Designers: Read this before you look for your next job.
If your portfolio speaks for itself, then opportunities find you. But the vast majority of designers suffer from obscurity and are trying to figure out how to build their brand, promote their work, and catch a break.
At Eight Bit, we’re fortunate to receive a steady stream of designers asking about job openings. We've seen the good, bad, and ugly of portfolio submissions. Here are some things to consider, before you start contacting companies.
The more specific you are about what you want, the better chance you’ll have at finding it. Otherwise, you’re leaving everything to chance.
- Be a laser. Having clarity gives you a huge advantage over people without focus. People who know who they are and what they want convey confidence.
- But what if I don’t know what I want? You’re in trouble and you’ve gotta do some self discovery. The good news is there are a ton of resources online to help you get clear on your interests, skills and talents. You should always be checking in with yourself and paying special attention to what energized you vs what drains you. These could be people, places, activities, etc.
- Shouldn't I be open to any opportunity to get experience? Not all opportunities are created equal and some will align more with your goals than others.
Present who you want to be.
As humans, we like to organize and categorize things in our head, including people. Our natural tendency is to file people away into tidy boxes in our brain. You can't stop people from doing this. You have to work with it. If we don’t know what to do with somebody, they stay in limbo in our brains and in our lives. Or worse, they put you in the wrong place. Do you want someone creating a neural pathway for you based on a project you did 3 years ago that doesn’t represent you at anymore?
- Showcase the kind of work you want to do in the future. If you want to be a mobile app designer, but you don’t have any examples in your portfolio, that’s a problem. The easiest fix is to create a fictional project for yourself that allows you to learn and shine as a mobile app designer.
- Remove irrelevant work. If you don’t enjoy or want to do banner ads, don’t put examples of them in your portfolio. People are more likely to hire you based on what they see, than anything else.
Seek out your heroes.
- Who do you admire? These are the people and companies you want to work with.
- Don’t wait for job postings. Start conversations and form relationships as though these people will be in your life permanently.
- Get interested. Check out their work. Get in their head. Jot down the things that spark your interest and why they matter.
- Start a conversation. Make it about them. People love feedback. Listen. Don’t ask for anything. Be genuine.
- Don't send messages in mass. Sending a generic, copy & paste message is a quick way to get ignored.
- Writing to people, not companies. You’re better off communicating with an individual in mind, rather than writing to a company as a whole. Ideally, you can identify someone at a company that you could start a rapport with on a more personal level. Look for ways to strike up a conversation that goes beyond a formal, transactional exchange. Look for common ground. Let's say the Creative Director is a drummer and you are a drummer. Boonski. Just knowing that could help you break the ice.
- Read your words out loud. If your email doesn’t sound like the way you talk, write it over. Be more casual and conversational. You’re not a robot! You’re a human being for cryin’ out loud. Act like it!
- Don't do what everyone else does. Everyone sends emails these days. If you want to stand out, send a written letter. Better yet, send a pizza or something physical. It sounds like a gimmick, but if the gimmick gets you noticed, then it’s worth it.
- Be interesting. One young designer applied to us and mentioned he spent over a year teaching English in South Korea. That alone made me want to know more about him and his experience overseas.
More Great Advice
Here's a rundown of the best advice I've found out there for young designers.
- Learn the Secret Handshake is an amazing resource where industry veterans can drop insider wisdom, honest advice and solid ideas to help you go pro. I tell every designer I know about it. Thank you to the talented folks at Bright Bright Great for putting it together.
- David Airey helped inspire me to start sharing more of my process and experiences. He's a prolific writer who has been sharing his design insights for years. He's built a strong readership who enjoy his articles and books.
- Paul Jarvis makes freelancing and self-publishing look easy. But we all know it's not. Thankfully, he shares everything he knows.
- Mike Monteiro tells it like it is. I really love the style and content of his article for recent graduates, where he gives aspiring young designers the straight dope about what to expect when they enter the real world.
- Some of us just needs a slap in the face. Here it is.
- Watch this talk by Austin Kleon, who is an artist and writer I only recently discovered. His keynote, which opened the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival, is an amazing compass for how to put yourself out there the right way. He breaks the “Lone Genius” myth and explains why you should find your “Scenius”, a concept he borrows from Brian Eno. Kleon reminds us that to be accepted into a community, you first must become a good citizen. “If you want get, you want to give. If you wanted to be interesting, you have to be interested. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice first."
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends & Influence People