Sunday, January 28, 2007

Designers beware: Being the interviewee (Part 1)

I have already covered a designer’s resume and designer’s portfolio in this short series about designers landing a job in Latin America. In this new blog entry I will cover the interview from the interviewee perspective. I’ll divide it in two parts.

Part 1: Before the interview…

Now that you’re in “landing job” mode, it’s time to plan the strategy for your interview.

The call.
So the recruiter calls you to ask you to come over for an interview. Have a positive and upbeat attitude, act like you were expecting the call and be ready to jot down the directions to the place. It’s a good idea to take the chance to ask a couple of questions, like, who the interviewer is, their position, if they want you to bring anything else, if there’s a dress code, confirm the position they’re calling you for. In general, get as much information as possible from that call.

The research.
Once you know who’s contacted you, do some research on the company, if you haven’t already done so when you sent your resume. Check out their web page and find out as much information as you can. Try to relate that info to the design position and how it impacts their operation. DO NOT show up without doing some research. Research will allow you to prepare some intelligent questions for your interview and will save the interviewer some time in having to explain the company business to you. Trust me, you’ll make a great first impression.

The logistics.
Rehearse the route you’ll take to get to the interview location, beforehand. I know this may sound like a bit much, but making sure you get to the interview on time is of the outmost importance. In fact, leave a window to arrive there early.

The portfolio.
If you have many pieces, select the ones that better illustrate your skills for the position in question. Be prepared to present each piece by saying how it came about, what the creative process was like and how the customer’s business was improved by it.

The questions.
Interviewers ask difficult, personal and professional questions in order to see how you handle yourself under pressure and if your personality and professional traits match the position. Here are some typical questions:

- Why did you become a designer?
- What did you expect to achieve as a designer then?
- What do you expect to achieve as a designer now?
- In what type of atmosphere/environment do you feel most comfortable working in and do you do best working in groups or by yourself?
- What are your skills? What can you offer that other designers can't?
- What are your flaws?
- What’s your creative process?
- How does your expertise relate to our company?
- How do you think you’ll help us increase sales?
- What are your salary expectations?

Prepare intelligend answers for these questions and think about them thoroughly beforehand... show that you know where you're heading, what you want, your own value and how can all those positive things have a positive impact in the company.

Next time, I’ll be covering the actual interview. Until then, I look forward to receiving some comments!

All the best!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Designers beware: Your portfolio.

In my last blog I presented 10 tips on designer resumes. Continuing with my series on designers getting a job in Latin America (and just about anywhere I think), this time I will be covering your portfolio. To make it in the design business, all designers must have a portfolio. A portfolio is anything that will allow you to show your past work. It can be a physical printed portfolio, or an electronic one. Either way, consider the tips in this article to get the most out of it.

I personally think that it’s best to have both a printed and an electronic portfolio. I’d even go as far as saying that you should have two electronic portfolios: An online one and a PDF one.

Think of the people who are going to be reviewing your portfolio… is it a human resources person? Is it a designer? A creative director? A marketing manager? You should be able to effectively provide samples of your work to each audience.

If they request you send your portfolio, make sure you send what they expect. This will give you an advantage over those designers that reply with “oh, but I only have a printed one”. Granted, offering to show your portfolio in person can be taken as a proactive and positive move, it’s still no excuse not to send the requested materials in the preferred media of the interviewer. Ask in advance.

Before putting together your portfolio…

Pick a theme. This may sound a bit corny and it may not apply to everybody, but the best portfolios I’ve seen have had a “theme” to group and present information. A theme will force you to think creatively of a way to show your work inside a frame or topic. I once saw a graphic designer’s portfolio who’s theme was the seven deadly sins. He made it so that his work was divided into each sin, depending on the subject matter of the projects. The portfolio itself was very interesting and I could tell that he had put a lot of thought and effort into it. It also showed how far his creativity could go. That guy landed the job.

Pick your work. Plan it carefully. Organize it in a way that will be coherent to most people. Test this with people who can give you an honest opinion. Figure out how you want to present information. For a graphic designer, for example, it could be something like: branding, illustration, advertisement, typography. You could also sub-divide into academic and real projects.

Pick your media. And design accordingly to make the different versions of your portfolio, consistent. Choose being neat over being flashy.

Plan your page. Think of how each project page will look, what information it will contain. Remember that you may not be present when the interviewer sees your portfolio, so ask yourself, how are you going to convey your message? How will the viewer get what each project was about?

If you go for a printed portfolio…

Make it portable. Find or make a folder that will make it easy to carry around. It could even not be a folder! Be creative and do something unique, but avoid being cumbersome.

Make it neat and polished. Show that you care about the details. Make sure your portfolio is always in a perfect state."

Make it leavable. That’s right, if there’s something you can leave behind as a reminder of your work, that is a big plus. A good self promotion piece that will remind the interviewer of that cool designer that had that fabulous portfolio.

If you go for electronic, online or animated…

Make it simple and stylish. Avoid unnecessary animations and distractions. Cut to the chase and present information in a clear and organized way. Divide by categories, as I explained earlier in this article.

Make it work. Make sure that all the clickable objects work and that they take the viewer where they’re supposed to go. Test it on different platforms and test its compliance with IP standards (Idiot Proof standards, that is, meaning that anybody should be able to use it without a need for a manual).

Make it quiet. Unless you’re applying for a position as multimedia designer, I’d advise against adding music to your portfolio. It’s distracting and since you don’t know your viewer’s taste in music, this could actually play against you. Furthermore, avoid having different music for different sections. If you do choose to use music, make sure there are controls to shut it off and control volume.

If you go for electronic, PDF…

Make it complete. Be certain that the file does include all the pages you intended. This may sound obvious, but I have received a single page with no information on it. What this says is that you didn’t make the effort to check your file before sending it.

Make it printable. When I receive portfolios in PDF I like to print them out. Sometimes I receive PDFs with printing restrictions which I find annoying, because I have several printed portfolios to review. If I can’t print one, I most likely will forget about it.

Make it yours. Name your file with your name and add the word “portfolio”. This will make it easier for the recruiter to find your information. Be consistent with your resume. i.e. carolina_ayerbe_resume.pdf and carolina_ayerbe_portfolio.pdf.

Last but not least, have some fun! Show your creativity and your personality, your portfolio is your best referral. Show how passionate you are about your projects and about the way you present them, this will come through and will show how professional you are. Being neat and organized doesn’t clash with being a bit wacky and adventurous!

If you’re a young, fresh-out-of-college designer, being so doesn’t excuse you for not having a great portfolio. Include your best academic projects. If you’re a freshman, start now, collect all the info you can about all the projects you do and start putting together your portfolio!

If you're already an experienced designer and have a lot of pieces, consider your audience and present the projects that apply to the position you want to fill.

I hope these tips help some designers.
Do let me know what you think and if this article helped at all.
All comments will be most appreciated!
All the best!

More resources:
Top 10 Portfolio Faux Pas
10 Portfolio Commandments
How to Present Your Creative Portfolio

Monday, January 15, 2007

Designers beware: 10 tips on designer resumes.

Looking for a job? Yes, a very daunting and stressful experience, especially if you’re a fresh-out-of-college designer applying for your first job.

I’ve had the opportunity to interview many designers for in-house positions and I’ve found that most designers would benefit from some guidance on how to promote themselves. This is particularly relevant to designers in South America and Colombia where design is a relatively new profession.

The times, they are a’ changing, and designers need to rise to the level of most professionals. Design is a business. It’s not just about the perfect decoration in the pretty resume. It has to convey a message of professionalism, a message that you can actually do the job. Even if you’re a designer with experience, here are ten tips for designers writing their resume:

Tip 1: Do some research.
Even if you think you know everything there is to know about designing a document, find out about effective ways to present a resume. There are tons of websites with information about it like Rita Sue Siegel Resources and even this here article may help you. Now, being a designer, you are expected to show your creative side in your resume (At least I expect that). Nevertheless, this is a document for you to show that you’re a professional and therefore, all the right information must be included, even if it means sacrificing that beautiful symbol you want displayed in the whole page.

Tip 2: Customize your resume to match the position.
Designers work in different areas of design. I’ve seen this especially with graphic designers. So when the position calls for an illustrator, make your resume reflect that in the jobs or projects you want to show. If the position calls for a web designer, then include all web work you’ve done with links. If you think something else will add to your value proposition, include it. However, don’t try to squeeze all your work experience in just one page if some of it has no relevance to the position.

Tip 3: A one page resume.
Yes, all the necessary information can fit in one page, as weird as it sounds. You have to think that the person receiving your resume is receiving a lot more and she probably is printing them out. Make her job easier by including all pertinent information in a single page, you will earn some extra points for that.

Now, you’re a designer, play with typography, space, color… it’s also very important to make sure the information is presented in an organized, clear, easy to read way and have some fun! Make your personality and style show through. Don’t forget to double, better yet, make that “triple” check your document for typos and grammar errors. Nothing says “unprofessional” like a sloppy resume. Here's an example of a one page resume. Granted, this was a fresh-out-of-college designer and didn't have a lot of information to include, but you get the idea.

Tip 4: Your name and contact information are the most important thing.
Follow what you learned in school and make your name and contact information stand out by placing them where they will be easier to read for the recruiter: most likely the right top corner of the page, or top centered. Do include all your contact information, telephone numbers where you can be reached for sure.

If your email is something like “” it’s better to get a new one, just your name and last name, something that identifies who you are. I personally think that it’s not necessary to include your photo, though I’ve seen some pretty cool ways to add a picture of yourself as an illustration or an unusual treatment in Photoshop. If you’re applying for a job as an illustrator, this could be a good highlight for your resume.

Tip 5: Your profile.
Include a brief paragraph expressing what your profile as a designer is, or what your major areas of expertise are and what short term goals you have. This helps the recruiter see quickly if your profile matches what they’re looking for.

Tip 6: Now for the work information.
Include your work experience, listing jobs in reverse chronological order. For each job include:

a. The time period you had that job, including year and month.
b. The responsibilities of the position.
c. The achievements of the position, and how they translated into either an increase in sales or the reduction of costs for the firm. Include some numeric information, when possible.

If you’ve worked as a web designer, or have links to your work on the internet, make sure they work properly and contain all current information.

Tip 7: Academic information.
Include the qualifications you have and filter them to be pertinent to the position you’re applying to. List them in reverse chronological order too. Be sure to include the year in which you graduated and the title you received.

Tip 8: Is it the right file?
When sending your resume file through email, take into consideration:

a. Check that your file is complete. Yes, I have received resumes of one page, where it only lists the jobs, with no name or contact info, because they forgot to include the previous pages.

b. Name your file with your name. i.e. carolina_ayerbe_CV.pdf; make the work of the recruiter easier, and make your resume easy to find among all the files she’s downloaded that are called “CV.doc”, “resume.pdf”, “current_resume.doc” and every other combination that doesn’t provide any information as to what the file contains.

c. Include your name, title and the position you’re applying to in the subject line of the email. It makes it easier to find you in the long list of emails the recruiter received every day.

d. Open some doors by writing a short, warm and assertive email message to go with your attachment. Don’t just send the attachment alone; some people might take this gesture to be rude. Say hello, at least. Don’t underestimate the value of a well crafted message selling the benefits the company will get by hiring you. If necessary, go back to the Tip 1 and do some research on how to write a proper cover letter.

Tip 9: Don’t lie.
Most recruiters can see through a liar. Show your work in a dignified way, talk about your accomplishments, but don’t try to sell things as more than they really are. I once received a CV from this designer that presented himself as a “brand creator”. Hmm, interesting, I thought.

When I interviewed him I asked him how he went about creating a brand; it became obvious the guy had no idea what he was talking about. We both wasted our time. Be honest about what you’ve achieved. It’s much more effective.

Tip 10: Combine your resume with your portfolio.
I really like it when the resume includes some examples of the work the designer has done. All contact, work and academic information should be in the first page.

From the second page on, it’s a good idea to include three or four examples of your best work. This will be the entrée for the recruiter to ask for a complete portfolio. Don’t send twelve pages, though. Still keep it short, two or three pages maximum.

I hope these tips help out a few designers out there.
I look forward to receiving some comments!

All the best, Carolina Ayerbe.