Interview Tips and Portfolio Advice from Creative Directors

Interview Tips and Portfolio Advice from Creative Directors

The Dots held a Graphic Design Portfolio Masterclass at the incredible design consultancy Pentagram.

This was to give emerging Graphic Designers the chance to have their portfolios reviewed by Pentagram Partners and some of the UK’s best Creative Directors, Heads of Design and Art Directors.

While the industry leaders were in the room, The Dots team asked them for their top tips to get ahead as a Graphic Designer.


4 Top Interview Tips


1. Be confident, be friendly & be inquisitive.

If you are anxious before an interview, remember that the person questioning you has been in a similar position so will completely understand what you're going through!

Timba Smits’ (Creative Director at TCOLondon) most important interview tip is to:


come into that room and just try to be as natural as possible. I know it is hard to say but at the same time, I’m just a person… I’ve been in the exact seat that you’ve been in so just walk in there with a bit of confidence and a bit of flair behind your portfolio.



Paul Pensom agreed, adding that his top interview tips are to:


be confident, be friendly and be inquisitive.

1. Prepare & Research

It is incredibly important before an interview that you research the agency that you are applying for and (if you know who is interviewing you) the interviewer.

While in the interview, be sure that you know what the organisation stands for and why you think you would fit in. Harry Pearce (Partner at Pentagram) told us:


my tips for an interview are to be calm, be clear, know about the person that you are meeting. Understand their work.



© Photo by Jack Woodhouse


Be sure to prepare yourself for criticism as well. As Corrie Anderson (Head Lecturer at Shillington College) stated:


be prepared to take on criticism as people will ask questions and potentially be critical.



Being criticized is a useful part of growth, so take it with a pinch of salt. If you respond well to criticism, you’ll be in the potential employers good books. Just see it as preparation for when you show your work to clients – they are not going to like all the work you do!


3. Explain method behind the idea

Naresh Ramchandani (Partner at Pentagram) supported this idea and said you should:


really take the trouble to explain your work as you are showing it, rather than assume the work speaks for itself. I think the narrative, the heart and the intention that you’ve got behind the campaign or the piece of work is as much what you are buying when you hire someone as the piece of work itself. The personality has got to come out, as well as how accomplished you are.


Top Interview Portfolio Tips

© Photo By Jack Woodhouse


Companies are searching for people who have brilliant ideas, so describing the story and method behind your work is a good way to show how your mind works.


4. Be Concise.

That being said, prolonged explanations are not for everyone, so make sure to be concise.

Timba Smits said to:


let your work do the talking and just try to be the rose amongst the thorns


– don’t overburden the interviewer. If they are interested, they will be sure to ask.

Harry Pearce also said to:


let the person who’s interviewing discover your work rather than over-explain it or over embellish the story. I think so many people come to an interview with me and tell me how much fun they had doing something – I am really not interested in that. I am interested in the quality of what you’ve brought to show.


The main point here, is that all interviewers are different. If possible – try to establish if the interviewer will be the sort of person that like to hear the story behind a project, or would rather look at the work and ask questions.

2 Top Tips For Putting Together An Outstanding Portfolio


1. Show off all of your skills.

A mutual opinion amongst industry leaders was the idea that you should show all of your capabilities in your portfolio – but make sure it is engaging.

Leif Podhajsky (renowned Graphic Designer/Art Director) said:


I would like to see a set of designs where you can show me a good layout, where you can pick a typeface, that you’ve got basic coding skills, that you can take a photo, that you can do something from concept all the way through to completion […] if you can show me an interesting way of how to do those then you’ve got a good portfolio.



2. Keep it short and sweet!

This is all well and good, but you do not want to overburden the interviewer with tons of projects and briefs you have completed.

Jane Scherbaum’s (Deputy Head of Design at the V&A Museum) advice was to:


edit, edit, edit. Distil everything down to the strongest projects that communicate what you as a Designer are about. Include work that you can talk about, what is the primary concept to each project, break it down to that. Consider whom the portfolio is going to be presented to, personalise it and that all comes back to ‘edit, edit, edit’.


Paul Pensom (Art Director, Creative Review) supported this, adding that you should:


always remember that your portfolio is a calling card, not a filing cabinet, so don’t throw everything into it. You’ll be remembered for one or two pieces so choose carefully and edit ruthlessly.



In the words of Paul and Jane – edit!




Looking to get feedback on your portfolio? The Dots host monthly Portfolio Masterclasses, focusing on a variety of professions.

Register your interest in upcoming Portfolio Masterclasses here.

Interview Tips Portfolio Advice Pentagram
Share via
Copy link