Looking to Land a Job as an Art Director or a Graphic Designer? It's All About How You Present Yourself.

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Are you looking to land your first job out of design school or college? Have you been stuck in a position that isn't challenging you creatively? Finding a new and exciting ad agency or design firm where you can really show your stuff requires you to be smart about how you present yourself to a prospective employer.

Here are some of the things I look for when evaluating talent:

Design Your Resume!

You would think this would be a no-brainer. Yet I'm amazed by how many prospective art directors and graphic designers don't take the time to design the communications pieces that are all about selling themselves.

The resume's presentation is an immediate deciding factor in whether I'll spend more time looking at a candidate. Right away, I can evaluate the prospect's use of type/fonts and his or her ability to create a visually pleasing, effective layout.

Think of your resume as an "ad" for which you're the product. If you can't design an impactful ad for yourself, I'll assume you won't be able to create one for a client, either.

Guard Against Misspellings and Poor Grammar.

It's not an excuse to say that you're a "creative" person and, therefore, beyond the drudgeries of spelling correctly. If you can't take the time to check the communications piece that could determine your entire future, what's the likelihood you're going to be careful about not making mistakes on client work?

I want art directors who have high attention to detail and strive for perfection. Misspellings typically send the resume directly into the trash, unless the portfolio that accompanies it is sheer genius. Even if you think your portfolio is the best ever, why risk having it eliminated on the grounds of sloppy "housekeeping"?

Presentation Means a Lot.

Speaking of your portfolio, there are a number of things to keep in mind. First, make it easy for me to view. If you submit your credentials via email, send me a PDF that includes your resume and samples of your work—all in one file. It's not only annoying to get an email with 12 PDF attachments, but it also shows that no time was spent on "packaging."

In our business, it's all about presentation. Even simple touches, like saving the file to open automatically in full-screen mode, can create a more visually appealing, effective presentation. If you have a web-based portfolio, consider how easy it is for me to quickly see samples of your work. Do I have to slog through multiple pages to get to where I want to be? Is the navigation clear? How quickly do the visuals load? Does it present well in both a Mac and PC environment? Are there broken links?

In fact, before you send a link to a prospective employer, try testing it on a couple of friends. Ask them to be totally honest about its functionality and ease of use.

Scrutinize Your Work.

What work should you include in your portfolio? I know it's tempting to put in everything you've ever done because you're never sure what someone's going to like. However, my advice is this: only include what you personally believe is your very best creative and epitomizes your design aesthetic.

This may mean leaving out executions for your "big-name" clients. But the truth is no one's going to be impressed by a marquee brand if the creative isn't exceptionally strong.

I also don't want to see a portfolio that contains only a couple of school projects. Or if you've been assigned to only one account for the past couple of years, I don't need to see 15 versions of a detergent ad.

How do you add to your portfolio? It's simple. Take existing ads, collateral, logos, direct-mail pieces—virtually anything out there—and show me how you would have done them. Or create a brand-new campaign for your favorite car or sneaker.

I don't care that it's not "live" or produced work. All I'm looking for is a way to judge your creative and design abilities or how you think in terms of building a brand. This approach also shows me that you're the type of person who likes to evaluate advertising—that you're constantly thinking about how you could make a client's campaign even better.

Finally, be extremely selective about what creative you display up front. The way I look at it, if it's the very first thing in your portfolio, it must mean it's the work you're most proud of. Because of that, I use the first piece as an important gauge in determining a candidate's abilities. If that first piece doesn't wow me creatively or isn't beautifully and uniquely designed, I often don't go much further.

Again, if the ad you worked on for the big detergent brand isn't your very best, don't open your portfolio with it, rationalizing that I'm going to be impressed because it's a marquee name.

Stand Out in a Crowd.

Remember, you may be competing with several hundred people for that one job. So take the time to show me you want it more than anyone else.

How? Try personalizing your reply so that it's not a generic response. Or be creative in terms of how you submit your material. Advertising is about making an impact. Don't be afraid to demonstrate your ability to do just that.

To Thine Own Self Be True.

Of course, taste is a very personal matter, and not everyone is going to appreciate your work. But that's okay because it's important to work in a place where tastes are complementary.

If your design point of view runs counter to your future creative director's or the director of client services doesn't agree with the way you build brands, you're never going to be happy at his or her shop. Fortunately, there's no need to sell out. Show what you're most proud of. When you find someone who likes your work, you'll know you've found a home for your talents.

About the Author:

Jose Bandujo is President of Bandujo Advertising, the New York City advertising agency known for its smart, edgy creative. Bandujo's clients include AT&T, Salomon Smith Barney, JPMorgan Chase, Greenberg Traurig, The French Culinary Institute, Einstein Moomjy, The Museums of Lower Manhattan, and Roswell Park Cancer Center, among others.
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