Recently, I posted a pair of job listings, one for a web developer, the other for a design intern. Out of the submissions I received, some were denied based on grammar (I was floored to see such obvious mistakes), others based on their portfolio (which lacked professionalism and design treatment). So which applicants impressed me? The ones with a strong sense of professional branding and enthusiastic cover letters. Employers seek out people who will go the extra mile, are excited at the possibility of working for them, and are eager to excel. You may already feel this way, but you need to be able to convey your enthusiasm, and since you cannot meet them in person immediately, your energy must shine through in the materials you present.
Experience is one thing, but if you are just starting out you will need to focus more on your strengths. Presentation is incredibly important. If you have not already done so, you will need to create your letterhead, envelopes, CDs or optional printed materials demonstrating your work, and a Web site. The Web site is an absolute must have, even if it is something fairly simple. However, it must be well designed and creative. A great web site is where you will have them hooked. “You had me at the splash page!”
Dazzle Them With Your Pen
So you’ve got your look, now you need to express yourself through the written word. Be descriptive, concise, and engaging. Do not just write a cover letter that says, “I am interested in the position at your company. Thank you for taking the time to review my resume and portfolio.” …….Zzzzz, what? Sorry, I dozed off for a minute. That is the most cookie cutter and lackluster of efforts you can put forth. Your goal is to stand out from the crowd, and a cover letter like that won’t get you there. This is your chance to show a little of your personality and why you are dying to get the job. Example:
“I am an energetic and eager designer excited by the possibility of joining your team. I pride myself on my creative energy, professionalism and experience. I am thoroughly impressed by the caliber of work produced by your company and I look forward to the chance to collaborate and learn from your team of excellent designers. I hope to have the opportunity to meet with you in the near future.”
Let them know you think they are awesome. (Flattery never hurts, just don’t go overboard.)
Think a resume has to be cut and dry? You are applying for a creative job, so it stands to reason that the person doing the hiring is similarly imaginative, showcase your innovative personality. I learned a very valuable lesson from my best friend—who happens to be a marketing manager for a company that grosses over $90 million—that helped me get results when I was job hunting. Do not just list where, when, and how long you worked somewhere. Describe what you learned or accomplished while you were there. For example, I interned for a freelance designer for about a year in Baltimore. Okay, that’s nice, but it doesn’t say much about me. But, if in addition to that I mention I worked with him on print materials for the NAACP National Convention, and that I helped with the installation of the African American Heritage Festival art exhibit, I have immediately caught the hiring party’s interest. Maybe where you worked there were not are any big name clients, but if you handled or worked on a team that designed a brochure which was printed and mailed to 20,000 people that is still quite impressive. Maybe you came up with a visual system for a catalog, presented work to clients, or handled the production of files? Let people know! If you’re not a writer, then get someone to help you. I did. And no matter what, always find someone who has a strong grasp of grammar, spelling, and punctuation to proofread your writing!
Most often you have a few options on how to contact the potential employer, either by email, phone, or mail. If you really want the job, then attack them from all angles. Make sure they know you are there. First send it off via email. Include your cover letter in the body of the email as well as an attachment, along with your resume, and a link to your Web site, or attach a PDF of design examples (keep it under 4MB). Once that has been sent, stick your resume and cover letter in the mail with some printed examples and a Post-It note saying something like, “I have submitted my resume by email, but I have sent this so that you may see some of my printed work in person.” A week later, give them a follow up call to make sure they received your materials and if there is any other information you need to provide for them. Making an effort impresses, but do not go overboard and start stalking them. One polite phone call will do. They will contact you if they really want to, and after you have taken all this initiative how could they not? Basically, you have to sell yourself. Wrap yourself up in a nice package, include all the pertinent facts, and get it into the hands of the right people. Especially, if you are just starting out. Good luck!