The Ask Pearlfisher Anything webinar series gives brands the opportunity to connect with Pearlfisher’s experts across a range of topics including insight and innovation, brand strategy, brand design, visualization, production and sustainability. 

For this session, Head of Talent, Becs Baker and Designer Andrew Lawson-Wood, in London, joined forces with Design Director, Tiffany Bacani, from our New York Studio to discuss how to get started in today’s competitive design and creative industry by highlighting just what employers are looking for and how to truly stand out and make your mark with a distinctive portfolio and approach.

Here we share 5 insights from the Instagram Live session:

1. What makes an outstanding creative portfolio? Is it variety? 

An outstanding portfolio is one that makes an impression, engages, excites and influences the recipient by clearly and concisely showcasing the breadth and depth of creative thinking.

Immediacy is key. Agencies see hundreds of portfolios and need to be immediately grabbed by the genius of the big ideas. But it’s also about showing the craft and execution of these ideas and how they can be developed through each stage and applied to different touchpoints; rather than just showcasing the same idea used as a ‘template’ across the board.

Portfolios should never include something that the designer is not proud of or an idea they can’t get behind.

It’s always rewarding and interesting to see a designer’s own favourite design. It is a window into who they are, what they like and what they have the most heart for.

Including client and development work shows the designer’s individual contribution, conviction in their creative thinking, and ability to collaborate successfully to reach the desired outcome.

Being able to represent a variety of design styles and mediums – from illustration to digital – is always a useful bonus to show the scope of a designer’s skill set.

2. How do you stand out and get noticed?

Designers should find a way to establish a personable connection beyond their portfolio – whether this is through a physical or an online presence. Even with a screen in between, a personal introduction or unexpected anecdote on an individual’s website or friendly correspondence will get noticed. But be authentic.

Designers should dedicate their best efforts to getting to know their chosen agency – and getting onto their radar. It’s not just about finding out how they recruit via their website or advertise jobs but following them on social media and looking out for events or workshops that they may be hosting or attending which may present an opportunity for introductions.

It is a small industry, and one that has always thrived on connections and networking, and this can often present fortuitous meetings and conversations to get your name known and reach a wider group of creative influencers.

3. Is previous design experience necessary?

This does, of course, depend on the level of job being applied for or opportunity being pursued.

Coming straight from school or college, or applying for a recognised Intern position, can actually sometimes give someone the advantage. Agencies appreciate fresh thinking and perspectives and these can often really stand out against someone who is more seasoned and already shaped by the industry.

4. What to do after applying? How to reach out? 

It’s good to be tenacious but agencies do get inundated with applications for advertised positions. This often makes it difficult to reply personally to every application. It is best to wait for a period of time for the agency to review and invite you in for an interview but it’s fine to send an e-mail to nudge if not heard within a few weeks to a month. 

If applying speculatively, it is always a good idea to find out the best way that the particular studio or agency would like to hear from you or connect with you. Again, remember to be personable and try to foster a reciprocal relationship.

Getting in touch, or following up, does let the specific agency know that you really care about your application and working for them. 

5. As a designer what qualities should you have to thrive in the design industry?

It is important to be able to learn and ask for help from mentors and those who have already taken the same professional path. 

Designers must have the confidence to push forward, voice their ideas and have conviction in their creative decisions. This is a key skill to develop early on in a design career.

But, so is being able to emotionally disconnect. It is important to understand that often ideas will not make the grade, to learn why they didn’t and be able to move on.

Being open-minded is essential as the pace of technology and innovation continues to accelerate. It’s vital to be able to adapt, learn and push out of a comfort zone.

This is an exciting and dynamic industry that is always evolving and, as a designer within it, it’s important to keep those creative antennae permanently switched on.