Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Hiring a Junior Designer

Our inhouse team recently went through the hiring process for a junior designer. My observations are anecdotal at best, but might help some future junior designer looking to get their foot in the door of a corporate environment.

The company I work for has been growing hand over fist in the past two years, and while we’ve expanded every department in the building, our design team has been absorbing the growth and simply taking on more projects. Our team of three once handled the work of an 80-person company; we now turn projects for a 230-person company.

In short, we are busy. So we went shopping for a junior designer to help us out.

When I came out of college in 2000, competition for entry-level positions was cutthroat; interview after interview, HR managers would tell me they received “over 100 resumes.” I don’t know if the economy has improved, if there are more entry-level job openings, or if the Kansas City area just has a drought of young talent, but we didn’t receive anything close to 100 resumes.

From what we did get, I’m going to relate some anecdotal observations for junior designers trying to get their foot in the door. I define “junior” as someone with less than a year of real-world experience, including students still paying rent with their graduation money.

1. All our candidates had some degree of design education, either two- or four-year degrees. All were 2005 grads. Half had any kind of real world experience. For students, a school portfolio is important; in the future, a good design team will judge you by the quality of work you’ve done in the field, not by your degree.

2. Design schools seem to focus on the “big idea” and conceptual thinking, which is fine, because in real life there’s not a lot of time to execute. My guess is that when I find our new junior designer stares into space mumbling “But what does it all mean?” I’m going to have to remind her the due date was two hours ago. I like how schools focus on creativity and conceptual thinking, but there should really be classes wherein a student needs to:

  • Design a brochure in 90 minutes
  • Edit a webpage in fifteen minutes
  • Research a magazine’s ad specs
  • Work with a writer to develop an ad in 24 hours
  • Argue with a marketing person about the value of white space
  • Yell at a vendor for fooking up the color again
  • Edit a PowerPoint presentation that has 70 blinking GIFs on one slide

I’m not saying schools need to focus on this stuff, but it should be sprinkled in there to convey the point that conceptualizing sometimes must be done on the fly and that being a designer often has nothing to do with design.

3. All of the candidates’ portfolios focused on print. This is not bad in and of itself, but only half the resumes mentioned web knowledge, and of those, most just listed Dreamweaver as “a skill.” I understand a student is at the mercy of the program his school offers, but we had a hard time finding well-rounded candidates. I know agencies are more specialized, but when you’re applying for an inhouse position, you’re going to wear many hats, so make sure your resume reflects that. My suggestion for students operating in a print-intensive program: start experimenting with HTML and CSS, because at some point, you’re going to be asked to work in this medium.

4. Junior designers: get yourself a website. Nothing fancy; maybe a .Mac account or a free Blogger account, but some place you can post examples of your work, or even your writing. Only one candidate had a website.

5. Resumes. Two things. First: spell check. Please. One candidate went on and on about his attention to detail, and even had a decent portfolio, but there were seven mistakes on his resume that would have been picked up with a spell check. Second: You are a designer, so design your resume. I want a high-quality PDF from a page layout program, not Word. I want to see white space and typography choices, colors and personal branding.

6. This is a personal thing, but I would take a (slightly) less talented designer who can write well over a more talented designer who can’t put together sentences with more than five words. In an inhouse design environment, having a diverse skillset is attractive.

I know these are all very unscientific, but they represent the thoughts of one who has to spend a lot of money on someone with no real-world experience. (And yes, the position has been filled.)

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commentary + criticism

Stephen Collins

wrote the following on Wednesday January 25, 2006

I just hired my first employee to help me run the website at work and I agree with everything you suggested except for one thing. I hated the resumes that were ‘designed’.

I want to be wowed by the portfolio and work history, not the resume. In the resume just give me the facts.

Although a crazy resume, will help me decide really quickly. We had a resume mailed to us in a plastic bottle, like you would find a ‘rescue me’ kind of note. The resume was even on parchment and tied with a piece of jute.

We still have it on a shelf and laugh at it everytime we talk about needing to hire someone else.

The Co-Worker

wrote the following on Wednesday January 25, 2006

Being a part of that process, I couldn’t agree with you more. The challenges of designers coming out of college are vast, considering that design departments at higher education institutions are often behind the times when it comes to teaching the latest and greatest skills to young minds. The web is still not considered a part of the greater Graphic Design set. It is a set on its own in the eyes of educators.

Unfortunately, Graphic Design (and web design, in particular) is constantly changing and evolving, so much so that educators would have to update their curriculums every year to stay current. And let’s face it…they just don’t do that.

And despite what Stephen says about designed resumes, I think that they are valuable. There is a massive difference between a nice, clean resume very obviously done by a designer and one that has been over designed (I’m talking about gothic letters and backed off blurry self-portraits). I’m in favor of the first, not the second.

Good post, Kevin.


wrote the following on Wednesday January 25, 2006

I think resumes present a unique insight into the designer’s style, because it poses a design problem not encountered by any commercial project: designing for yourself. Now a whole “rescue me” theme is pretty lame, but I definitely put weight in how a designer portays their personal brand. This is something the girl we hired excelled at: her resume was clean, had good color choices, proper white space and even a small logo for her initials. It looked professional, and that was exactly what we were looking for.

jamie knight

wrote the following on Wednesday January 25, 2006


okay, i will admit it now, i am 16…
I found this artcle intresting, because i recentally found my first job ‘in the industry’ and i was suprised at how easily i got my job, i have no degree i just like doing stuff on the web, and it annoys me so much that people my age can’t be’botherd’ to learn what they need now, most say ill do it later.

hope this helps


Jennifer Grucza

wrote the following on Wednesday January 25, 2006

Well, it seems to me that anyone who just graduated from college is going to have to do a fair bit of on-the-job learning. College is the place to learn the higher-level concepts that will stand you in good stead no matter how various details change out in industry.

If you don’t want to spend the extra time helping get that recent grad up to speed on these real-world problems, you should probably specify that you’re looking for 1-3 years experience in your job posting.

Not to say that I don’t agree with your advice – I think you’re right. Schools don’t focus on these things, so if they want to stand out as a job candidate, they should do them on their own or gain experience through summer internships.

Actually, you should just rewrite your job posting to include all the specific skills/abilities you want them to have. Just make it clear what you want and hopefully you’ll only get resumes from people who are relatively qualified. :)

Hong Hui

wrote the following on Thursday January 26, 2006

Thanks for the tips and advices. What you had written will certainly be noted when i work on my portfolio website.

Right now, i’m still trying my best to squeeze some time off to do some self development and researching from my internship .

Else i may not have the time when i enter my NS. :P


wrote the following on Thursday January 26, 2006

Well, getting myself hired over here in the UK is proving to almost impossible, which is extremely frustrating. And I have a website, real world experience, and a CV (although it is a Word document)!

Thanks for your insight, it should help.

Chris Griffin

wrote the following on Thursday January 26, 2006

I think it’s impossible to teach design, either you have it or you don’t. This is why school is overrated for this career path. For the most part it’s a waste of time, at least if your major is primarily web design. I went to school for 4.5 years and finally realized I’m not going to learn anything useful or anything I don’t already know. I finally realized it’s not about the degree, I already had what I needed to know in me and I just had to build on it through experience.

Design is a talent, not a trade skill that a person can go to trade school to learn. Like a pro baseball player, you are born with it and you develop your talent through experience.

I think you’re right on when you say it’s about the portfolio and not the degree. Which ultimately is why I ended up quitting school. I was already getting work in the industry.

Yes, getting a degree is important in some fields, but not necessarily this one. Who knows, I probably missed out on some important information, but I have the motivation to keep pushing myself to learn, and there are abundant resources on the web. I’m about half self-taught, and the rest I learned on an internship. School did nothing for me except waste my time and money.

Sorry, that was a bit off-subject from your post. I just wanted to emphasize the point that getting a degree is not as important as some people make it out to be, it is engraved in our heads as children that we have to go to college to get anywhere. That simply is not true.


wrote the following on Thursday January 26, 2006

Great points, and I tend to agree. School does two important things for people: 1. Teaches them the mechanics of the trade (using programs, creating websites, etc) and 2. Hopefully teaches them some non-design things, like business, copyright law and such. I also think school is important because it fosters collaboration between students and encourages socialization, but that point is debatable.

Brandon McFadden

wrote the following on Saturday January 28, 2006

I’m a design student myself at a four year college, and I have to say I’m rather afraid of what will happen to me next spring when I’m on my own. Unfortunately, my college isn’t placing any focus on web design or various skills that will ultimately decide whether or not I get a job. What I know about web design is what I taught myself, because what I’ve experienced in my courses was a simple ‘design a basic porfolio site’ using Dreamweaver. I highly recommend developing your own site. The limited amount I do know is from I’ve gleaned from other websites and ‘How To’ pages developing Fat Cat Online and Ugly World (my comic and my opinionated world news commentary respectively). Crits welcomed.

More to the point, I don’t really see myself presenting anything I’ve completed in class as a porfolio piece. We really don’t have many real-world projects like you were talking about. Mostly they’re bulky projects requiring ideas that get refined that get refined again then refined a little more and for a little change in pace, they get a touch of revision. And most of this is at the request (demand) of the professor.

I’m so very glad to hear that there is a need for someone who can design on the fly, because that’s what I feel I can do best. I often feel forced into making changes that aren’t necessary simply because I’m told to by a professor in order to keep a project rolling for the scheduled amount of time.

Honestly, I’ve been considering continuing my education for a Master’s degree in art history and going on to teach that, mainly because I’m worried that either my college hasn’t prepared me well enough or that all the jobs that are out there will be outsourced to people in India for nickels via online freelance bidding sites.

Chris Griffin

wrote the following on Saturday January 28, 2006

I can agree that school teaches some mechanics, though UCF Digital Media thought it was a bright idea to stuff Dreamweaver, Flash, and PHP all into one class.

Without going into a rant about UCF Digital Media, It’s a horrible program ran by mostly people who were never in the industry. I highly encourage you to stay away.

I can attribute one good thing that I gained from going to school. I would of never received my first design job, where I learned a ton, if it weren’t for UCF’s career resource website.

I just guess schools work for some, and not for others. School didn’t work for me. I wanted to focus on design and no school seems to do that. They have classes scattered all over the place from video production to 3D so I lost interest. If I want to learn that stuff, it should be an elective not required.

Schools are also good for networking, but I don’t speak to none of my former classmates because even though all of them were in DM, none of them want to be web designers. They were just there because they weren’t intersted in anything else. So who do you think always did all the design/HTML work on every group project? I guess I gained something out of that, but not them. I didn’t understand that either.

I recommend to anybody that goes to school to become a web developer/designer to major in graphic design and minor in web design. Learn the rules behind design and then learn how to apply them to the web.


wrote the following on Saturday January 28, 2006

Brandon, I think any real-world job is going to ask you to design on the fly, because that is reality. Most of the time, stuff needs to be done yesterday. I think school will be a valuable background for you, since that refinement process is important, its just much, much faster when you work inhouse or for an agency.

Chris, my school experience at the Art Institute of Philadelphia was similar to yours: a program that tried to stuff way too much into a two-year education. There was so much frivlous stuff going on at the time (anybody remember Macromedia Authorware?) that the program was a victim of the industry’s success: instead of focusing on the future (the web, where I had one class in HTML), my degree was focused on trends already fading, like Director and CD-ROM development (where I had four classes).

I would be curious to hear from anyone with a positive school experience. I understand trade schools are a crap shoot, and that four-year programs aften drag their feet on technology, but it would be great to hear from a young designer who feels their education money was well spent.

Natalie Jost

wrote the following on Thursday February 9, 2006

That’s an interesting predicament, and some great comments. I’m in a flip position actually… trying to find a decent place to work for that’s not going to make me work in Dreamweaver or granny HTML. It’s even more difficult to find anyplace to finish my BA (just finishing my AA) that won’t just waste my time. I’ve learned more from all of the amazing blogging designers than I imagine any web design student got out of $20,000+ of school. It’s good to hear that those hiring are actually looking beyond the education to the talent and hard work outside of a stuffy aging classroom. :)


wrote the following on Sunday February 12, 2006

It´s very interresting site. I ´m from brazil and I get here by a link on word press. Unfortatly, this kind of things happens all around the world. The school don´t give you all the skills you need. The better thing to do is to study at night and work or trainee during the morning.


wrote the following on Friday February 17, 2006

After reading some of the comments on here i feel its time for a rant. Im past my days at uni and when i left the dotcom crash reached its peak. I found it almost impossible to get a design job because junior jobs were being taken by out of work redundant designers who were taking pay cuts.I busted my balls at uni and when i look back at my work i had done i still rate it and im suprised i never got a look in. Now thankfully im in the game but i will say that nowadays employers ask too much of students. Its impossible to know the whole adobe and macromedia range inside out. In there day competition was less, now 90% of students leaving there course will look forward to unemployment!There demands are a joke.

David W.

wrote the following on Friday February 24, 2006

Hi Kevin, I can certainly vouch for your comment on having your own webpage. When I first started looking for a job as a web designer I just had my university homepage and university email, as I was just halfway through college then (1998). I got very, very little response. Then I decided to go all out, make my own webpage, and get a custom email address.

It was night and day. The day I started sending out resumes with my own url and email address I started getting better response.

I still laugh whenever I see the Earthlink commercial where the entrepreneur-business guy says, “And people respect my Earthlink email address.” Snort!

I can’t say much for my college experience. I have a degree in cinema and never took any design classes (or programming classes, for that matter). I pretty much relied on employers looking at just my portfolio from the beginning!


wrote the following on Thursday March 30, 2006

Very well written! As an Art Director for a company of 2000+ with a team of 3 designers (junior at that), I come across the same thinking when I get the budget for another designer…. “send me a portfolio, resume that is spell checked, and for gawd sake! please don’t send me a portfolio that has someone else’s work!”. There is alomost nothing worse than coming across a portfolio from a designer with someone else’s work!
Thanks for the good reading material!


wrote the following on Friday June 2, 2006

I have been scouring up and down and side to side for a simple entry-level job where I can gain the experience and skills that I need to advance — and it’s really tough going. I have never taken a design course in college (fine arts doesn’t count) and I have been questioning whether I really needed to — it is nice to think that there are professionals out there who don’t place such a heavy emphasis on a college degree.

However, I haven’t met any personally.

I just need skillz.

Kelly Cook

wrote the following on Saturday July 15, 2006

I have to disagree with the comment on UCF’s Digital Media Program. I began Web Design in February of this year, and started attending UCF for Digital Media in May. Never in my life have I owned a copy of any Adobe/Macromedia software programs. It’s now the middle of July, and I already have 4 jobs. Granted, two are freelance positions that I acquired on my own, but the other two are real professional part-time jobs: one with UCF and one with Lightpath Technologies. I have learned so much in the past few months, and it is mainly because the quality of my instructors. They are young, highly intelligent and always willing to help you with any project you bring into their office. I think it all depends on the individual and how much they apply themselves and develop the majority of their software skills outside of class. I also DO beleive that design can be taught. I had no concept of good design before I got here, and my designs have improved so much that people find it hard to believe that I did them. People learn in different ways, some learn better in school, while others succeed by learning in the field. I do not think it is fair to attempt to discredit a program just because you did not get anything out of it.


wrote the following on Friday August 11, 2006

It is interesting to see the real perspective of someone who is seeking an entry-level designer. Noting that the formal education is less important (not that it is unimportant) than the actual demonstratable work (portfolio) is at least somewhat reassuring of my own position.

I fell into the graphic design world almost by accident… I’ve been doing this as a fine-arts hobby since before high school, but only actually considered it as a career when I was promoted into prepress & graphics at a print shop. Now many of the creative projects are routed my way, and I find my greatest satisfaction and proficiency in them.

But I’d like to eventually freelance, or work as a designer at a creative house. I don’t have the formal education; but I’d like to think that my real-world experience (and portfolio of course); and my untainted-by-a-certain-institution’s-idealogy perspective could open some doors for me.

We’ll see.

I’m also formally studying industrial design. Its not completely unrelated, but is a different path entirely. I’d like to pursue both; and I believe that the experience gained in one field will directly and positively influence the other.

This is a great time to live! We live in a world of design and its only expanding! Thanks for the article.


wrote the following on Monday August 14, 2006

JC —
Thanks for the great comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the article. As someone who was on the hiring end, I can tell you that the portfolio was far more important than a degree or even real-world experience, because at the end of the day, if you can’t produce good work, the other two points are irrelevant.


wrote the following on Thursday February 7, 2008

Well… sadly, for some of us unlucky enough to be born in a third world country, having the baccelaurate degree does make a difference. It’s the first thing they ask you when you try to get a better life somewhere else. As if visas weren’t enough of a problem by themselves…
Good thing I got my degree already.
Too bad I don’t have the work visa yet… LOL


wrote the following on Tuesday April 1, 2008

I am almost 25, I’ve spent the last 6 years chasing a degree that I fouled up when I was 18. My first year at school I wish I never had even enrolled because I didn’t care in the least and was still on my parent’s budget. Now I have my head on straight and the best I can do it seems is get my AS and numerous technical certifications. No local 4 year school wants to touch me still because my first year has sucked the life out of my GPA. I have done numerous websites with various different technologies and have done so since I was introduced to the web when I was very young. I finally had enough of only trying to get my BS and decided I had to enter the market full-time about a year ago. Initially I was surprised at the number of firms that contacted me, and I was desperate to find some income above the poverty line so I only interviewed for three jobs and took the one that I figured would look best on my resume. However, I am now wasting away my design skills and years I spent learning the different technologies to answer questions for lazy developers. I still attend school full time at a community college but I am questioning whether it is really worth it to continue. Between work, which pays 40 hours a week but secretly asks (do you feel that pressure?) for 50 or 60 and 15 hours of class (plus studying) a week I don’t have time to develop my personal sites or too learn new technologies related to web design. I once went to bed with my laptop open, developing, now I just glare at it wishing I could do what I really wanted to….make something for someone.


wrote the following on Wednesday December 10, 2008

Thanks for all the thoughts, I’m finishing up my graphic design degree and getting these things together, your opinions were really helpful.


wrote the following on Tuesday January 13, 2009

I just happen to stumble across this forum, which I found it to be extremely enlightening. It seems to me after reading many of the comments on this particular forum along with prior info., read elsewhere; it’s becoming quite clear to me that the Graphic Industry is designed for young talented people only. And, the chance for a Mature Adult … I mean, a 45 year old individual considering enrolling into a two year graphic course would be a fatal mistake. It sounds to me that a person my age would be frowned upon by future employers/Industry, even if my design concepts were fresh and innovative. I not your average 45 year old person,first of all, I don’t look my age and secondly,I’m young at heart by nature. A few reasons why I’m interested in this field is: I took a fundamental graphic design course many years ago but never pursued it to a higher-level… which the industry majorly changed,since then. I’m a little rusty but love thinking creatively,I also enjoy making original music beats, too. But the main reason for know, there’s a good chance that my two-year-course will be financially covered for free through a Canadian- Government-Program,which that I’m not going to mention. I would appreciate honest feed-back from Young & Older graphic designers… oh, by the way, the name of the course is: (Graphic Design Production-Digital) or (Graphic Design Digital Production).