Preparing for an Interview: What Designers Need to Know to Get Hired

Preparing for an Interview? Find out what designers need to know to get hired

Getting a job is so much more than talent alone. Here, author, designer, and podcaster, Debbie Millman explains what you need to bring to the table to stand out in a job interview and get hired.

Besides possessing talent, what is the most important attribute job hunters need to get a job? 

In today’s business world, the ability to do something well is essentially equivalent to what is called operational excellence. Operational excellence is what it takes to operate a business or a service well. In many ways it’s a point of entry or table stakes. For example, when you turn on a light switch, and the lights go on, that reflects the operational excellence of the electric company. Apple makes beautiful phones and Jimmy Choo makes stylish shoes; that is operational excellence. But this “ability” does not guarantee that these companies are going to make money. Just because you have wonderful product does not guarantee you will be a success. In order to be truly successful you must be able to communicate WHAT it is about you that is special and will provide a unique benefit to an organization.

When somebody is interviewing you, they expect that you will know how to actually DO the job. That’s not what it takes to WIN the job. Employers expect their employees to objectively PERFORM a service and contribute to the betterment of the organization. Your work must also be able to provide a tangible VALUE that is worthy of your salary and benefits. I

If you are not able to provide an understanding of your value, you miss an opportunity to create your competitive advantage in any interview.

When you expect that your ability is all you need to be hired, you miss the opportunity to communicate your real benefit in order to close the deal. You must to be able to talk about what you do in a way that allows whoever is interviewing you to be able to understand what unique benefit you—and only you—can provide their organization.

What kind of portfolio should someone bring—digital, paper? Does it matter? Do I need a website? 

YES, you need to bring a digital and paper portfolio. You need to be prepared for anything and everything. I will talk a lot about that in my class. And YES, 100% YES, you must have a portfolio website.


How many pieces should someone have in their portfolio? 

It is not about QUANTITY, it is about QUALITY. When putting together a portfolio or a body of work to show people, avoid including things just because you want to show someone that you can do that type of work. For example, you have book cover designs in your portfolio because you want people to know you can design book covers. Or you have a planning deck about big food because you think you need to have a planning deck as part of your credentials. But if the work is inferior or sub-standard, nobody is going to hire you to do that type of work.

It’s better to have less things in your portfolio, as long as its work you’re proud of and can talk about strategically.

You don’t want filler material. That ends up diluting the overall impact of your body of work.

When putting together a portfolio or body of work, try to answer YES to the following questions:

–Do I love everything in this portfolio with my whole heart?

–Can I talk strategically about every piece of work that is included in my portfolio?

–Can I defend every choice I’ve made about what is included in this body of work?

–When showing my work, do the majority of people reviewing it seem to like and appreciate it?

–When receiving constructive criticism about my work, do I consider what I am hearing in preparation for my next interview or portfolio review?

How do you make yourself stand out with so much competition for creative jobs? 

In today’s world, who you are and what you represent in the marketplace (whether it is on your website or on social media or on your resume) is as important as your work and your ideas. You must have a sincere set of beliefs that guide everything you do and they must be authentic and true. You need to know what you believe in, even when other people disagree with you.

As you think about what you stand for, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why did you choose to go into the field you are in?
  • What are you planning to do differently or better than anyone else?
  • What can you offer that no one else can?
  • What is inherently unique about you and what you do and how you think?

If you can answer these questions with honesty and authenticity, you will absolutely stand out from the competition for ANY job.

Is a suit and tie/skirt still required in a job interview for a creative position? 

Absolutely not. But you should always dress with the proviso to show whoever you are meeting due respect. It also doesn’t hurt to dress for the job you want, not the job you have!

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Emily J. Potts has been a writer and editor in the design industry for more than 20 years. Currently she is an independent writer working for a variety of clients in the design industry.