Long gone are the days when graphic designers were limited to print media. In today’s digital world, everyone from media firms to giant technology companies need graphic designers who can make products, branding, and marketing look enticing to consumers and other businesses.
Today’s graphic designers embrace challenges across a variety of form factors (all the way down to the tiniest smartphone screens), and they’re adept at working with stakeholders from across the company—including product managers, developers, marketers, and engineers. That’s why, if you’re searching for a new role, graphic designer interview questions tend to focus not only on your portfolio and technical aptitude, but also your soft skills.
According to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, here are some of the top skills that pop up for open graphic designer positions. As you can see, knowledge of certain tools and platforms is key. Keep that in mind, as well, when you’re prepping for your graphic designer interview questions.
Dice also spoke with Darren Sharp, account director with recruitment agency Stafford Sharp Associates (which supplies talent to digital and IT companies), about the most important skills for graphic designers should know. Sharp has secured designers for some very high-profile projects (both digital and UX) for the BBC, Avon, Next and Interflora.
What should I know for a graphic designer job?
Designers have to bear in mind that their creativity is key, and you need the portfolio (either independent work, your work for previous employers, or some combination of both) to match the creative claims made by your application and résumé. If you don’t have that work to show, it’s going to probably limit your opportunities.
“If you’re a designer, design me something—I want to see that in your CV, I want to see your design flair,” Sharp said. “Your creativity should show through in every aspect of your being, otherwise we have nothing to work with, and the client won’t take it. We work with a lot of design agencies, and their expectations are high—it’s all about image and how it looks.”
What are the most important graphic designer skills to know?
“If you’re looking at the base level skills, it’s the Adobe Creative Suite—used by most shops across the board—being a master at programs like InDesign, those are your base-level skills,” Sharp said. “You then have the flip side of knowing how to use 3D studios, which is a slightly different skill set depending on where you’re focusing your design skills.”
Sharp also pointed out that his clients also like to see “a little bit of code,” noting that proficiency with a programming language such as CSS is “a big plus” in today’s market. “They want to see that a page can work as well.”
That breakdown of skills aligns with what Broken Glass found in job postings. Outside of base technical skills, Sharp said clients like to see planning and organization skills, which he calls “essential,” noting that graphic designers have to be able to manage time and projects (which becomes more and more important as designers move up the ranks).
“It’s about being able to be creative with an end date in mind—to keep going back and forth, because their creative thought has run away with them, that’s a struggle with most creatives, because they’ll be wanting to produce and produce, and suddenly, time has elapsed,” he said.
What qualities make a good graphic designer candidate?
It comes down to three things, Sharp said: Portfolio, portfolio, portfolio. “One of the best people I ever put out, he always carried a sketchbook around, filled with little bits of things he worked on every day. He brought that sketchbook into a big agency interview, and that blew them away,” he said. “The creative designers, it’s their passion, because they do it outside of work. They live and breathe it. It’s all about passion, and that’s what going to set them apart.”
Another important quality is flexibility, as well as the ability to explain your design concepts and points of view to people who may not be on the same creative wavelength or have little experience with design concepts.
“It’s explaining that journey and how you’ve come to that endpoint,” Sharp said. “You have to be able to work through that process with your clients to get your point across and bring them to your way of thinking.”
How does one prepare for graphic designer interview questions?
“The biggest downfall we always see is lack of research,” Sharp said. “Research your client. Look what they’ve created, and draw some synergy between their work and yours, associate your creativity with their design process. You’d be surprised how many people who go into an interview and haven’t looked at the company’s design pages.”
If the client asks what you would have done with one of their previous campaigns, for example, you should be prepared to talk about that work to show that you did the research. “The more research you did, the more quickly you’ll be able to come back to them with an answer,” Sharp said. “Research is essential.”
If you’re applying for a job with a heavy emphasis on UX or UI, or that follows a particular design language, make sure that you’re capable of offering your own ideas during the interview process. For example, if the company is heavily focused on building Android and iOS apps, make sure that you’re well-versed in Material Design (Android’s design language) as well as best practices for iOS design.
What questions should the interviewee ask?
“A creative should be excited by projects,” Sharp said. “This means you should be asking what kind of projects you’d be working on, what input you’ll have, and also ask what’s in the pipeline.”
This is a great way to show you’re interested in the potential employer’s work and you’re buying into it.
“Ask who’s on the team, who you get to work with, what their background is,” Sharp advised. “Demonstrate that you’re looking to get on, because that should be the bit that excites you, and it will show that you’ve got the right spirit.”
After acing your interview the next step will be to negotiate salary. Why not get ahead by finding out where you stand for your graphic designer salary.