From a CEO’s Point of View
I graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in the mid-90s and started a slow crawl into my design career. After about six months of applying to a few jobs here and there, I started thinking about my career goals as a designer and realized I needed to move back to my hometown in Tampa. I knew looking for a job in another state would be challenging – especially in the days before online job searches. So I packed my bags and headed south.
When I arrived in Tampa, although I was back in a familiar place with friends and family, I still didn’t have any contacts in the design industry. I didn’t know any big agencies or local design shops. I was in the dark and needed a plan. My only resource was – believe it or not – the Yellow Pages. I opened it up and started calling design agencies, starting with A and working my way down the list.
When I finally got someone on the phone, I didn’t ask for a job. I didn’t even ask for an interview. I just wanted information and advice, and I would ask for meetings to see if I could get anyone – anyone – to review my portfolio. I ended up setting up 33 meetings and I went to every single one.
I hand made my cover letters, resumes and portfolio, and I walked in to each meeting without any expectation of a job. I just wanted to talk and ask questions. I gained a lot of information about what was happening in the local industry, I learned who was hiring and I met a lot of people - the same people who would later help me advance my career.
After about 3 months of networking I landed my first job with a local newspaper. Three months after that I received a call from a college friend who had a lead on a job. The next thing I knew I was working for a $50-million agency, working on some great accounts. Every job I took thereafter was the result of a connection with friends and colleagues.
I tell you this story to make a point: the job you want may not be posted on the Internet.
Matter of fact, most of my employees over the years have come to me through recommendations from other employees or from my personal network.
Whether you’re looking to start a career in design, marketing, web development (or really any industry), follow these tips to stand out from the throngs of applicants who are just sending out mass applications on Indeed or LinkedIn.
10 Tips to Land a Killer Job
- Meet People – Get out from behind your computer and meet people. Do some research about the companies and individuals you want to learn from. Find out where they hang out, network, and volunteer. The quickest way to landing a meeting with me is to get a recommendation from one of them.
- Don’t Stop Meeting People – I was once invited to an interview after already accepting a pretty good job offer. I didn’t want to go on the interview because I thought it was a waste of time, but my wife insisted. I’m so glad she did. In that meeting I received a better job offer and ended up meeting the people who would one day help me start my own business. So, don’t stop meeting people – no matter how comfy your current position, and don’t turn down interviews. You never know what may come of them, and they’re good practice.
- Set Goals – When I was looking for my first job in Tampa I set a goal to make at least 20 calls per day. Having a goal kept me motivated and ultimately led to my success in finding a job. I suggest that you make a list of the companies you want to meet. Write down the names of the key creative leaders in those companies, and start calling.
- Be Different – Don’t do what everyone else is doing. If you want to find the quickest way to the front of the line, you have to stand out. That means, instead of simply emailing a resume, consider calling, visiting in person or even using good old-fashioned snail mail.
- Be Excellent – If you are going to be different, then make sure you do it with excellence. I expect to see something that is creative and polished. If you’re applying to be a designer, for example, you must ensure that you’ve created a strong personal brand for yourself. If you are a writer, have great writing samples, blog posts, etc., and make sure there isn’t a single typo in your resume. If you’re looking for a job in social media, your social media pages should have a lot of engaged followers, and if you’re a web developer, you should have some amazing websites to show off. (At the very least, your own website should be awesome.)
- Do Your Research – Before you send anything, learn about the company and tailor your message. What type of projects do they work on? Who are their primary clients? What is important to their firm? If you get an interview, know who you are talking to before you walk through their door.
- Ask Questions – When you finally get the interview, prepare a list of meaningful questions. Focus on the company work and culture, especially on the first interview. My biggest pet peeve is when a potential hire asks shallow questions about whether they’ll get a Mac or PC, or if they’ll sit in a Herman Miller chair.
- Be Personable – Your resume will get you the interview. Your personality will get you the job. Look me in the eyes. Shake my hand. Speak firmly. Be confident. These are all qualities I look for in any candidate. I won’t start negotiating until I like you – and in order to like you, we have to talk.
- Tell Stories – Everybody loves a good story. It helps me learn about your background and your communication style at the same time. I usually ask story-based questions, like “Tell me about your favorite project and why you liked it so much?” or “Tell me about a project that didn’t go so well and what you learned from it?” Think about your stories and practice telling them.
- Be Persistent – There is no work around for hard work and persistence. While people love stories of overnight successes and viral sensations, most people succeed only after lots of networking, meetings, phone calls and rejection. Stick with it.
I’ve been hiring design and marketing professionals for over 15 years, and it’s very difficult to find people who have the full package – creative, smart, technical, personable and talented. And when I do find one, I do everything I can to keep them.
Best of luck in finding the job of your dreams – but luck has little to do with it. If you’d like to learn more about the design/marketing scene in Tampa or about Roger West, let’s talk.