- 10/23/2014


How to Apply for a Job in Graphic Design

In Summer 2014, we began hunting for a new designer to fill a marketing designer position that just opened up. Seven days after the posting was up, we had almost 100 applications. By the time we took the posting down, we had close to 400. Sifting through 400 applications is about as fun as it sounds, but it did give me some unique perspective on the hiring process. For one, I was able to forgive the 30+ places that had gotten my resumé and never got back to me before I started at SumAll.

I realize being on the other side of the ball is a place many designers would love to be, so I thought I’d share some tips to allow you a competitive advantage. I’m not saying every job will be looking for what I did, but I am saying that you might find some of these tips useful in your hunt.

Here’s how I narrowed down the field.


-1 point for using a Portfolio service.

Behance is a fantastic tool that allows designers to connect and give feedback. It also has decent options for organization and display of your work. Likewise, Squarespace is a great tool if you can’t develop your own page or you can’t be bothered to customize something else.

When I received Behance and Squarespace entries, the immediate message was: I can’t or didn’t bother to make something myself. This isn’t a dealbreaker if the design work is really good, but I only got back to one designer who used Behance.

-2 points for using some archaic delivery system.

Reviewing PDF portfolios was annoying, but better than nothing. If I had been really pressed for time, I would not have considered you.

-10 points for sending me a portfolio from the 90s.

I got a startling number of websites that were made in Flash. One website was a 600 pixel-wide SWF file floating in the middle of an all-black page. The colors were neon and garish and it had little rockets for menu options. Whenever I moused-over the rockets they shot across the screen. The guy who sent that portfolio shot to the bottom of the list.

Another one played music in the background. Not only do I have to look at your wedding invitations for your sister’s wedding but you’re making me listen to Coldplay? No, not happening.

+1 point for a clean, well-made portfolio.

If you don’t have a degree, if you don’t have a lot of experience, if you’re fresh out of school, I do not care. If your work is clean, diverse, inspired, and reflects an understanding of brand, I will get back to you. If you show an understanding of grids, a love of type, and a hunger to learn, I will get back to you. If you take the time to make (or even customize) a great template to display your work, you will stand out.


-1 point for having an unformatted resumé.

If it’s just a long list you made in Microsoft Office, you did not get a call from me. If you’re trying to be a designer, apply the rules of design to your resumé. It’s not fun to go sift through all these applicants, not fun to send rejection letters, and not fun to consider someone who didn’t even bother to organize their abilities.

-1 point for having an over-formatted resumé

I am so, so guilty of this. When I was hunting for a job I had a resumé with a huge (ugly) logo that I had made, a long-winded account of how I was voted the most artistic in my high school class and what my philosphy was, and then a confusing and over-wrought system for grading my abilities with Photoshop and InDesign. Basically a whole lot of stuff that just didn’t matter. Thank god I didn’t hire me.

A lot of people think this is a great time to show off their skills and they’re absolutely right, but don’t try to reinvent the analytics platform or overdo it. It’s very easy to get nervous and throw everything you can at your resumé in an attempt to impress. Keep it clean, succinct, and readable.

+1 point for a clean, short, one or two page resumé.

If you don’t have a lot of work experience or you made 10 projects that are all for yourself, you have no excuse to send me 3 pages of resumé. Include your education, experience, your skills, and a little something unique. Make it clean, make it short. That’s it.


-1 point for not doing homework.

You want a job here but you have no idea what we do? Great. I know it’s rough out there and I know you probably owe one hundred grand to whatever overpriced university you just turned out of, but if you couldn’t even be bothered to familiarize yourself with the company you’ll potentially be an employee of, then you’re wasting my time.

-1 point for not asking any questions.

If you didn’t ask anything it either means you weren’t able to speak your mind or you just don’t care that much.

+1 point for having a sense of humor.

It’s really nerve-wracking to be in an interview. Any interview. That said, laughter goes a long way. If all goes well, I’ll have to see you every day.

Like I said above, experience and school just aren’t as important as good work when it comes to design. Our industry is changing so rapidly that demonstrating the desire and ability to adapt is often times just as important, if not more important, than a solid GPA.

This may reflect my personal bias, being self-taught in many areas, but it’s also reflective of SumAll’s philosophy and the startup/tech industry in general.

Every designer should find the best and most influential people in their industry and copy them. I’m not telling you to plagiarize, but figure out how they do what they do. Reach out to them. You may find that many designers are more sympathetic and receptive than you imagine.

It’s cliché to say but if you’re not always trying to be the best then there’s no point. It’s a competitive market, and the advantage will always go to people who try the hardest.