I’m the director of a design agency here in the UK called ORCA. I set up the company over 9 years ago and today we have 8 staff members and have managed to build up a great collection of clients. Design in my city of Bristol is super competitive, as it is in many other creative cities around the globe, and that means there’s a whole bunch of people job hunting and looking for applications at our agency every year.

Designers tool’s illustration by Dan Dragomir

Let’s get to it

First thing first..and to get straight to the point, every day of my working week is extremely busy, managing existing clients, looking for new ones and working on multiple projects we have on at the studio. Although most creative directors completely understand the importance of putting time into young talent and potential candidates unfortunately as they get busier this becomes more and more difficult. The first thing that stands out to me when someone applies to my agency is how easy they make it for me to learn about them, their creative talent and how they could fit into my agency creating work that keeps my clients happy.

Happy work illustration by Risha Egart

Over the years, I’ve seen some pretty crazy application tactics. Someone once sent me their wife’s car key, insisting that I let them come and meet me so they can pick it up.. saying that whilst they’re here they may as well have an interview as well! – Talk about inviting yourself!

We’ve had people create a full custom brand and packaging set for a made up Tea company all about hot teas for creativity, with each different flavour representing a different style of design. However this candidate didn’t offer any links to their portfolio or other relevant work to the style of work we offer at our agency.

Unfortunately, neither of the above candidates made it in for an interview. That’s not to say that another design agency somewhere or director wouldn’t have been impressed by their efforts.. but it just wasn’t right for us.

If you want to make an impact with your application, here are my three super simple tips of how to stand out and land that internship or design job.

1) Have awesome design work with quality over content

High quality, illustration by Fireart studio

This goes without saying, but don’t start sending your CV and portfolio out until you’ve dedicated the time to actually improving your design & illustration skills. If you’re looking for an internship, it’s fine if you have no real agency or client experience, just include your best personal work that you have spent time on to make it stand out and be honest about it. I’m always impressed by a potential candidate who has spent their free time working on made up or personal projects. If you’ve got lots of freelance experience, include your best work and just show the highlights to condense your portfolio down. Think quality over quantity and always make sure you target your selection of projects included to suit the agency you’re approaching – which leads me to my next tip.

2) Show work that has the same vibe as the agency

I’m glad that we matched by Whitney Anderson

If there’s only one thing you focus on when approaching potential agencies- it’s this. The agency needs to see creative evidence that you can create design & illustration work that suits their client’s needs. Often, an agency (especially cool ones 🙂 ) will have their own unique style that helps them to stand out or is what has led them to become successful. If you’re an awesome Illustrator specialising in pen & ink or other traditional techniques, don’t waste your time sending your CV, a cover letter and portfolio out to an agency who has a portfolio of 99% app development projects. Target and tailor your portfolio and CV to the company your approaching and you’ll be on the right track to landing that gig.

3) Keep it simple and make it easy for the viewer to learn about you

This leads me back to what I mentioned before about the applicant who created a full set of Tea packaging as an application to get work in my agency. Whilst my team and I appreciated the effort this applicant had gone to and did think it was pretty cool, it was difficult to learn about them and see a nice full view of their design style. As essentially they had tried to showcase their skills over small panels of tea packaging, it left little space for nice large shots of actual design work and a clear and easy to read set of points, or a paragraph introducing themselves.


It’s fine to push the boundaries and create something unique that stands out, but keep in mind, we want to see clear, large shots of awesome work that relates to our studio and our client’s needs. We also want to be able to learn about you, your passion and why you’re right the for the job in an easy to understand manner.

If you stick to those three tips, work hard at improving your design skills and be persistent, it will pay off!

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

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Whether you're a design professional or just getting started in the industry, our team of expert designers and mentors have got you covered.

Joel Rosen is the Co-founder and Creator of Briefbox. Alongside adding fresh new briefs, resources and curating the Briefbox sets, Joel is also an active mentor to our community. A passionate illustrator and typographer, he is also the Co-Founder and Creative Director of UK based design agency, ORCA, where he leads his own awesome creative team on large scale brand and digital projects.

Cover illustration by: Type08