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Designer Job Applicants: I Am Concerned

By Chad Gordon | April 30, 2015

Bad Graphic Designer

“To whom it may concern…”

As soon as I read that salutation in a job applicant’s cover letter, I’m out. If you don’t have the time to find out the name of the person that will be hiring you, then I don’t have the time for you.

But I am concerned. And frustrated and appalled.

As many of you know, we are on the search for designer. We have received more than 200 resumes and portfolios from designers all over the country (and the world). I am in charge of sorting through it all and interviewing the qualified candidates. In a concerning trend over our last few hires, the designer submissions have become more and more… pathetic. So here are some inside tips for you guys.

Know the job for which you applying.
I would think this is common sense—as are most of these tips that you can find on any Google search for “How to apply for a job”— yet it amazes me the number of applicants who have seemingly no idea what the position calls for. We spell out every pertinent detail in the job listing. If it says we are looking for someone with three to five years previous experience in the field, we don’t mean farmers.

Think strategically about your resume design.
As a designer, I expect you to understand the medium and the audience. In this case, I am your audience. You are designing for me. What do you know about me? 1. I am a Design Director. 2. I have very little time. For extra credit you can find out more about me on our web site.

I know that some job sites require that you input a text resume into their preset fields. It shows up ugly in my email. Fair or not, that is not a good impression. Show some ingenuity and bypass that system. We like out-of-the-form thinking.

Sending me a resume designed in Microsoft Word is 99% unimpressive. We don’t design in it. You shouldn’t either.

On the other hand, stop OVER-designing your resume. I know you want to stand out and make an impression. But know the purpose your resume serves. You can and should add your personality into the design, but be judicious about it. The main purpose is for me to be able to quickly scan your qualifications and find a link to your work. Probably more than any other profession, your resume is being judged partially by how it looks. But, as in most design, content is king and it needs to be clear, legible and easily perused. Please impress me with your feel with hierarchy and your typography skills. You literally have one minute to hook me.

Forget the software skills “Loading bar” graphics. While they look kind of cool, they don’t mean anything to me. So you have knowledge of Indesign “loaded” at 82%? Just say you have a working knowledge of Indesign. I’ll figure out how loaded you are.

As far as format, keep it simple. Email me a PDF.

Show me your work!
Why do I even have to say this? It amazes me how many resumes I get with no links to see the work a designer has done. Your work is the #1 deciding factor on you getting this job.

Want me to spend more than a minute on your application? Have an ACTIVE link to your work on your resume. It can be a link to your own website (impressive) or a link to a portfolio site (but FYI, Behance is frustrating to navigate).

Better yet, include a PDF portfolio. That makes it very easy for me to review instantly, print if I need to and keep your digital files together.

Show me your BEST work. I give your work a quick scan. You have very little time to catch my eye. If too many pieces are below par I will probably pass you by. Bad work negates good work. If you don’t know what is good or bad in your portfolio, ask trusted peers and professionals before presenting.

Explain your work. You just need a couple sentences so that I can understand the context of that killer logo you designed.

It is fine if you’ve collaborated on some of the work in your portfolio, but let me know the extent. Obviously don’t pass off someone else’s work as your own. Like mine. (Yes, that did happen.)

Include a cover letter
Yes, I do read them. They should be addressed to me, not “sir” or “to whom it may concern.” This is a job that requires acute attention to detail. And you are up against over 200 other applicants. It’s just reality.

Keep the letter short and succinct. Tell me you know who we are and what we do and how you fit. And I probably would actually be interested to read a sentence or two about your interest in Yak herding. I would certainly remember you.

Typos will get your application immediately tossed into the circular file. You think a single typo is acceptable in a $10,000 print job that you designed? Details, details, details.

Form cover letters are fairly obvious, especially when you forget to use the name of the company to which you are currently applying (yes, that did happen).

Follow up
This one is tricky. I appreciate follow up as it indicates a level of interest in the position. But don’t overdo it. A couple emails over time lets me know. I do see and keep them, but I may not respond right away as I am in the middle of a hundred other things. It’s not you, its me.

So designer applicants, I beg you to please step up your game. We are in the COMMUNICATION business. If you can’t communicate clearly to me and differentiate yourself in the process, why would I think you can do that for our clients? Please make it easy for me and please alleviate my concerns for the future of our profession, because I’m very alarmed by what I am seeing.

It’s my job, and your future.





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Chad Gordon

Chad is the Creative Director, overseeing the development of virtually every original design. Chad studied photography in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has a degree in photo illustration from Ohio University. In 1991 he worked with Reuben and Company as a photo assistant before joining designRoom as a designer the following year. Chad has received numerous national awards, has shared in his team’s many Addy Awards, and has had his work published in several international design publications.Chad is experienced in all phases of creative design, including concept development, art direction, photography, typography, print production, and website design. Chad’s specialties are photo illustration and identity development. His unique infrared photography has been shown in numerous galleries around northeast Ohio. He is an avid baseball man, a crafty pitcher with speed and movement on his fastball, and played on championship teams in the Roy Hobbs League.

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