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.
Smart companies are foregoing posting jobs altogether and straight up looking for people on portfolio sites like Behance, Dribbble & Coroflot. Be found there.
Use social media as your recruiter. Follow companies you admire, have interest in and terms that are applicable to your job hunt. You can literally wake up to an entire job hunt done for you every morning with no work on your part besides initial setup.
Social media is a gift and a curse. Your personal life and professional blur together. Have a strategy for each individual network and determine whether or not they play a part in your job hunt and how you choose to promote yourself.
Remember this advice, paraphrased from Dale Carnegie: get in the other person’s shoes, and adopt their desires as your own. If you can stir in me an eager want to hire you and you show how you will give me what I want, you have a much better chance of being hired than someone who comes to the table with their list of needs (or worse, demands).
You will be judged based on your email address. Apply from a professional email address. No one wants firstname.lastname@example.org on their team.
Gmail and/or custom domain ONLY. Don’t be eliminated from the pack because you used a Hotmail, or AOL email address.
It’s better to show fewer great pieces, than a whole bunch of mediocre work. Show systems (i.e. logo, printed collateral, packaging, web, etc.), not one-offs: it’s about great ideas, and how they extend well beyond one singular expression. And show a variety of work: varying styles, varying industries, varying touch points. Again, it’s about showcasing your ideas, not your acumen for one kind of thing.
Don’t include photos where you are holding something with disgusting, dirty, chewed-off fingernails. Photoshop that shit out.
Don’t put it in a weird box or dumb, tricky things. Don’t show anything with bad craft (glue all over it, mocked up poorly…etc.).
Don’t pretend fake work was real work. Just be real about it. Don’t make any excuses like “the budget was small, so that’s why XYZ was poorly produced”. Don’t show anything you are not totally excited about.
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.
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.
Build your portfolio with the work you want to do in the future instead of just using it as a backlog of projects. Your portfolio is not what you did, but what you’re going to do next. Same with calling out what exactly you did on a specific project will make sure that there are no wrong expectations from either side. Also: Self-Initiated projects show a lot more who you are & what you want to do.
Don’t show shitty work.
Don’t do your own dev unless you really know what you’re doing.
Don’t show only print projects unless you want to be unemployed forever.
Don’t make me go back to the index just to get to the next project.
Don’t upload gigantic images that take forever to load.
Write a cover letter that actually describes how your experience is relevant to the place you’re applying. Be concise but specific. When it comes to setting up an interview, make yourself available, but not too available. It doesn’t hurt to schedule multiple interviews on one day, and to let your interviewers know that (in the most unassuming way). Look like you’re in demand, even if it’s more illusion than reality. During an interview, follow their lead. Don’t launch into a diatribe if they just want to scan your book quietly and then talk about it afterward. This is partly intuited, but you can also just ask what they prefer to do if it’s not apparent. Lastly, post-interview, send an email thanking them for their time and consideration.
Don’t list hobbies like reading or skydiving unless it is a very interesting part of your life.
Don’t list the computer programs you know. If you can use Photoshop we can already tell.
Don’t put a bunch of marketing jargon about your experience. Use real words to say what you learned and the things you did.
Don’t use weird typefaces, “personal brand logos” or illustrations. You can ignore that only if they are extremely awesome, but it almost never happens.
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.
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.
If you want to be the designer that stands out of the rest, do something more than just designing. Make an interesting project like for charity, start an agency, hold an exhibition, start a design festival or build a site like Behance. Become interesting.
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?”
I look at portfolios more quickly than their owners would like. I can usually—almost right away—tell whether or not someone’s work appeals to me. If I’m reviewing in person, I try to say something constructive.
If it’s a drop-off, or something e-mailed to me, I almost always write a note.