Thursday, November 23, 2006

Interviewing from both sides of the table

Having been on both the interviewee and interviewer sides of the table, and currently interviewing potential candidates for a design position, I've been thinking about the interview process. Is it just me, or has email made this process a bit too casual?

I'm being particular with my approach to interviewing, and to how applicants present themselves. My approach may not be the same as other firm's, but then again, they're my standards. If you're currently looking for a new job in the design field, here are some points to consider:
  • An employer is not looking for an individual who thinks this is "just a job." Of course, candidates should have plenty of outside interests, so that work isn't everything. However, if the candidate doesn't convey excitement about work and passion for design in the interview, why should an employer think they will convey that for their clients?

  • Proofread your resumé. Did you get that? Proofread your resumé. If there is a typo, it goes in the trash. Even if you worked for somebody well-known in the field.

  • Be professional. If you don't understand what that means in the design field, please ask someone with more experience than you. The employer needs to be confident that a candidate could represent the firm to a CEO or president.

  • Check your ego.

  • Remember, the employer is running a design and creative business, not an outlet for your personal expression. Clients hire design consultants to solve their problems and communicate their messages in ways appropriate to their audiences. If a candidate requires personal expression, then perhaps it's time for a hobby such as painting.

  • Dress appropriately for the interview. Employers are aware that business dress has become more casual, but you're trying to impress, not show off your fashion sense. If you're not familiar with the culture of the firm, dress better than you think is necessary.

  • Read the qualifications of the posting carefully before sending a resumé. If the requirements are "3 to 5 years experience" and you're a recent graduate, it just tells the employer you can't read or pay attention to detail.

  • A note sent via the company's contact form via the web site does not count as a cover letter. If it's not stated on the posting or on the website, it is an appropriate way to ask how to submit a cover letter and resumé.

  • Always send a thank you letter. Handwritten or typed via snailmail is best. Email is acceptable, but won't impress.

  • A few well-designed web pages that include your resumé, some samples of your work, and perhaps your design approach and philosophy are helpful to the interviewer. Not only does it help the interviewer pre-qualify the candidate, it saves the candidate time as well.

  • Remember, a candidate not only has to have serious design talent and training, but inter-personal skills and technical knowledge are important. If your list of software skills includes software that the position doesn't require, the interviewer will need to know why those skills are valuable to them.

  • Clients hire for how we think and solve problems. An employer will be looking for the same in a potential employee.

  • In addition to the above, a candidate also has to fit into the culture of an organization. The smaller the design firm, the more important this is. Likability is a huge factor.

  • Expect to be asked to take a behavioral profile, such as a DISC or Meyers-Briggs test. Most likely this request will occur if a candidate is seriously considered for a position.

  • Show your best work. Be familiar with the quality, standards of and type of work the firm you are interviewing with does. Showing fewer well-crafted and thoughtfully-designed pieces convey the sense that a candidate knows how to present themselves and their work. Adding some pieces that are average or below-average dilutes the impact of even the best work.

Some of these considerations may be obvious, but all together they are very important; even more so for the principal of a small design firm and potential employees to to consider.

Disclaimer: This is intended to make your job search more enjoyable and fruitful. If you get a better position because of what you've read, thank me. Or not.



Rowan Manahan said...

All excellent points. As an interviewer (gamekeeper) and career management professional (poacher), I see people making all of the errors you have mentioned and more.

My interest in this topic centres on bringing people from the IQ moment ("I understand that move X is a stupid thing to do") to an EQ moment ("I should change my behaviour, so that I don't do X in interviews any more").

It is fascinating to do a show of hands on the common errors made in the selection process. 95% of any group will confidently put their hands up to demonstrate that they understand that doing X (not proofreading, applying for jobs they don't really care about, or whatever) is STUPID. What's interesting is how many of them then ruefully put their hands up to admit that they have done something on the list in the recent past ...

Being effective at interviews is simple, it's just not easy. The most important skill I see in switched-on, consistently successful, candidates is the ability to get into the interviewer’s head. After that 10% inspiration, you have to (a) be an appropriate candidate and (b) have the right attitude and ‘fit’ for the organisation and (c) put in the 90% perspiration to demonstrate all this.

My number one piece of advice on this? Apply for less jobs; keep just a small number of irons in the fire and prep the heck and research the heck out of each one of them. You can't come across as polished, professional, prepared and enthusiastic for 20 different jobs - you just CAN’T. Try 5-7 serious applications, then if you get a rejection from one, you can substitute in a replacement.

Karen said...

I may spend most of my blog-time telling people what not to do in an interview, but I know good advice when I see it. And the above is great advice for any career seeker, not just design professionals.

I would add that from my experience interviewing creatives, they need to actively avoid giving long rambling answers. Keeping answers short and to the point and providing specific examples of accomplishments is always the best approach.

Serge said...

These tips would definitely be useful for people who are usually out, taking job interviews hoping to land a great job. One other point that I'd like to add is that these people shouldn't answer DiSC profiles just to provide a faux pleasing personality, they should answer this honestly since this would also show in their face-to-face interview.