BA (Hon)est: Graduate Advice #3 – Interview & Portfolio tips

So you’ve applied for an internship/job and have been offered an interview? Well done! Some studios receive 100s of applications for internships and jobs so to get shortlisted is an achievement in itself. Now you need to impress and persuade them that you’re the right person for the job. To help you out I’ve compiled a few tips (who, what, where, when, why and how) that I have picked up from tutors, interview feedback and fellow creatives:

Who? You – be yourself.
Be confident: Don’t be cocky but have some confidence and be proud of what you’ve achieved. If you want them to hire you, give them a reason to believe in you! Nerves are fine but practice makes perfect, so get someone to pose as an interviewer and go through your portfolio so you have everything you want to say sorted. If you really are a nervous wreck then you can buy an herbal spray from Boots or Superdrug to help calm your nerves (Rescue Remedy – look out for yellow packaging) – it works for me but not for everyone!

Be honest: Yes, you’re going to be nervous and a bit on edge but there’s no point pretending to be someone you’re not. Don’t pretend to like something just to agree with the interviewer and get some brownie points. They’re looking for someone with opinions, a personality and a brain so you can think for yourself. They’re not looking for sheep!

Be interested: At the end they will probably ask you if you have any questions. If you say no, you’re an idiot! Asking questions shows you are switched on and enthusiastic. If you think you’ll have a blank mind moment then pre-write questions in a notebook and take it with you. There’s nothing wrong with being organised.

What? What do I include in my portfolio?
The task of curating your portfolio is like choosing between your children – you love them all but at the end of the day some are better than others! You should change your portfolio depending on the studio you’re going to see – take packaging work for a packaging-only studio, take digital work for a digital studio, all common sense really. Sometimes it’s good to take a bit of everything though, it just depends on the studio and who is interviewing you.

Only take work you’re proud of – remember you’re there to sell yourself so don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Nightmare scenario:
Interviewer: ‘This is interesting, tell me about you’re thinking behind this.’
You: ‘Well I don’t really like this project. I just included it to show I’d done some advertising.’
Interviewer: ‘Oh. Ok.’ (Moves onto the next page)

You should have 3 portfolios: A. online (website), B. pdf (for sending via email) and C. physical (to take with you to interviews). Each of these should contain similar things but are for different purposes.

A. Online. This is your little space on the world wide web and should be clean, simple and all about the work. It should include your work(with big images and descriptions to explain everything), a bit about you (but not that you drink tea or coffee – everyone does this!) and your contact details. You can buy a .com or address for under £10 a year which is a lot more professional than and it’s not that hard to link it all up.

B. pdf. This should be an edited, portable version of your website – 6-8 projects (1 page each) with brief descriptions(add that for more info they can go to your website [insert link here], your CV and contact details. Remember that this needs to be good quality but small enough to send via email. Generally 7MB is the email limit but the smaller the better, and if you can’t get it any smaller then upload it to wetransfer and send a link for them to download it.

C. Physical. This should be a further edited version of your website and pdf. You should keep it sweet and short: 5/6 projects which you are passionate about over 2/3 pages each with large images and no descriptions. They will have already read a bit about the work from your website and pdf portfolio and won’t have time to read it again in your interview. Let the work take centre stage (full bleed if possible) as you should be telling the interviewer all about the idea etc and shouldn’t need notes!
When deciding the order of your portfolio, always start and finish strong. You want to end on something amazing that will stick in the interviewer’s mind so that they remember you.

Also this is the time to take those lovely mock ups you lost sweat, blood and tears over. Made a book? Take it with you. You know what designers are like, we like to interact: pick things up, feel and experience them.

Scenario 1:
Interviewer: ‘Did you bring it with you?’
You: ‘Oh no I forgot.’
Interviewer: ‘Oh. Ok.’ (Moves onto the next page)

Scenario 2:
Interviewer: ‘Did you bring it with you?’
You: ‘Yes, it’s here.’ (Pulls it out of a nice protective sleeve)
Interviewer: ‘Great!’ (Spends 3 minutes looking through it)

We both know which is the preferred scenario!

When? When should I arrive for my interview?
Rule number 1 of interviews – be prepared! If you’re travelling a long way allow yourself time for delays, traffic, getting lost etc. Get on Google maps and do a street view tour of the area making notes on landmarks, road names etc. If you have time before the interview go to find the studio and walk past casually – anyone from the team could be watching so don’t make it too obvious! Incase everything goes wrong (you get lost, they’ve moved buildings and not updated it on their website – it happens so confirm it with them via email before hand!) then make sure you have the studio phone number as a last resort.

Be early but not too early. 10/15 minutes is a good amount of time, but 30 minutes is too early! (You might disrupt your interviewer from working which won’t put them in a good mood if they’ve got a deadline.)

Where? Where should I sit?

Where to sit when you get into the interview room? Well there are so many different scenarios for this one but you just need to ensure that you’re close (not too close though!) to your interviewer so that you can both hear each other, you’re easily able to show your portfolio (turn pages, point to things etc) and you can make eye contact with them. Being able to hold eye contact makes you appear confident and trustworthy – if someone can’t look into your eyes it feels like they’re hiding something.

The ideal set up would be sitting on the corner of a table forming an L shape with your interviewer – this allows you to be close enough and both facing each other.
Why? Why are you there?
Remember why you’re there.
Flatter them: Why do you like that studio? What is it you like about their work or ethics? What is your favourite project of theirs and why?
Flatter yourself: Without sounding like an egotistical dick… Why would they want you? What do you have to bring to the team?
Question them: What are they going to offer you? Why should you want to work there?

How? How are you going to impress them?

With your amazing portfolio! There are a couple of ways I would recommend to present your work depending on your budget and what kind of work is in your portfolio.

If most of your projects are printed (magazines, books, posters) then an A3 folder or presentation box would suit you best.

The portfolio folders have ring binder clips in the middle and you can buy plastic sleeves to protect your work. The only thing about this option is that some professionals don’t like the shine that the sleeves have, so try to buy the clearest/ least plastic looking sleeves.

OR you could present your work in a presentation box. You can mount your work onto card so that the pages are nice and rigid or you can get plastic sleeves and just slide some card in. It all depends on your budget really but remember your portfolio is part of your first (and lasting) impression. You want to come across well so your portfolio should reflect your work ethic – organized, neat, professional. You don’t have to spend a lot, but if you buy quality then it will last. If you turn up with a tatty portfolio that’s falling to pieces it’s going to look like you don’t give a shit, you get me?

Portfolio faux pas:
Smoke: If you’re a smoker, that’s your personal choice but you don’t want your portfolio to smell of stale smoke. You might not be able to smell it but a non-smoker will pick up on it straight away and it’s not pleasant!
Hairs: It doesn’t matter if it’s an eyelash or your dogs hair, it shouldn’t be there! (and it might get mistaken for a hair from down there – awkward)
Smudges/marks on sleeves: If you’re presenting your work in plastic sleeves they should be crystal clear to show your work at it’s best. They shouldn’t look like you’ve wiped your nose / dropped last nights tea on them. Also if they had sticky price labels on be sure you use white spirit to get rid of the glue – a small detail that makes all the difference!

A3 is plenty big enough and a good size to be carrying around before and after your interview, especially when you’re travelling. Or you could go lighter and smaller if your portfolio is heavily digital with an iPad. Obviously not everyone can afford to splash out on one but if you already have one it’s a lot lighter than a portfolio folder/box. An iPad is ideal for those with more digitally focused work – you can integrate videos and links to websites within your portfolio! However don’t count on pinching the studio’s internet in your interview – it might not connect and then you have nothing to show!

If you’re using an iPad here are a couple of things to remember:
Clean your screen: greasy finger prints don’t look good!
Charge it the night before: nothing worse than going to present and realising you’ve got 10% battery left
Beep beep: make sure that all sounds and notifications are turned off to avoid embarrassment in the middle of your interview!

General Interview tips:
Be enthusiastic and happy: you got chosen from the maybe 100s of applications they received. They must see potential in you so feel good about that.
Be polite: manners cost nothing and nobody wants to work with someone rude.
Smile and laugh: (Not like you’re crazy though!) Yes, you’ll be nervous but this will put both your interviewer and yourself at ease. Interviews can be scary and stressful but it should be a pleasure to share your work with someone new.
Take criticism: the interviewer might offer some criticism but they’re just trying to help you improve so don’t take offence. Criticism is part of everyday working life so they might just test out the waters to see how you would handle it as part of their team – you will have to grow thick skin!
Follow up the interview with an email: Either when you get home or the next day drop them an email to say thank you for their time and that you look forward to hearing from them. If they don’t get back to you within the next couple of days maybe give them a call at the studio to show that you’re keen?

If all of my advice fails and it goes terribly wrong then just put it down as experience and learn from it. If they say no it’s disappointing but you can ask for feedback to help you improve. It’s a tough process to go through but the main thing is to stay positive. You worked hard producing your portfolio so now it’s time to show it off in the best way that you can!

I hope these tips help to turn your worries into excitement if you’re feeling flustered? I don’t claim to be a career guru but any help I can give I will try my best so don’t hesitate to get in touch with questions! I’ve still got lots of posts planned for the BA (Hon)est series so keep an eye out for those (I’ve just moved house and currently have no internet so bear with me whilst I get myself sorted)!

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© Natasha Nuttall | January 2022

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