Discover the top 10 tips for landing your dream job in graphic design. Advice on securing a graphic design job from an agency owner

Top 10 Tips to Land Your Dream Job in Graphic Design

Advice from the trenches

Securing a graphic design job right now is a daunting feat. There have been countless layoffs lately between tech, finance, and healthcare. As these and other industries face downsizing and layoffs, it doesn’t help that marketing and design jobs always seem to bear the brunt of these cutbacks. With more and more jobs in our industry being slashed, the market for available positions has become super competitive. 

When our small agency recently posted a job listing for a senior graphic designer, we received over 500 applications in just seven days. While we had fully intended on leaving the posting up longer, we were quickly overwhelmed with possibilities and the review process.  Our recent hiring experience inspired me to shed some light on the do’s and don’ts of applying for a graphic design job. After reviewing hundreds of applicants, I’ve narrowed down my top tips for landing the graphic design job of your dreams!

1. Your resume is a portfolio piece

This should be obvious, but your resume is the first thing a hiring manager is going to look at. In order to make a killer first impression, a basic word doc is not going to cut it. You have the design tools to create a beautiful representation of yourself as a designer, and even if all a hiring manager does is a quick scan for work history and portfolio link, take advantage of this opportunity to really showcase yourself as a designer. For me, with over 500 applications to go through, it became really easy to tell if someone’s portfolio was good based on their resume alone. We were able to make fast cuts through this process.

2. Make your portfolio link easy to find

If your portfolio link isn’t in the top ⅛ of your resume, change it now! As a designer, you are a problem solver and you should be thinking like your target audience. In this case, it’s an HR department, creative director, or agency owner. One of the first things they will be looking for is your portfolio link so don’t make them search for it. Bonus points if you make your URL a clickable link.

3. PDF is king

Unless a job posting specifically requires another format, PDF will always be the best course of action for submitting your resume and cover letter. It’s a universal, easy-to-access format that is a safe bet every time. 

4. Diversify your portfolio

You may have a specialty, but your portfolio needs to consist of a variety of projects. Do not silo yourself into one area of design. If you haven’t had the opportunity to work on a client project in an area of interest, create one as a self-initiated passion project. While a passion project’s process is vastly different from a client or in-house project, it does give you the opportunity to showcase your absolute best work in your favorite styles. Passion projects not only showcase a skillset but also demonstrate your willingness to take initiative when it comes to continuing growing your graphic design interests and skills outside of your 9-5. Overall, your portfolio needs to highlight your best work, your interests, and areas the job you are applying for is looking for.

5. Use keywords from the job posting to your advantage

If there are specific keywords in the job posting that fit you as a person and as a designer, apply them to your resume. If a job is looking for specific design skills, add examples to your portfolio. For our recent job opening, we were really interested in presentation skills, but it wasn’t a requirement. If a portfolio showed this skill set, it was automatically in the ‘yes’ pile. While not all designers in the ‘yes’ pile ended up getting an interview, showcasing this skill certainly helped.

6. Follow directions

This seems simple, but you wouldn’t believe how hard it seems to be. We always ask for a cover letter, resume, and portfolio. If an applicant didn’t include one of those items, it was automatically a ‘no.’ Again, a hiring manager is looking for a professional, not someone who will need babysitting. We need people who read and follow directions—this was a test. Did you pass or fail? 

7. Your portfolio needs to be online

Gone are the days of submitting your portfolio as a static PDF. Even if you aren’t a seasoned UI/UX designer or coder, there are countless easy ways to put your portfolio online. Explore user-friendly platforms that will allow you to showcase your best work.  Videos  like this one can help you get started.

8. Use spell check

I cannot believe that I even have to put this on the list. Even a single typo or two can raise doubts about your professionalism, attention to detail, and commitment to quality. Another pro tip: try reading your application materials out loud slowly. This can help you catch other small mistakes that spell check might miss!

9. Tap into your network

Do you know someone who knows someone? Call in a favor. Sometimes, it’s not what you know but who you know that gives you an edge on the competition. With the market as competitive as it is, you need to use every advantage possible to get your name in front of a hiring manager. 

10. Go above and beyond

Don’t be shy–if you see a job you’re interested in, reach out! A LinkedIn message or comment on a job posting is fine, but there are countless other people who are doing the exact same thing. If you truly want an interview with a specific company, do some digging and reach out personally. Find the company’s other social media and DM them there– less people will be using this method. Another idea is to see if you can locate the hiring manager’s work email and send a message directly to them. This actually happened to me (and my email address isn’t an easy one to find). The two applicants that went out of their way to seek us out received interviews, not because their portfolios or resumes were better, but because they hunted and searched for my information. They went the extra mile—which is something we look for in our employees.


To sum up my best advice for applying to graphic design jobs, in order to come out on top in today’s tough job market you’re going to need to make smart moves and take a proactive approach. You can position yourself as a standout candidate by making sure you craft a flawless resume that showcases who you are as a designer and a portfolio that is diverse and well-curated. Both should be tailored specifically to the job you are applying for and free of error–it’s this attention to detail that can set you apart. Of course, having a jaw-dropping resume and portfolio are great but there’s more to landing your dream position. With hundreds of applications coming in for a single job opening, reaching out personally to the hiring manager shows that you are a go-getter who is willing to go the extra mile. Trust me, this is what we are looking for! So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, set yourself apart from the crowd, and make your graphic design dreams a reality. You’ve got this!

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