Sunday, 1 September 2013

Presentation Tips for Graphic Designers – Part One: The Employment Interview

Presentations go by several names – the dog and pony show; the pitch; the presentation. They’re a necessary evil that can strike fear even into the hearts of many seasoned pros, let alone novices.

Mush mouth, failed equipment or software, questions you didn’t anticipate, a hostile audience. They can all come into play during a pitch … and you’d better be ready.

As mentioned, there are typically three types of presentations for graphic designers:

• The employment interview

• The new business pitch

• The design presentation

You need to be up-to-speed on all three. Obviously, if you blow the employment interview you really won’t need to worry about the other two unless you’re a solo freelance act.

The Employment Interview

Being interviewed for a job is, for all intent and purpose, a presentation. It can also be an event wrought with anxiety for some people.

Having hired my fair share of graphic designers over the years, I have an idea of what a potential employer looks for in an employee.

Your Portfolio

Your work is at the center of a typical interview. Employers want to see what you can do. But it’s not just about the work itself. Sure, they’re going to look over your book, but they’re also going to look at how it’s presented. The rationale is that if you have a sloppy presentation, with old acetate sleeves, crumpled corners on mounted work and a case that looks like it came from 1922, you probably don’t care too much about work that’s neat, clean and accurate.

Inasmuch as the work needs to show design solutions with creativity, style and innovation, an impeccible presentation is also paramount. A potential employer will want to ensure both you and your talents are a good fit with their studio or firm.

When it comes to showing your portfolio, think minimalist. Less is more in this case. Show about 10-12 very strong pieces. It’s natural to have the temptation to show everything you’ve ever done. Resist it. Ten or so strong pieces, where you really shine, are loads better than 50 forgettable ones.

If at all possible, try to present your work in something of a case study format. The client had X problem. This is how your design solved it and this was the result. It’s also a good idea to include sketches, thumbnails, alternate layouts, etc. An employer will want to see your thinking process.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should have an online portfolio in addition to your physical one. If you don’t have your own domain and site, fear not. There are several portfolio sites where you can upload yours. Behance is one. Wix and Squarespace are other options. Christine Medley has an excellent article about online portfolios right here on

Beyond those points, be prepared to explain your design work and, perhaps, sometimes defend it. This is a skill that will also be useful later when presenting to clients. “I chose this font because it’s just so cool,” isn’t really going to cut it. You should have a rationale for every element within the overall design. If you don’t, the interviewer may think you just design eye candy and not strategic graphic design that achieves the goals of the project.

Your Appearance

Next up is you. Just like your portfolio, you need to be presentable. How you present yourself speaks to your character, work ethic and much more. Face it, it’s how many people will judge you. And, yes, like it or not, unconscience or not, people will judge you on your appearance. Consider all facets of your personal presentation – how you dress, how you speak and the like.

mens suit

It’s a good idea to keep the jeans in the closet and wear business attire, especially if you’re interviewing for a corporate job. For the guys, that typically mean a suit and tie, or at least a jacket. For the ladies, it means a business suit, skirt or pants, fashionable top with a jacket or blazer. If it’s a design firm or agency, you might get away with something more informal. That’s where your company research comes in handy. Do they seem conservative or a bit more relaxed? The design and tone of their website can offer up some clues. Also, ask around. Other designers, writers, photographers and illustrators who may have worked for or with the company can often provide some insights.

Just because you sent the employer your resume don’t assume the person interviewing you will have it in front of them. Bring two or more copies, just in case.

Along with your resume, bring copies of your cover letter. Those should highlight the position, your goals, experience, skills and other pertinent information. It’s also a good idea to have some business cards printed to hand out at interviews. You can get them, inexpensively online. Vistaprint comes to mind. At the time of this writing, they offer 250 business card for free. You can even get full color cards. If you decide to go all in and opt for letterheads and envelopes, but be sure all items are consistent, in terms of branding. That should be something of a no-brainer for a graphic designer.

Proof all your materials. Proof and then proof again. Ideally, have someone else also proof them. When you proof your own work, it’s easy to miss errors. People tend to see what they expect to see. So, if you made the error, odds are, you won’t catch it when proofreading. Another option is to have your computer speak your letter and other materials back to you. Speech, like spellcheck, isn’t perfect, though, so keep an eye out for errors. Autocorrection errors can be hysterical on Facebook or Twitter. Not so much on your materials for an interview.

The Interview

Come interview day, gather up your materials, take a deep breath and hop into your car, bus, subway or taxi. However you get there, be sure to get there early. About 15 minutes is good. So, be sure to give yourself enough time to get there on time. Delays happen in transit – auto accidents; school buses; weather problems or just plain ‘ole traffic. Punctuality counts for a lot.

job interview

Before you see Mr. or Ms. Big, either turn off your phone or set it to vibrate. That’s just polite. A firm handshake, whether you’re a guy or a gal, can set the tone for the entire interview. A wet noodle handshake says, “I’m very meek so feel free to walk all over me.” That’s not to say you need bring your interviewer to his or her knees with a Herculian, bone-crushing grasp. Firm will do and be sure to look the interviewer in the eye. Eye contact is one of those subtle, yet all-important body language things.

Never, ever trash talk a former employer or client. That’s simply bad form. You never know. The interviewer might be friends with the person or know the company. In a similar vein, never use profanity. That may seem obvious, but people can slip in conversation. That’s particularly true if you tend to swear like a sailor on a Saturday night in your everyday conversation.

It’s a good idea to pull out a pen and a legal pad. Whether you actually take notes or not, it helps you look like a detail-oriented, organized person. Hopefully, you will use it to take somes notes. I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll forget most of what the interviewer said by the time you get a half mile (or meter, for our metric friends) down the road after the interview.

Resist the temptation to talk only about yourself. Rambling on and on is easy to do when you’re nervous. Keep the focus on work and avoid personal topics. Ask a lot of questions. Jot down their answers on the legal pad you didn’t plan to really use. Be respectful. Sir and ma’am can also go a long way.

You can expect all the obligitory questions such as:

Tell me a little about yourself ..

Why should I hire you?

Are you a team player?

Jill Harness has a great article on aptly titled, How to Answer the Common Job Interview Questions. It may help to jump start your preparation for an interview.

Finally, follow up after the interview. It can be an email or a snail mailed letter. A handwritten thank-you note can make a major impression because handwritten correspondence is so rare these days. Follow up whether or not the interview went well. They might not hire you, but they might know someone who will.

What are your thoughts? Care to share some of your interview tips?

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