The Graphic Design Interview - How Best to handle It?

So you've got yourself a graphic design interview! You sent in the perfect graphic design resume, some relevant, competent samples of work, and got the interview! How best to handle it?

Every employer has their own technique of determining what will make a good graphic designer - and who will make a good employee. I can only speak from my own experience - both of applying for jobs, and later of conducting interviews for my own studio. please note that every employer has their own method of conducting a graphic design interview - everyone has different priorities and looks for different kinds of people.

Prepare Well For Your Graphic Design Interview

The best thing you can do is prepare. Even if you don't get the job after doing well in your graphic design interview, if you used your common sense and went in with high confidence because you'd prepared well, you'll have nothing to worry about. Be proud that you did your best, and don't lose any sleep over it. On to the next graphic design interview.

Good graphic design jobs don't grow on trees. In fact, even bad graphic design jobs don't grow on trees! In my opinion a graphic design firm tends to work better as a small studio - lean and mean, so there are not many jobs available. The studio has to have the right people, so it needs to be selective - this means there will be many disappointed candidates...

This in turn means there are a vast number of graphic design freelancers out there. Now that desktop publishing software and equipment is relatively cheap, the promise of low start-up costs and the freedom to work from home is appealing to many. These freelance designers become competition to a small studio - as well as potential suppliers.

So without wishing to labour the point, jobs in the industry are in short supply - so you need to give yourself the best chance of landing one. If you get a graphic design interview, don't waste the opportunity.

I remember being terribly nervous before a graphic design interview. Why was I nervous? Well, obviously I was eager to get the job, and I didn't know what graphic design interview questions I was going to be asked. Mainly though, it was because I felt under-informed - I (correctly) feared that I didn't know enough about the various day-to-day processes and procedures to be able to do the job. Like most things you learn best by doing - but what if you don't know enough to get the job? It's a classic Catch 22 situation - you can't get a job because you don't have enough experience - but you can't get experience until you get the job.

The best thing you can do if you're in a situation like this is do your utmost to learn as much as possible beforehand and build up a good portfolio. In a creative business like this, if you can show a prospective employer that you're capable of producing good work, and you know exactly how to take a project from initial sketch to printed product, they are much more disposed towards giving you a chance. Remember, it's just as hard for the interviewer to determine who is worthwhile, and who is not. If you're enthusiastic and can prove that you've put effort into producing examples of work to demonstrate your ability, you'll be on the right track - no doubt about it.

Knowledge isn't everything though - confidence in your own ability to learn is vital. If you're confident in yourself, you'll make others confident in you. So what are the best pointers I can give you for succeding in a graphic design interview?

What to Do in a Graphic Design Interview

  • Do your best to fill any gaps in your knowledge. You might not be aware that there are any gaps - after all, if you just finished a graphic design degree, surely you know everything you need to know to get started? Right? Wrong. You never stop learning. Years after starting my graphic design career, rarely a day goes by when I don't learn or teach myself something new. Diversification is key in graphic design.
Hopefully this site will have given you a good knowledge of what you need to know from a technical point of view before landing your first job. The information here is not advanced for today's graphic designer - it's essential basic training. If you know and understand everything here you should be able go into an interview confident, knowing that you are armed with everything you are likely to need to know to do a print-oriented graphic design job.
  • Do take examples of relevant work along to the graphic design interview. If you have something that's been produced in the commercial arena, great. An interviewer is going to be interested in what sells, not what looks good on a wall. If you haven't got any work that you've produced as professional graphic designer, try to put together a portfolio of projects which you've given yourself to do. For example, design some new stationery for a fake company along with a brochure, advert and anything else you can think of. This shows that you're interested enough in getting a job that you're willing to put effort into proving why you should get it.
Alternatively you could practice recreating well-designed magazine spreads and show them at interview. This will demonstrate that you understand how all the elements of a project go together. Don't try to pass designs like this off as your own - tell the interviewer what you have done and why. You'll also show that you have an eye for good design (assuming you chose a good design to recreate!).
  • Do look the interviewer in the eye, listen to their questions and answer them succinctly, speaking clearly and confidently. Only expand on your answer if it is relevant. Talk about other jobs you have had if you are asked directly about them, or if they are relevant.
  • Do be enthusiastic, express a willingness to learn (after all, no one knows everything) and be passionate about your vocation - because that's what this job is - a vocation. Anyone who is half-hearted about doing something creative isn't going to produce anything very good. You must project the impression that you know that this is the route your career path will follow. If you give the impression that you're just dipping your toe in the water, why would anyone want to pay you for the privilege? Which leads me to...

What Not to Do in a Graphic Design Interview

I've interviewed lots of prospective graphic designers - and I've learned a great deal about what to expect and what to look for in a graphic design interview. Here are some of the things which I find to be a complete turn off - some may seem obvious 'no-nos', but they happen again and again.

  • Don't say that your grand plan is to learn as much as possible from your first job and then strike out on your own as a freelancer or to set up your own studio. Your ambition to steal your prospective boss's secrets and then set up in direct competition won't make you any friends.
  • Don't appear desperate for the job - if you say that you've been to loads of interviews with no luck (and now you have to get a job or you don't know what you'll do) you won't get the job.
  • Don't whisper - speak clearly. Don't fidget or look away while the interviewer is talking.
  • Don't moan about how badly you were treated in your last job, or how much you hated your boss. If you do, your prospective employer may think you'll talk the same way about him or her behind their back!
  • Don't produce vast amounts of irrelevant work from your college portfolio - just produce designs which would be at home in a commercial arena (adverts, stationery, brochures etc). My experience of college work has been mixed. Usually it comes over as somewhat (and I certainly don't mean to cause offence by saying this)... self-indulgent... and decidedly uncommercial. Many's the time that I would have got more out of seeing a couple of logo and stationery designs than I did out of looking through three years of abstract batik and photos of bicycles made of cheese.
  • Don't give the impression that you're just there for the money. The employer won't care nearly as much about what you can get from the job as they will be concerned about what you can give. Employing a new graphic designer has to be a profitable decision. If your contribution is unprofitable, your job won't last long.

The more you know before you start your graphic design employment, the less training you'll need to receive - and the faster you'll be up to speed and productive! And that's what this website's all about. If there's anything which is unclear, or missing altogether - just ask. Send me your queries and I'll do my best to answer them. Good luck!

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by Nick Beresford Davies | © Training, advice, resources, confidence building for graphic designers

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