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.)