Checklist Your Way to A Dream Creative Job

Words by Pip Jamieson

Photo Credit: Camille Walala, Graphic Artist
The scary thing about our industry is that while there are more creative jobs than ever before the competition is fierce. Since I started professional creative community The Dots, incredibly talented juniors are always asking me for tips on how to get that all-important foot in the door.
To be honest, there is no single thing that will land you that dream job. But after compiling tips from creative directors, artists, agencies, recruiters, and industry bodies, I now firmly believe there is a combination of steps you can take, a secret sauce in a way, that if you take can guarantee you league's ahead of others vying for the same job.
If you’re a student in your final year, or a recent graduate looking for that elusive ‘first job’, before you even start sending out applications it’s best to get all your ducks in a row.
Make sure you allocate enough time to work on your portfolio, cover letter, website, profile on The Dots, and identity, as this is a massive project in itself, but I guarantee it will set you up for life.
1. Work on Personal Projects
This quote has really stuck with me:

“If your portfolio reflects nothing personal, then it might as well be someone else's”.

All the Creative Directors we’ve worked with have been massive fans of portfolios that include self-initiated personal projects. In the end, these CDs review hundreds of portfolios, and if they only include responses to university briefs, they start looking a bit samey. Including personal projects in your portfolio will not only help your portfolio stand out, but will show that you’re a self-starter who’s passionate about design. Below are some top tips on how to get the ball rolling on personal projects:
  • Create a Personal Identity: Let’s face it, your own brand is the most valuable brand you’ll ever work on and one of the only projects you’ll have complete creative license over.
  • Do an Internship: Internships are an amazing opportunity to get real-world experience, build up your portfolio of work and make contacts that can last a lifetime. If you are at university, ask if they have an internship programme. If they don’t, lobby for one! Also, more and more job boards have internship roles appearing. Obviously I’d recommend The Dots but hey, I’m biased. There are loads more out there, just Google “Internships” and take your pick. As long as they’re paid and well structured, internships are an amazing opportunity to get real-world experience and build up portfolio of work.
  • Enter Competitions: Competition pieces are a step above student work. If you don’t win at least you have some great content for your portfolio. If you do win, it’s an amazing way to get your work and name out there. Fantastic competitions include D&AD New Blood and Young Cannes Lions & Design Council Ones To Watch. But there are loads more, just check The Dots for updates.
  • Ask a senior creative for a Brief: Contacting a senior creative who inspires you and asking them for a brief is not only an amazing way to challenge yourself creatively, but if the CD likes your response they may even offer you a job.
  • Help out a Friend or Family Member: Friends and family always need creative services, be it designing their wedding or party invites, an identity for their business, a new website, some copywriting, social marketing tips, etc. You’ll not only get fresh content for your portfolio and resume, but also win major brownie points in the process.
  • Collaborate: Find a group of friends you love working with and start collaborating. Come up with your own passion project — be it an exhibition, a zine, a pop-up store, a product range, an installation, hosting a creative event — whatever goes really. It’s a great way to show potential employers that you are self-starting, with a true passion for creativity.
Photo Credit: Jack Woodhouse
2. Get your portfolio ship shape
A well-crafted portfolio is a gateway to opportunities. Essentially it’s your calling card. The better the portfolio, the juicer the role.
  • Keep Project & Brief Notes: A well-written case study that allows companies to understand your thinking behind the project is a really important component of your portfolio, since you’re not always present to explain.
  • Revisit Old Student Briefs: Revisit old student briefs you enjoyed working on, but could have done better. Spruce them up with your newfound knowledge and feedback from your lecturers and friends. Employers will never know it’s your second cut.
  • Cull, Cull, Cull: Don’t worry if your portfolio isn’t bursting at the seams. While it might be tempting to add filler content, less is actually more. Remember the average quality of your portfolio is brought down by your worst projects, so culling your portfolio back to your best projects only is definitely the way to go. Less is more — or as we like to say in the office ‘all killer, no filler’.
  • Give Credit Where Credit is Due: If you’ve collaborated on a project, it’s great practice to credit those you worked with — it’s not only the right thing to do, but it also gives more credibility to your own portfolio. In the end, there is nothing worse than being caught out claiming full credit for a project that an employer then discovers is not wholly your own work.
  • Get Your Work Professionally Shot: A beautifully shot portfolio will enhance your work. However, if you’re not a dab hand with the camera, don’t worry. The great thing about The Dots (shameless plug) is that amazing photographers are only a click away.
  • Include a Resumé: In many of the larger companies, it’s Human Resource Managers who will do the first cull of portfolio, not someone within the creative department. So, even if your work is incredible, you might not make the shortlist unless you give them a feel for your background and experience, including where you went to university, your skills, past employers and clients.
  • Attend A Portfolio Masterclass: Sometimes it’s hard to take an impartial view on what should and shouldn’t be in your portfolio. That’s why we host Portfolio Masterclasses, as they’re a great opportunity to get your portfolio reviewed by leading creatives. Find out about the next class by following this page.
Photo Credit: Will Barras, Illustrator
3. Promote Yourself!
Now you’ve got an amazing portfolio raring to go, it’s time to get busy promoting yourself.
  • Submit your work to blogs & publications: Getting featured on blogs and in publications (such as Creative Review & It’s Nice That) is an incredibly powerful way to build recognition.
  • Create business cards: Now you’ve got an identify up and running, design and print some personal business cards to hand out at graduation shows, conferences, events, and interviews.
  • Create a physical portfolio: Things are totally moving online, but the more traditional employers still want the tactile experience of viewing a physical portfolio at interviews. When it comes to printing your portfolio, every senior creative I’ve worked with has had a firm opinion on design — keep it simple — your work should be given centre stage.
  • Create a website: Get a website up and a domain name. The best domain names include your full name. Unless you’re a dab hand at coding, don’t worry about building your own website. Simply use a website building tool. My favourite is SquareSpace, which is really easy to use and customize.
Create a free profile on The Dots: This really is the best way to get your portfolio of work online and in front of the best collaborators, jobs, companies and clients. Over 3,500 + companies use the site to connect with new creative minds, including TATE, V&A, Frieze, Designers Block, Vice, Spotify, AKQA, Sony Music, Penguin, Pentagram, BBC, Net-a-Porter, Wolff Olins, Universal Music, Random International, Condé Nast, Adidas, Soho House, MTV, Twitter, W+K to name a few.
Photo Credit: Cydney Holm, Photographer
4. Network your socks off
The contacts you make as a junior can last a lifetime. Immerse yourself in creative events e.g. gallery openings, exhibitions, workshops, talks, networking events etc. They’re not only great for inspiration, but also a fantastic opportunity to network.
Great ones include:
It's Nice That - 'Here'
Nicer Tuesdays
D&AD Events
The Dots Portfolio Masterclasses
...but there are heaps more, just check for updates on The Dots.
Photo Credit: Jack Woodhouse, Photographer
5. The all important cover letter
Cover letters are a pain, but can make all the difference.
  • Create a template: before you graduate I’d get a really great template together that is easy to customise.
  • Make it relevant: in each cover letter include a section where you talk about the role and why you’d be perfect for it.
  • Praise the company: every employer wants to hire people that are passionate about their work and brand. So take a couple of lines to reflect on how amazing their company is and why you’d love to work for them.
  • Design it: 95% of cover letters are written, usually on a really boring word doc. If you want to stand out from the crowd a well-designed letter, including your personal identity, will put you leagues ahead.
  • Keep it short: employers are time poor and with hundreds of applications hitting their inbox, so you need to keep your cover letters short and sweet. A good rule of thumb is to time yourself reading the letter; if it takes over a minute to read, edit it back.
Don’t forget your contact details: I can’t tell you how many amazing covers letters I’ve received that forget to add contact details. So make sure you include your name, email address, website URL and link to your profile on The Dots. Employers need to know how to find you.
Photo credit: Airbnb
6. Take a break
So, now you’ve got all your waterfowl in a queue; a kickass portfolio, resume, cover letter, a profile on The Dots, a website and a couple of internships under your belt, what’s next?
  • Take a break: You’ve got the rest of your life to work, so enjoy your last days of complete freedom. See friends, party, travel, volunteer, chill — whatever floats your boat, you’ve earned it. It’s also great preparation for that all-important first gig, as you’ll have got all the restlessness out of your system so you’ll be ready to throw yourself into your career.
  • Check your emails: Make sure you quickly check your email at least three times a week. There would be nothing worse than coming back from an amazing break and finding you’d missed out on that dream job offer.
7. Time to land that dream job — apply for roles.
  • Keep in touch with your lecturers and careers advisors from university: Many creative companies ask universities for advice on their star performers, so keeping in touch will ensure you’re first in mind.
  • Research companies and hit them up direct: Research companies you’d love to work for and drop them a line directly to see if they have any roles going.
  • Keep interning: Unless you’re one of those lucky graduates who lands a job straight out of university, keep interning while searching for jobs. You’ll keep your skills fresh and, if you make a good enough impression, the internship could evolve into a full-time gig.
  • Get Creative: Two candidates I know landed jobs at a leading agency by holding the domain names of the the top creative directors to ransom in return for a meeting with them. They then showed up at a number of agencies, with a camera and wearing balaclavas to present their portfolio. And while I’m not advocating trying the same stunt (it’s been done so don’t go there) it does prove that coming up with a unique & innovative way to get in-front of a company can work.
  • Set up job alerts & apply: Hit up jobs boards — like the one on The Dots — and set up job alerts and start applying.
  • Pay attention to the details when applying for jobs: It’s really important to read job descriptions carefully and check if an employer has, for example, specified what type of portfolio they want to see. If an employer has asked to see an online portfolio, make sure that’s what you send, and not a PDF or Word document.
  • Personalize your application: When you apply for jobs, make sure you direct your application to the right person, don’t just address it “Dear Sir/Madam”. If you’re not sure who the right person is simply call the company and check, they won’t mind.
  • Don’t forget to include your cover letter: Re-engage with contacts. Email past contacts you made while interning, at events, at conferences etc. Let them know you’ve recently graduated and ask if they’ve heard of any great roles going.
Photo Credit: TATE
8. Time to land that dream job — prepare for interview
Spending time preparing for interviews will not only improve your chances of landing the job but will also reduce the nervous energy that builds up before an interview.
  • Swot up on the company: Before interviews, research the company. Who are their clients? What are their areas of expertise? The more you know about the company, the more the company will believe you really want to work there.
  • Prepare questions: Prepare some questions to ask at your interview. Employers will invariably ask if you have any questions during the interview, getting a blank response simply shows you’re just not that interested.
  • Know your audience and plan your wardrobe accordingly: Before you rock up for an interview get a feel for what kind of environment they work in; formal or informal. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than rocking up for an interview in a suit if the person interviewing you is in jeans, and vice versa.
  • Prepare physical examples of your work to bring to the interview: During an interview if you’re showing a print piece in your portfolio, studios like it if you bring a copy of the actual piece with you, as it gives them something tactile to relate to.
  • Write a script about each project: Communication in an interview is key. Employers don’t want to just see your project, they want to understand your thinking behind it. A top tip is to draft a script explaining each project ahead of time, which you can read just before an interview to refresh your memory. It will take the pressure off big time.

9. Time to land that dream job — interview time
  • Leave a calling card: An employer may see as many as eight people in a day while interviewing, so all too often who they’ve interviewed tends to blur. Leaving behind a calling card is a great way to refresh an interviewer’s mind when they come to reviewing candidates; be it a business card (MOO do great ones), a piece of your work — or the wonderful Jeremy Wortsman from The Jacky Winter Group has gone as far as to say he’d hire anyone who brings him muffins. Magic!
  • Follow up straight after: When you get home after the interview drop the person that interviewed you a note to say how lovely it was to meet them; it’s a nice touch that shows you’re not only passionate about the role but also efficient and professional.
  • Ask for feedback: If you didn’t get the job, spin it to your advantage and ask for feedback. It will help you better prepare for the next big interview.
  • Be passionate and let your personality shine: Something I hear time and time again from companies is that they see lots of great creative graduates, but not that many great people. In the end companies are looking for creatives that will work well in their organisation, so if you’re not friendly, passionate and personable they’ll simply hire someone else. Oh, and always wear a smile.
  • Be humble: Don’t say you’re great; say you want to be a great. Employers are looking for team players that they can mould, not people who think they know it all. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, if they get a feeling you’re going to be a pain in the ass, they won’t hire you.
Photo Credit: Jack Woodhouse, Photographer
10. That first gig!
So you’ve landed that all-important first job, but that’s not a reason to take your foot off the gas. Quite the reverse in fact. First jobs are invariably not all you dreamt of; essentially you’re doing the donkey work that no one else wants to do. But work hard, be professional and soak up as much as you can and you’ll be promoted before you know it.
  • Continuous learning: The world is changing and changing fast. So keep up to date on industry trends and tools, these days none of us can afford to stop learning.
  • Find a mentor: Identify which person in the office you aspire to be like in 5 years and ask them to be a mentor; they’ll be honored and you’ll get someone to lean on if you need it.
  • Make yourself indispensable: Take on every task with open arms and ask for more if you have down time.
  • Be a sponge: You’re there to learn, so lap it up.
  • Be lovely to everyone: Unfortunately not everyone out there is nice, but don’t make enemies, they can last a lifetime.
  • Take it on the chin and get on with it: You’re not going to love all of the tasks that are given to you. Unfortunately that’s the reality of work, but be enthusiastic about everything, work hard, and always wear a smile. The more you jump to every task, the more you’ll get to work on the fun stuff.
  • Be part of the conversation: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talent only takes you so far, being passionate and a real contributor will take you the whole nine yards. There’s always a fine line between passion and arrogance, so learn to get a feel for how people react to your suggestions and adjust accordingly.
  • Work your socks off: It’s a simple equation — the harder you work, the faster you’ll get promoted.
  • Ask for feedback: The more you ask for feedback, even if it’s negative, the faster you’ll grow as a designer. If you come to work every day with a big smile on your face, work hard, seem genuinely eager to learn and make yourself indispensible your boss will be more inclined to help you get to that next level.
Follow your heart, as corny as this might sound, it’s one of the best pieces of advice we can share. Life is too short to not do what you love.
Photo Credit: Jack Woodhouse, Photographer (Location = Karmarama)