It’s difficult to know what to expect when walking into a job interview – while a posting can give you the facts about a position, potential employers will inevitably have their own personal opinions about what they're looking for (and what they’re looking to avoid). Eight RGDs share their thoughts on how designers get employed, from the hiring process to their priorities for ideal candidates to the pitfalls that applicants should avoid at all costs.
Adam Antoszek-Rallo RGD, Creative Director, Catalyst Workshop
Matt Coyle RGD, Senior Designer, MLSE
Catherine Didulka RGD, Director Creative Services, Vincor Canada
Vanessa Eckstein RGD, Creative Director, Blok Design
Doug Jackson RGD, Creative Director, Accurate Design and Communications
JP Lacroix RGD, President, Shikatani Lacroix
Brent Long RGD, President, Fusion Design Group
Tim Smith RGD, Principal, The Pixel Shop
While every firm will have their own approach for reaching potential candidates, vetting applicants and hiring employees, employers identify three things that almost always come into play: a strong first impression, a clean online presence, and references to back it up.
“My process is to review the candidate’s resume, portfolio and cover letter. If there is sufficient content related to the job description, I contact them for a short telephone interview,” says Catherine. “This step provides a sense of how well the candidate can ‘think on their feet’ and gives me a feel for their character.”
While on-the-spot phone interviews work for some, other employers opt for research beyond a candidate’s application to discover more.
“I do an online search of candidates to see if any red flags come up,” says Matt. “If something strikes me as concerning I follow up with them about it, but if I find something completely off-putting I will let the prospect go cold. A candidate should be aware of everything that is available about them on the Internet.”
Doug agrees that virtual platforms can be a valuable resource but emphasizes the importance of boundaries between a personal and professional online presence. “Social media can be a great resource for reaching candidates within and outside of our network, but it has blurred the ethical boundaries for hiring,” he says. “I don’t invade people’s privacy on social media – I don’t want candidates to judge my personal life, so I don’t judge theirs. What a person does on their own time is their business.”
Blok takes a similar approach with their hiring process, relying on a candidate’s professional profile to reflect their value as an employee. “When we research candidates, we turn to the professionals whose advice has shaped them: their teachers, mentors and co-workers,” Vanessa says. “These people are more credible sources of information than a candidate’s Facebook page.”
For further insight on personal and professional boundaries with online social networks, members can view a webinar from RGD Legal Partner Keyser Mason Ball, 'Social Networks and Your Workplace'
When it comes to analyzing specific candidates and what they have to offer, many employers place attitude and personality at the top of their priority lists, while others are more concerned with creative ability.
“Personality and skills are factors I weigh equally,” says Brent. “We look for someone with a good attitude, strong creative ideas, a sense of humour and a commitment to their work, their industry, their colleagues, and (hopefully) their studio.”
In some cases, attitude outweighs a candidate's potential to be a rock-star designer. “We’d rather hire someone with a great attitude and lots of potential over an amazing designer with attitude who may going to upset the office atmosphere. Someone who is self-motivated, a good communicator and driven to constantly learn and improve is someone we want on our team,” says Tim.
Adam agrees that positivity is an important factor. “My ideal candidate is a good, positive, open-minded human being with a passion for design, a thirst for knowledge and love for the world around them,” he says. “They see opportunities where others see limitations and eagerly adapt to the unique needs of every client and every project. They are reliable, responsible and passionate about wanting to work here.”
According to Vanessa, attitude can make or break a career in the creative industry. “If someone is unwilling to learn, if they aren’t open to criticism, they will not grow. Creatives are highly collaborative by nature, and in a small firm like ours there is no room for arrogance or ego,” she says. “Humbleness and curiosity are a designer’s greatest assets.”
While he acknowledges the importance of personality and fit, Doug Jackson looks for creative ability above skills, attitude and experience. “Creative ability is something you have or you don’t. It can be enhanced on the job to turn a good designer into a great designer, but you won’t be either if you don’t have the ‘it’ factor,” he says. “Experience is my least critical factor because if a candidate shines in other areas, that person can develop with on the job training.”
Knowledge of the employer and strong communication skills are other elements that are highly ranked by employers and should be carefully considered by designers preparing to apply.
“In the majority of interviews we conduct, we try to get a sense of the candidate’s knowledge of our firm. A lack of familiarity with our expertise and what we do leads to disappointment on both sides – a waste of time for the interviewer and a missed opportunity for the applicant,” says JP. “When a candidate comes to our office with a deep understanding of our firm it shows that they have respect for the opportunity, and that attitude goes a long way.”
Matt agrees that a willingness to put in the work to develop a strong understanding of the industry and the positions you apply for is important for making a good first impression. “If a candidate doesn’t take an interest in the firm, they might as well not show up for the interview,” he says. “It shows a lack of preparation and disrespect for the opportunity. Knowledge will help you impress the interviewer and will make you a memorable candidate.”
Designers should be prepared to communicate their skills, experience and enthusiasm clearly and effectively - taking the time to put together a strong case for why you are the best candidate is a great way to make a strong first impression.
“Poor communication skills are very noticeable,” says Adam. “Written and verbal communication skills are important parts of the design industry and can strengthen or diminish your impact.”
For Doug, part of that impact involves developing a cohesive message before presenting yourself to potential employers. “Applicants who don’t prepare their portfolios, websites and resumes with a cohesive design system risk looking disorganized and unprofessional,” he says. “Junior designers need to think about every project they produce as another way to show their flexibility and strength as a designer.”
- Different firms have different decision-making processes for new hires – having a strong resume and portfolio, being well prepared for an interview, and having your references and online profiles up-to-date and professionally managed is the safest way to check all of their boxes
- Attitude is key – do your research, illustrate your strengths, and show employers that you have the passion to succeed in the creative industry
- Stand out for the right reasons – keep an open mind, accept criticism, and develop strong communication skills
While every employer is different, all are looking for the same thing: a strong candidate who will work hard and bring a positive attitude to the challenge of a new position. Keeping this in mind will put you on the right track for a successful job search.