My Valentine's this year ended up being a romantic evening of researching companies I was looking forward to meeting at the second annual Sheridan Bachelor of Interaction Design portfolio event. There were a total of twenty two employers attending — a number of different design agencies, start ups, consultancies, technology companies, etc. gathered in one place to meet students and review portfolios. I was fortunate enough to speed date interview with five employers, learning about their company culture, type of project work they were focused in and most importantly, received valuable portfolio critique and advice.
Importance of accepting critique
Overall, I felt the general initial response to my portfolio was positive — but it wasn't until I was finished presenting where I then understood the importance of sometimes initiating for the interviewer to provide some critique and allow them the opportunity to ask questions if they haven't done so already. The most important thing about this event for me was not just being able to secure an internship position or ask if their company was hiring, but I wanted to gain insight on my overall skill set as a young designer, learn how to improve and be prepared for what's to come within the industry.
A couple critiques I've received throughout my reviews were to better highlight the specific roles I pursued if the project was collaborative, the length of time a project took and what some of the challenges I may have faced were. These are all common questions an employer would be interested in knowing as well as good points to include within your portfolio. These highlights showcase your strengths, ability to work in a team setting, time management and learning outcomes from a project.
remember to breathe
A habit I began to notice throughout my interviews was my tendency to jump the gun on a response to a question without enough careful thought. I realize it's important to breathe for a second and even ask for a quick moment to think about something. It's important to think all your answers through or in certain cases, not to seem too rehearsed and take more of a genuine storytelling approach.
In the case you might not know the answer to a question, don't try to fake it — it's okay to admit you might not have the right answer. A question I was given for one of interviews was "What metrics did you use to evaluate the quality of user experience for X project?" and I didn't have an answer to this as it was something I had overlooked. I admitted that it wasn't something I included but I also took that opportunity to ask how I might approach metrics in evaluation for the future. As a student I'm still not an expert in the field, I'm still learning and there will always be opportunities for improvement.
RELATIONSHIP WITH INTERVIEWER
The "tell me about yourself" question is often times something that is overlooked, though this your real chance to give your interviewer a little more background about yourself, what you stand for, what interests you, where your strengths lie, your journey into design and what you're really hoping to learn from an internship opportunity.
Within the first couple minutes of your introductory and depending on how your interviewer may respond (if they are able to converse well back about your personal goals or if they're more fixated on your technical skills) is a big determining factor in the type of candidate an interviewer is looking for and partial reflection of the type of company they are representing as well.
Simply being yourself, maintaining eye contact, sitting up straight and smiling are all important things to still remember. When I interview I like approaching things still at a conversational level, taking a storytelling approach opposed to just answering questions. I find that there's a lot of meaningfulness that come from personal experiences within my design so it helped in being able to present my portfolio more genuinely than just saying it was an assigned school project.
I really love what I do and have found that it's clearly projected when I begin to talk about my work. I want to be surrounded by people just as motivated and passionate about design as I am, so building a connection with an employer that shares the same view and simply being able to naturally talk about it is how I built a successful rapport.
As a whole, my portfolio presentation could have been improved on by showcasing more of the projects that interested me. Though I think a lot of that comes with time and experience as well. Design is never really finished, as with a design portfolio, we often end up growing out of it. Being a student right now, I'm still trying to figure out what my design focus area really is and understanding my technical strengths while balancing my design interests has been the most challenging. I realize it's important to showcase the projects you've really enjoyed working on and avoiding putting projects up just as "busy work".
Being honest and not trying to really "sell myself" and cater myself exactly to a company's job description. It's important to ensure you're actually interested in the company — it's not just about the big name or fancy perks, but more about the type of project work you're interested in, mentorship and overall culture fit. This event didn't just allow me to pitch myself but also allowed me to gain more experience in asking employers some questions and relieving that intimidation of being interrogated by an interviewer, don't be afraid to ask interrogate them back!
PERSONAL LEARNING OUTCOME
Prior research on the company is always good to have, but sometimes it's always important to embrace the unexpected. I was faced with challenges throughout the event where my pre-selected companies were no longer able to attend and then urged to approach companies I didn't know anything about. I definitely didn't feel too comfortable at first not having a clue or time to quickly do a search on the types of services or products their company was involved in. But I later realized it's important to still take an opportunity available, learn on the spot and you never really know what could come out of it. Don't be so quick to say no to something you don't know anything about.
It doesn't just end after the event. Always be sure to follow up! You can do your best to hand your interviewer a copy of your resume or business card, but it's not always a guarantee they're going to take another glance at it. It's important to remember their name for one, do a little research after the event and look them up online if they've made an impression on you. I'm a huge advocate of utilizing LinkedIn to connect, this allows them the opportunity to take a second look at your professional experience, continue the conversation and also keep them in the loop of what you're working on that might gage their interest in offering you an opportunity.
The employer speed date portfolio event was a really great experience that revealed a boost of confidence in not being afraid of reaching out to more design professionals in the future. I found that the more people I've talked to within the industry has really benefitted in helping me grow my interpersonal skills a lot more as well as familiarizing myself with companies in the area and the type of work I might be interested in pursuing in the future.