How to get a job as a designer

I get a handful of résumés every week. Some weeks, I get a couple of them every day. As a part time design instructor at NSCAD, I thought I’d put together a little guide for those who really don’t understand how to get a design job in Halifax.

Very few résumés actually catch my eye, and even fewer make me want to follow up with an interview. This has little or nothing to do with whether or not we’re hiring. If I see a killer portfolio, or a designer with some great ideas, or a unique spin, I’ll ask them to come in for an interview to confirm my hunch. Even if I can’t hire them right then, I’ll know who’s worth recommending to other firms locally, and I’ll know that if an opening comes up later that I can look into hiring them at that time, assuming they’re still available.

Today, I got an email from a recent grad. It was addressed to nine different companies. Every one of us was listed in the “to” field.

The message said the following:


I am a recent graduate from {snip}, Graphic Design Program. I am attaching a copy of my resume and portfolio for your current or future consideration. Please forward my information to the appropriate hiring manager.”

Attached was a 3+ MB PDF file of the designer’s résumé and portfolio. The work was decent for a new grad, but there wasn’t anything that really blew my mind. And therein lies the problem. Most in-class work at design school is OK at best. So, if you want to stand out you’re going to have to really rise to the next level. Seth Godin is great at explaining ways to do this. You’ve got to be absolutely exceptional to get noticed these days.

Here’s some of the advice I sent back to the applicant.

  • Don’t email all of the companies at one time
  • Find out the names of the hiring person at each company you want to work at and address us individually. With the web, it’s really not hard, and shows some initiative on your part.
  • Don’t email us a big PDF of your work. Many of us receive a big chunk of our email on a handheld device, and downloading a 3MB PDF is a hassle, even over 3G.
  • There is next to no work for print designers in Halifax at this time. You’ll need (a lot of) web experience to really get in the door. I’d suggest spending the next few months honing your web design skills. Put together a killer portfolio online, find some non-profits looking for a designer, and go after them. We’re all looking for designers with fresh ideas who also understand how to code XHTML/CSS/Actionscript and everything else. Being a multi-talented designer will keep you employed.

What would you add to this list?

Previously posted on

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