Want That Design Role? Make Yourself Stand Out

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Red chair in row of green chairs

When hiring designers, I go through hundreds of job applications, trawl through hundreds of portfolios, and speak to dozens of candidates, all to hire one or two people.

Candidates left and right often make basic mistakes in applications, applying for the wrong job, making it difficult to access password-protected portfolios, sending links that don’t exist.

Here are some steps you can take to make yourself stand out from other candidates.

Show Your Process

Your creativity is, without question, a huge factor in getting noticed, but you’re not just being hired for your output. A great designer will formulate plans for workshops and discovery, demonstrate a clear understanding of problems they need to solve, and then take the steps to produce the most usable and elegant product - whether software, a mobile app, or a web app.

The end product doesn’t communicate your process, so show how you got there. Show that you are the best person to create and ideate, develop, test, and evolve a visual language.

Create a Portfolio, But Don’t Go Wild

Dribbble is excellent for showing off your talents and creativity. It is great to get a high-level overview of your design prowess. What it doesn’t do is provide the viewer with a true representation of who you are and what you do. Creating a portfolio website enables you to include the finished product, but let the reader know how you got there.

Create an easy-to-use web portfolio that allows the reader to find the work and read a case study. Your portfolio can show your personality, but let the work sing and hold back on letting your portfolio drown out the work that is most important. Those fancy navigation interactions should be in your work, not on your portfolio.

Quick tips on your portfolio website

  • Should designers code? Be assured that you won’t be judged on the quality of the code but on the presentation. Use Squarespace if you have to, I just want to see your work.
  • Don’t use any UI kits. Every designer has used UI kits or taken the mantra ‘great artists steal’ too seriously in the past, so try to avoid that in your portfolio. It may get noticed.
  • Have a presence. Work on getting your website noticed so I can Google ‘your name’ + ‘design portfolio’ and find it easily. If I find an empty LinkedIn profile, an old Dribble account, or an old version of your website, I might assume that this is your most recent work. Don’t let that happen.

Prepare for Scrutiny

Great design can stand up to critique and questions without effort. Readers should know by looking and reading case studies on your website that your work is the result of careful design thinking and consideration.

The difference between adequate and magnificent designers is their ability to consistently have robust rationale in their work product. The level of sophistication and understanding of a problem in a project required to do this takes practice and never fails to impress.

Make Your Resumé Readable

A resumé (or curriculum vitae for those in Britain or Europe) is the first document that will be screened on an application, so make sure it contains relevant information and isn’t too detailed. If you worked at an IT job in 1996 and are applying for a design role today, that may not be relevant experience. Leave that kind of information on LinkedIn.

People also think that a resumé should be a formal, matter-of-fact document without personality. Don’t let it be. If you’re inspired by cinema, love reading design books, and paint triptychs in your spare time then don’t be afraid to show your personality. Your personality and pursuit of knowledge are as important as your experience.

Apply for a Job You Want

It’s tempting to cast a wide net and apply for every job on a job board, but it’s clear when people are uninterested about the position they have applied for. Even though this is work, the role and company should excite you in some way or it’ll be a lot of work for nothing.

Be Qualified

Similarly, make sure you have the appropriate professional skills and experience for the role. It’s heartbreaking to speak to someone who has a wonderful personality but doesn’t quite have the skills outlined in the job description. Push yourself and apply for the jobs you deserve, but don’t apply for a senior position immediately after graduating from college unless you’re confident you’re good enough.

Be Nice and Personable

People want teammates who are humble, personable, honest, and real. Pride is okay, but there’s a fine line you need to straddle before it dips into narcissism.

Don’t sell yourself as someone who will behave badly and throw around their ego on a project. Let your work speak for itself and be a good person in the interview.

Finally, Be Optimistic

Applying for jobs is time-consuming, awkward, and often takes many months. But don’t give up! Just follow these simple steps to make yourself an exemplary design candidate and you’ll find the right job for you.

DockYard is a digital product agency offering custom software, mobile, and web application development consulting. We provide exceptional professional services in strategy, user experience, design, and full stack engineering using Ember.js and Elixir. With staff nationwide, we’ve got consultants in key markets across the United States, including San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and New York.