JournalSep 2014

Hey, designer. Want to get hired?

When I started out as a freelance designer, I poured so much time into building the best portfolio site I could. And that time wasn’t wasted–in going through about 5 iterations, I definitely improved as a designer, and in my frontend skills.

When I was first trying to attract clients, I remember reading business books about how to attract leads and find better ways to communicate what I could do. That perfect tagline that summed up what I could do in just the right way, and would instantly convince clients that I was the one they wanted to hire.

No doubt these things are important–there’s no getting away from it. I sometimes get emails from designers who don’t even have an online presence–it’s a complete deal-breaker, for me. How can I take you seriously as a designer, when the only thing you’re sending me is a text email, and your CV as a PDF. Are you really saying that email is the best medium for communicating what you’re best at (as a web designer, in particular)?

There’s one thing that I think a lot of people don’t realise–I certainly didn’t, at the time. When someone more experienced is looking to hire a designer, the end-product–the pixels–are simply not what they’re making their decision on. Sure, you need to have a visually solid portfolio. But what I’m really looking to see, is how you think and how you get to that final point.

A bunch of Dribbble screenshots don’t tell me anything about how smart a designer you are. Nor do they tell me about your personality and the way you think. What does that, is a blog. Even if you’re a non-native English speaker who’s looking to attract, English clients, and are worried about the quality of your written English, it’s still massively valuable.

Writing a blog forces you to think deeper about what you’re writing about, and is also hugely revealing of your personality. When I hire people, I’m not looking for someone who’s perfect–the most valuable attribute for me, is whether someone is looking to learn and grow, and take initiative. And that comes across when they’re blogging about their experiences, and what they’re working on. I want to hire people who’ll fit in with our team, and who I’ll enjoy working with.

When you’re a freelancer, your clients are just the same. Given the choice of working with someone we get along with, over someone who’s technically more talented, but is harder to work with, we’ll almost always opt for the first option. You’d be amazed at how ‘compatibility’ gives you such a big boost.

I think this quote about hiring from Phil Libin, who’s the founder and CEO of Evernote, absolutely nails it:

“I find that you can tell a lot more about a person’s personality from a few paragraphs of their writing than from a lengthy verbal interview. Many people can pretend to be something they’re not in person, but very few people can do so in writing.”

So, don’t just post screenshots in your portfolio, and shots on Dribbble. Without the words to sit alongside them, they’re useless. And even better, start a blog, and get writing!

For more tips, read on for Part 2 in this series.

Posted by
Jon Lay

Jon is a Partner at Hanno. He wears many hats, but his primary focus is on leading our engineering and technical operations.