Keep it short, practice your pitch, know why you design the things you’re designing.
It’s Recruiting Season!
So you know, I have totally re-written this dreckish article to be more concise, clear and with somewhat less dreck. The new version of this topic is now hanging out on Medium, because I wanted to give that a try.
Go here to my Medium Article to see the better version.
November 16, 2015
Design students everywhere are interviewing for internships, co-ops, and full time positons, showing off their portfolios and describing to recruiters what makes them tick as a designer. My employer, frog, commonly attends these recruiting events, and is always on the lookout for bright, mutlitaletned superhero desigers. I just returned from one of these events and thought I’d share a few thoughts about interviewing with a portfolio of design stuff, with a focus on what you need to do to prepare for the 10-15 minute lightning-round window of attention that defines campus interviews. Hints for Candidates: First, know why you designed the thing you’re showing me, and explain why it was important to solve it.
I know you’re in school and sometimes projects are, at their surface, just an excuse to get experience in a specific design technique or technology.The job of your teacher is to expose you to these various techniques, but remember, your job is to integrate new techniques and skills into the deeper, larger process of doing design, and to figure out how any given project’s outcome is a design exercise worthy of the effort, apart from the techniue that was used to create it.
If all you can say about a project is “this is where I learned [flash, contextual inquiry, agile co-design blah blah blah] then you’re just doing homework, not doing design. Be sure you can explain to your interviewer this larger picture of why the artifact you’re showing is a BFD. One way to get to get at this is to describe each design effort you do like this: “So, the work I want to talk to you about is a <thing, service, interface, process>, designed for <some sort of person/group/demographic/audience> so that they can <solve a problem, do something interesting, remove a pain, feel a certain way, achieve or triumph in a certain way>. This has never been done before because <provide reason or caveats about simplicity, cost, complexity> and is important to solve because <provide rationale>.” If you can’t fill in those blanks, you don’t know your project well enough. Notice how, if you do that, then you are perfectly set up to go on to THEN talk about the process, the approach, and what you, personally learned in the context of doing the work, which is totally OK. But note how the horse is in front of the cart when you frame it first as a real design challenge. And while we’re talking about process: don’t be shy about showing sketch work or scribbles or how you got to your finished answer. A slide or two goes a long way to showing what your hand is like, how you think visually. Start your interview confidently by taking initiative in the conversation. Seriously, this is 15 minutes about you, really. You can start by telling your interviewer me up front what you want when the interview starts. “Hi, I’m Alice and I am looking for an internship.” Nothing wrong with being forward. Have one thing you want me to know about you – what is your best work? Don’t try to bounce around between three things. There’s no time. Practice your pitch. Practice your pitch. Practice your pitch. Can you describe your best work in 10 sentences? Now do it in 5. Now 1. Elevator pitches vary depending on the length of the elevator ride. Have a resume or a physical from of portfolio you can leave behind. Your interviewer is going to have a long plane/train/car ride home and will appreciate having something to remember you by in the days ahead. Resumes should include your first and last name. (Really.) Resumes should have a link to your online portfolio. (Double really.) You do have an online portfolio, right? Consider putting your face on it somewhere. It helps people remember you. Make sure I know where this online presence can be found – put the address on your other leave-behinds. When showing me work from your online portfolio, ask yourself: are the images and assets this site serves up big enough for a newcomer to actually evaluate? If your best-work-ever comes up in 320×240 thumbnail format, your effort looks small and easy to dismiss. Don’t let the defaults of favorite online portfolio platform undercut your efforts. Be able to show something that’s totally yours. I know this is hard with group projects, but you have to be able to express what your contribution was to the larger effort. Showing a smaller side project you did by yourself is a fine trick. To that point, when you are asked what you contributed to a given project, please don’t say “ideation.” Having good ideas is important of course, but it’s not nearly enough. Of course you contributed ideas. I assume you are creative. Show me what you do in group projects. Ideation isn’t a contribution when it’s decoupled from execution. Show me you care. Show drive, passion, and a thing that Matt Walsh from CP+B brilliantly refers to as “bounce.” Some people are quiet, introspective types, and that’s ok. Be yourself. But find a way to communicate that there’s something in this line of work that is a calling, not just a job. Consider a business card. You’re a designer. Make a statement. Even if your statement is, “I don’t design business cards.” A cover letter is nice. Probably better than you *write* one for your own thought-organizing purposes than anything else. Keep it short. Ask yourself, “would I read this if I had 20 of them?” Practice… oh, you know. 😉 OK, that’s a lot, I know. I’m sure there are other points I am missing and I would love to hear everyone elses thoughts for tips and tricks that candidates (and interviewers!) can take to heart. Leave your ideas in the comments. Thanks!