Advice for Grads: Resume & Interviewing Tips from VP of Art Direction & Innovation at BrandingIron Worldwide

As design colleges around the country celebrate graduates who have earned their graphic design degree or digital media degree, imagine the influx of resumes, portfolios and cover letters that creative agencies can anticipate over the coming weeks. What does it take for an entry level designer to stand out in the crowd? went straight to the source to get resume, portfolio and interviewing tips from FIDM Graphic Design Alumna, Elisabeth Murray.

As the Vice President of Art Direction and Innovation at leading creative agency, BrandingIron Worldwide (BIW) in West Hollywood, Murray has seen her fair share of eager job applicants vying for a position in the creative marketing industry.

“We once had to sort through around 500 resumes,” she says. “Our agency has become a bit more discerning, though, and now we often seek out the types of candidates we’re looking to hire… which is why you may see us on the FIDM campus from time to time!”

So, what is an agency looking for in a job candidate? (Hint: enthusiasm goes a long way). Read our Q&A with Murray, below:

Graduation Series: Advice from BIW- 7 Tips from VP of Art Direction, Elisabeth MurrayGraduation Series: Advice from BIW- 7 Tips from VP of Art Direction, Elisabeth MurrayTips from VP of Art Direction & Innovation, Elisabeth Murray of BIW

What is a leading creative agency looking for in a job candidate? How can your portfolio and interviewing etiquette set you apart from other applicants? Read more below.
1. ( As a hiring manager, what are the most common mistakes you see coming from job applicants?

(Murray): “This is a two-fold answer for me: Do not show work that needs obvious editing. If your work is pixilated, misspelled, misaligned or otherwise sloppy, please fix it before showing it to me hoping I won’t notice. Part of my job is to edit, so trust me– I’ll notice. Also, I look for candidates with a solid work ethic who take pride in what they create. It disappoints me to see slap-dash projects, and feels like a waste of my time and yours.

Be professional. I definitely try to gauge personality, and I look for enthusiasm and quick-wit when I’m interviewing a candidate; however, I notice a lot of young designers coming across as arrogant, flippant and/or simply blasé. When I hire, I consider that there’s a chance I’m going to be working with this person for long time, and I also consider that they will be expected to join our existing creative team, potentially interact with clients, etc. Being ‘too cool’ for the interview process makes me think the applicant won’t be a team player and may cause strife within our agency environment – so this attitude is generally an immediate write-off for me. By all means, show me who you are, but keep in mind I’m hiring you – I want you to be excited about the job, and also show that you understand professionalism.”

Online portfolio tips from FIDM Alumna/BIW VP of Art Direction & Innovation2. What can an aspiring creative do to help their portfolio stand out?

“Keep in mind your portfolio should showcase your work.  Don’t distract from it by being sloppy, or by over designing your book. I want to be able to flip through and get an immediate idea of who a candidate is as a designer, and what their strengths are. Clean, organized and consistent always wins points with me.”

3. What are your thoughts on designing your resume with graphics and colors? Is it possible to overdo it?

“I definitely want to see a resume that looks as if it came from a graphic designer (please, no Word docs, ever!); however, be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot. Resumes that are organized and easy-to-read are key. My personal pet peeve is having to turn a page from side-to-side to read all information. Browse through successful designs online for creative ideas on how to succinctly and legibly present your info.”

4. What are common mistakes that applicants make during an interview?

“See answer #1 about attitude. Also, not being able to tell me about your work or your experience as a designer/design student. Our agency runs the gamut as far as necessary communication skills go, so it’s important to me that a potential team member is able to handle various means of communication (I read a lot into email correspondence with candidates for this reason as well). I think it’s also so important to research the company you’re applying to. Not that I want to see stalker-level intensity and insider details about our agency/team, but I appreciate candidates who ask thoughtful questions and seem genuinely interested in what we do.  Definitely come with questions– and I’m talking something more thoughtful than ‘What are your regular work hours?'”

Interviewing tips for creative grads from FIDM Alumna/BIW VP of Art Direction & Innovation5. How important is it that a candidate has a Website, online portfolio or online profile of some kind (for example, a Behance account)?

“I do like to see an online presence of some sort when possible. However, if you’re not a web designer, the same rules apply here as for your resume design– keep it clean and simple. Don’t let a bad online portfolio take away from your work– your taste/aesthetic/organizational skills will most certainly be judged.”

6. What do you look for in an ideal candidate?

“One of my top requirements is simple enthusiasm for the job. Being part of an agency team means sometimes working long hours under high pressure. It makes all the difference in the world to work with people who maintain a good attitude and enjoy the work enough that they don’t mind sometimes staying late to perfect it. Also, problem solving abilities, and a proactive approach to finding solutions. I like team members who are willing and eager to provide me with options rather [those who] than sit back and wait for others to find all of the inspiration, assets, answers, etc., [before they] begin even thinking about a project. We’re also all personally generally drawn more to one program [or design software over] another. By all means, become an expert in the area you’re passionate about! But also make sure to keep up your skills in other areas and stay as well rounded as possible.”

7. What else should job applicants keep in mind?

“Know yourself well enough that you understand what makes you unique, and be able to comfortably speak to that point. I see quite a few recent grads with a lot of the same type of work, so know what sets you apart. Sometimes it’s a little bit of quirk that keeps someone at the forefront of my mind after going through a day or two of interviews. And don’t be devastated if you’re turned down for a position. Most of the time we’re looking for someone very specific when hiring, so being passed over doesn’t necessarily mean you did poorly. Just log each interaction as an experience, and try to improve where you can for next time.”

Thanks for all of the great tips, Elisabeth!

Below, we’ve compiled a list of additional articles and tips for the class of 2012 grads:


How to Get a Job after Design School

Wanted: Creative Job

In this article, photographer/graphic designer and FIDM Graphic Design Alumna, Tanya Smith, shares her top five tips for finding a graphic design job after graduating. Her tips include:

1. Network
2. Location, Location, Location…
3. Develop a Personal Brand
4. Be Resourceful
5. Be Proactive & Open Minded

Read more details on Smith’s blog here. (Image courtesy of Tanya Smith)

Be a Gutsy Grad: LinkedIn Tips for the Class of 2012

“Employers are expected to hire 10.2 percent more college graduates this year than they did from the Class of 2011, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers,” says writer Lindsey Pollak. Her tips include:

1. Show your stuff.
2. Leverage your alumni network.
3. Engage with employers.

Read more details here.

“You Are Not Special” 2012 High School Commencement Speech

While all of this advice for grads may seem overwhelming, we doubt that Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough Jr. would consider it irrelevant. His 2012 commencement speech bearing the theme “none of you is special” on June 1 has gone viral, as reported by the Boston Herald.

In his speech McCullough states, “Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians, 37,000 class presidents, 92,000 harmonizing altos, 340,000 swaggering jocks, 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs.”

He goes on to share words of encouragement as well, stating, “As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance.”

Watch the full speech below.

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Author: Mani O'Brien

Mani O’Brien is the Online Editor for the FIDMDigitalArts Blog and the Social Media Marketing Manager for FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in print journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communications at Arizona State University in 2006, and Associate of Arts degree in Graphic Design (Professional Designation) at FIDM in 2010. When she’s not brainstorming social media marketing ideas or writing about the graphic design and digital media, she enjoys practicing yoga, reading magazines, and hanging out with friends and family in Los Angeles.

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