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Getting Hired

How to Get Hired When You Are Just Starting Out

No experience? No problem. Side projects and tailored applications can help overcome your lack of work history.


At 99U, we often share best practices and insights from the world’s most productive creatives, but what about those of us just getting started? How do you fill out “past experience” on an application when, frankly, you don’t have any?

We talked to Career Advisors from art and design colleges around the globe about resourceful ways to package any amount of experience on your CV, application or in an interview. Here are our top tips for promoting your “student” status and jumpstarting your creative career.

1. Include personal projects to bulk up your resume.

Don’t limit yourself to the confines of a traditional resume. Recognize that under “Skills” you can list everything from Photoshop to silk-screening, that studio time can be just as important as past employment, and that unpaid side projects show dedication, initiative, and responsibility. If the majority of your experience is personal, studio, or classroom work, add more of a description than you normally would, explaining the kind of timeline you were working with and why you chose the subject matter.

comics

Above: Illustrator Simon Prades effectively displays personal work and side projects in his online portfolio.

2. Don’t just list the facts; tell your story instead.

Whether you’re looking to freelance or join a creative company, business is all about relationships, so recruiters, clients, and hiring managers want to know who you are and not just what you’ve done. Including a bio on your website or in your portfolio is a great way to share your back-story and highlight what you stand for.

Your bio should address the following five questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. How can I help you?
  3. How did I get here?
  4. Why can you trust me?
  5. What do we share in common?

For more insight on how to craft a bio, read 99U’s The Resume Is Dead The Bio Is King.

3. Showcase your creative process by sharing iterations and mockups.

Show prospective clients and collaborators how you think by including the rough sketches, prototypes, mockups and mood boards that led up to your finished piece. In addition to showcasing your creative process, this will help define your role within a given project – something that’s especially important within the realm of creative collaboration.

yodaprogress

For example, if your portfolio includes a website, specify whether you built the entire thing, worked on the graphics, coded the frontend, etc. Bonus points for including captions under each asset you display that explains where you got your ideas, how you made decisions along the way, and what impact they had on your finished piece.

Above: Illustrator Tyler Jacobson includes sketches and iterations that bring his process to life. 

4. Hiring managers expect tailored applications. Do your research before hitting send.

Before submitting an application make note of your target company’s style – you can gather this from their website, campaigns, client list, and the content they share on Twitter and Facebook. As many recent (successful) “Hire Me Campaigns”  have taught us – in some cases the medium can be your most important message. Want to get a job as a community manager? Create a Twitter campaign. If your specialty is information architecture, turn your skills section into an infographic. If working at Vimeo is your dream job, make a video resume.

Targeting your portfolio toward a specific company gives you an opportunity to showcase your skills, initiative, and passion for the company in question.

 

addidas_small

AboveFlorian Holstein, a Creative Director who was in love with design and sports, created an interactive website to showcase his skills and land himself a job at his dream company, Adidas. 

5. Don’t be afraid to mention your idols, mentors, or creatives you admire in an interview.

Refining your knowledge of established creatives in your industry can really add to your interview repertoire. Musicians often promote themselves by referencing the artists they grew up listening to or the albums that shaped them. This can be applied to any industry.

Picture two candidates with similar education and experience (little to none) interview for the same photo assistant job. The hiring manager asks, “So why did you choose to major in photography?”

Candidate A responds with the typical “because it seemed interesting and I wanted to get a job as a photographer.”

Candidate B says, “I’ve been obsessed with fashion photography my whole life. I used to tear Annie Leibovitz’ portraits out of my sister’s Vanity Fair and today I really admire the work of photographers like Steven Meisel and Mario Testino and the risks they’re unafraid to take.”

Candidate B has a clear advantage, making up for what they may lack in experience by articulating their passion for their field and knowledge of established artists and trends.

What’s Your Take?

How did you land your first job? Any tips to add?

Jenn Tardif

Jenn is a Product & Marketing Manager at Adobe and a Yoga Teacher. Formerly, she was the Associate Director of Partnerships for Behance and the Sr. Marketing Manager for The Drake Hotel. Say hello on Twitter.

Comments (52)
  • Ben

    not true. as a production coordinator in charge of hiring people, i look for one thing: talent. doesn’t matter if they’re school projects, freelance gigs, or whatever – – if you clearly have an eye for design, you’ll get the job. and once you get the job, work hard, be friendly, be on time. at my last job, i hired an entry-mid level motion graphics designer who didn’t appear to be very good, but we needed someone like him in a crunch. he came in and delivered. he was friendly, and worked very hard. a year later, he’s still at the company, and they’re trying to give him a staff position (but he preferes to stay freelance). keep your head up. you never know when you’ll get a similar break, just like the artist i hired. lastly, just about everyone i’ve ever hired has not been because i know them. straight off of motionographer and other design websites that post jobs. broaden your search. you will find success. there’s a LOT of bad artists out there. of the 50 or so responses I’d get to any particular job posting, maybe 4 or 5 were even worth following up with.

  • Ben

    that’s a tricky question. maybe register a URL (kimberlytaylor.com or kimtaylor.com perhaps), put your resume up there, favorite quotes, and a bio section. maybe a couple of blog posts that pertain to the industry in which you’re trying to work. do you have any experience? maybe you can post some examples of previous work experience on your website.

  • Guest

    False… yeah, sometimes it is who you know, but taking pride in your work and showing your passion through your work/portfolio/how you showcase your work/yourself and showing compassion in an interview is huge in my opinion. This I’ve learned from what I didn’t do and what I have done. I’ve gotten more opp’s from what this article states and I’m still a student. Based on my portfolio, my interviews, and my work relative much to what this article says I can say as a GD student I’ve got 3 opps waiting for when I graduate one including Disney Media Group and right now have done three freelance jobs and have two internships with two well-respected LA companies, as well as another coming in April. I say this not to gloat but to say this article is very true.

  • Robert Foddering

    Interesting article. One of the most annoying things from the perspective of someone hiring is that you would miss that person that was a good fit for the job, as they failed at the first hurdle – the C.V.
    Hiring the right person is key in the smaller agencies. Time is precious and we don’t have a H.R. person making the decisions about who to interview. You’d be surprised at the amount of C.V. spamming that goes on. Just a little shift in your approach would increase your chances.
    I’ve previously got a job by tailoring my C.V. as suggested above. (I’ve written more about it here: http://bit.ly/designjobhowto )
    Now I run a small studio and we’re looking for the right person to join our team. So maybe from the other comments my expectations are too high for someone to tailor their C.V.?

  • Boots

    Hi everyone,
    The more high-tech we get the more we are losing our human interaction. People NEED 5 basic things to survive:oxygen, food, water, shelter and human contact. What ever happened to personal relations? why are phone calls so taboo with hiring managers? why is it not okay to show up during business hours, show someone your work, bring coffee or cookies and talk about the art and design we are all so passionate about? isn’t it all about human interactions? what happened to print? I have a printed portfolio (except my website of course) beautiful paper and print quality, a box of very cleverly designed business cards that nobody ever asked me for, everyone wants to feel tech forward, and forgetting our basics.
    I haven’t been in the job market for that long I recently graduated and been looking for a job for almost a year. I applied in many places and rewrite my resume many times in many different ways, customizing it to each company’s requirements. As much as I am passionate about art and design and have a lot to say about it (if I was ever asked for an interview) I am much more passionate about food and roof over my head (as I believe we all are) and that is why I want to work- design I can do for myself anytime I want and i would just call it design, not work. but we work because we need to. If I can pay for food and shelter by doing something I am really good at and passionate about so much the better! The funny questions hiring managers asks from the comfort of where they are sitting “why do you want to work here?” (Because it beats being hungry) or “who is your favorite designer?” (The one who will get me hired) are ridiculous. Try to remember how you felt when you were interviewed. I understand this is a highly competitive job market, but don’t flatter yourself, we all just need to eat in the end (except for the super humans amongst us of course). Am I the only one feeling ridiculous making a video resume? What’s next, a diamond encrusted portfolio?

  • Boots

    Hi everyone,
    The more high-tech we get the more we are losing our human interaction. People NEED 5 basic things to survive:oxygen, food, water, shelter and human contact. What ever happened to personal relations? why are phone calls so taboo with hiring managers? why is it not okay to show up during business hours, show someone your work, bring coffee or cookies and talk about the art and design we are all so passionate about? isn’t it all about human interactions? what happened to print? I have a printed portfolio (except my website of course) beautiful paper and print quality, a box of very cleverly designed business cards that nobody ever asked me for, everyone wants to feel tech forward, and forgetting our basics.
    I haven’t been in the job market for that long I recently graduated and been looking for a job for almost a year. I applied in many places and rewrite my resume many times in many different ways, customizing it to each company’s requirements. As much as I am passionate about art and design and have a lot to say about it (if I was ever asked for an interview) I am much more passionate about food and roof over my head (as I believe we all are) and that is why I want to work- design I can do for myself anytime I want and i would just call it design, not work. but we work because we need to. If I can pay for food and shelter by doing something I am really good at and passionate about so much the better! The funny questions hiring managers asks from the comfort of where they are sitting “why do you want to work here?” (Because it beats being hungry) or “who is your favorite designer?” (The one who will get me hired) are ridiculous. Try to remember how you felt when you were interviewed. I understand this is a highly competitive job market, but don’t flatter yourself, we all just need to eat in the end (except for the super humans amongst us of course). Am I the only one feeling ridiculous making a video resume? What’s next, a diamond encrusted portfolio?

  • Stefan

    Wrong, who you know is pretty much all that matters. Do you have a job? No, you don’t, so with all due respect, you don’t know a thing about getting one.
    I
    got hired straight out of college. And I do say that to gloat, because
    this article is a pile of romantic bullshit.
    Your portfolio is
    expected to be good, just like everyone else’s, and the crap gets thrown
    out straight away. From there it’s about how you can benefit the
    business beyond your creative abilities. I’m a 14 year industry veteran,
    a creative director, and ran my own agency for 5 years. Over-designed
    CVs got thrown out straight away, and people who went on romantically
    about their ‘passion’ just become annoying. Being passionate doesn’t
    make you ‘effective’, and it makes me think you’re going to spend days
    on end looking for ‘inspiration’ instead of getting on with the god damn
    job.

  • Jenn Godbout

    Hey Mike,

    Thanks for the feedback. While these aren’t the only steps towards landing a client or job, we felt that they were the most tangible for creatives who are just starting out.

    Cultivating social and professional relationships is definitely important. On that note, you may want to check out this article, ‘Are You Ready To Be Lucky?’ if you haven’t already as it discusses the importance of building and maintaining relationships.

    http://99u.com/tips/7196/Are-Y

  • Casey Woolley

    You forgot to mention Candidate C: I love photography so much I’ve already gotten started with my own photography business. Here’s some work I’ve done on my own for some pretty great clients. This is the talent and experience I can bring to your team.

    You don’t need some one else’s permission to start doing your dream job!

    Resumes are dead:
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007F

    Start something stupid:
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/tj

  • Stacy Summers

    cool and useful tutorial ) thanks!

  • AMDesign

    I think many of the commenters here are correct. “It’s all who you know” and “It’s all how you present yourself”— knowing the right people will get your foot in the door, but you will shoot yourself in that foot if you don’t present yourself properly.

  • cappa12434

    I got 2 freelance jobs right now and a couple full-time opps, that I get to decide on for when I graduate in june…not to gloat. This was partly because of the career services people at my college…so in this instance, yeah these were because I knew the career service people at my school. But the only reason I got the interviews was because of my work. Then the opp’s from Disney Media and a couple other companies were because they saw my website/portfolio. I didn’t know them, They contacted me because of my work.

    Now you obviously have more experience than me being a vet, but with my experience showing passion in your work is important.
    BUT I do agree, that it is more than being passionate. From my little experience, what seems important to companies I’ve talked to is how you can benefit them and what they need to get done. It is you’re skills, BUT if you are passionate about what you do then, in my case graphic design, my passion has pushed me to learn everything I can from print to video to illustration to motion graphics to animation to typography to web design and starting 3D work.
    My passion has pushed me to get the skills to “get the job done.”…and has led to more opportunities.
    However, I do agree knowing people is important as well. But a person with skills for the job better have the passion and drive to get the job done and keep bettering their skills or he/she will get passed up.
    Watch out vets here come the hybrids!

  • Parejas Disparejas

    Really interesting what he says, the truth is a very complicated issue to comment on a website, Greetings

  • Maxi Jets

    Awesome blog. I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles.Keep up the good work!

  • http://cottageme.com

    This is a good article and offer some helpful information for me,thank you!

  • spravka

    Great) liked everything very much) keep it up and dont stop)

  • spravka.ca

    I think this is really a very nice post.

  • LindaMCNguyen

    I find this is a great post. Thanks for all the tips. =)

  • Maddox

    Of course it’s a mix of talent & who you know.

    But if you hadn’t gone to the school you chose with the career services staff that could build those connections to those prospective employers, you probably would be in a different boat. Your school has already done much of the networking for you, likely bolstered by their design department.

    You’re just a cog in their machine, albeit a bright and shiny cog brimming with potential.

  • cappa12434

    Yeah, I’m definitely grateful to the school I attend. They have been helpful through the whole experience at the school, from the classes/learning to getting internship/job opportunities. I’m glad that I chose the school I’m at for alot of reasons…I am a shiny cog! =D

  • Jiwon

    Love this article. Thank you 🙂

  • DennisK

    your last name is effin awesome

  • Emma

    Nice and very informative. I am studying this problem and I must say that your article has helped me a lot.

  • PaolaEsteban

    Excelent article,

  • ajlovesya

    Mike, I think an important part of finding a job, not just in design but in general, is networking AND making it clear that you want additional work. For some reason, I think people tend be coy about these things, hoping that they will fall into place and that their talent will speak for itself. And while sometimes, yes, you’ll catch someone’s eye with your brilliance, you ultimately have to put yourself in front of employers. I think there are two main ways to do this:

    1. Let your clients know you’re looking for work. And no, not like “Please get me job!” More like, “John, it’s be great working with you on this project! I am always looking to working with [people like you/innovative orgs like yours/talented companies whatever] so please do keep me in mind for future opportunities.” End by sharing a helpful resource that they can use beyond your time working with them. And of course, be sure your work is effing mind blowing.

    2. Network while you work. Ok, you’re a freelance designer? Are there orgs you focus on? Go where they go and learn about them and their needs and make new friends. Did you build a great relationship with a client? Keep in touch. Meet up for lunch to reconnect. It is SO MUCH EASIER to find a job while you’re working. It seems counterintuitive but the discrimination/dislike of folks who are unemployed is astounding.

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