Designers: Tips to Ace The Interview, Get The Job

Who—or What—Gets the Job?

Hiring managers weigh in on what they look for when evaluating potential creative hires:
(Supplement to article that appears in HOW’s December 2009 issue.)
 
Hiring Manager Participants:

  • Bruce Edwards, Executive Creative Director, Fame, Minneapolis
  • Michael Frediani, Studio Manager, Widen+Kennedy, Portland, OR
  • Scott Larson, EVP Executive Creative Director, Y&R, San Francisco
  • Lindsay Wolff Logsdon, Human Resources Manager, Frog Design, Austin, TX
  • Dan Lythcott-Haims, Creative Director, Pandora, Oakland, CA
  • Jack Macy, Owner of Jack Macy Design in San Francisco
  • Hannah Malott, Co-Creative Director, Benefit Cosmetics, San Francisco
  • Tod Martin, President & Chief Executive, Unboundary, Atlanta, GA
  • Keith Testa, Executive Creative Director, Wedgewood Communications, Green Brook, NJ
  • Jeff Williams, Creative Director, Frog Design, Austin, TX

Q: What makes a resume stand out to you?
Jeff Williams: A resume is a candidate’s first chance to make an impression. Resumes that stand out to me are organized and well-written.

Keith Testa: It is difficult even now to find good candidates. The most important thing I am looking for in a resume is some clearly stated objective and a focus of where the candidate excels. Trying to be everything to everyone never seems to work out. When I was doing my own resume I had a few different versions, depending on where I was going.

Scott Larson: I don’t really pay attention to resumes. They feel a bit corporate and old-fashioned to me. The only time I’ll check a resume is if I am interested in the pedigree of a candidate. Where they’ve worked will tell me who has taught them and, being a student of advertising and design, I can gauge where they fit on the food chain based on their mentors.

Q: What in a portfolio do you look for?
Tod Martin: Rarely are we looking for someone with a narrow design sense, so breadth tends to be better. It’s also great to be able to see design evolution. Showing how something progressed demonstrates how your mind works.

Keith Testa:
Portfolios that show creative-thinking in the work and a sense of self-style stand out for me. It never matters to me whether a candidate has specific experience in a kind of work. A solid style with some creative thought behind it goes a long way.

Jeff Williams: An interactive portfolio is the best example of a candidate’s design skills. Most of the time, if the portfolio site is not well designed, then the work will not be either.

Jack Macy:
Diversity of samples, an eye for details, work that is successfully meeting the objective—not just pretty or flashy. Carefully chosen top samples versus a mound of samples that you haven’t filtered—quality over quantity. I would rather look at three really good pieces of work over 10 to 15 that range from good to mediocre.

Hannah Malott: Do not include work in your portfolio just to fill the pages. I would rather see five to 10 killer pieces than a few good pieces and some really dull work.  Even one piece that is not a “show-stopper” will make me second-guess if your design is what I’m looking for and can also show poor judgment. I also look for a candidate during a portfolio review to take the reins and show off their presentation skills. A good portfolio presentation should be energetic and engaging, but genuine and not obnoxious. The candidate should be articulate, but speak as though we are just two designers rapping about what we do.

Q: During the interview, how long does it typically take for you to know if someone will be a fit with your firm?
Keith Testa: When I meet a candidate, I like to take my time with an interview. An hour, sometimes even longer, is normal. I like to let people interview me as much as I interview them and see where we agree and disagree about things. I also like them to meet someone they would be working with. At a smaller agency, you are not just joining a company but becoming a part of the family, so fit is important.

Bruce Edwards: If I meet them up front by reception, I can usually tell by the time we’ve walked to my office. So, two minutes? Maybe less. I walk pretty fast. But a great book can, on occasion, change my mind.  I have changed my mind a few times (emphasis on few) after seeing the work and hearing the candidate speak to the ideas behind it.

Jeff Williams: Everyone is different. I usually have a first impression within five minutes. But then I listen carefully to see if my first impression changes. Candidates should not be afraid if things start off slow as long as they finish strong. Interviews can be difficult. I encourage candidates to be themselves. Then I can better assess whether I would like to work with them.

Q: What can candidates do to make a memorable impression during a job interview?
Michael Frediani: Candidates need to be humble but confident in their skills and work.  I’d recommend candidates try to lead the interview, rather than sitting back and waiting for questions. Show us you can think and interact with people and explain what’s on your mind.

Jeff Williams:
They can relax and be themselves. I look for their passion in design. This comes across in how they talk about their projects.

Keith Testa:
Know your stuff and be prepared. I like to hear details about a project and what went into it. Plus, a little excitement helps. Using generalities to describe a project or pieces is the kiss of death. I am busy trying to figure out what someone brings to the table, so specifics help.

Q: How important is follow-up after an interview? What do you look for in a thank-you note?

Keith Testa: An e-mail afterward is nice—but much more and it becomes too much. Just a simple thanks and a mention of something relevant from the interview is enough.

Lindsay Wolff-Logsdon: It’s classy to follow-up after an interview. Handwritten thank-you notes are a smart move, as are well-written e-mails with relevant details from the interview process (e.g., “I was really interested when you spoke about how Frog does X …”).

Dan Lythcott-Haims: I want a prompt, simple thank-you note. I don’t mind e-mail.

Julie Sims is director of communications strategy for The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing creative professionals, and HOW’s official career partner. www.creativegroup.com

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