How to Get Hired

At Rosetta Stone, we're looking for a senior-level Interaction Designer to help us out on the Web Strategy team. This isn't a call for resumes or anything, but if you do happen to be interested or know someone who is, by all means send them this way. At any rate, as I've been receiving and screening candidates, I've been disappointed with the quality of candidate resumes and portfolios and thought I'd offer some tips to help job-seeking designers maximize the possibility of getting an offer of employment.

When I'm involved in the hiring process, the interview begins the moment I get a resume. Then it continues as I explore your personal site and peruse your online portfolio. Finally, the interactive part of the interview process kicks in when I actually speak to you on the phone or in person. Interestingly, two-thirds of the process happens before we ever meet. You, the prospective designer, are responsible for all three components of the interview process: resume, portfolio, and interview.

The Resume

The resume is usually the first encounter a hiring manager has with a candidate. Like the saying goes, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." A well-written and smartly designed resume is a great way to make a good first impression.

Resumes are at the same time extremely important and potentially meaningless. If a resume is well-designed and thoughtfully constructed, it gets remembered. It gives the hiring manager confidence that he/she is dealing with a professional. Conversely, your resume can be potentially meaningless if all the "expert at this" and "proficient in that" are not supported by the other two components in the process. If you claim to be an expert in HTML and CSS, but your personal website/portfolio shows the opposite, then the words on your resume just lost their value.

If you are a designer, I think it is imperative that you "design" your resume. Sometimes you may not have control over the format of your resume if you have to input the information into a website or if you're only allowed to upload a text version. Personally, I think a PDF makes for the best resume format, but even if you create it with Microsoft Word, you can make it look good.

You should take advantage of the opportunity to prove that you have a firm grasp of typography, readability, information design and creativity. If you're sporting a resume built from a Word template, complete with Times New Roman font, you won't be getting a call from me.

The Portfolio (or Personal Website)

The next component of a successful attempt at landing that dream design job is your portfolio. The first thing I look for on a candidate's resume is a link to their website, where hopefully, I'll be impressed with the site and continue to like what I see as I go into their portfolio.

If you're a serious web designer, it is imperative (seriously - a must have) that you have a portfolio, personal website or blog or something online that showcases your skills and proves that you have talent.

I will be the first to say that portfolios are extremely difficult to do well. A portfolio is a complex set of content and interactions. When possible, provide links to projects that are available online. Many of us have pieces in our portfolio that are inaccessible to the public for one reason or another and that's fine. At least provide a few screenshots (obscuring sensitive information) that allow a peek into your abilities.

Use discretion on what you actually show in your portfolio. Show only work that you are proud of - avoid including older work that doesn't have quite the same quality just to "have more". Another thing that is helpful is some type of description of the work and what role you played, the tools you used, etc.

The Interview

I've learned that its risky to put too much emphasis on "interview skills" alone. Some people are just great talkers and can easily give the impression that they are competent. Sure, you have to be well-spoken and give intelligent, thoughtful answers to questions, but the interview is only one slice of the pie.

Speaking of giving intelligent answers, be prepared. Surely you can anticipate the types of questions you might be asked. Take some time before the interview to think about how you would answer questions like "tell me about yourself" or "where would you like your career to be 5 years from now" or "what's the hardest project you've ever worked on" and so on.

When answering interview questions, remember this - the interviewer (possibly your future boss) is trying to get to know you. They need to know as much about you in the small window of time they have. The more information they have at their disposal, the easier it will be for them to make a decision. You only have a limited time to show the real you, so take advantage of it.

When you're asked the dreaded question, "So, tell me about yourself." Don't just spout off your work history. They already know that - its on your resume. While you definitely want to keep it professional, tell them about you, the person, not the employee. Hobbies, interests, what makes you tick, that kind of thing allows them to get a sense of who you are rather than "what you've done".

Let me give you an example. I believe I cost myself a job offer once by being too sterile, generic and not giving enough about me, the person. I was asked, "So, what do you have to offer the company that you feel puts you ahead of others applying for this position?" I proceeded to ramble on about things that were already on my resume - my skills and abilities. Looking back, I feel like I would have been offered the position if I had mentioned some of the intangible qualities - my passion for design, how I value loyalty and teamwork, described some of the things I've learned through the school of hard knocks in years past, etc.

This goes back to letting the real you shine through. Don't be a robot and give boring, predictable answers. But don't be a robot that says stupid things either. ;)

I hope this helps someone out there be better prepared for their next interview. If you have additional tips or advice, feel free to continue the discussion in the comments.

Note: These tips are specifically targeted toward designers looking for senior-level positions. If you are just starting your career in design, go here for a healthy dose of sage advice.