At Zaro, the startup I'm a co-founder of, we're on a mission. We a passionate about helping anyone create their best work. Not just work to get the job done, but work that gets the job done better than anyone else.
In order to achieve this mission, we need Zaro to be in the hands of as many people as possible. We need Zaro to be the unconscious choice when creating and managing creative work – whether for fun, study or work.
We also have a fondness to help design students showcase their work in the most engaging and reassuring way. The kind of way that can mean getting your first design job.
Top tips for getting a design job
If you're looking for a design job, here are 7 tips that we wish all applicants did.
- Be a good designer
- Showcase your work in a portfolio
- Show your design thinking
- Be passionate about what you love
- Fall in love with solving problems
- Recognise how to enhance a team
- Leave your ego at the door
Before we dive deeper into how to achieve this, I'd like to share that we're working on Zaro to help you showcase not only your work, but also your design thinking so that you can showcase this to potential employers or clients. Think of it as your portfolio, but on steroids.
Make sure you don't miss out and join Zaro.
Be a good designer
Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way. It is hard to get a design job if you're not good at design. Hashtag sorry?? 😟 I'm not here to tell you that you're no good. I'm here to help. There are a few things you can do to improve your design skills should you feel they are lacking.
Have constructive criticism
Criticism comes in many forms. Some people may say "I don't like it" but tell you nothing as to what would make it better. You may look at your work and feel it's off or you may even hate it. Never focus on judging yourself. It distracts you from seeing your work.
Constructive criticism is an important part of getting better. It is simply a gap analysis of what can do today and what would make it better. Use tangible feedback such as low contrast, unbalanced shape, font too small, poor stock images, etc. Once you have that, go experiment with changing them until you find a formula that works. If all else fails, ask another designer for feedback.
Copy other designs
While you can't put this in your portfolio and claim you created it, you can use it as a way to hone your skills and develop a natural way of working that means your designs are more consistent and less error prone. By copying other designs you really get to explore the design software you use which is critical if you want to experiment with new designs without the tools getting in your way.
One exercise you can do is to copy a well known brand logo every day for a week. Then once you have done that, spend the next week creating new original logos and see what happens.
Keep learning theory
Never stop learning the theory. Learn about color theory, different shapes in nature or industrial architecture, learn to draw on paper and doodle. You can use online blogs, training and YouTube videos. Just build up a broad knowledge base of different ideas and techniques as this will be your foundation to form new creative ideas.
Design all the time
You want your design skills to be an extension of your mind where you do it without thinking. To achieve that you must practice constantly so you can reduce the mental overhead of thinking when doing it for a new design.
Stay motivated and measure your improvement
You want to keep motivated at improving your design skills. To do that you want to measure the incremental improvements you make as the days and weeks go by. When you see such improvements, no matter how small, you'll be excited to keep on going.
Consciously stretch your goals when designing just a little out of your comfort zone. This is deliberate practice. It will feel uncomfortable but is how you will grow. Balance this with subconscious practice which allows you to repeat your practice over and over to solidify your natural ability to do it. Remove any distraction such as mobile phones when doing deliberate practice.
Showcase your work in a portfolio
Applying for a design job is the art of selling, only you're selling yourself. Your portfolio is the best way you can do that. I've been in many situations where a candidate's portfolio is what let them down – big time. Honestly, it's easy to stand out from the crowd in my experience. Here's how you can improve your chances.
Attention to detail
First of all, make sure you have great attention to detail. For example, spelling errors, squashed images, broken links – these are all red flags. If you can't sell yourself correctly, you probably will struggle to sell my product right?
Show a small selection of your best work
If you have 10 portfolio pieces and 9 are good but one is terrible. Which one do you think I'm going to judge you by? Yep, it's the terrible one. Be selective and remove things that makes me only ask more questions than it answers.
Real vs fictional work
If you have real work in your portfolio, maybe from freelance work or a previous job, then that is great. But be honest about your exact contributions to the work you're showcasing. If you did all the design, say so. If you worked on a section of a web site, then be specific. I've had a situation where a candidate said they built a well known car brand's web site, but their CV didn't have anything to back that up. I ended up being really confused about whether they were lying or not.
Fictional work is absolutely fine, so long as it's labeled so. If you include well known brands, you want to be clear if you have worked with that brand, or if it's a concept piece of work as a side project.
You do not need real client work to showcase how good you are!
I would love to see a collection of thought provoking and exciting concept pieces taking interesting fictional scenarios. For example, how would you approach a redesign of Skype, or design an e-commerce store for your favourite organic food brand. In some respects, this fictional work can really demonstrate what you can do.
Include pieces that align with the company you're applying to
If there's a job you really want, then put some effort in to create concept pieces around the similar problems the company is solving. For example, if you're applying for a social media marketing agency, include concept work that aligns with the products and services that company normally produces for clients.
You want to demonstrate that you can fit right in without having to be remoulded into thinking a different way.
Show your design thinking
I've only ever seen one portfolio which did this. It showed the process of coming up with a design solution through ideation, concepts, experiments – all leading to a final rich design.
By showing your design thinking in your portfolio, you demonstrate that you have tried and tested methods to produce quality work and that you're not a one hit wonder who got lucky.
Long story short, we needed someone, applicants were meh and colleague said "I might know someone". They showed me their person's portfolio and I knew instantly that is who we wanted – because they were a great designer and showed their design thinking. We met them over a beer that afternoon and offered the job right away. We later went on to create Zaro 🙂
Bottom line is, you need to show your working out. This is where Zaro comes in. We're building it to help you document and showcase your design thinking in such a way that anyone seeing it will be instantly in love with how you work.
Be passionate about what you love
There may be aspects of design that you absolutely love. Maybe it's typography, or maybe photography. Maybe it's nothing to do with design, but you can incorporate it somehow using design. We want to see that passion come through as it forms who you are. We love to meet people who have some obsessions that help them continue to learn, grow and ultimately master.
Fall in love with solving problems
A pro tip for any job interview, focus a little less on yourself and fall in love with the mission of the company you're applying to. Employers want to find like minded people who will go the extra mile to do the right thing for their cause. If you show that you have that passion naturally, you'll fit right in.
I personally do then when talking to potential new freelance clients. I ignore the fact that I'm pitching for business and selling myself. I just dive right into exploring their challenges, their aspirations and their goals as a client. Give away advice for free, put their needs first and they will only be wanting you more and more.
Recognise how to enhance a team
One key factor in any job interview is whether you will fit in with the team and the company culture. Are you someone who will need a lot of hands on mentoring, or are you someone who will need to be reined in because you have a little too much gusto.
If you recognise that your work is only as good as the strength of the team, and can talk about how you can help others succeed at the work they do, then you'll be sending the right signals that could just well land you the job.
Let me give you an example. You may be talking about how you managed to convince your previous company to implement your designs. This is great, but if you can also express that you also made sure that other members of that team felt included, had a contribution and really enjoyed the ownership of their parts, then you're pulling as a team, not as an individual.
Leave your ego at the door
Nobody likes a know-all. Be humble, but assertive. Listen to other people's views first. Rather than show you know best, guide them to figure out how they can be the best. Ego will get you in trouble and goes against being a team player.
Our mission is to build Zaro so you can showcase the best portfolio anyone has ever seen. We've given you some tips about how to improve your odds. Don't be afraid to work hard for what you want. Seek feedback and pay attention to the advice. But most importantly have fun.
Oh, and don't forget to sign up to Zaro.