A great online portfolio is only the first important step in getting the right job or client. Conducting yourself professionally in an interview or meeting will seal the deal. This page features our tips from trenches that can help you in your design interviews.
What kinds of information should I collect prior to the meeting?
It's important to know as much as you can about the company and the industry you will be working in. Find out who the clients are, how big a company they are, and what kind of work you'll be expected to make (is this a corporate gig with lots of "logo police" involved, or will you be working in a more liberal atmosphere where you will need to generate a lot of different-looking work all the time).
If you are interviewing with a headhunter, find out what types of clients he represents and make sure your presented work reflects that focus. Most agencies are looking for individuals with specialized skills, so make sure you and your portfolio shows this.
The more that you are aware of the kind of design team a company has in place, the better you will be able to define what your role can be. A good starting place is a company Web site. Find out what makes the company tick and how you can fit in. Conveying this information during the meeting process is key. Paint them a picture of how you'd work at their company and they will have an easier time making that association as well.
What should I bring to the meeting?
Make sure you have your portfolio or "book" together. This is your virtual passport to gaining employment in the design world. It's important to have an online portfolio as well as you can email this to the client ahead of time. Be prepared to walk the interviewer through your portfolio and be able to answer any questions that might come up. Be able to explain your role in each project you worked on, the size of the team involved if you worked with others, and the effectiveness of the project meeting the client's goals. If you are interviewing for a full-time position or with an agency you should also bring two copies of your resume.
Be honest about deadlines and skills.
If you are interviewing for a freelance gig rather than a salary position it is important that you give an accurate assessment of the amount of time it will take you to complete the project. It is better to err on the side of needing too much time than not enough. Underestimating the size of the project can offset the projection completion date and end up making you and the client look bad, as well as costing the client money, as well as future employment opportunities for yourself. Be aware of your own abilities and don't oversell yourself on skills you do not possess. Don't be afraid to stretch your talents, just know your limits. Very often a client will be interested in you for your expertise as well as your ability to bring the right team of freelancers to a project so don't be afraid to "share the wealth" and suggest other colleagues whose skills will help offset yours.
What if I'm not sure how to do what it is they want me to do?
When you are meeting with a prospective client or employer make sure you are prepared to answer their questions. You will need to convince them that you have a strong assessment of the project and that you are capable of handling all of its required tasks. If there are any details you are uncertain about ask questions. If need be, make a list of tasks that you need to do research on after the meeting. Often a client will be asking you to accomplish something that might involve you using your skills in a new way. It is OK to walk away from the meeting with some outstanding issues that you will do research on. It is not uncommon for the client to want to do something without know what that "something" is. The technology of the design industry is constantly changing and what is possible is always evolving.
I'm interviewing for a full-time position. How should I discuss salary and benefits?
Your employment agent may have already discussed your salary requirements with you and your interviewer. Because of this, it is probably best to see if the interviewer brings up a salary discussion. If they don't mention salary, you shouldn't either. If the interviewer DOES ask you about your salary requirements, it's OK to give them a "range" as opposed to a set number until they are ready to make you an offer. (that is: "I would like to be making between $35K and $40K, but we can discuss it more if you feel you're ready to make me an offer.") Do NOT ask about benefit plans, vacation schedules, and so on, until a firm offer has been made. To view a recent survey of design career salaries go to http://www.designsalaries.com.
What should I charge as a freelancer?
If you are interviewing for a freelance gig it is important to know what to charge, and whether it should be on an hourly or project basis. If you are working an hourly fee you should make sure you are being adequately compensated for your time, as you do not want to devalue your abilities or those of your colleagues by lowering rates for quality work. At the same time, you do not wish to overcharge. During the Dot.Com bubble hourly rates for certain professions shot through the roof, only to come crashing down upon many a freelancer. As there are no standard rates for freelance work you should contact local freelance agencies or headhunters to find out what rates are appropriate in your area. As your experience grows you will gain a better assessment of what to charge.
Should I charge on an hourly rate or a project fee?
When deciding upon whether to charge on an hourly rate or project fee keep in mind how long the project will take you. Do not undersell yourself on a project fee that won't cover the number of hours that you will spend on the project. Protect yourself by having the client sign contract detailing exactly what the project fee will cover, and that all additional work will result in a re-negotiation of the project fee. If you are working on an hourly rate be prepared to keep a record of hours spent on the project as well as a brief description of what you completed during those hours.
Maintain your professionalism.
During all of your business interactions you should maintain a high degree of professionalism. This includes dressing appropriately, making strong eye-contact, hand-shaking, etc. The design industry can be a small world and you never know who you may run into again so be sure to consistently give the right impression to those that you meet and work with. A large degree of making it in the design world is through networking. Remember, you are a walking advertisement for yourself so make sure you are promoting yourself effectively by looking and acting accordingly.
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