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A Brand Called You

Lesson 15 of 22

How to Achieve Success at your Interview–Part 2

Debbie Millman

A Brand Called You

Debbie Millman

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Lesson Info

15. How to Achieve Success at your Interview–Part 2


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1 Class Introduction Duration:12:41
2 Defining Brand Duration:09:34
3 Finding Your Mindset Duration:04:57
5 Busy Is A Decision Duration:02:45
6 Honing your Mindset Duration:07:35
7 Generators vs. Drains Duration:19:39

Lesson Info

How to Achieve Success at your Interview–Part 2

We're back in the reception area. You're standing in attention. You're wearing a cute little outfit, or nice, clean slacks, and you are retrieved by a receptionist, or an assistant, or the actual person. Let's pretend it's an assistant or the receptionist. Always be polite. You are really lucky if a receptionist or an assistant retrieves you to take you back to the conference room, because here you can get some on-the-ground research. Let's pretend that the assistant's name is Lisa, and you are walking with Lisa, who as a pencil behind her ear, and is very efficient, to got to the conference room. And then you say to Lisa, "Lisa, thank you so much for coming to get me. "Tell me a little bit about Jeffrey. "Anything that would be really good to know about him "before my interview?" And then she'll likely tell you something. Even if it's just a little snippet, it's putting her at ease, you're learning something, and you're going into the room even a tiny bit more confident than you might...

have been. You might be terrified, but you're gonna get your inner Barbra Streisand, (audience laughs) and you're gonna do it anyway, because if she can do it, we can do it. So you're gonna go into that conference room, and if it is the person who you're actually interviewing with, you are going to have a series of questions that you are going to use as small talk, that you will use to get to know that person en route to the conference room. So let's say Jeffrey comes out and gets you directly. You need to have a whole slew of things that you want to ask Jeffrey about, little, sort of innocuous, fun, sort of up-to-the-minute things that happening in the world, nothing really deep about what he majored in in college. And you're going to have a list of things in your head. Years ago, the very first time I ever had lunch with Steven Heller, who's a wonderful mentor to me, who is the founder of a number of the graduate programs at the School of Visual Arts, and he's written about 150 books about design and design criticism. I had lunch with him, and I was so terrified, I actually had a cheat sheet of things that I would talk to him about, that I wrote on a paper napkin and had in my lap, so that if I got really, really nervous, I would be able to look down and see that I had written Louise, his wife, Louise Fili, Sagmeister interview. I don't remember what it was at the time, it must've been 15 years ago. But I knew that I had these things, that if I choked I could glance down at it. So have a list of things. If you know that, perhaps, they're really interested in baseball, talk about the local baseball team, or talk about something that will help break the ice, and show the person that you're interviewing with that you're a human being, and have range, have different ways of thinking about the world that aren't just about design. So I've given you the two scenarios, one with the receptionist or assistant, one with the actual person. You walk happily into the room, and there's a big rectangular table, and you are asked to sit down or make yourself comfortable. What I want you to try to do, always, if at all possible, is to sit side-by-side rather than face-to-face. This is a really small, little niggly thing, but it really makes a difference. You want to try to be able to be on the same side as someone. You don't want to be combative. You're not playing a game of tennis. You're not opposite each other. You're not on different teams. You're actually on the same team. And if you're in a meeting where you're going with a group of people from an agency, for example, don't all sit on one side like you're a football team. You want to intersperse so that you're all in this together. And it's much easier to show a portfolio when you're sitting side-by-side than having to look at it upside down. And it's a lot easier to create a mutuality with somebody when you're turning the page, or when you're pointing things out, as opposed to being opposite. So just a little trick that I have found works to create a easier rapport when you're showing your work. I want you to try to avoid ever being combative. Most of the time when clients don't like our work, designers think it's their fault, that it's the client's fault, that it's not our fault for doing something they don't like, it's their fault for not understanding our greatness, right? Like they just don't get it. How many times have you heard somebody say that about a client? "They just don't get it?" No, that's not the case. They just don't understand what you've done, and you have failed at explaining it to them. So if somebody doesn't like what you're showing them, or somebody says, "What made you decide to do that?" you need to be prepared. And one of the other things that you need to do in your preparation, is consider every possible scenario. And so you have to imagine what all of the possibilities are in any given meeting. So let's say they don't like your work at all. What do you do? Let's say they don't like the very thing you were hoping would impress them more than anything else. What do you do? What do you do if they go crazy with glee and joy? How do you respond? We don't think about how people are going to respond. Think about a showing of your portfolio or an interview as a game of chess. You have to not only think about what you're going to say now, but what you're going to say four steps down the line, if indeed this happens. So great chess players think about what happens if they do this, and what happens if they do that, and what happens if they do that, and then you have a way of being able to navigate responses. But I had this happen to me years ago, Jim mentioned at the very beginning of our session today that I did work for Star Wars. Well, years and years and years ago I was working on Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, and I couldn't even believe that we'd won the job. I mean, it was a miracle that we won that job. But we got so engaged in the actual doing of the job, and we were so in love with our own work, we actually never considered the possibility, because we loved the work so much, that the people at Lucas wouldn't love it too. And we went to Skywalker Ranch. I'll never forget the day; we park in the parking lot, we're like high-fiving each other for being there, for making it to Star Wars, you know, "How does this happen in somebody's career?" And we never considered the possibility that they wouldn't like the work. Never once. And we get into the meeting, and we're showing all this amazing stuff with lasers, and light beams, and whatever, and they hated it. They hated the work. They hated the work. And one of the designers started to sort of try to justify why we did certain things, don't do that in a meeting. As soon as you begin to justify, what you're telling somebody when you justify why you did something, you're telling them why what they think is wrong. Not a good way to develop mutuality. So if they don't like something like them not like it. Let them not like it. If you go away, and then you find out that they didn't like it, it's much harder to reestablish trusting credibility than if you know they didn't like it in the meeting. So you want to be able to allow people to have their own opinions about what you did, and if they don't like it, you need to be able to consider what your other options are, and that's part of preparing. Preparing isn't about knowing only everything about the client before you go into the meeting, it's also about knowing every possible response that you could have to have to any question that they might ask, so that you feel prepared. That's what being prepared is. Knowing what to do if this thing happens. The last thing you want to do is to be asked why you did something or why you made this choice, and be like, "I don't know. "It looked good to me." That's not the reason. Now, if somebody doesn't like something, ask why. "Why did you do that?" If they ask you that question, it kind of means they don't like it. "What made you decide to choose that typeface?" You can say, "Well, I thought for this particular reason," and, "Is it not quite working for you? "How come? "What do you hate about it?" Put it right out there. Most people try to avoid being told that something isn't perfect about what they do. If you get the sense that somebody thinks that what you do is less than perfect, ask them why. And then they'll tell you, they'll tell you. and then you'll grow and you'll learn, or you'll disregard it and move on. But you don't want to be combative when somebody tells you something about your work, because it's information that is helpful, or it's a good screener for, "Not a good fit for me." and you know that you don't want to work there. Anybody ever tell somebody that they love them? Yeah. Now, you can say I love you a couple of different ways. You can say, "I love you." or you can say, "Love ya!" Very, very different meanings. We get very caught up in meetings when we think somebody's saying something, and they actually mean something else. Now, a couple of things happen when people talk. Most people don't really listen. They just wait for the other person to finish talking, so that they can start talking again. The other thing that happens is that we hear the things that we want to hear, because it makes us feel good about whatever it is we need to tell ourselves. So, for example, somebody might say in a meeting, if you're getting briefed on a project, that they're looking for some evolutionary work versus revolutionary work in design. And when you come back, you show them work, if they were looking for really, let's say they're looking for something really revolutionary. Let's say a client is looking for something really breakthrough, out-of-the-box thinking, all of those cliches get piled on top of each other, and you are being told to do this work. And then you come back, and you show them this mind-blowing revolutionary work, and what they say to you was, "Oh, that's not what I meant. "I actually meant going from like light blue to dark blue, "'cause that's like something our brand wouldn't have done." Now, that's not really revolutionary work in our mind, but in their mind it is. So in the same way that "I love you." could mean very different things, in very different situations, you must understand that just because people use similar vocabulary doesn't mean that there's a similar intention. And common vocabulary does not always equate with common behavior. So I don't want you to take what people say at face value, you need to listen to what they mean. And if you're not clear, ask questions. The more information that you can get in an interview, the more likely you are to do well in that interview, because you'll have done enough preparation prior to be able take that new information and make connections that nobody else would be able to make. And that's how you show how well you think. Thinking really fast and well is something that really impresses people in an interview. What seems to be effortless on your feet, winging it is actually the result of hours and hours and hours of preparation, and that's when really good dialogue can happen. I want you to be aware, very aware in your interviews, of body language. Yours and theirs. An interview is a constant juggling of scenarios. You have people talking. You have people moving. You have portfolio pages being turned. You have temperature. You're thinking about lighting. People coming in, people going out, people looking at their iPhones while you're trying to show them work. Heart-crushing. Most of the time you can see that behavior as that they're bored. I hate to say it. People that are really, really engaged in your work, will likely not be tempted to look at their iPhones. If they're not as engaged, then they'll. I only once asked somebody, well, I didn't even really ask, I was showing my work to a client, he was on his phone the whole time, he was a big, sort of intense, powerful guy, and at the end of the meeting he said, I went through a process of ours, and he said, "I don't really understand that." And I said, "Well, you probably would've understood it better "if you weren't on your iPhone." (laughs) But that's when he sort of paid attention, and that's when we connected. So you have to sort of know when you can say certain things like that. Sometimes they just pop out. I think they tend to pop out more the longer you've been in the business, 'cause you sort of have a lower threshold in tolerance for things. I actually wouldn't advocate for doing that. But occasionally if something like that happens, it happens. And you'll make mistakes in interviews too. You're gonna say things that you can't believe you said, almost as if another human being took over your body and uttered something that makes absolutely no sense. And I'm gonna talk to you about that in a minute, 'cause there's a sort of a specific thing when that happens, and I'm gonna tell you how to try to avoid situations like that. But the minute somebody goes to an iPhone, it means they're not engaged anymore. The minute somebody moves back in their chair, sort of leans back, it means they're a little skeptical. They're putting a little bit more distance between you to be able to assess. Somebody leans in, obviously, they're much interested. The surest way you'll get a job, is if somebody picks up your business card. It's almost infallible. When somebody picks up your business card, why do you think that is, when somebody picks up your business card? It means they're interested in knowing more about you. So if somebody picks up your business card, they're looking for more information. And so feed off of the energy of the people that you're meeting with. And if people are skeptical, lean into that skepticism, try to show more about what you're doing as opposed to pontificating. Give them more reason to believe what you're telling them by giving them more facts or figures, or proof that something did well in the marketplace, or something was successful in this particular industry. I want you to try, if at all possible, in a meeting, to avoid giving away your power, and what I mean by that is I never ever, ever want you to ask, "How much time do we have?" Why do we need to know that? Assume that your interview's gonna be anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes. If it goes really well, 60, if it goes okay, 30. If it's a disaster, 15. (laughs) Never ask about how much time you have, because immediately you're giving that person an opportunity to take something away from you that you've already earned. You also don't ever want to apologize for anything except being late. But you are never ever going to be late to an interview, because you've already prepared enough to know how long it would take for you to get there even in the worst possible traffic. So you don't apologize. You don't apologize for something being wrinkled. You don't apologize for something being dog-eared. You don't ever have those things in your portfolio to begin with. Anything that you feel like you have to apologize for, anything, the color not being right when it was printed, the quality of the paper, whatever it is, if you have to apologize it shouldn't be in your portfolio ever. You should only have things in your portfolio that you love. That you can talk about to the end of time about why and how you made the decisions that you did to have the result that they now see in front of them. But the minute you have to apologize for something, you are giving away your power. Assume you have between 30 and 60 minutes. Do not ask for permission for anything. You don't have to, you're there. You also, yes, Tim? Quick question, curious about, sort of aligned with this topic. When you're showing presentation to clients, do you ever show a design that you don't want them to pick or you don't expect them to pick, or it might not be up to par with other comps? That's a great question. I never show work that I am worried about being in the marketplace. Ever. If you do that, I don't know why the universe works in the way that it does, but the minute you show something that you're not happy with is the minute they will pick that particular design. And then it's not just enough that they'll pick the design, they'll pick the design and then they'll want you to do things to that design that makes it even worse. So no, you can never ever, ever show anything in your portfolio, or have any work that you feel is subpar. However, let's say your client wants you to do something a very specific way, and they give you some very specific criteria, and you believe that if they considered doing this in another way it would actually be more effective, you must give them exactly what they've asked for, otherwise they're gonna accuse you of not listening, and then they'll fire you and hire somebody else. You give them what they've asked for, but then you must take the honors upon yourself to then do the version that you think they should be doing, but that doesn't mean they're gonna pick it, but if you actually an inspire them to see the world through those eyes, you have the ability of creating a mutuality with that work, where it's so good they can't help but believe that this is the right direction to go. But you can't talk to that. You can't explain it. You can't describe it. The only way to be able to convey that is to show it. If you only show that and not the work that they asked for, they will never ever buy that new piece of work, because they'll still think in their mind, "Well, if they had only followed the directions "that I asked them to, "that I'm paying them my money for, "then I would be getting what I thought I wanted." So no matter how great that other thing is, if you don't show them what they've expected, but then surprise and excite them with this new thing that you think is better, then you're not gonna be able to get them to buy the new thing that is better. But if you show them work that is subpar, because you need to have six different designs to show them that what you promised them, I guarantee they will pick that ugly one that you're terrified will go into the market. So you can't show work that's ugly. Yes? Hi. Do you recommend a printed portfolio or something you could show digitally? You have to have both. You have to have a printed portfolio and you have to digital portfolio. And you have to have a printed portfolio that's modular, so that you can be reorganizing it depending on who you're seeing. There is no one-size-fits-all portfolio anymore, folks. You need to be able to create a modular portfolio that you continually can be adding or deleting from, because you need to be able to keep a constantly up to date. So you need to have both. And what size would you recommend? Size isn't something I can really comment on, because it depends on the type of work that you do. But I think that it should be something that is grand. That has stature. Try to avoid something really tiny unless you're Irma Boom, who can do those little beautiful, tiny things. But when you're showing your work, I want you to, again, always consider to be seeking out criticism. So you want to ask every single person that sees your portfolio, everyone, what is the one thing that you would recommend that I take out of this portfolio? First of all, it'll show people that you're open to understanding what you aren't perfect at doing. Second of all, you're going to get really good information about what people really think of your portfolio. Because in addition to telling you what they think that you should take out, they'll tell you what you absolutely, positively have to leave in. And it'll give you a sense of what they think about your work in general. So you always want to ask. That doesn't mean that you have to do everything anybody tells you to do. But if you go to 10 interviews and 10 people tell you in those 10 interviews to take the same thing out, you might want to consider the possibility that it's not as good as you think it is. Just something to consider.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

It takes work to get the work you love. It takes knowing how to interview well, how to communicate flawlessly, how to articulate your own purpose and to simultaneously do this while facing tremendous rejection. Debbie Millman is one of the most influential design minds of our time; an author, educator, brand strategist, and founder and host of the acclaimed podcast Design Matters. In her class you'll learn how to:

  • Create a meaningful philosophy that will guide your career
  • Present yourself in meetings and interviews
  • Network and standout from your competition
  • Find discipline in your approach to work
  • Sell yourself with more confidence

Are you spending enough time on looking for, finding and working towards winning a great job? Are you doing everything you can—every single day—to stay in “career shape”? What else should you be doing?

Join Debbie and answer these questions you should be asking yourself...


a Creativelive Student

B R I LLIANNNNNNT !!!! I love the such solid human being that she is and her grandiosity of holding our shoulder and say : go head! Dare to be your best self, own it. Here are some tips .... !!!! Uhuuuuuuuuu!! So inspiring! Thank you so much, Debbie. For couple of days you were my very BEST FRIEND :) Thanks Creative Live!! This is NOT a live "manual" on technical skills. If that is what you are looking for go some steps down and there are plenty of people teaching that, like traditional schools do. You will only learn what is "there" for you to learn if you are open TO HEAR with sincerity. Debbie tells several things that works and that doesn't in professional field besides showing what successful business look for in the people, or partners. Out standing!! I would love to watch another class with her.


I loved this course. Five Stars. I was initially drawn to this course because of the title. I had read Tom Peter's article (with the same name) in Fast Company magazine many years ago, and found it really inspiring. This was before 'brand' was a household word. Anyway, the course is geared more towards designers looking for their dream job than a typical branding course, but as it happens, I am a designer, so it was quite informative. I can also use much of the advice and lessons and apply them to my own business. From contacting potential employers or clients to creative self promotion, there's valuable lesson to be had. I watched and listened to this course in one day, almost straight through. I highly recommend it. Great insight, great advice - whether you're a design student or not. If you're the creative type, I think you'll find this both enlightening and very enjoyable.