Ten Mistakes to Avoid at Design Job Interviews

So you are called in for an interview for a design job? Awesome. Now it is time to prepare for the interview.

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So you are called in for an interview for a creative job? Awesome. Now it is time to prepare for the interview to make sure you show off your best work and personality. Before you head out, make sure that you are not going to make these mistakes that could cost you the job. Even if you have a stellar portfolio, companies are not going to hire someone who left a bad first impression. Remember that interviews are lot like first dates – you have already saw and liked each other’s profiles, but you have to “click” in real life before you move on to the next stage.

Table of Contents

1. Don’t have a backup copy of your portfolio

Even though the days of carrying a heavy briefcase full of your creative samples are over, you still need to bring backup copies of your digital portfolio. In an ideal world, the company will have everything set up in a conference room and your portfolio will show up on screen as soon as you hand them your USB drive or direct them to your website. But things often don’t run smoothly – in fact, most companies experience technical difficulties in conference rooms on a daily basis. They could have trouble opening your files or the Internet stops working. If you don’t have a second copy or device to showcase your portfolio, you will be in a potentially awkward situation. Always prepare 3 copies of your portfolio in different places – one online, one on your personal electronic devices that can display images or videos offline, and one hardcopy.

2. Unable to explain your creative process

If you are called in for an onsite interview, chances are the company has already reviewed your portfolio. Instead of diving into the details of your past work, the team may be more curious about your creative process. A lot of creatives have trouble explaining it because they never sat down and think about how they usually approach and solve problems. Remember that this is a very common question and it is smart to come with a prepared answer. Try to be strategic when explaining your process. Pick examples of projects that are relevant to the position you are applying to. Companies are not interested in hearing a 30-minute presentation of what you did for another company on a project that is completely different than what they do. After presenting an example, explain how you can apply the same process to similar projects that are relevant to the company.

3. Unable to explain your career path

It is not scary to have gaps or a lot of different jobs on your resume, but you have to be able to explain the rationale or stories behind them. Companies want to see that you have put thoughts into your career choice. For example, if you worked as a server or at retail for a couple of years before transitioning into a creative role, you would need to answer what you learned from those previous jobs and what motivated you to seek a career transition. If there were a few months or years when you weren’t working, tell your interviewer why and what you did in between to develop yourself professionally.

It is okay to tell the truth that you needed time to figure out what your passion is while working at other jobs, but don’t mumble over the details when asked specifically about your meandering career path.

4. Show up with poor outfit choice

One of the benefits of being in the creative field is that companies generally encourage their employees to express their personalities by dressing creatively. Unlike your friends in banking, law or other more traditional fields, you can show up to work or interviews in jeans and T-shirts without being viewed as unprofessional. But that doesn’t mean you should throw on whatever you see in your closet for your interview. Make your outfits look clean, smart and reflect your best side. Don’t choose outfits that are overly flamboyant, shabby or revealing.

5. Speak in monotone or seem unenthusiastic

A lot of interviewees unconsciously speak in monotone. While not everybody is expert at presentation and speaking, make a conscious effort to vary your tones and expressions because the minute you start speaking in monotone, you lose your interviewers. Another red flag is if you sound uninterested or unenthusiastic about your job. You may not notice that yourself, but someone else can usually tell you if you come across as unmotivated. A great way to find out if you have the tendency to do speak that way is to do mock interviews with a friend or a coach. You can also record yourself on video and watch it to see how you can improve your presentation.

6. Neglect research on the company

It is common knowledge to do research on a company before going in for an interview. Anyone can Google a company and find out basic information about what business they do. However, don’t stop there. You won’t impress your interviewer if you only know what Wikipedia or the first page of their website tells you. Dive deep into recent news and projects of the company and find areas that relate to your job description. Interviewers will be impressed if you can elaborate on your read-up of their newest products. Add in questions related to what you read to further express your interests in what the company does.

7. Unable to establish rapport with team members

As we mentioned in earlier, interviewing for a job is a lot like going on a first date. You are trying to figure out if a company is right for you and they are trying to see if you’ll be a good team member. Most people tend to favor candidates who they “click” with on a personal level, which means you need to establish some kind of rapport with them quickly. It is definitely the most nuanced and difficult things to do, but it makes a huge difference. There are often more than one qualified candidate for a job – how does a company decide which one they give the offer to? Given that the candidates have similar levels of professional competence, companies tend to choose the one they like the best in terms of personality. Remind yourself to be kind and friendly while in the room with your interview (s). Be careful of the type of jokes you tell, but don’t be afraid to tell one and make everyone laugh. It is a tricky business, but it gets better with practice.

8. Unable to explain reason for job change

Companies are often interested in knowing why you are looking for a change at this particular time. Most people know not to talk trash about their current companies, but do you know that you can put a positive spin on negative experience? Don’t be afraid to admit that there is something you don’t like about your current job, but follow up by telling them how you plan to turn this negative experience into a growth opportunity for you. For example, if your current company has toxic work culture, tell your interview what type of culture you’d like to work in and how you can do your part in making that happen.

9. Fail to ask thoughtful questions

Most interviewers will expect that you come with prepared questions either about the job or the company. It is a good way to show that you are actually interested in the position. It’s never a good idea to come without a question, but when you do ask questions, make sure they are well-thought out. Don’t stop at questions like “how many people are on the team” or “what does each person do”, although they are great questions to start the Q&A round. Do more research to come up with more in-depth questions. For example, if you are applying for an art director position, try questions like “what types of campaigns will I be working on?” or “how do I grow in this company?” There are no right or wrong questions, but make sure you come with enough so that if some of them are already answered during the initial conversation, you have more to ask.

10. Deliver subpar project for creative test

Companies often give a creative test for candidates before making final hiring decisions. It is a surefire way to test the actual ability of the candidate to deliver projects successfully in real work environments. It is never a good idea to rush through or not put in enough effort to complete these tests. Treat them as an actual work project and showcase your ability to deliver quality creative work on time. Of course, if a project requires that you spend more than a couple of hours to complete, you should consider negotiating with the company to cut down on the length. Some companies may be taking advantage of you by getting free work without paying you if their requirement seems too long. Know when to protect yourself but give your 100% to snag that offer!

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