Qualifying for a job is not enough. You will compete with other people, and whoever interviews you certainly has her/his preferences about the type of person they’re after, not to mention they are probably looking for a set of skills the team either needs or that complements them.
Dwelling, however, on what’s not in your control, is pointless. So let’s focus on what’s up to you.
The first and more obvious step is to work on yourself. Polish your visual skills, learn to code maybe? Depending on where you want to go, you should choose what to learn or improve next. All these things take some time though, as you have to practice, polish, learn and repeat.
Something that doesn’t take much time though (and can make a big difference) is working on your presentation skills. To that end, here are some ideas for doing just that, many of which have been contributed by some very smart people.
1. Before diving in...
…my advice is to get these things right:
- Show the work you want to get hired for: if you want to work designing for print, show that.
- An effective portfolio should get people to look at your work and contact you and/or easily. (Tip from Christian Manzella).
- Have your work in order and files, resources, and artifacts at hand, with images big enough to show the details. (Tip from Christian Hagel).
2. Plan your message
This is what you want to tell them: Who are you? What are your strengths, what do you like? What’s your story?
And throughout your presentation, you should definitely use PEE: Point, evidence, explanation. Like so:
I have strong visual skills. Here is a logo I did for company ABCD. I used these colors and shapes to properly portray their strong influence of organic and natural ingredients…etc.
And a pro-tip from Stephen N. Crowley: “Don’t say you are passionate about design…show it!”
3. Plan the structure of your message (the slides!)
Nothing conveys a message better than…a story! And what better way to acomplish this than to storytell. A great resource I always recommend is Nancy Duarte’s Ted talk: The secret structure of great talks.
Your best bet might be to split your presentation into 2 parts: first an intro about you and then your 2–4 best projects.
For your intro, mention who you are, your strengths, etc. Basically, you point (P from PEE) what you’re good at.
After that, present between 2 to 4 projects. You want depth. You want to take them on a journey that helps them get to know you and understand the way you think with each project, rather than just show finished work (a big difference there). Here’s where you present evidence for your strengths mentioned earlier and explain (EE from PEE) how you applied them.
Stephen N. Crowley gave me some pretty concise advice on how to tell each project’s story:
Tell a story when presenting.
For the beginning: Identify the problem or conflict. Who are the characters? What is the setting? What was your part in this?
The middle: How did you go about trying to solve it, what was your process? What did you do? Did you test it?
The end: What was the outcome? Were you wrong or right? What would you do differently?
Being wrong is absolutely fine as long as you reflect on what went wrong and if given the chance what would you do to make it right?
Make sure you’re addressing the challenges that you were taking on. What’s the core problem(s) you were helping address on that project, and how did you tackle them?
And if any of the projects have any sort of success metrics (e.g., a landing page getting 30% more clicks than the old one), highlight those.
When thinking about each project, also keep these tips in mind:
- Christian Manzella: “Define success at the start, mention your insights throughout and show how successful you were.”
- Christian Hagel: “Did you solve a problem in a new way that shows you really deeply understood the problem? Did you put a new angle on a project? Did you do something more than just the work. This can be the tiniest piece or something huge depending on the role. It’s ok if all you did was find a way to do a small action just slightly better based on understanding users better. That’s enough. Just something great somewhere.”
- Stephen N. Crowley: “Focus on your strengths…it’s what makes you unique. Show me one thing you do really well. I prefer that over a jack of all trades.”
- Tom Carmony: “And ideally you can weave references to those strengths (which you’d cover at the top of the deck) into the project discussions. Highlighting how and where you put those strengths to use and how they helped you succeed on the various projects. That way those strengths become a narrative thread throughout the whole interview.”
4. Make your slides
With the message and the structure clear, all that’s left is to build your slides. When you do, make sure they’re helping convey your message, not distract your audience nor taking the spotlight from you. Here are a few tips.
- Keeping slides simple (not too much to read) is the way to go (tip from Tom Carmony). Try to use phrases, not sentences. * You want them looking at you, not your slides.
- If using images, stick to high quality ones. You’re as good as what they perceive of you. A good place to look: Unsplash
- Make sure you keep a consistent visual style throughout your slides.
- As a rule of thumb, avoid using animations. They can be useful, but when used sparely.
5. Practice, practice, practice
Presenting is one of those skills you need to practice to improve. When presenting, you want focus to be on your message when speaking, not you. That’s why you want everything to go as smooth as possible. No mistakes, perfect transitions from point to point, and no stops.
Practice your presentation from start to finish alone. Then present it to a friend. And then, try to set up a fake interview with a fellow designer. You can’t get too much practice! How impressed whoever is at the other end of your real job interview will literally depend on how well you present. So again…practice!
A couple of last tips:
- Ask how much time you are expected to present, so you can adjust accordingly.
- When presenting, here’s an insight from Tom Carmony: “Be prepared to pause on a slide (especially a case study), and have an extended discussion about the project being featured. You might even end up not going through the whole deck. Which is usually the sign of a good interview (one where you’ve engaged the interviewer in the details of the work you’re presenting).”