How to Get a Job at an Awesome Design Company
Steve Schoeffel, Former Designer
Where I'm Coming From
Just a few months ago, I was fresh out of school and looking to start a career in web design. A few months later, I was fortunate enough to get an internship, and subsequently, a full-time spot at Viget. Here are a few things I focused on and learned during the process. I hope they can be of some help to you.
The Necessity of an Online Portfolio
So you want to be a web designer? Show me your website. You'll obviously need one. Use this as an opportunity to display your skills. If you are purely a visual designer with minimal front-end knowledge, it might make more sense to use something like Behance (or for other options, check out this post by Tom Osborne). If you love jumping in and putting down some code, go for it and do it all custom. Whatever choice you make, make sure that it highlights your abilities.
A written resume is somewhat a given and is yet another chance to be creative. If you know you want to be a designer, then create a "designer" resume. Flex your typographic muscles and get into some print. I remember seeing the simplicity and clean lines in the resumes of Brian Hoff and Mindy Wagner (pdf files) and being inspired to create my own.
Quality over quantity is something you hear a lot. Put your best work forward. This seems to be pretty straightforward. That being said, variety ain't a bad thing. Overall creativity is valued; so is general talent and ability. When I put up my portfolio site, I decided to include some acrylic paintings I had done that year. When I got into the initial interview, one of the designers said that it was the first thing that caught his eye. The next question that was asked was: "how can it be applied to the web?" So if you do choose to include some non-web work, be sure to think about ways it may translate to your designs for the web. I'm a firm believer that developing artistic areas outside of your primary focus is always a good idea and will give you new insights and inspiration and will ultimately improve your design skills.
Do Your Homework
Once you have your portfolio together, you'll need to find some design companies—and there are quite a few out there. Here are a few thoughts that can make it easier to find the quality design firms.
What does the company value? What type of work do they do? What type of clients do they have? These are the type of general questions that can be helpful in finding that great company that really fits your personality and your aspirations.
Who works there? What do their designer's personal sites look like? I've found this can go both ways. Clearly, if their personal site is rock solid, then that is almost always a good sign. On the other hand, if a designer has been with a company for a while, there may not be huge motivation to maintain some crazy-awesome personal site on the side. It seems it's more important for freelancers to keep their sites looking really sharp because that's their main marketing area. Regardless, it's an interesting thing to look into and you can learn quite a bit about a company by paying attention to their designers.
Following their designers on Twitter (and others designers too!) is a great start. In doing this, you'll see what they're excited about, what they think is worth sharing, and what they think is good design. It really is something to be embraced and utilized.
Making First Contact
So you've got your online portfolio looking nice, you designed your resume, and you found this sweet company that's hiring. Not bad! Now you need to submit your info and get yourself out there. Since the "introduction" will almost always been made online, do it right and make a good first impression. Use whatever opportunities you have to show your skill, thoughtfulness, creativity, and interest.
Think of your initial contact message as your "cover letter"—a way to introduce yourself, the position you're interested in, and some of the vital details. Here are some things to think about as you go about this:
- Include all required info. Pay attention to what type of information the company is specifically asking you to attach.
- Show that you're familiar with the company. Nobody likes to receive intentionally vague mass emails. One of the best ways to make this message personal is to let them know that you have taken the time to do some research.
- Use an appropriate tone. Keep your audience in mind here; web design companies are usually more casual than your typical corporate environment. That being said, professionalism is expected everywhere. Try to shoot for a friendly, professional tone that matches the company culture.
- Links are helpful. Make it easy for the recruiter and provide links to your portfolio and any other relevant sites, like LinkedIn. Also, related to this, being up-to-date with your social media is a simple way to put forth a consistent message with your online presence. Think of it as "personal branding."
- Be honest and let your skills speak for themselves. It's much better to show up with more talent and knowledge than expected rather than less. I'm not saying undersell yours skills, just be forthright about it all.
Whether you find your dream job in the first few weeks or if you've been on the hunt for a long while, continue to grow and stretch yourself. If you truly love to design, keep doing it. There are always opportunities. The next job may be just around the corner—a little more experience can only help!
Check out the current internship opportunities at Viget: