The Secret Handshake is an online resource for student designers and young creatives (18-25) looking for insider insight, honest answers and solid solutions to help you go pro.
I once saw a portfolio PDF with 85 projects in it. I stopped paying attention at about 10 and the designer immediately weeded themselves with no chance out because they proved they didn’t understand how humans handle data.
Don’t be discouraged if things don’t always go according to plans. Everyone has setbacks, and good things come to those who wait. You have to work hard, but success can also be a little more than that: many of the amazing opportunities I’ve gotten are the result of meeting the right people at the right time.
Don’t show too much school work, it’s all the same. Take the principles you’ve learned and self initiate something, rebrand Sketchers.
The design of your portfolio is in of itself a piece of your work so don’t use one of those off the shelf templates from Cargo Collective/Squarespace, at the least, modify it.
Don’t make me dig for your contact info.
Show your work to the person you are presenting to, and not to yourself. Don’t position your work in such a way that you have a clear view of it, but the interviewer has to crane his or her neck to see it.
Unless you are sitting side by side with the person interviewing you, this is disastrous. Your work should be placed directly in front of the viewer, and not sideways. It’s glaringly obvious, but the number of young designers who commit this error is staggering.
I don’t mind seeing one or two examples of personal work; though I’d much rather see how a young designer tackles an identity for a local dentist, or something equally mundane.
How designers design the everyday is a good measure of their ability. Anyone can makea gig poster look good .
People who talk too much and think you have unlimited time to spend.
Having said that, I’m very sympathetic to job seekers. It’s not easy, and a certain amount of pushiness is required. I like folks who are determined, and it’s a good sign when they happen to know something about my studio—it appeals to my vanity.
Anyone who has plucked your name out of a list without having done any research is committing a grave, and common, mistake.
I’ve seen some amazing and intricate portfolios with crazy die-cut covers or hand-bound edges, but in the end you should try to create a portfolio that makes your work look best.
It’s not always the flashiest one that is best suited for the job.
An oldie but a goodie: what you have in your portfolio is what you’re going to get commissioned to do.
A couple years back, I did this personal project of a cityscape and posted it on my website. Soon after, my first building related commission came in and now that’s what everybody wants from me. Now I’m trying to steer away from that and am drawing animals and plants.
Having a profession on “both sides” has taught me a lot about that too: working as a designer who commissions and as an illustrator who gets commissioned. When I’m art directing, the only thing I see is what’s in someone’s portfolio.
It rarely crosses my mind that this person would want to do something else than what’s presented in his or her portfolio.
Pass the beer test.
Be clever and piece together email addresses.
Find out who your heroes are and work for them/with them. Read about how Big Sean got to work with Kanye, then figure out how to work with “your Kanye.”
Put yourself in a position where your heroes can hear you.
I have sample images on my web site, where I feature more projects with fewer images.
The strategy is to provide a tease on the web, then a little more in an e-mailed PDF, and finally the full picture in print, via a face-to-face interview.
Lately, people are more impatient, and I’m thinking of revising that strategy. I worry that having too much work online will lead people to be disappointed when they meet me in person—I don’t want potential employers tosay “I’ve seen this already on your site. What’s next?”
Don’t bore your interviewer by telling them what you think they want to hear. Its important to be professional but equally important to show your personality. I almost hired a terrible designer just because she had a great story about hanging out with Michael Rapaport.
Don’t have multiple pages. Don’t include non-design related jobs.
Technical issues: too much white space, too small of margins, too small type, lots of colors or illustrations, gimmicks to grab attention like infographics and shit, overly stiff language and generic objectives.
No Word docs, jpegs, or any non-PDF form. Make sure to label your file YourNameResume.pdf.
May seem obvious, but don’t forget contact information.
Self-belief is key.
Be proud of your own work and be prepared to tell others why. I think confidence and interest in your own field are crucial – you need to love your work for others to love it too.
Learning how to argument your ideas is absolutely crucial with client work too: if you want to get your visions through with a client, you need to be able to tell them why.
Apply intelligently. There are no sure-things when it comes to getting a job, but everything you do RIGHT, puts you ahead of someone who did something WRONG.
You have 10 seconds to make a killer impression. Apply intelligently and don’t get weeded out for the wrong reasons.
Ninety-five percent of the people who come through my door are students who have little interview experience. So I usually take far too much time—an hour or more—trying to set them on the straight and narrow, as one particular guy did for me many years ago. This is what I learned:
1. Ask how much time you have. This lets the interviewer know you appreciate the value of time, and allows you to then take control as much as possible.
2. Divide your interview into thirds.
First third: Get personally professional. Ask about things you quickly observe in the environment. For example, “Did you climb Machu Picchu? I see that photo… I noticed you love art deco and modernist posters… I see that you collect shrunken heads and Victorian dildos…” Or you can ask about the interviewer’s path to the business, etc.
Second third: Show your portfolio. Never say anything negative about it. And be sure you don’t explain each piece, because the work should speak for itself. Also, if there is a relevant way to bring some of the information gleaned from the first third of the meeting into play, do so, because it shows the ability to connect ideas. When you ask for feedback, make sure to take it professionally, not personally.
Final third: Build your network. If the company you are applying to isn’t hiring, ask for referrals, ask for directions, ask for advice, but make sure not to overcompensate with heaping portions of prattle.
We prefer an e-mail with a link to a web site, or sample printed materials. If we like either, we put you on the list of people we will see, so long as you bother to call and follow up. If we are not looking for help, we will try to give a half hour informational interview, followed by referrals.
We are generally honest and straightforward, and will try to help you with the process of finding a first job.
Get a website. Seriously, you need a website! You don’t have to update all 17 social media/portfolio sites, but it doesn’t hurt to be present on several. The majority of my client work comes from the internet. I try to populate & edit each site I use (behance, dribble, working not working, instagram, twitter, Facebook, and my portfolio) with different projects and glimpses of my process. You never know where work will come from. Also, keep that in mind when posting bathroom selfies.
Don’t mount your work on sheets of glass, or any other tricky presentation method. Just like your resume treat your portfolio like a design problem… The purpose of your portfolio should be to frame your work. Don’t let it overshadow the work inside.
I suggest ten to twelve projects, maximum. If projects include multiple components, or fully designed books, eight to ten projects will be enough. One of the main parameters for a portfolio review is limited time. Presenting the work should take a maximum of thirty to thirty-five minutes.
Many designers show, and say, far too much, leaving little time for an authentic conversation to develop.