Students are taught from day one to ask good questions that, if well formed, will help to uncover the answers and insights that lead one to creative brilliance. It's one thing to show a finished project and another to clearly explain the complex process, which is sometimes more intriguing than the finished work. Principals and senior designers want to hire smart young designers who are obsessively curious, who relentlessly follow a topic to its magma-like core to discover the essence of what form it might or should take. Don't forget when hiring someone new, one always feels a bit like they are taking a bit of a chance. Demonstrating all of these qualities is key—throwing in a 90 second motion piece, for good measure to show off directorial chops, is a plus.
The reality of getting that initial appointment and, even more important, to shine on one's initial interview, is the frosting on the cupcake. Stiff competition, technology, and job markets all contribute to the pressure and challenge with landing the first job. Today, many contacts are made via an online submission or a well written, introductory letter and résumé with some promotional samples, links to a website and the follow up call. This is the pathway to nirvana for an eager design student.
What form should all this take? Here's one approach that works for first time job seekers and designers with just a year or two who want to make a leap forward. Creating a unique story is one of the first steps. Selling yourself by showing what you can do and then talking about it. At times, one gets the opportunity to talk in real time, but very often the primary filter will be just the work, with the applicant in absentia. So, a standalone visual narrative really serves on a few levels —it demonstrates the power of storytelling; the ability to problem solve and to write about it; and the talent to present the work itself in an engaging and informative editorial style. It's usually true that good designers are able to frame a problem concisely and describe attributes which lead to successful creative outcomes.
How does one go about doing all this? Everybody needs a website like Ngoc Ngo's and/or an iPad portfolio or even a mobile app (is your iPad black or white?).
Creating a 90-second video gives one the opportunity to show some motion chops too, as seen in David John Scott's Make Something Beautiful Video which he did while preparing his portfolio.
And just for the book lover that still exists in most serious designers, a beautifully crafted book that one can touch, feel and actually see the tiny type. Ah yes: typography, as well as great ideas, being the lingua franca of a well prepared graphic designer. To compliment all of the preceding items, an integrated set of business papers, including letterhead, business cards, and promotional materials in a complete package ready for mailing or viewing online, demonstrates one's attention to detail and a reverence for strong ideas and craft whether they be digital or analog, both with a healthy dose of persistent navigation.
The goal is simple: to get that dream job. Getting ready takes true grit.
*At Academy of Art University in San Francisco.