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A Brand Called You

Lesson 18 of 22

How to Get the Interview

Debbie Millman

A Brand Called You

Debbie Millman

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Lesson Info

18. How to Get the Interview


  Class Trailer
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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 Get the Interview

So you have to do essentially four things. You have to make the calls, you have to write the letters, you have to create the promotions and you have to attend the events. And everything needs to be measured. So I want to start first with the notion now of calling. When you call someone, you're essentially asking for something. So what we are doing when we are looking for jobs is asking for things. We're asking for this job. Most people hate to be asked for anything. First of all, humans don't like to say no. We'd rather have that artificial harmony. And second of all, asking somebody for something then requires them to make an effort, which most people also don't want to do because they're too busy doing other things. So we're not in a particularly good place when we have to start searching for something that may not have existed before, this particular job that you want. So you need to identify who you're going to call and why. So the first thing you need to do is have more than one d...

ream job. You need to have about 10. I want you to have 10 dream jobs. Yeah, you might love to work for Sagmeister, but you know what, you might not get the job at Sagmeister. That doesn't mean a dream job wouldn't be amazing if you got to work at Pentagram, but they might not want you either so that means a dream job might be amazing at Siegel + Gale or Carbone Smolan. There are lots of opportunities to create dream jobs out there. You need to start with at least a list of and you should always at any given time have a list of 10 and if you can't find a list of 10, you're not doing enough work to find dream jobs because there are a lot of dream jobs out there. You need to find them. They're not going to find you. So first you need to have a list of the top 10 people you want to work with and then you have to decide how am I going to go about asking them for opportunities? They may or may not have a dream job available for me. They may not have the dream job that you've been waiting for on So you have to go about creating an opportunity for yourself and that means being in touch with somebody at that organization to be able to get into the door to be able to show your work. So for every effort that you're making, you're thinking about the numbers. If you have 10 dream jobs and you get to the 35% mark, that means that if you call those 10 particular companies over a course of let's say a month, you might reach, reach 35% of them. Reach, I'm not talking about actually them saying hey Debbie, awesome, come on in and talk to us. This is just having them pick up the phone. So, if I have three and a half people actually pick up the phone, I have to assume that maybe one of them, one, 35%, will be interested in speaking to me. Well those aren't really good numbers to start with, right? So I would start with more than 10. You might want to start with 50. You might want to start with 100. There are lots of dream jobs out there. You have to find out where they are, and you have to make lists. The more the numbers work in your favor, the more likely the opportunity that you want will happen. So let's say you start with 100. Let's say you pick 100 agencies between here and New York, south, east, west and you decide maybe there's some amazing agencies in the Netherlands. Let's try there. There's some amazing, amazing firms in Berlin. Let's try there. You have a list of 100. Let's say you're lucky and you have a stat rate, a close rate of 35%. So that means if you're calling 100 different companies that 35% of them will pick up the phone and 35% of that number will be like okay, let me see what you have, send me your work and we'll talk about what happens after that. And then maybe you do get the meeting, 35% of those numbers and then 35% of those numbers mean that at the end of the day, you have three job offers. That's not bad for a dream job if you have a 35% close rate. Beginners probably have one or two percent close rate or 10-12% close rate. So if you have 100 people, you end up with one or two job offers. But that's not so bad if you think about it. One or two job offers of a potential dream job in your effort to find something really great. But it's really hard work, really hard work. So start with the biggest possible list that you can. Any company on that list should be a company that you would love to work for. If you don't have that many, then maybe you need to broaden your idea of what is lovable or start your own agency that you can love all the time. The more picky you are about what you are willing to love, the harder it is to find something that meets your specific criteria. So open it up as much as possible, especially at the early stages of your search. You can start to refine as you get more and more experienced talking about your work and showing what you're made of. Start with a big list and then what you're going to start to do is you're going to start to make the calls, write the emails, do the promos and show up at events. So let's talk about making phone calls. How many people here got more than three phone calls today? No one. Okay, how many got two? Okay, four or five people. How many got one? Okay, another four or five people. How many people got none? Okay. What happens now when the phone rings? (man speaks off microphone) You're ever so slightly amazed at the fact that somebody's actually calling you, right? Because what we do now is text and email. Now in the old days back when Jim and I were doing rubylith and drafting tables, you would call somebody and maybe the assistant answered or more than likely it just went to voicemail. It was impossible to reach anybody via phone. There were guard dogs up everywhere. Now it's a little bit easier. I suggest that you bring back the art of cold calling and this is terrifying. Most people have what is called massive call reluctance. They would rather do anything than cold call somebody on the telephone. They would rather do anything than cold call. But you have to because you want something from someone and you need to ask them and there's no way to avoid that. And the fastest quickest way to a yes or a no is by actually calling somebody directly. That doesn't mean you're going to get them on the phone. You might have to call 400 times. I suggest you use one of those caller ID blockers so that somebody doesn't think you're stalking them but you will have to make a phone call. You can use any number of other ways to try to reach people and I'm going to talk about those too. You can email, you can send things in the mail, but those things are very easy to ignore. It's much more difficult to just let the phone call go especially now when we get so few of them. There's never been a better time in our society or in our marketplace to make cold calls than now when people are getting so few calls. So, the phone rings, you're calling your favorite designer to see if there is a possibility that you can come in and show your portfolio and the call ring, ring, ring, goes to voicemail. What do you do? Nothing. Never leave a message. You'll never get a call back ever. And most of the time, you'll make an idiot out of yourself leaving the message, which you then can't retrieve. Do not leave a message. Eventually, eventually someone will answer. It might be an assistant and it might be the person itself or it might be somebody else in the organization. When that happens, you are never ever to indicate how hard it's been to get them on the phone. You are never ever ever to say oh my god I can't believe you're answering. I've tried 43,000 times before today. Never. You're going to talk to them as if this was the very first time you ever dialed their number and lo and behold the stars aligned and they answered the phone. If it's an assistant, you're going to be very clear, very quick and very honest about what you want. You're going to say, "Hi, my name is Debbie Millman "and I was wondering if it'd be possible "to get a few minutes of Michael Bierut's time." Michael Bierut is now going to kill me for doing this. And she's going to say for what purpose and you're going to say very, very succinctly, very clearly with a lot of honesty and joy in your voice, I'd love to be able to show him my portfolio if he has a few moments. That's it. No big, long thing. If you've recently graduated, a great thing to say is I just graduated from the School of Visual Arts. Would it be possible to show Mr. Bierut my portfolio? That's it. That's it. You do not want to go on and on and on about the reasons why you would like to show your portfolio. Most of the time you're going to get an answer such as will you please send us your work and I'll talk about that in a moment. We'll get to what happens when they say that. If Michael Bierut answers directly, you say the same thing. Hi my name is Debbie Millman, I'm a recent graduate at the School of Visual Arts or I am currently working at Carbone Smolan and I was wondering if it'd be possible for me to come in and show you my portfolio. That's it. One sentence, two max. That is it. No fawning how much you love their work. Try not to stammer, try not to blather on like an idiot. Just one or two really simple straight to the point sentences that introduces you and skates your intention. You want to be able to have either a yes or no answer. Yes, no or maybe if you have to. Yes, we'll talk about that in a minute. No, very rare that people actually say no. Again, artificial harmony. People don't actually like to intentionally hurt people's feelings so what you're most likely going to hear is can you please send us your work? Now here's where you want to push back a little and you can say things like I would really love to be able to show the work in person. It looks much better that way, which is true. You have to be careful with how much you're going to push to try to get into that scenario. You also could say would it be possible for me to just drop off my portfolio rather than send something in the mail? That's very old school. That's the way we used to do things. Anybody who's working in a big agency with a big reputation likely has had to do that as they were coming up through the ranks and that would be what I recommend. You also get the opportunity to drop it off so to see what's going on and see and feel the energy of the studio and then potentially pick it up as well. I doubt that they're going to mail it back to you. So you want at all costs to try and get the portfolio into their hands and then if it's beautiful, as I expect it is 'cause there's nothing you have to apologize about with your portfolio, you're hopeful at that point that you will indeed get a call back. The opportune thing is to try to actually get the face-to-face. That might take time. They might say please drop off your portfolio or please send the portfolio. If you're speaking to an assistant, you need to make that assistant your best pal. You need to thank them, you need to send them a handwritten note after you speak with them, letting them know how much you appreciate the energy that they put into speaking with you and the advice that they gave you and then you're gonna call back in a couple of months or a couple of weeks depending on how much you really want to work there to see if it's opportune time for you to come in and meet them. The more you engage with the assistant, the more helpful they are to you and the more you indicate that to them, the more likely they are to help you actually get in front of the person you're trying to get in front of. And none of the usual ways we do things now will help. Emails, assume emails are never read. I'm gonna talk about emails in a bit. I'm gonna start first with making the phone calls. You're going to have your list of 100. You're going to be calling every single day. If you don't want to do all 100 in a day, I understand. But if you make this your full time job, you can spend an entire day trying to get through to those 100 people and you will. I made my entire career at Sterling Brands from cold calling beginning in 1995. Cold calling, calling people over and over and over again, trying to develop a rapport with them over the phone, trying to be charming and interesting and all the things that I wanted so desperately to be on my best day to be able to get an opportunity to meet them face-to-face and show them the portfolio. So get settled, get comfortable and see this effort as a full time job. Nothing is going to just happen magically because you wished that it will happen. You have to make these opportunities happen for you. So you have your list of 100, you have your phone numbers, you have your contacts of the people that are there. You call, you try to reach people. If you are able to reach people, you're polite, you're thankful, you're sincere, you tell people I'm a recent graduate or I'm working at so and so and I'd love to be able to come in and show you my work and you hopefully set up appointments and hopefully you get there. If you have a list of 100 people and you are calling those 100 people every day for a month and you get zero feedback, zero opportunities, then you have to think about what you're messaging and what you're saying on the telephone. Are you coming off as a drain? Are you coming off lackadaisical? It's often helpful to be standing when you're making your phone calls. It's often helpful and I know this sounds really wonky, to look in a mirror while you're doing it because then it's almost like you're trying to connect with somebody. It's really, really helpful, I know these are wonky things but you know desperate people do desperate things. Now when you really want something desperately, you do just about anything you can to make it happen for yourself and that's how I was when I was first starting out. You are trying to be as positive and genuine and warm as possible. Work with your voice. Do you, are you a low talker? Are you a high talker? This is where presentation training will help you as well. How to calibrate your voice, how to come off well on the telephone. So assume that with your list of 100, and you have a certain percentage that you are successful with that you will actually be able to get in the front door to be able to either drop off your portfolio or show your portfolio. Now you're also going to try to focus when you're making these calls on the goal. The goal isn't a job offer. The goal is to get in front of someone. The goal is to have an opportunity to meet someone so that when you're in their presence, you can charm them and you can create a mutuality and you can show them how much passion and energy you have for the idea of being able to work for them. So when you're making these calls, you have to focus on your goals and you have to do even more preparation. I've already talked a little about what to say. You want to be very, very pithy. Short, fast, sweet, not too sweet, just genuine with a clear goal in mind and the goal is I'd like to make a connection on the phone with someone. I want to make a connection on the phone with an assistant or with the actual person. Now if you get the actual person and they say no I'm sorry, there's no opportunities at this moment, you thank them for your time, you thank them for being able to even talk to you and then you write them a handwritten note and thank them for talking to you and then they go on your list that you are going to followup with and they're gonna go on a list of people that are going to start receiving your promotions, which I'm going to talk about in a minute. So just because they say no now doesn't mean they're going to say no forever. You don't marry the person after the first date or the first phone call. You spend time getting to know each other. Somebody isn't going to offer you a job after a first meeting unless you're amazing and there are very few of us that are amazing. It might take three times, it might take five times. But what you want to do is begin to create a relationship wherein you are talking to either an assistant or to the person for the purpose of showing your work and seeing if there is any opportunity and there might not be. Bad timing. Maybe they just lost an account. Maybe they just hired three people. You want to be in it for the long game. As I said, most people give up after the second try. 80%. So if you stay in it for the long game, the numbers and the odds will be in your favor. It's also important that you call at specific times. It's really beneficial to call either at the beginning of the day or the end of the day. Very few people like getting a phone call to begin with from somebody they don't know. Don't take it personally. People are going to get annoyed. They're going to get frustrated that somebody's calling them asking for them something while they're in the middle of something. But they picked up the phone and you're going to be really fast and really quick and warm and engaging and you're just gonna get off the phone as fast as possible. You're not looking to strike up a three hour conversation with somebody when you cold call them. So call in the morning before the day begins, call in the later afternoon or in the early evening when the assistant might be gone, but the person is still sitting at their desk and is picking up the phone. Now you might think that this is never gonna work for you and that's fine. But I'm gonna tell you one thing that did work for me when I cold called that will hopefully inspire you. One of my big dreams was to interview Massimo Vignelli. I was writing my very first book which was How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer. This was in 2007 when the book came out. So it was 2005, 2006 when I was writing it and I had interviewed some of the real greats. Milton Glaser and Michael Bierut and Paula Scher as I mentioned and I wanted Massimo. I never met Massimo before. He terrified me. I was so intimidated by him. I mean, one of the greats, right? So I decided I'm going to cold call Massimo Vignelli's office and I called at 6 o'clock, 6 PM. Somebody Italian answers the phone and I say hello, may I speak with Mr. Vignelli please? As a matter of fact, I mispronounced his name. At the time I said Mr. Vig-nelly. And he said speaking. (audience laughs) Massimo answered the phone. He answered the phone and I said very fast. I'm writing a book blah, blah, can I come in and interview you and he said okay. And I got my interview with Massimo Vignelli. So it works. Try it before you decide it doesn't. That's all I ask. You could be skeptical, you could be horrified. Try it before you decide it doesn't work and see what happens. Create your list of 100, make some attempts at doing it and see if it works. And again, as I mentioned, how to ask. Just ask. Don't be ashamed of asking. You have to remember that everybody that you're going to be asking something from has asked others before for their opportunities. So there is a chance that if you get people at the right moment that they will remember what that felt like and give you that same opportunity that somebody gave them. If anybody has ever made a cold call in their life they will be nice to you when they call. And if they're mean to you, they're mean to you. They'll never remember you. They don't know what you look like. They don't have your phone number. It's not like they're going to come after you. Doesn't work. That's just the way life is. So a couple of other phone tricks to get people to give you an opportunity, if you live in New York, tell people that you live in New York if they have studios in New York. I live in New York, is it possible. So you're not making a big trek to see them and they realize that this is something that isn't actually requiring you to buy a plane ticket. If you are living in New York but the studio that you want to work in is in Berlin or in San Francisco then consider going to Berlin or San Francisco and calling those agencies and saying I'm actually going to be in Berlin. Would it be possible to see you while I'm here? Would it be possible to see you when I'm in San Francisco? People are also much more willing to allow you to come in to see them if they know that you don't live there and are making the trip to be there as long as it's not for them. People don't ever want to feel like you're doing something that is going to require them to owe you something. So do it because you want to be there anyway and then hope that you can see them while you're there. Another thing that often helps if you're just trying to reach anybody in an organization is just call a random number from their call, using their main number. So if their main number ends in 2000s, call 2123, see who answers. Tell them that you're a designer and you're looking to reach the design department. Could somebody put you through to them? That's happened. I've gotten opportunities just by calling the main number. I was actually trying to get an interview for one of my students recently and I called the main number which was in Seattle asking for a number that I couldn't find for an office in Brooklyn that they had opened and there was no way to find that number and I wanted to help her get this interview. So I was like I'm gonna help her, I'm calling. I'm going to make a cold call. And so I got the number, the Seattle main number, called the Seattle main number, said that I was trying to reach the people in Brooklyn, do they have the number? And they were like we can't give that number out, but we'll connect you, hold on. And all of a sudden, the guy answered the phone. The guy answered the phone. So there's all sorts of ways in if you want it badly enough. Because of call reluctance, we'll do almost anything to get ourselves off the hook of not making the call. Well, I can't, there's no phone number so how can I call? If you want it badly enough, you will find a way to reach somebody by phone if you want to.

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.