Last time around, I wrote about how, when I’m looking at hiring designers, I always look beyond the screenshots and portfolio visuals they’ve put together and look to see what their personality and attitude is like.

Now, I’m not the hiring manager at an organisation that’s hiring tens of designers every month–when you’re in that position, your approach (and the people you’re on the lookout for) is a little different. People are going to disagree with what I’m saying here, particularly if they’re hiring designers for the oil and gas industry or something like that. But for smaller companies and startups, this is the way we work.

When I hire, I’m not looking for rockstar designers or gurus–that self-proclaimed Picasso of CSS is distinctly unappealing.

Instead, I’m looking for people who are going to join our team and make it stronger. The way you communicate is a critical part of that. But that doesn’t mean that words can replace a decent portfolio all by themselves.

First things first: your CV puts me to sleep

Seriously, can we stop this ‘thing’ where designers send their CV as a PDF, and consider that to be a solid application for a position? I know what it’s like to put together a CV–you want to list all the skills you’ve got in your toolbelt, and you don’t want to leave anything out. Every extra thing you can list will make you look stronger, right?

Yeah… that’s not quite right. I honestly don’t think there has ever been a more infuriating bullet point than this one:

“• Proficient in Microsoft Office”

Who are you trying to kid here? I’m not representing the HR department of a law firm. And even if I was, I would be sick to death of people sending me CVs describing their proficiency in Microsoft Office. Look–if you’re telling me you’re an experienced Photoshop user and are comfortable working with Git, I don’t need to be told that you’re capable of typing words into a Word doc, saving those words, and perhaps using the “Print” function.

Pet peeve aside, sending a dull and corporate CV (even if you’ve done some design work to make the layout look a bit better) is just not the right approach when you’re trying to get yourself hired by a startup or a small team. Here’s an example:

2008-2009 Small City Design College – Diploma in Digital Design

2009-2011 Random University – BA in Visual Communications

2011-2012 Random University – Masters in Visual Communications

2010-2011 Random Company LLC Web design, illustration, client communication

2011-2012 Another Indistinguishable Corporation
Writing, designing stuff


That list takes up at least 12 lines, and honestly, tells me nothing helpful about your journey so far, nor what you’ve actually learned in that time.

Take a look at Allison House–I know she’s a very experienced designer and has a lot of experience that she can share, but she still nails it with her about page. It’s infinitely more revealing than a dull CV, and gives a plain-English walkthrough of what she’s done in her career so far. Even if you can’t say you’ve worked at companies like Dropbox, Codecademy and Treehouse, a description of what you actually did in each job is a whole heap more helpful than just listing an obscure company name and expecting the person doing the hiring to look it up. Tell a story to get this information across–I hired several people who did this. Here’s one, and here’s another.

Please stop applying for jobs as a web designer when you don’t have a website

If you’re a logo designer or illustrator and don’t have a portfolio website, I’d say that’s a negative, but not a dealbreaker. You can just about get by with Dribbble and Behance.

But if you’re emailing me to ask if I’m looking for a web designer and you don’t have a website, that creates a horrendous first impression. It’s not hard to get one up nowadays. It doesn’t even need to cost you anything. GitHub has a complete step-by-step guide that’ll walk you through setting up with free hosting–it takes about 15 minutes from start to finish.

Honestly, even a Squarespace site is not ideal, but at least it’s better than nothing.

Please don’t take this the wrong way

Let’s get this straight–I’m not advocating building a crazy, customised job application site like this one. Don’t get me wrong: they can definitely work. If you have a very thin portfolio and desperately want to improve your chances of getting a position, it might be worth doing something like this.

But spending days building one for a specific job isn’t something I think is fair for a company to demand, and I don’t think it’s necessary if you already have good work out there that you can share.

But you need to have something to share. If you don’t, then don’t blame other people when your job application emails are getting turned down. Sending an email with your CV and asking if someone is hiring, just isn’t going to cut it anymore.