Design Students: What Your Dream Company Wants You to Do Before You Graduate

Daniela Garza of Anagrama, Joshua Chen of Chen Design Associates, and Mackey Saturday of Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv await your work in the HOW Promotion & Marketing Design Awards.

Enter the student category by April 9, 2018 for your chance to win a main-stage trophy presentation, lunch date with a HOW Design Live speaker, a spot in a gorgeous, all-new hardcover book from HOW+PRINT and so much more.

Ahhh… the bliss of having finally entered your final year of design school. Now you can sit back, enjoy the journey and anticipate your bright fu—what’s that? Oh, right, right. That’s just the debilitating thoughts creeping in. And that other thing? Just the astronomical fear wrapping its cold hands around your hopeful little heart.

Totally normal, right? Plenty of us have been there. Doesn’t make it any less sucky.

We all want to leave school feeling fully ready to make our mark on the creative industry—and better yet, the world. But when you’re deciding what your future will look like (a proud in-house designer? a position at a reputable firm? creative entrepreneurship?) it’s easy to get stuck wondering if you’ve done enough to get where you want to go.

The good news? This (hopefully) isn’t life or death. So breathe.

The other good news? There’s still time to squeeze in some things before you graduate.

Even more good news: HOW talked to the people doing the interviewing and hiring for positions at six top firms and in-house teams—IBM, Dunlop, MoMA, SapientNitro, Pepsi and Siegel+Gale.

You can handle some fear and self-doubt, but sometimes taking action is the best medicine, so why not? Read on to find out what it takes to snag your dream job—and get to work!

The Inside Scoop from 6 Hiring Managers & Creative Leads at Royal Caribbean, IBM, Dunlop, MoMA, SapientNitro, Pepsi and Siegel+Gale

HOW: When reviewing designer résumés and portfolios, what are the first things you look for?

Ely Tomines, senior manager of Launch Creative Services at Royal CaribbeanIn a résumé, the first thing I notice is if it’s clean and easy to digest. There should be a hierarchy in the information that’s presented. Résumés that are overly stylized, have illustrations or multiple pages are a warning to me. Keep it clean, simple and to the point.

Amber Atkins, head of global recruitment at IBM Design: We are looking for strong craft, evidence of problem-solving skills and systems level thinking, human-centered focus showcased within the design process, collaboration ability and technical vitality and relevance. We don’t do print design at IBM; we are product designers and your book should translate.

Graham Shaw, art director at Dunlop Manufacturing, Inc.Mastery of type, a sense of organization and ability to edit out weaker work.

Hsien-Yin Ingrid Chou, associate creative director at MoMAWe look for portfolios with projects that have strong, clear concepts, and that show a different way of thinking.

Andrew Goldstein, creative director at SapientNitro Miami: The first thing I look at is the overall presentation of the work (ahead of looking at individual work samples). You never know if individual design pieces were informed by a campaign, an existing style guide, etc.—but the portfolio design itself speaks to the taste level of the designer. I’m personally a fan of very clean design for a portfolio that lets the work shine, but that still has plenty of room to show attention to detail and a sense of hierarchy.

expert tips for design students on how to get a job in graphic designTara Townsley, Talent Acquisition Manager, PepsiCo Design & Innovation: Résumés: Well-organized content in chronological order. Education degree clearly defined. Experience should be listed by organization with dates. Should articulate bullet points of individual contributions and collaborations. Should use words that define and clearly explain your role at that organization. Achievements, accomplishments. Should list tools and software … and ability level with each. (E.g.: Adobe Suite=master level.) ALL Design résumés should include link for portfolio with PW if required. (PepsiCo looks for résumés with skill set and job experience required for the open positions. Looking for internships and FT or freelance work experience that will translate seamlessly into our design and innovation environment.)

Portfolio: I encourage every student to create their own website; do not use Behance. We tend to navigate to those students who can express their creative style and aesthetic through their website; this is very important. It is an expression of who you are as a designer. The work should be set in hi-definition and presented in a way that showcases your individual contributions and designs. We want to see “YOUR DESIGN THINKING.” It’s important that each project displayed has a brief, exploration, sketch, research, ideation and final pit presented.

Lori Almeida, chief talent officer at Siegel+GaleWhat makes a designer’s portfolio stand out is great work that is both thoughtful and strategic. The difference between an average candidate and one we want to hire is consistency, a theme, a clear voice and evidence of their own “brand” throughout their portfolio.

What do you like to see in a designer’s education history?

Tomines: We look for a bachelor’s degree in the design field. The school doesn’t matter as much. The designer’s portfolio and real-world experience will speak louder.

Atkins: Multidisciplinary course work. A nice mix of traditional, web, human-centered design and UX and strategy is ideal but rare.

Shaw: Focus on graphic design, with some interest in other disciplines—e.g. fine art, photography, sculpture, marketing.

Chou: Though we usually look for designers that have a basic design education, we don’t have any specific educational requirements. Portfolios are much more revealing and important to gauge than where designers went to school.

Goldstein: I don’t personally care much about educational history beyond the interesting perspectives that [it] might bring to the work. If someone studied in Japan and Germany and can bring a broader view of different schools of design, great. But some of the best designers I’ve ever worked with were former graffiti artists and college dropouts. So I suppose I’m more a fan of diverse influences than a degree from a particular place.

Townsley: Degree BA or MA in design. PepsiCo looks for graphic, branding, product and experiential design degrees.

Almeida: Creative thinking outside of their formal education is always a plus. What they do in their downtime—whether it be maintaining a blog, photography, drawing or any other form of creative inspiration. We particularly appreciate the work of students coming out of the Rhode Island School of Design, California Arts, Pratt, Illinois Institute of Technology and the Art Center of Design in Pasadena.

To what extent do the awards a designer has won affect your impression of them and their work?

expert tips for design students on how to get a job in graphic designAtkins: They matter because they show that you went outside of your coursework, that you are tenacious, that you are vulnerable, and that you want and yearn for feedback on your work. The process of applying for design awards is more impressive than if you won, but that’s the gravy, right?

Shaw: I can tell strong work from weaker work—awards won’t change my mind. But when a candidate documents their awards and accolades, it shows an investment in their own future, a desire to continually better themselves, and a commitment to design as their passion and profession.

Chou: Awards by themselves don’t change our impression of designers and their work. Many of the strongest portfolios that I’ve seen have had work that was stronger and more successful than projects that had awards attached to them.

Goldstein: I respect awards but don’t usually take them into account much.

Townsley: A lot; it speak volumes, but is not a must-have. High-achieving awards, nationally recognized or product patents are impressive. Design organization memberships like AIGA or IDSA are important as well. But again, not a must-have.

Almeida: When hiring design talent, we don’t necessarily look for candidates with awards or public accolades, but they are a bonus.

On average, how many internships do you like an entry-level position candidate to have had?

Atkins: At least one to two, but not a lot of job-hopping; we value loyalty in work history and obvious transitions, not erratic ones.

Shaw: Not something I find hugely important, though it does show passion, and hint at exposure to studio life at an early point in a candidate’s career. One or two would be a good number.

Chou: The pace and nature of our work mean that we normally need designers that already have some working experience, but there isn’t a magic number of internships that we look for. It’s the quality of the experiences we value, not the quantity.

Goldstein: The number of internships is irrelevant to me. If someone has chops and has never had an internship, I’ll hire them. Internships have great value for interns who soak it all up and happen to be in great spots, but so many internships are empty experiences (usually the fault of the agencies) that I don’t assign any value to them.

Townsley: At least 1, but prefer 2 with a well-known agency or in-house company. Fortune 500 companies preferred as this work/scale translates well into PepsiCo’s environment.

Almeida: Two to three internships is ideal. Each experience will help shape you in different ways. It’s important for designers to see how the creative process happens in different environments.

What should designers strive to do above all else in their résumés and/or portfolios?

expert tips for design students on how to get a job in graphic designTomines: Clean, beautiful and easy to digest.

Atkins: Make sure not to have ANY typos, [to have] a well-communicated process and a functioning site if you choose to build one, or if/when using a template to remove the watermark.

Shaw: Edit, edit, edit. If you have [only] three stellar pieces of work, show only those. It’s the difference between giving the impression you can do no wrong [and] looking like you’re hit-and-miss.

Chou: It’s important that designers feature work in their portfolio that they are passionate about, and that they feel represents themselves and their abilities the most accurately. In addition, they should be clear and specific about their roles and responsibilities in group projects as designers, and indicate those in their résumés/portfolios.

Goldstein: Display great taste. Demonstrate a style or range of styles that show your creativity and craft. Show the kind of work you want to do.

Townsley: Speak the truth, highlight individual contributions, achievements, awards and aesthetics!! This is a designer looking for design work after all. 🙂

Almeida: Try to always be consistent throughout your portfolio. Define your passion and what makes you stand out. Be prepared to explain the rationale for your work. We want to know how designers develop ideas and execute their work.

Is there anything designers should refrain from doing or including in a resume/portfolio in order to avoid being cut from the running too early in the game?

expert tips for design students on how to get a job in graphic designTomines: In a portfolio, they should push for quality over quantity. I’d rather see 5–10 amazing designs that leave me wanting more than 50 designs that I forget immediately. Tease a little; don’t put it all out there.

Atkins: Don’t take credit for all your work. I see more portfolios dinged for a reviewer not understanding what role a designer played in a project or what their process was. Show your work, take credit when due, and share the love if you worked in a group.

Shaw: Spelling errors, obvious design no-no’s (drop shadowed/bevelled type, etc), lo-res images.

Chou: When designers include or talk about work in their portfolio that they don’t think are strong or aren’t proud of, it usually signals to us that we shouldn’t care either. Curate and show the few projects that you think are the strongest, and that best represent your thought process as a designer.

Goldstein: I immediately close portfolio sites that show off design at the expense of a quick way to the work. I think young creatives underestimate how busy creative leads can be and how many books they often get at once—if a recruiter sends me fifteen links, and I’m slammed, there’s no way I’m going to fight through a confusing site to find the work.

Townsley: If it doesn’t look esthetically pleasing and well-organized.

Almeida: Don’t ever copy another person’s work or try to be mainstream.

Can you recall the résumé or portfolio that left the strongest impression on you and led to a job offer? What about it made it so successful?

Tomines:  see a lot of resumes and portfolios, but what always resonates with me is if a designer can show me a bit of themselves and can take me on a little journey through their work and how they think. Their portfolio website or presentation shouldn’t overpower the designs it holds.

Atkins: I see a lot of them, but ones that tell a story, that leave me wanting to know more about what makes the person tick or how they think, an impression that leaves me wanting to work 40+ hours a week with the person is what I’m hungry for when reviewing résumés and books.

Shaw: It was highly edited. The candidate had done a lot of workaday stuff in a production position at an agency, but his student work was strong and imaginative and showed him to be pretty exceptional. I offered him his first designer position, and now he’s director of creative strategy with multiple Clios. I guess the moral of that story is don’t limit yourself to your current title.

Chou: I recall one portfolio that gave the impression of breaking all the rules. The idea that ran through all the work in the portfolio was unexpected movement. The idea was strong and the execution was breathtakingly beautiful. The interview clearly showed an individual of great original thinking and who had a passion for overachieving—plus there was an instant recognition of a certain kind of personality and intellect that we believed would work well within our group.

Goldstein: I can’t recall a specific example, but there are two kinds of portfolios that tend to get my attention—those [that] are just dripping with undeniable design craft and those [that] set up the problem and creative solution in a way that’s succinct and compelling. The latter shows me evidence that someone understands how to distill a problem and explain the solution, which is key when it comes to presenting and selling ideas.

Townsley: See questions 3 and 4.

Almeida: A standout portfolio demonstrates the sheer amount of work, thought and purpose designers invest in what they’ve created, resulting in them designing something that made a difference in somebody’s life. One very memorable example was an artist that designed a prosthetic for a swimmer. To me, that is life-changing.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Tomines: If a designer makes it to the interview, they should prepare to share their thought process. I’ve seen their portfolio already, so now I want to know the why. How did they get to the end result? Did they do research? Putting the why to the design is important. Designing something because it looks cool only goes so far.

Atkins: Show your work, communicate your process, have a system, divert from that system when the problem/solution calls for it, document everything, advocate for your decisions, and BE YOURSELF.

Shaw: Don’t follow the masses with trends like infographic résumés. Don’t be afraid to be different in your résumé and portfolio—be bold, boil things down to their essential elements, show your personality and your unique take on creativity and design.

Chou: We are a small team that works closely with each other and other departments, most of whom are not designers, and being able to form opinions on design and articulate ideas goes a long way. It’s important to have the ability to work in a team structure [and] at the same [time] be self-motivated and proactive.

Goldstein: Be disruptive by way of doing and showing great work. Don’t worry as much about creating a totally unique way of presenting the work. If the work is beautiful and smart, it will attract the attention you want. If you’re worried that the work isn’t as beautiful and smart as those competing for the same job, spend any and all energy elevating the work as opposed to trying to reinvent the presentation canvas.

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of where you [first go] to work. Yes, going anywhere will yield valuable experience. But if you want to do a certain kind of work, go to the places [that] do that kind of work. What you do there will fill your book with samples that other similar places (that you also like) will want. The first stop can set a great positive trajectory if you’re able to get in. If not, start out wherever you can and work toward making your way as soon as possible to an agency or workplace that does work that inspires you.


Mini Inspiration Gallery: Outstanding work from students like you who entered the Student Work category of the HOW Promotion & Marketing Design Awards and won:

Title Into the Wood | Student Zoe Nishimura-Russ,; with contributions by Robert Russ | Instructor Soonduk Krebs | School Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia; | Details This catalog for the Into the Wood summer program features illustration and an organic and rugged design to cultivate the natural atmosphere of the classes run at a woodworking school.

student promotions

Title Keep ‘Em | Student Stephany Page, | Instructors Myda Iamiceli, Clint Samples, Joey Hannaford | School University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA; | Details This campaign was designed to help owners match with their ideal pet prior to adoption, with the goal of decreasing the percentage of pets returned to shelters.