Civilian conducts a decent amount of informational interviews with students interested in the creative field, as part of our mentorship efforts. It’s a good way for recent grads to practice interviewing, plus get feedback on their work and how they present. As a bonus, these meetings are great networking opportunities for both sides.
After every one of these informational interviews, the Civilian creative team meets to discuss how it went. These discussions have led to some ideas for how anyone new to our industry can succeed in their job searches. Even though we’ve got wildly varying levels of experience on our team—from two years all the way up to 25 years—With our different levels of experience, from 25 years to 2 years, we’ve compiled some we’ve all agreed on the following tips that will hopefully help young up-and-coming talent with their next creative interviews.
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW – Be Prepared
Narrow your book, or portfolio, down to only your best work. We believe your book is as strong as its weakest piece. We’d rather see two to three strong pieces that have been thought through completely than two great pieces and eight so-so examples. Maybe you keep those extras in your back pocket if something comes up and you want to share. It’ll show you know how to edit and keep to what’s most important.
Know what your work is about. Don’t point out what we can see; font choices, color scheme, style, etc. Tell us what issue(s) you were solving and how you got to the solution(s). Design aesthetic choices will come through in the explanation. Knowing that information well will help you have confidence in the presentation of your work.
Pick your top three projects, in case you only have time for those. Plus, those are probably the ones you have the most passion for and it’ll show in the presentation.
For Your Potential Employer
Know who they are, the audiences they speak to, and what kind of work they do. How do you and your work connect with them? If your book is mostly packaging and they do street team guerilla tactics, they may not be a fit.
Dress for the job you want, not the job you have, show the interviewers respect through how you present yourself. We’ve all seen Hollywood’s version of creatives; beanie (even in the summer), ironic button or pin on jean jacket, and rolled up sleeves (especially short sleeves). OK, that’s mostly how we dress in the office when we’re not meeting with clients, but an interview is still your first impression. Give any meeting with potential employers the respect it deserves, even if it is an informational interview. It can lead to a referral. After you land a job and relax into the position, then you can put on your Converse and hide your hair in a hat.
DURING THE INTERVIEW – Engage
Bring something, anything, but mostly, something to present your work. We’ve had people show up with nothing to talk to or present…awkward. If your work is online, load it locally to your personal laptop, or tablet. You don’t want to chance it to the interviewer’s technology, so keep the control in your hands. If they have the means to pull up your site on a larger screen in their room, consider that a bonus. If it’s a physical portfolio, you’re good to go, just don’t forget it. There is no excuse for not having a way to present your work.
For physical print pieces (remember: print is not dead, it’s retro) bring them in. Print design is meant to be handled. Give the interviewer the chance to experience the piece, feel the paper, and take in any other design choices you made.
It’s okay to not know it all. If you did you wouldn’t be new. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand something said during the interview. It shows you want to learn and aren’t just a yes-person.
An interview is a two-way street. You can ask them questions too: after all, you’ll want to know if and why you want to be there. Find out if the position is new or if it’s being filled, and ask why. For example, if time a position has been filled twice in the last eight months, that might be red flag.
Tell them what you’re looking for and what your goals are. Maybe they can help you grow that skill. Maybe they’re lacking in that skill set within the agency, and don’t have someone who wants to do it (PPT designer, yikes).
AFTER THE INTERVIEW – Follow Through
Leave-behinds are nice but aren’t necessary. At very minimum, though, send an e-mail to each person you spoke to. If you want to go old school, send a card. It’s rare and noticeable, and it shows you care.
Connect with your interviewers on LinkedIn and stay active on the site. Seriously, watch your LinkedIn network grow, and you’ll see how small the advertising and design industry really is. As you progress in your career, you’ll see how it’s a combination of what you know and who you know—and it all goes back to how you presented yourself during that first interview, and how they remember you.