So, you've managed to land the interview of your dreams for a creative agency that you really care about. But what's next? Now that you've got it booked in, what do you need to prepare for your interview as a designer? What questions will the directors be asking in an inteview and how should you go about answering them?

To help ensure you're completely prepared for the interview process at a leading design or illustration agency, the team here at Briefbox have put together a list of key tips to ensure that you smash your interview and really impress your new directors along the way.

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Understanding the People / Understanding the Agency / Flatter the Agency / Project Selection / Portfolio Presentation / Personal Presentation / Questions to Ask

Understanding the people.

The very first part of any interview is the personal introductions. Before you've even sat down and opened up your design and illustration portfolio, you'll be greeted by one or more of the studio's directors, and nothing makes a good impression more than being able to recognise and call someone by their name before they've formally introduced themselves to you.

Take the time to do your background research into who you'll actually be sat down with. If you're able to understand a little more about your interviewer's own journey and their personal views on certain topics, it will be much easier for you to establish a rapport with them right from the beginning of the interview.

For example, when I interviewed for my position here at Briefbox, I had already been following the history of both Briefbox and their sister design agency ORCA for many years. Spending a little more time reading a few articles on Joel's decision to focus purely on Briefbox or listening to co-founder James' interview on the history of both companies with Right-Aligned Events, meant that I was able to really understand the thinking behind both businesses and really highlight how myself as person, not just a portfolio, would be a perfect fit for the business.

Understanding the agency.

Just as important as understanding the people behind an agency is having a firm understanding of the agency itself. You need to be able to call to mind a selection of the projects that the agency has worked on.

A good tip would be to spend time researching and memorising three key projects:

  • Their Latest Project - Being able to discuss an agency's latest live project not only proves that you're actively following their work, but you're also likely to give positive feedback on a project that the agency should be the proudest of.
  • Your Favourite Project - This is the time to really go into detail about your favourite project the agency has produced. Talk about specifically what is is about the project you love so much, what you've learned from it, and how the project directly relates to your own work (more on this in a moment).
  • An Earlier Project - Demonstrate that you've taken the time to look a little deeper than the top of someone's Instagram feed. Talk about the progression in the agency's work and how you've learnt a lot from watching them grow.

Flatter the agency, hype them up!

Take the time to flatter the agency, but try not to overdo it. Any employer, regardless of the industry, wants to feel like their specific business is important to you and you're not sat in their interview room simply because you need 'a job'.

Remember that the end goal here is to prove that you belong as a member of their team and explain that your skills and experience is up to scratch with no clear divide in professionalism between your work and theirs.

How to Select the Right Projects for your Graphic Design and Illustration Portfolio

We've briefly touched on this before, but making sure that you're selecting the right projects for your design and illustration portfolio is key in communicating to the people sitting across from you that you understand the key values of the work they produce. If the agency specialises in website design and development, then consider stripping away any project that focus too heavily on print design for example.

Align your work to the agency.

One good tip is to try and include two or three projects in your portfolio that the agency you're applying for could theoretically take out and place alongside their own case studies without them looking too out of place. Doing this successfully will mean that the directors can see your style fitting in seamlessly with their existing offering and can really help them visualise the idea of you working at their agency.

Just like your initial job application, your portfolio needs to be tailored specifically for the position you're interviewing for. Be deliberate in your selection of projects, and avoid coming across as too broad of a designer with no specialised skillset.

"Make sure that your online portfolio and overall presence is a clean and clear showcase of only the work/services that you are offering and being equipped to complete and deliver. Posting a personal project, fan-art or even a real-client project from the field that you're passionate about will potentially bring in clients interested in such services."

Alan Pavlovic (Type 08) on the importance of showcasing your preferred style

Quality over quantity.

Remember that the name of the game here is quality over quantity. Cutting down your design and illustration portfolio to just a few key projects isn't easy, but having an enormous selection of work that each demonstrate the same skillset only suggests to a director a lack of confidence.

For example, if you're not able to present a cut-back and refined selection of projects now, then how will you be able to convince a client to run with the strongest concept when you're presenting them with multiple different approaches to take forward?

Be brutal when selecting projects, and keep asking yourself "what is the minimum amount of work I can show to demonstrate what I can do as a designer and illustrator without showing less than 4 or 5 projects at a minimum?".

How to Present Your Graphic Design and Illustration Portfolio in an Interview

Now that you've narrowed down the projects you'll be showcasing, it's time to start planning exactly how you'll be talking about them.

What problem did your design solve?

One of the biggest challenges for any design agency looking to hire a new designer or illustrator is being able to identify projects that have been created in direct response to a brief.

Anyone worth their weight in the creative industries can put together a beautiful piece of design that looks the part, but complete creative freedom in the design industry isn't always guaranteed, and it's crucial that you're able to talk about the problem that a brief introduced and how your response effectively solved that problem.

Capture their attention with striking visuals.

Although a director wants to be impressed by the way you can walk them through a project, ultimately the artwork itself needs to be concise, eye-catching and powerful enough to grab their attention through awesome visuals alone.

Remember that you're looking for work as either a graphic designer or illustrator, and a director of a creative agency would never hire an applicant who had pages and pages of research, data and descriptive content without having some seriously cool design work holding everything together.

Demonstrate your process.

More important than anything else is to make sure to show the visual journey that your design went through before arriving at its final outcome. Concept development matters an awful lot, and it takes decades of experience for a designer to be able to identify the requirements of a brief and nail their response the first time around. Most of your time at an agency will be spent trialing several different approaches before landing on the final outcome, and it's a clear understanding of this process that an agency will be looking for when interviewing for a new designer or illustrator.

How to Present Yourself in an Interview

People hire people, not portfolios, and every job I've ever landed in the creative industries has been directly related to how I've presented myself in an interview. A designer can have the best portfolio in the world, but if they come across as difficult to work with or stubborn and unbending when it comes to receiving feedback, then they're simply not going to make the cut.

Be natural.

With that being said, make sure that the directors have the opportunity to see the real you. Remember, you will be working closely with these people for around 40 hours a week, and presenting a version of yourself in an interview that you think will increase the chances of you landing the job might sound like a good idea, but having to maintain the façade every single day can have a dramatic effect on your mental health.

Yes, it's important to come across as knowledgable, talented and professional, but being approachable, friendly and most importantly honest, makes it far easier to build up a rapport with the people sitting opposite you and increase your chances of landing the role.

Be honest.

If you don't know how to do something but are keen to learn, then tell your interviewer that. Honesty is crucial, and the willingness to work with your new employers to learn new skills is arguably more important in an interview than being able to do them in the first place.

What Questions to Ask in your Design and Illustration Interview

Finally, take a moment at the end of the interview to ask the questions that matter most to you. It's easy to feel like you need to do and say everything you can to impress an agency, but an interview is a two-way process and it's crucial that you leave an interview knowing that you will be happy working there for many years to come.

For example, some questions I have asked in the past include:

  • How would you describe the culture working here? Have people ever complained or seemed unhappy? Does everyone get one with one another?
  • What steps does your company take to promote an employee's physical and mental health?
  • What steps does your company take to ensure that people of all genders, ethnicities and sexual preferences feel welcome while working here?
  • Will the company be able to guarantee a regular boundary between my work and personal lives?
  • What opportunities will there be for me to develop my own skills and progress further in the company?
  • What key points will you be looking for when measuring my success in this new role, and how often will my pay be reviewed based on these successes?

While it may often feel awkward asking questions like these, it's important to remember that the opportunity to ask these important questions may only come around once a year during an annual review, and understanding the ground rules before you accept a job ensures that there aren't any nasty surprises waiting for you down the line.

In Summary

Finding a full-time position in the creative industries is tough, but there are simple steps you can take to increase your chances of landing your dream role at a design agency.

More often than not, it is the presentation of your work, not the work itself, that can play a key role in nailing your interview. Take the time to think carefully about what your interviewer cares the most about, focus on your working process and allow the visuals of your final outcome to speak for themselves. Be friendly, be energetic, and make sure to present yourself not as the finished product, but as someone who is willing to put the time in to learning and becoming the best designer or illustrator they can be.

Strengthen Your Design and Illustration Portfolio and Find Paid Work in the Creative Industries

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