How to get hired for design jobs

Readymag's design and HR teams share insights on hiring designers, from application tips to what truly makes a candidate stand out.

readymag blog How to get hired for design jobs

In our ongoing search for a Marketing Designer at Readymag, we’ve been reviewing hundreds of applications and speaking with dozens of candidates. Here’s what we picked up along the way, along with some advice from our hiring team on how to up your game to land your dream job.

These tips are authored by Alexander Moskovsky, Product Designer and hiring designer for this position at Readymag, with additional insights from our HR Manager, Galya Bondarenko.

Before you dive in

I work as a product designer at Readymag and have experience with various companies, from startups to big ones. I’ve been on both sides: looking for jobs and hiring for design positions. I don’t claim to know it all, but I hope my insights can help you see things from the hiring side.

This guide is mainly for designers at the Mid to Lead level. It leans a bit more towards communication design, but product designers will find useful tips too.

Portfolio essentials

Getting hundreds of applications means the hiring team can’t go through each one in detail. Design is about clear communication, so a well-structured application that's easy to understand is key. This saves us time and ensures we don’t miss important details.

We look at the portfolio first, so make sure it’s easy to find and navigate. Use clickable links for online portfolios and attach files directly to your email for easy access.

Your best bet for a portfolio format is a personal website. Today, many tools make creating a website simple and affordable (wink, wink). If you opt for a PDF, keep it under 25MB and accessible online without the need to download. Avoid just listing links to various resources.

Aim for a balance between creativity and ease of navigation. A complex site might hide your best work. Functionality and simplicity are key; however, incorporating unique visual elements that don’t compromise usability is a plus.

Start by showcasing your top images to grab attention. A minimalist site requiring extensive clicks to view work can be counterproductive. Ideally, feature your best pieces prominently on the main page and use separate pages for detailed project exploration.

Be clear about your role in each project to highlight your specific contributions, especially in larger projects where roles can vary significantly.

Adhere to the “less is more” principle. Only include work that represents your best. Adding mediocre pieces to bulk up your portfolio can backfire. Similarly, remove outdated work to ensure your portfolio reflects current capabilities. Remember, timeless designs stand out, while trendy ones may quickly feel dated.

CV do’s and don’ts

After the portfolio, the resume is next. It’s part of your design presentation, so avoid generic templates, which often tend to be overdesigned and less appealing. Opting for a simple and clear CV is a solid choice. Think of it as a design project: the resume should be unique, but not overdone. A resume that matches your portfolio’s style makes a lasting impression and builds your personal brand.

Resume must-haves

  • Experience. Mention where you’ve worked, including a brief description of each company, its location, and size if it’s not widely known, as, say, Apple or Microsoft.
  • Roles and responsibilities. Clarify your exact role and contributions. Roles can vary widely, even with the same title. Detail what you were responsible for and your achievements.
  • Language proficiency. List the languages you speak fluently.
  • Location and time zone. Include your current location and time zone to ensure you will be able to join team meetings.
  • Education. It’s good to include it, even if it’s not directly relevant to the role.
“Mentioning your planned work location is a helpful detail for HR. Our job descriptions specify the timezone the team operates in—aligning this aspect is crucial for companies to ensure smooth collaboration across teams without compromising work-life balance.”—Galya Bondarenko, HR Manager at Readymag

What to leave off your resume

  • Obvious skills. Skip listing very basic skills or software, like Microsoft Office. Avoid unsubstantiated claims about your abilities, like saying you’re “4/5 communicative”. These are better shown through your work and at the interview.
  • Irrelevant hobbies. Don’t mention hobbies like clay sculpting unless it directly relates to your job. However, if you have special skills that stand out and relate to the job, definitely include them. For instance, if you’re great at 3D design outside of your primary role, or if you have leadership experience, make sure to spotlight these skills in the appropriate parts of your resume.
“If you want to share hobbies or interests on your CV, go for it. But keep in mind that this is how you communicate with a potential employer, and even the most friendly and people-oriented companies initially want to see your experience, projects, and achievements.”—Galya Bondarenko

Crafting your cover letter

After the resume, the cover letter is next. Keep it concise: there’s no need for it to be long, printed, or sent as a separate PDF. Aim for 1-3 brief paragraphs right in the email body.

Make sure to include:

  • Fit and interest. Explain why you’re the right fit for the company and what draws you to the job.
  • Availability. Mention your current job status and how quickly you can start.
  • Unique qualities. Highlight what sets you apart, like a rare hard skill. If you’re worried you don’t have a unique edge, take another look. Everyone has something—maybe you haven’t got years of experience, but being super motivated or a quick learner can count just as much. Just make sure to back it up with a solid example.

If you can’t find much that’s substantial to say, it’s better to keep it concise, yet effective. A short introduction and a portfolio link can make a stronger impression than filler text. Remember, your first impression begins with how you present your application, aiming for clarity and simplicity.

“Personalizing a cover letter for each job can be time-consuming, but when it comes to your dream job, it’s worth it. Mention what aspects of design you’re passionate about and which you’d prefer to avoid. Share what you know about the company and why you decided to apply. Importantly, highlight what the team should learn about you first: share links to your top projects, or, in our case, a project you’ve done in Readymag. These details can really give you an edge right from the start.”—Galya Bondarenko

Why test assignments are standard

Test assignments are a common and often necessary part of the process, helping confirm a candidate’s fit before hiring. This step is beneficial for both sides, as passing the test increases the likelihood that the candidate will successfully pass the trial period and stay on the job.

That said, I believe there are ethical guidelines concerning test assignments:

  • A test should not be the first step; it should only come after initial screenings. It’s a mutual investment of time between the employer and candidate.
  • A test shouldn’t take too long—ideally around 4 hours, but it should still allow for creative freedom.
  • Deadlines should be reasonable, allowing for weekends.

Missing details in the assignment might be deliberate to encourage initiative. Always feel free to ask for clarification or more details about the test. You’re not restricted in how you complete the test. Offering various solutions, explaining your thought process, or even providing additional materials can showcase your approach effectively. Quality and demonstration of your method are often more valuable than just the outcome.

“Compensation for test assignments is a hot topic of debate, but still not every company pays for them, especially when the competition is high. We try to make our tests interesting and doable in a fair amount of time, and often, those who do these tasks stand out when we’re looking for freelancers later on. As a result, many candidates see these tests as a chance to shine, and for the company, they can be an indicator of the candidate’s motivation.”—Galya Bondarenko

Key takeaways

Here’s a quick recap of our tips for landing your dream job:

  • Keep it clear: a straightforward portfolio and CV make a strong first impression.
  • Your portfolio should show only your best work and be easily accessible, while a CV must reflect your unique journey.
  • A concise cover letter can set you apart and add a personal touch.
  • View test assignments as chances to showcase your skills.

Rejection is unpleasant, but don’t let it hold you back. Not getting a response or being turned down can be due to a trivial mismatch in visual style or technicalities like salary or time zone. Keep honing your skills. The right opportunity will come along, even if your portfolio is a JPEG (though we still recommend putting in a bit more effort!).