Applying for jobs

Serious post time. I've worked for my current employer for over six years now and during that time, I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the process of recruiting new people to our design team. Some may say that being involved in the recruitment process is boring and tedious. Well yes, at times it can be, but it's certainly been an eye opener for me.

Whilst I am not the most experienced interviewer in the world, I have noticed the same things happening with cv's in particular, each and every time the company I work for advertises for a new position. So, I thought I would highlight the common mistakes that we come across and if you're not having much luck applying for your first design job, making sure you follow these points might increase your chances of getting asked in for an interview.

1. Don't apply if you don't have the required skills

If a job description says that you must be able to stand on your head, do backflips and hold your breath for a minute, don't apply if you can only do one of those things. (But, if you can do any of the things I've just listed, you're a better person than me!)

To give you an example, we were recently looking to take on a new web editor. The ideal candidate for that job would have:

  • A good understanding of HTML and CSS
  • A working knowledge of Photoshop
  • Knowledge of other Adobe products is beneficial
  • Knowledge of basic search engine optimisation is beneficial but not required

We found that quite a large percentage of the applicants could only tick one of the requirements listed above and some could only do the beneficial parts (the last two points). It's all very well having an interest in search engine optimisation, but if you're applying for a job as a web editor and have no coding knowledge or idea how to edit images in Photoshop, then you're going to be cast aside very quickly.

Make sure you understand what you're applying for and make sure you can do what would be required of you.

2. Don't apply if you have no examples of work

This one really bugs me, and it happens more than you would think. I believe it's fair to say that when we write our cv's we tend to fill them with a fair amount of 'fluff' about how well we work to strict deadlines, or how we'll fit seamlessly into a busy team. I take those introductory paragraphs with a pinch of salt. I skim read them. They're nonsense, really. Until I meet you face-to-face that first paragraph is worthless.

So what am I looking for?

  • A list of your skills
  • Examples of those skills in action

If you were to send your cv to a potential future employer and it contained no examples of the work you can do, that potential future employer has to trust that you're telling them the truth. Asking that person to put their faith in you is a risky business, because if it turns out that you're not what the employer was looking for you have wasted both their time and your own.

"But I haven't worked for anyone yet, so how can I have examples to show you?"

I have no doubt that this is the main reason for the majority of applicants not having any examples to include with their cv's. But why not? You're not applying to be a teacher, an accountant or any other job that might require you to get a job or client before you can then list it on your cv. You're applying to work in an industry where at any time you can say, "I've not designed or built a charity website before, I'll try that".

You don't need to be employed to showcase your coding ability or skill in Photoshop. There's no excuse not to do it.

3. Show how passionate you are

It doesn't matter if you have a qualification or you're completely self taught, if you're passionate about something then it's important to show that to a potential employer. You can do that in a number of ways:

  • Start a blog - discuss the things you like and the things you've learnt. If you found something difficult don't be afraid to admit it, but do show how you solved a particular problem or overcame a tricky hurdle
  • Create projects for yourself - as I mentioned in point 2, you don't need to work for someone first in order to have work to put in your portfolio. Your portfolio is your chance to show off your skills, so show off that design you did for a pretend client or that piece of code you're particularly proud of
  • Stay up to date - follow your favourite designers, agencies and publications.
  • Have an opinion - whilst you won't like every bit of design work you see online, don't just criticise it. Offer an explanation as to the bits you don't like and explain what you would have done differently and why.

Ultimately, once you secure your first interview then the rest is up to you. But, from my experience, if you follow these guidelines and make sure that you are doing at least the three things that I have outlined in this post, then your chances of standing out from other applicants will be greatly increased.

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