or pay what it’s worth. Like your math teacher used to say, “Show your work.”)

5) Be curious about the interviewers too.
Ask questions about the firm. Ask them about their working process, their office culture, and expectations. Learn about the type of work they do, and if they specialize in any one type of design or client. You’re getting to know them just as much as they are getting to know you, so be sure to ask your own questions.

(Click here to see the lovely cupcakes that went with this post.)

What do you think? Anything to add? Have you tried bringing cupcakes?

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