I don’t really want to go into too much detail, but my life took an unexpected turn and I haven’t been able to transfer into a 4 year college. I only have an AA degree but I’ve taken loads of random classes and also have a couple of certificates. I’ve been working at a completely unrelated job for the last 6 years but have been doing quite a bit of freelance work on the side and even more personal art/illustrations. I think over the years I’ve built up a pretty good and diverse portfolio, even though a lot of it is from personal projects. I spend just about all of my free time working on some kind of design project.
Anyway, I want to start looking for an actual design job and was hoping to get some tips on getting an interview. Also, I’m not sure what to do about my resume since I’ve never actually worked as a full-time designer. Like I said, all the paid design work I’ve done has been random freelance stuff whenever I could find it. I feel like my portfolio is pretty good at least, but I did spend a lot of time and effort on it. I figured it should be top-notch if I didn’t have a degree so I’m really hoping that’s the important thing. Anyway, I would really appreciate any tips.
Your position is unusual but not that unusual, and you’re lucky that, more than in other trades, good design recruiters are usually more interested in the quality of your portfolio and what it shows of your aesthetic sense, creativity and ability to meet a brief than they are in doing a box-ticking exercise on your resume. (but not all recruiters are good recruiters…)
It varies by recruiting conventions from country to country, but I’ve seen a lot of people here in the UK in your situation do something like this:
- Link to your online portfolio prominently, at the top of both CV/resume, and introduction/covering letter/personal statement or whatever it is that goes with the CV/resume. Ask them to look at it.
- Have a short easy to type URL as well as a live link because often, they’re going through a stack of printed papers.
- Consider linking to something like a Behance or Dribble profile before a link to your own site because if your own site is being slow to load today, a frustrated reviewer with a big stack of applications might use your unconventional background as an excuse to put you in the ‘No’ pile rather than sit and wait.
Have a detailed entry for something like ‘Freelance designer (part-time)’ as the most recent prime job in the work section of their resume, dating from the present day back as long as you’ve been doing freelance work (this will overlap your other jobs, but ‘Part-time’ should make it clear why this is). This should be by far the most detailed work entry on your CV/resume:
- Include a list of clients (or, what industries your clients were from). This is important: it’s what shows you weren’t just playing around or just doing odds and ends for friends.
- Detail the range of types of work, skills used and developed, what deliverables you produced, etc.
- (It’s probably better to be honest that it was part-time, rather than risk giving a misleading impression then be shown up in an interview!)
- Do include your other non-design jobs, below the ‘Freelance designer’ job, but give the bare minimum on these: job title, employer, dates. If you worked as an accountancy assistant and go off on one about how great you were as an accountants assistant, the reviewer is more likely to think “Not a designer, rejected”.
- In the education section, if you’ve done any design courses at all, mention them as the most recent item (assuming they are…). Again, even if they’re a bit weak, it makes it clear you consider this to be your career and your focus – that you’re a budding designer, not a desperate non-designer who’s applying to every job they see. I once saw a design CV where the designer had a non-design degree, and above it, something like “Self-managed design training, lynda.com”. I laughed, but didn’t count it against them because their portfolio was good; and my non-design colleague who was ticking off against a fixed matrix ticked the ‘design knowledge’ box based on this. Something is always better than nothing.
- When you write a covering letter (or whatever your local equivalent is – the introducing bit), write it as a budding part-time designer looking to go full time (assuming that is an accurate description of what you are). There’s no need to mention your other work: it’s all on your resume and it’s not how you – a budding designer – identify yourself or your career.
But do bare in mind that conventions vary from region to region.
Finally, be aware of your weaknesses and allay your recruiters’ worries. There WILL be gaps in your knowledge – print production, typography, composition and grids, colour spaces and theory, and formats e.g. resolution and vector/raster are some common ones. You will need to make it clear that a) you understand all the core basics relevant to this position and b) you are actively learning – so that if a gap in knowledge does come up, your recruiter knows you’ll go and educate yourself without being a burden to colleagues.