Top 10 tips for getting a design job

I previously wrote about how to get a graduate position in UX or design. That post came out of two things: the fact that we were hiring graduates at the time, and that I was asked quite regularly at conferences and events what candidates should send us to demonstrate their suitability.

Now we’re recruiting again–but this time, we’re looking for senior designers.

As a consequence, over the past few weeks I’ve reviewed a ton of CVs, portfolios and assessments. Sadly, almost none of them have made it through to interview. So I thought I’d write down my top 10 tips for successfully getting yourself noticed and interviewed.

(Caveat: obviously this is very much based on what we at Redgate happen to be looking for, and my own personal opinion, but I think some of these things are transferable to other companies and jobs. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what applies to your own particular circumstances.)

The DON’Ts

#1: Don’t plagiarize others

You would be surprised, as I constantly am, at how much schoolboy copying there is going on in the world of CV and cover letter writing. The worst I’ve seen recently was a word-for-word rip off of this famous job application to 37 Signals. Most people aren’t so extreme (thankfully), but just be aware that if you’ve found a source of ‘inspiration’ it’s very likely we’ve seen it too! The main thing we look for in a designer is originality so by all means be inspired – but try to make it your own.

#2: Don’t plagiarize yourself

Don’t re-use your cover letters. If you’ve found a new vacancy to apply for, fire up a blank new Word document. Cover letters (or emails) make or break your application and as recruiters we read tons of them. Don’t copy yourself because we can tell and you just come across as lazy.

#3: Don’t send a CV

Don’t get me wrong, CVs are useful and in fact we require them. But given the choice between somebody with an impressive CV and somebody with an impressive portfolio, guess who I’ll pick? Your CV should almost be an afterthought. If you’re an experienced designer you should be sending me a covering letter/email with a list of links to stuff you’ve created or worked on and conclude with an “Oh by the way, my CV is attached.” (Also, please see tip #1 about not copying that sentence verbatim.)

#4: Don’t get cute with your CV

I’ve seen portrait and landscape CVs. I’ve seen ones organised around a timeline, ones pretending to be a conversation, ones full of catchy icons, ones using clever typography, ones looking like a poster and ones full of photos or illustrations. They mostly all suck. A CV is an exercise in information design and should be presented in a way that allows me to easily skim it. If you make sure it’s neat, is in a readable font (and font size), and is 1-2 pages long you’re way ahead of the competition.

#5: Don’t say you want to change the world, etc etc

If you actually have changed the world by your work, then by all means tell me about it. But please don’t tell me that you’re a self-starting team player motivated by desire to change the world by working for a world-class organisation, etc etc etc. Most companies will hire designers based on demonstrable skills, not pie-in-the-sky aspirations.

The DOs

#6: Be humble and honest

Humility and honesty don’t have to mean underselling yourself. You should be proud of your achievements and we want you to tell us about them. But don’t overdo it. Go ahead and big yourself up and boast about your work–but do it elegantly. Its a fine line, and often a sign that you’re crossing it is the (over)use of superlatives. If you find that you’ve written about your work and described it as ‘awesome’ or ‘amazing’ or ‘groundbreaking’ consider re-writing that phrase to tell us about how you felt doing that work and then just show us what you produced. Your work should be able to speak for itself.

#7: Apply user centred design thinking

Put yourself in the shoes of the person reading your application. What’s motivating them? How much time do they have to read your letter? What will pique their interest? If you’ve not recruited people yourself, find somebody who has and do a bit of research. Use your user centred design skills you have to give it your best shot.

#8: Actively seek feedback

The corollary to tip #7 is to ask for feedback about what you’re sending a prospective employer before you send it. It can be hard asking for critical feedback on your CV and job application letters, because they can be quite personal things. But try to do it all the same. If you have a partner or spouse, definitely ask them; if you have a fellow designer you trust, even better. They’ll tell you things your partner can’t (or won’t!).

#9: Write good words

Designers suck at writing words. Just try to get better at it. Re-read and wordsmith your application obsessively. Don’t use fancy words just for the hell of it. And with every re-read, try to make it simpler and shorter.

#10: Make your stuff into a PDF

If you’re sending documents, make them PDFs. They render so much better than Word documents.

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