Friday, February 15
So you want a job? - Discussion #5
I have a tendency to copy down little scraps of wisdom I find here and there on loose sheets of scrap paper. (Yes, a notebook chained to my ankle would be a wise investment.). I often find these little notes to myself months and years later stacked in piles of mail, stuffed in books or drawers. In the midst of sorting through another of my endless piles of things, “I can’t throw out but never seem to find the time to file,” I came across the following list:
The Top 10 Skills Employers Want
1. Communication Skills
2. Computer & Technical Aptitudes
5. Interpersonal Abilities
6. Professional Personal Traits
7. Critical Thinking
8. Intelligence and Common Sense
9. Willingness to Learn
10. Work-related Experience
I can’t take credit for the creation of this list but I thought it was important enough to copy down and remember. It may have been lifted straight from the Career Services Department right here on campus — if so, thank you very much. I’ve decided to share it with you all and it has become the catalyst for this blog entry.
I think many CD students work really hard under the misconception that all you need to get a great job is a strong portfolio. If my book looks good I am there like a fly on …sh…sugar. Please don’t misconstrue my sentiments here, a great book can get you in the door and keep you there but it isn’t the only criteria for landing your dream job.
To illustrate my point let’s take a look at this misconception from the perspective of a studio owner, hiring committee, and/or art/creative director. You will need to develop a little art director empathy here so put on your “I’m the Boss Hats.”
A Not So Untypical Scenario:
“The following drama and characters are purely fictional. They are not based on actual people or events.” I just love when they say that in the beginning of cop shows.
You’re a KUCD grad, you’ve been out of school several years and you’re a very busy and successful art director at Jackpot Design and Marketing. Jackpot is well regarded for its high quality of design work and stellar reputation in the business and design communities and on most days you enjoy your job. You are used to the high stress frenetic pace—in fact you thrive on it. As crass as it may sound, your main job responsibility is to generate strong design and visual communications for clients in a timely-manner for which your company will be paid and turn a profit. These profits are how you get paid your generous salary because your boss and company CEO, Ima Pennypincher, realizes that you’re worth every shiny cent.
Jackpot Design has taken on several new and lucrative accounts and you’ve been working double shifts for the last 6 months to meet your deadlines. This has taken a real toll on your social life and you feel like you have joined a design monastery. Ms. Pennypincher has just given you permission to hire and train an entry-level junior designer at the bottom of the designer pay scale. You argued for someone with experience, but even with new clients she SWEARS —with an eye roll— that the company can’t afford that. Anyway, at this point, the potential of any extra help is welcome news. You are well aware that Ms. Pennypincher pays eagle-eyed attention to extra costs, downtime, missed deadlines and mistakes that an inexperienced designer can bring to the plate—all potentially reducing the company’s profit margin. You will be directly responsible for this new hire. If the person you hire doesn’t work out you’re the scapegoat and Ms. Pennypincher will have your hide.
Thoughts of what you need in a young designer start to gel. You realize this person may need to be open to some drudge work to get started, answering phones, photo and design research, and following your very specific design instruction. Not too creative to begin but if you see creative and professional potential the job has possibilities. This person may need to put in extra hours immediately—without whining—as your “right-hand” until they are up to speed and can take on more responsibility. You want to hire someone that can be sure footed in three months and self-sufficient in terms of direction in a year.
Realizing that taking the time to screen and hire a new staff member is time that you are in short supply you email your old Profs in KUCD. They post the job in the office and direct you to Career Services as well. One of your old professors offers to announce the job opportunity at Senior Portfolio Review. They collect resume and sample sheets and mail them to you. You receive employment information from 25 CD seniors and you pare down your short-list to 7 employment candidates. Why did you screen out the first 18 people? Do you think that as a busy art director you had time to really “read” 25 resumes?
Generally the very quick “look and skim” of the resume and sample sheet pile is the method of choice. Some reasons people are screened at this stage are as mundane as they didn’t seem like a good fit. If you are confident in the quality of your resume and sample sheet you shouldn’t take this personally. It is somewhat out of your control. But remember a resume can start to give clues about everything from #3: Leadership to #10: Work Related Experience. These areas aren’t out of your control but take some planning and follow through while you are still in school.
Outside of just poor design, #2: Computer and Technical Aptitude and #6: Professional Personal Traits come into play on your resume. In our field marginal attention to organization in a layout, lack of attention to typographic detail and awkward computer skills in a poorly crafted resume can eliminate you immediately in the “look and skim” stage. These deficits all have something to say about what an art director would expect from an on-the-job novice.
So I will be generous and say that “you” the art director actually “read” eight resumes and paired the pile down to six. Awkward writing, misspelled words and poor grammar eliminated the next 2 people under #1: Communication Skills. Writing skills fall under this category.
So the countdown begins with six phone calls. The work looked good in the sample sheets. These resumes actually identified important design and professional qualifications beyond the standard list of computer programs the applicant knows how to use. You visualize a cognizant people not a lifeless computer drones.
One person’s voicemail message berates you with a litany of curse words and tells you to leave an “F”ing message and they might get back to you. Ooopsie, you hang up without leaving a message and six potential candidates just narrowed to five.
You have five interviews scheduled on an open day the following week. In your mind you have two terrific candidates and three really good candidates. It is going to be a tight day so these interviews need to go as scheduled.
So after a crazy day of interviews you decide: one book was super, two books were really good and one not so good—well let's say the work wasn’t bad but the cat hair, booger-like adhesive and die-cuts that looked they were cut out with a grass clippers really didn’t help. That person looked great on paper but you were skeezed-out at the poor presentation of their work. Deficiencies in #6 and #8 eliminated another candidate.
The third interview was late because they got lost, hmm… That person had a really nice book too. But you think of #6: Professional Personal Traits, #7: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving and #8: Intelligence and Common Sense. You just aren’t late for an interview. Period. If they didn’t know where the place was, they should have recognized the problem early and addressed it before it became your problem. You had to play catch-up the whole rest of the day.
Tomorrow you will probably check in on recommendations of your potential hires but before you go home you just can’t resist going on My Space and punching in your candidates’ names. Ooopsie! You find a photo of super-portfolio-person dancing on a table in skivvies with a cigarette in one hand and a cheap beer in the other. Well this one just got eliminated on #8: Intelligence and Common Sense. Just because they like to have a good time? Probably not. For publicizing it in an open forum and not thinking about the consequences? Yep.
You decide to give them a second chance and the next day you call one of your old Profs that the applicant has listed as a reference. (It is good form to ask permission of the people you are using as references.) The Prof emails you back telling you that the person didn’t request that the Prof be a reference so they can’t comment due to privacy issues. Red flag. Down to two.
So you are disappointed that you eliminated what you thought was your strongest portfolio. So you call the references of the other two candidates. They both have really solid books but all of the work isn’t exceptional. One candidate seemed a little nervous but nice, but they had really made an effort to ask questions. You liked that. The other spoke well, was confident and had a comfortable sense of humor. They have pretty equal quality portfolios and so far stack up well on the Top Ten Skills an Employer Wants List. This is a tough decision. Some pieces shine while others are just good. They both used Profs and their internships as references. You call and find out that they were both really good students, hardworking and on time for class or work, they take direction well, have been willing to learn new skills (#9), revise projects to make them better and got along really well with everyone in their classes (#5). Other things are pressing so you get back to the tasks of the day.
The next day you receive in the mail, a handwritten personally designed thank you card from one of your two final candidates, the shy one. The candidate thanked you for your time and suggestions on their work. The candidate requested an opportunity to come in and work freelance as a field test. The card comments on how impressed they were with Jackpot’s Design work that they saw and read while waiting in the lobby for their interview. The candidate remembered that you said Friday morning is usually a little less crazy so they would call at that time. They even hoped that your cat was feeling better and you remembered mentioning that in the interview. You’re swamped. You make a snap decision, you turn the card over and there is contact information. You call. “Hey thanks so much for the card, we don’t get them often. Can you come in tomorrow and work? I’d like you to freelance for the week on a test drive.”
So here’s my question to begin discussion. You’re in the driver seat. You’re the boss. You make the decisions. (But don’t forget Ms. Pennypincher.) Write your own Top 10 Skills Employers Want List. Is this list thorough? What’s missing? What might you add? Outside of a great portfolio, what do you think would be great traits for a young designer to have? What might be the worst? If you had the responsibility of hiring someone you had to work with closely everyday what would you want them to be like? Describe the perfect employee.