Why You Can't Get a Job: 5 Reasons Employers Are Passing Up Graphic Designers and Their Portfolios
What’s more important than getting a job? We can’t think of many things more critical and you probably can’t either. Knowing how competitive the graphic design industry is, you’ve done everything you can to gain the advantage and be on the cutting edge, and yet no one bites.
Don’t let yourself get discouraged. Instead, take a step back and look at these five big reasons why you might be getting passed up, and learn what you can do to put your best foot forward, make sure you have the best portfolio, and land the dream job you’ve always wanted.
Themed vs. Conceptual Personal Identities
When you’re creating a design portfolio, it’s important to emphasize your personal brand or identity, however there are some major pitfalls you can stumble into when trying to do this. Is your brand somehow involving an arbitrary theme? There’s a major distinction between a brand and a theme.
A theme could be described as, "My portfolio has a bubbles theme because I like bubbles." All of your type for the headers, descriptions and any other materials you have center around this idea for bubbles. Steer clear of themes, because they come off as gimmicky.
A conceptual personal identity, when done right, isn't gimmicky. It says something about you and your design choices but doesn’t overshadow the work you are presenting. When a potential employer sees you chose an arbitrary theme to present your work, they may think it’s a reflection of how you solve design problems: choosing something that is cool or trendy but not based in the actual idea that you are communicating.
Now that being said, some brands can also fall into the theme category and work very well. For it to work well, it must relate to you, and distinguish you from the crowd. If you can’t say with certainty that it’s an idea they’ve never seen before, it’s better to scale it back than go overboard on something that could be a repellent.
Presentation of Yourself and Your Work
Have you been putting work in your portfolio because you like it, but you really haven’t put that last 10% of polish on the back-end? You know your font is a little too bold or there is too much tension in your design, but you place it in your portfolio anyway and roll the dice. It’s so much better to have five solid pieces you have fully developed and polished, rather than seven pieces that are all pretty close.
By narrowing your portfolio down to your best and most polished pieces, it communicates to employers that you have a critical eye and are not married to your work. Everyone knows you have made a lot of stuff, but it is the discerning designer who only shows the most quality pieces.
As far as presenting yourself, this is actually a little more tricky in the graphic design field. You always hear the term “dress for success” and “when in doubt, overdress.” However, if you wear something that is way too nice, you could run the risk of being perceived as not fitting into what may be a laid back culture. Even for these types of environments, business casual is appropriate.
The best way to gauge how you should dress for your interview is to find pictures on the company's website of employees at work. Then, simply dress one step above that. It's a good rule of thumb if you have fashion challenges.
You're Overly Defensive of Your Work
If you find yourself in the stage of the interview process where you’re being asked to explain the work and you find yourself being critiqued, by all means give a rational and concise explanation of your solution. You begin to get into dangerous territory when they express ideas that contradict your own, and you continue to dogmatically defend your position. Make your case and then respectfully accept criticism to show that when you’re hired you will continue your habit of playing well with others and not take criticism personally.
Design schools differ in their approach of how much to teach students to defend their work, but one thing is certain. No one wants to work with someone who can’t handle an honest opinion.
You’re Showing the Wrong Work
This goes for pretty much any artistic field. Show the work that applies to the job you want. If you want a motion design job, don’t show all the web work you’ve done unless they ask. You want to show the pieces that are relevant to the work you’ll be doing first. It’s great to have someone who’s versatile, but first focus on what they’re hopefully hiring you to do. This is a great reason to have a website for a portfolio because you can categorize things, and then direct them to those areas.
You Made Your Website but You're Not a Web Developer
There are a lot of designers out there who feel like they need to design and build their own portfolio site. This is simply not true. Everyone hates to navigate a poorly designed and cumbersomely coded site.
Unless you’re applying for a job that’ll require you to design and develop, leave this aspect of the portfolio to the professionals. It’s much better to have your beautiful work hosted on a portfolio site than have its impact impaired by the website you made yourself. There are a lot of options out there at different price ranges, but it’s a small price to pay considering that it’s how you may end up with a paycheck.
There are many other reasons that you may have trouble finding a job, but these are some basics to cover before you start rethinking everything. For more ways to build a portfolio that will take your career to the next level, be sure to check out our portfolio dos and don’ts. Don't have the right work to show off yet? Learn how to create stunning work with graphic design tutorials.