Hey kids, it’s mid-May and you’re either just graduating or already out in the workforce wackiness looking to score the perfect position at a major agency or world-class in house brand. Okay who are we kidding? If AIGA’s recent Reality Check is any indication, there are 20x more grads than creative jobs available right now and you are probably staring at your book that just two weeks ago seemed ready to wow and wondering if Subway will take you back full time.

But don’t despair. These days there are myriad places for you to start your creative adventure so it’s no longer just an agency world. In-house design jobs can be lucrative creatively as well as financially and co-working spaces, creative staffing agencies, and the ability to easily create your own website and promote your freelance work globally means you have choices for how you’ll make your mark on the design world.

If you’re set on working at a creative agency, there are some simple-to-follow guidelines that will actually help you, if not get offers from every place you interview, at least make the process a little less vague and anxious. Granted, many places have a ‘drop off’ policy and you’ll want to be sure your book is good enough to get you a callback, but when you do get that call to come in and meet in person, this post is for you:

Congratulations! You have now actually secured an interview for a design position. The competition was fierce, but you studied their qualifications carefully, spelled the word stationery correctly and didn’t respond to the question: “How big was the last department where you worked?” with the answer “Three stories.” (an actual response from someone’s application).

Of course there are lots of things you should remember to do when you bring your precious book in for a portfolio review:

  • DO be on time for the meeting.
  • DO wear good shoes. (Really. Cool shoes are the new skinny glasses).
  • DO post your work in an online portfolio so the agency you’re interested in can easily browse your work and resumè.
  • DO bring business cards to leave behind.
  • DO research the place and the kind of work they do so you can not only tailor your book accordingly but speak intelligently about their projects.
  • DO send a follow-up note or another small collection of samples with a personal comment that will help them remember you.

All good DOs. But today we’ll elaborate on three DON’Ts that have happened all too frequently over the past millenium that I’ve been interviewing designers. The following are actually pretty easy to get right and I hope they help your next portfolio review go swimmingly.

1. DON’T lie about the work or your role with it.

This is a no-brainer right? Right, but designers are marketers after all, and there may be a temptation to embellish what your role was on a job just to make you look more desirable as a creative force. Problem is, they’ll know right after you’re hired whether or not you’re the real deal. And if not, everyone’s unhappy and you may very well lose that job and your credibility.

A blatant instance of this for me happened many years ago when a young guy proudly showed a point-of-sale piece he said he’d designed. The only problem was that we had designed it. And it was on our website.

Bottom line: Tell the truth. Be honest about your skills and experience and you’ll have a much better chance of finding a great fit.

2. DON’T bring too many samples.

This isn’t the worst offense, but it can turn the tide against you if you end up boring your interviewer. If they start to look at their watch or flip quickly through your work, it’s a good sign that you’ve brought too much or the wrong stuff. If you’re not sure how many projects, or specifically what type of work to show, just ask them. And never ever ever ever (really don’t) bring a dog-eared book with your sketches or personal art.

Cool tip: Your work and thought process can be helpful to see, if you do it well. One student I saw at Reality Check this year had printed little random crops of his sketches on each page with the finished piece. I got an idea of how his mind worked on each project, that his mind did work, without having to view pages and pages of sketches.

Bottom line: Only bring your best stuff and be prepared to speak clearly and succinctly about your role on each piece and why you’re showing it.

3. DON’T wait with bated breath for when you next get to talk.

You need to listen and pick up cues from the interviewer. What are they saying about the position? About their company? Interviewers love it when you want to know how their company works, what they are looking for, how you might fit in. So in general, ask, don’t tell.

Smart tip: Take notes. It helps you to not talk too much and also shows that you do want to remember what the interviewer is saying. Plus you can often forget important things they’re saying when you’re nervous and notes will help recall critical details about their job requirements like having to work every weekend, or get a tattoo with the company logo on your neck, or put a dollar in a jar every time you say a swear word.

Smart tip two: Rehearse your spiel. You know how important clear communication is in design and marketing. If you rehearse what you want to say, to ask, to describe about your work and yourself, it’s much easier to sound polished and confident, and maybe even enjoy the experience.

Bottom line: Getting a job should be win/win. When you listen more and talk less, you’ll find out more about the position and the studio and it will be easier to decide if you’re a good fit. It doesn’t help to snag a job where you don’t fit. You won’t last long and your resumè will show it.

That said, this isn’t just a show, it’s a show and tell. If it were all about the book, you’d be leaving it at the front counter and just called back to discuss salary requirements. So you do need to speak up and communicate well about yourself and how you might help the company. Just don’t forget to listen. And pay attention to kerning and typography. And spell stationery correctly. Good luck!

-Barbara Combs