So, You’re Applying for a Design Job

Tips for getting noticed (and not for the wrong reasons*)

Peter Cho
4 min readOct 2, 2014

Over the past five years, I’ve seen hundreds of applicants apply for design roles at Inkling. Hiring is hard, as those of us in the tech industry know, especially in the design and engineering fields. But I recognize that getting hired can be hard too. Here is some advice for young designers who are looking for their first design position, their next opportunity, or that elusive dream job.

Tip 1: Proofread your application.

It’s the first piece of advice you hear, but it bears repeating. Ask a trusted friend to read it over. This goes for the résumé, the portfolio site, and the cover letter. For me, good typography is as important as well-written prose. I’d like to see that you understand smart quotes, em and en dashes, and that your type hierarchy complements your message.

If you’re sending a customized cover letter (see the next tip), please make sure you have the right company name! Srsly. [* I saw a nicely designed letter recently with the line: “I’m confident that my diverse background and skill set will make me a great asset and resource to EVERNOTE.” (The emphasis was theirs.) Evernote is a great company. I hope they got hired there. (Because they won’t be working at Inkling.)]

Tip 2: Write a cover letter.

These days, it’s easy for someone to apply to multiple jobs with the same package. It’s all online, and there’s tools to help you do this, but I don’t favor a one-size-fits-all approach. Some hiring managers might not care much about cover letters, but I appreciate hearing that an applicant has thought about how his or her background and interests line up with the company’s mission and the specifics of the role. This might take some time, but that extra consideration counts for something. Hiring managers are people too — they like to feel special. They will notice when someone cares enough about the role to take those steps.

Tip 3: Apply for roles, even if they are a stretch.

I will sometimes see very talented graphic designers applying for a UX/UI position, or a designer out of school applying for a senior role. Often they won’t be a good fit for that role, but when a company is growing and building a team, they can have flexibility in creating new positions that aren’t strictly on the job board. And even if there isn’t an opening now, if it’s a company you’re passionate about working with, it’s good to get your portfolio in front of the team so they might think of you when they’re looking in the future. When you’re not sure whether you’re qualified for the specific role, it’s good to mention this in the cover letter. It shows your attention to detail.

Tip 4: Ask for homework before your interview.

Congrats, you’ve landed the interview! Now on to the hard part. One impressive technique I’ve seen is for an applicant to ask for a design prompt related to the business they can work on and present in the interview. It shows an eagerness to get rolling and engage in the problems the company is working on. In our current competitive market for tech hiring, many design teams are holding off on sending homework challenges because they can be a speed bump on the way to bringing an applicant through the process. But when you take the initiative and ask for one, it shows you are especially interested in the position, and it can change the dynamic of the hiring process.

Tip 5: Ask for an informational interview.

Alas, you’re really not a good match for what the company is looking for at this time and didn’t get called back. I recommend you still ask for an informational interview. This works best if you know the email address of the hiring manager or someone on the team. An information interview is about receiving thoughtful advice from a professional and making a connection. You can learn more about the company, you can become part of the interviewer’s network, and it’s a good step towards getting you to where you want to be with your career.

Hopefully these tips help get you off on the right foot in your job hunt as a designer. Look forward to your comments if you have thoughts or further suggestions. Happy applying!

P.S. Put these tips to good use:



Peter Cho

Founder, VP of Design at Brilliant. Formerly: YDays, Pocket, Medium, Google Project Ara, Inkling.