Tips for Applying for a Design Job at nine10

Stack of Resumes

We’re always on the lookout for smart, talented designers who have a passion for their craft. We get a wide variety of applications for our design positions, but few of them submit enough information for us to evaluate them as a potential employee. In this article, I’m going to cover some of the things we’re looking for. Hopefully this will help you be more successful at applying here or at any other agency.

1) Read the instructions

The first mistake is not taking the time to read the job description and the instructions for applying.During the first round of reviews, we filter out the ones that aren’t paying attention. The #1 mistake? Usually not submitting a portfolio.

2) Do your homework

This goes for any job, but particularly a job at a marketing agency. Research the company, know what they do, who the management team is, and who is most likely to make the decision on hiring you. The worst thing you can do is submit a cover letter titled “Dear Human Resources Manager” (when the company doesn’t have one.) Look at the website for the company you’re applying to, research news about them, find out what they’re up to.

3) Tailor your presentation

The real point of doing your homework is to tailor your presentation to the company you’re applying to. The objective on your resume should not be “To find rewarding full-time work.” You can find that anywhere. We want to know why you want to work here, at nine10, specifically. The kind of employees we hire see our company as a destination, not a just a paycheque or “Joe’s Last Stand for Jobs.” Your ability to research our company and tailor your presentation says a lot about your skills as a designer and a salesperson. Yes, sales. Every commercial designer is selling something, whether it’s an idea, a product, or a point of view. We need to know you can do this and your job application is the first test.

4) Submit a portfolio

If we can’t see your work, we can’t evaluate you for a design position. Take time to prepare a portfolio of 10-15 of your best works. The format doesn’t matter… online is convenient, but a PDF would do just as good. Any designer worth their salt should be able to put together a nice looking PDF presentation of their work (otherwise, how would you do the same for our clients?) If you want to put it online… it doesn’t need to be fancy – it just needs to show your work. I’ve seen artists use online portfolio sites like Behance, DeviantArt, and even creative solutions like Tumblr, a shared Google Drive or Dropbox folder. If you have the time and skill to build a really nice portfolio site, go for it… but don’t send us links to “Under Construction” pages. We’d rather see your initiative to solve a problem than procrastination due to perfectionism. The only time you would really have to stress about the appearance of the portfolio site itself is if you’re applying for a web designer position (you should be capable of developing something nice in this case.)

5) Show relevant work in your portfolio

We appreciate your skills in illustration or painting, and it’s OK to include such works as a supplement to your portfolio. However, make sure your portfolio shows relevant work to the agency you are applying to. In our case, we need to see your commercial work – advertisements, branding, websites, publications… anything you have done in these areas. If you only submit your pencil drawings, as amazing as they may be, we need to know you can work with software, handle layout and typography, and most importantly, see your ability to solve problems using design.

5) Show your thought process

Even more important than submitting a portfolio is what’s in your portfolio. If you’re really interested in capturing our attention, don’t just show us pages upon pages of finished works… show us the thought process that went into the work and how you solved the problem. We’re actually more interested in the way you approach a problem, how you think, and the considerations that went into the design, than the design itself. This may mean telling us what the requirements for the logo design were, the research you conducted, showing your sketches (you do use a pencil, don’t you?), and the refinements that went into it. Tell us how you met the needs of the assignment, the challenges you had to overcome, and how you overcame them. This helps because even if the final design didn’t meet your original vision, there may be a good reason for it (client feedback, etc.) We all have to deal with situations like this, and we want to see how you have dealt with them in the past. Effectively, if you want to wow an agency… don’t give them a portfolio—give them case studies.

6) Pay attention to details

Even though you’re applying for a design position, you will be evaluated on the way you write and your attention to detail in areas like spelling and grammar. Believe it or not, this ranks quite highly in the selection process. It seems silly for a design position until you consider that as a commercial designer you will work with words in almost every project. We need to know you can handle words well and send out proofs that are clean and ready for print. It also says a lot about your ability to organize your thoughts and communicate ideas in a clear and cohesive manner.


These are a few of the biggest things that applicants get wrong when applying for design jobs. By paying attention to these, you can increase your chances of getting an interview at our agency, or any other, for that matter. Best of luck!



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