I’ve been a part of the hiring process for positions in the creative department at several ad agencies and in-house design departments over the years. I’ve seen a lot of creative resumés and portfolio books, and even more that never made the cut – but it wasn’t because they lacked talent.

The vast majority of the applicants made grave mistakes when it comes to their potential of getting hired. The bulk of the mistakes are simple, and obvious when you think about it.

Successful job interview

Selling yourself correctly results in a winning resumé and portfolio

The Resumé

Because we’re talking about a creative position, your resumé has the luxury of being creative. Take advantage of it. The first thing I do to weed-out resumés is throw away every last one that contains an “objective” paragraph on it. It’s a waste of space. I Know what your objective is, it’s to get the job we’re offering – otherwise you wouldn’t be applying for it, right? Having an objective graph on your resumé tells me you aren’t very creative, and probably used a template.

The next thing I look at is the individual job titles you’ve listed, and the type of information you’ve provided under each one. I know what an art director does, I don’t need you to list 25 typical tasks that EVERY art director does. Instead, use that space to share some successes, or out-of-the-ordinary situation you were a part of. Also consider sharing awards you’ve won in that space.

Job InterviewI’m hiring a person not a resumé, so share a few personal things about yourself. You might be applying for a production artist position, but I would certainly be interested if you’re a fairly accomplished writer, or that you’ve got some impressive photography work under your belt. In fact, consider sharing an article you’ve written or a few of those photos. Don’t be afraid to throw in a little humor into your resumé either – it’s another way to share your personality.

Know What You’re Applying For

Production Artists: I don’t care about that logo you designed, or those awesome ad campaigns you supposedly came up with the idea for. I really don’t. I’m looking for an accomplished production artist who knows the Adobe Creative Suite like the back of his/her hands, and someone with a deep knowledge of the commercial printing process. I still want to see your portfolio, but please spare me your beautifully designed logos and websites. Instead, show me a particularly complex pamphlet or brochure you were responsible for. Share a story about how you used your knowledge of software and processes to solve a difficult problem.

Designers: Designers at an ad agency typically aren’t the ones who come up with the concept for a campaign. So show me the original brochure the Art Director came up with, and how you turned it into posters, outdoor boards, floor graphics, print ads, and web banners. I want to know that you can take a concept and apply it to any medium. I can’t stand when I see a Designer’s portfolio filled with one-off designs. Show me three or four pieces of the same campaign concept. It’s also quite helpful if I know you have a production background, so share your knowledge of software and printing processes.

Art Directors: Despite the fact that you ultimately are responsible for creating beautiful ads, that’s not really what a Creative Director is hiring you to do. Your job is to come up with creative ways to communicate an idea. In short, we want you for your brain. Make sure the person viewing your portfolio can clearly see the message you’re trying to convey. Show-off the original concepts along with the final piece. In fact, if you have concepts that were never accepted by the client, feel free to show them off too. Whatever you do, don’t waste your time telling me about all the software you’re an expert at using – we have Designers and Production Artists to handle all that stuff anyway.

Of course every position is different, and many want-ads ask for specific things that you’ll have to address. But you’ll be doing yourself a favor by sharing as much about yourself as possible on your resumé without overcrowding it.

And when you get that interview, make sure you’re showing only your very best work. I recommend no more than six pieces – that way you leave yourself time to talk about each piece. And finally, keep in mind that you may be interviewing with more than one person, and it may not be in a conference room with plenty of table space (heck, I’ve done interviews outside on the office balcony). If you have a laptop or iPad, you may want to use that instead of the standard oversized portfolio book, or even smaller individual presentation boards with your work mounted on them.