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Damn, isn’t this is a hard time to apply for a creative job (or any job)? 

I see it—I’m a design agency owner inundated by job-seeking emails. But I’ve been on the other side, too—years ago, I graduated with a shiny new graphic design BFA right when the Dot-Com bubble burst and the economy tanked. It felt like the world was ending—there were no jobs and I seemed destined to live in my parents’ basement forever.

But it worked out. Eventually, I landed a great in-house design job, and thankfully, for our whole family’s sake, moved out of the house. So trust me, I know how to hire, but I also learned how to search during a similarly challenging time. Here is some of my best advice for getting all the way through the process, what to expect, and how to do it the most effectively.

How To Apply For A Job

The first thing to understand is that the application process will be slightly different depending on the type of company to which you’re applying. In the creative space, there are three basic categories of hiring:

  • Startups and rapid growth companies
  • Corporations with HR Departments, including larger agencies and in-house jobs
  • Smaller agencies

The hiring process for each group is a little different, and you’ll need to tailor your approach based on the category a given company falls into. But no matter where you are applying, there are some general rules to follow: 

  • Appy through the appropriate channels first. Hiring managers have little patience for those trying shortcuts, and people are generally more understanding if you follow the rules first, and resort to other tactics later. 
  • Use LinkedIn to find people who work there, and reach out to them once you have applied—even better if you know someone that can introduce you. Don’t apologize for bothering them or contacting them on LinkedIn. Just get to the point. Be specific, be correct, be graceful, and be kind.
  • Nail the details—all the details. That includes things like the hiring manager’s name and the company name. It’s shocking how often this is botched. We immediately reject and often don’t follow up when this happens. It shows a lack of care and it makes us wonder if you can do client work and get their details right. So I implore you—think before you copy and paste!

How to Get Into a Startup/Rapid Growth Company

Keep in mind that startups generally need to fill positions, like, yesterday. You may meet with the CEO on your first interview, or you may meet with a totally random person, like the QA Lead. Startups are always short on time, and initiatives are constantly changing. They need people that can come in, be self directed, and alleviate the pressure of never having enough designers. The rush and chaos often comes through in the hiring process. 

Always follow up when you apply to a startup—there is a good chance someone missed your application or forgot to move you forward. Be persistent until you get a “no” or an interview. 

How to Get Into a Corporation with an HR Department

The initial stages of hiring at a larger corporation is similar to a startup, in that someone with zero design skills may be your first hurdle. An HR representative is simply following the requirements that the design team leader has given them. But that’s where the similarities end. 

Corporations and HR departments often have structured, rigid hiring processes. The process may include a quota for how many applicants need to apply and how many people need to interview at each stage. These corporations may use Applicant Tracking Software—it’s used for keyword matching, so if your resume doesn’t match the criteria, you will get a fast rejection. Sometimes it’ll come before a person even sees your application. 

Once you have applied, be patient and remember to follow up. If you’re an early applicant in the process, you have to wait until enough people have applied to open interviews. You may need to meet with several departments, coordinating dates and times for each. Stay in contact with the hiring manager, and follow up for updates and next steps as you wait. 

How to Get Into a Small Agency

Use your heart and use your head. Do even deeper research than you would for a startup or a corporation. You are likely to get a real person who has real hiring power on that first email. Don’t blow it!

Send your portfolio, your resume, and a really, really good introduction email. Send something creative to their office, if you want.

A small agency can be your best bet for future employment or a referral if you aren’t a good fit now. Agency applications are about you being your best creative self. If you are applying locally, you’ll run in the same circles as these agencies for years to come. You don’t want a careless first impression to stick throughout your career. 

Interested in learning more about landing a job in the creative space? Sign up for the Ceros Inspire newsletter to receive upcoming stories in your inbox, like How to Organize Your Creative Job Search.