IXD302 Week 2 Applying for a Job

Insights from previous students and employers

Feedback from slack

This weeks lecture started with a helpful session looking at previous students and employers experiences of the placement application process. These were found on conversation threads in the NI Design Chat on Slack. I found this really helpful. These were the primary points I took away from the session:

  • Reach out to companies, even when they’re not advertising a position
  • Make sure your cover letter is personalised to the company and the position you are applying for. Employers notice this.
  • Take the time to review the companies work and be able to say what it is you like about it.
  • Be passionate and don’t be afraid to show your portfolio as is, at this stage, you’re still learning. What is important is to show my enthusiasm for learning.
  • Include side projects in your portfolio.
  • During the interview be friendly, demonstrate your personality and how eager you are to learn.

Creating a CV

CV example

A CV is a concise formal document that provides information on an applicants experience education and skills. A CV should include the following:

  • Contact details
  • A short bio
  • Skills
  • Work experience
  • Education
  • Awards and Additional Information
  • References

Other points to consider are not to include a picture, this is the standard across the UK. Another large factor to consider when placing an image in your CV is that it could result, even unintentionally, in discrimination. This is because an image displays your race, age, gender and other factors. Focusing on your appearance is not what you want the recruiter/potential employer to do. You want them to focus on your skills and experience. Therefore it is probably advisable in all cases to not include a picture in your CV.

Always check your spelling and ensure there are no spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors in your CV. This is a definite area of concern for me as I am dyslexic and very prone to spelling mistakes therefore I think I will follow the advice provided and have someone else check it for me.

Work backwards chronologically, keep the outcome primarily black and white and always consider white space, this will make the document easier to scan. Working backwards chronologically is the expected format of a CV as your most current experience and education will usually be the most relevant. A black and white or at least primarily black and white outcome is advisable as it is more formal which is appropriate for the document type and it’s less distracting in my opinion. Too many colour choices can be overwhelming and prevent a clear hierarchy of information from being established. In my CV I plan to stick with black and white with small injections of purple (my brand colour) to help link the CV to my portfolio and brand.

As a designer, it is important to include a link to your portfolio. Therefore I want my CV to have at least some small indicators such as the inclusion of my brand that helps a recruiter or potential employer to link my portfolio with my CV.

There is some room to be a little more distinctive in the design outcome of a CV in the choice of typography however good judgement should be used here. This means no overly exuberant display or script fonts. Again you don’t want to distract from the content on your CV by making it difficult to read and you also want to maintain a formal outcome.

Image of skill indicators

Avoid obnoxious competency indicators. This is a trap I have fallen into in the past and was even advised to include in my CV. The problem with skill level indicators is that they do not provide any additional information. There is also no solid evidence base or reasoning for saying that you are 80% proficient in certain skill areas unless you are willing to outline the parameters of how the skills are being measured, where you are proficient and where you are not it does not add value or meaning to the skill section in your CV. Therefore don’t include them. Simply say you are proficient in that area and leave it there.

Top Tip: Add page references as Page 1 of 2 so that nothing gets missed. 

This is a great tip if you have a multiple page CV and even if you don’t as it provides potential employers with reassurance that they’ve got the whole thing. It also indicates if there are any pages missing giving any potential employers the opportunity to find the missing page or pages.

Top Tip: Also consider using past clients as references.

This is a very good idea particularly if you are applying for a role that will involve you working with clients. By including a client reference you are demonstrating that you can establish and maintain strong relationships with clients and it also shows that someone who as paid for your design work on a project they were personally invested in was happy with the outcome. This speaks volumes for a design. As with any reference always ask permission before using them even if you have used them multiple times in the past.

When creating a new CV or revising an old one it is important to double-check that all of the information matches up with what is included on your  LinkedIn profile. My personal opinion is that a LinkedIn profile is essentially an online CV therefore it makes sense that the two should match. It is also highly likely that a future employer will review your LinkedIn account and any inconsistencies may raise concerns.

Finally where possible a CV should be tailored to match the job being applied for. This can be done by adjusting your bio, reordering your skill list to place the top priority skills in the position you are applying for at the top. You may also want to focus on different areas of your past experience etc. This may be a little time consuming however as mentioned in the above insights from previous employers and students it can be very helpful.

I think the main point that jumped out to me in today’s lecture was, be honest. I think this is so important as people can easily pick up when others are being disingenuous. You do not want to be in a position where you have put something on your CV that is not true. Not only may this arise in the interview, if there is a weakness you need to overcome however you have included this as a strength in your CV you will be in a position if you do get the job that you might not be able to fulfil the role as required. This can cause a lot of undue problems, so be honest. This does not mean being negative or not selling yourself in a CV, if a job role has required a skillset from you and you have fulfilled that role you should include the skillset in your CV and be as positive and enthusiastic about your achievements as you like.

Cover Letter

Cover letter

As with a CV you should keep your cover letter short, it should be no longer than a page. You should also try to keep your sentences simple and make it easy to read. Your cover letter is about telling the company why you want to work for them and why you are a good fit for a specific role so each cover letter has to be personalised for the company you are sending it to. This does not mean you have to start from scratch on each letter you can use your first outcome as a template for the others.

Writing a cover letter is one of the parts of the application process that I personally find a bit daunting. So I found some online resources to help me with the process. I found a particularly good Medium article on the topic of writing and structuring a cover letter written by Lauren Gill, Director of Talent at Venture for America. The primary areas covered were as follows.

  • Figure out who to address the letter to (this was also covered in this weeks lecture).
  • Get a sense of the company/role you’re applying for and adjust your tone of voice accordingly.
  • Start the letter with the role you are applying for and how you found it- it’s also helpful to express some enthusiasm here.
  • Spend some time talking about the specifics of the company and what you like about their services, ethos, process etc.
  • Include 3 core competencies that make you qualified for the role.
  • Summarize your 3 core competencies to finish.

This provides a great template for all future cover letters and is definitely a resource I will draw from when writing my own cover letters.

When writing anything it’s always good to take a moment and consider your tone of voice. For this type of document, I think your tone of voice will adapt to the company you are applying with, larger more corporate companies will require a formal tone of voice while smaller companies may prefer you use a more casual tone of voice in keeping with the companies culture. However, in all instances, it is advisable to use an active tone of voice.


Achieving an active tone of voice

In a Grammarly blog post, Catherine Traffis defines an active voice as

“a sentence [that] has a subject that acts upon its verb”

and a passive voice as

“a subject [that] is a recipient of a verb’s action”

Traffis also includes two examples shown below.

Active voice example

Passive voice example

Generally speaking, when writing it is better to use an active voice and to keep the use of a passive voice to a minimum. An active voice is often more effective as it keeps the sentence tone strong, direct and clear. A Passive voice is created when the subject is acted on by the verb. This makes sentences more complicated. However, the use of a passive voice can be effective when trying to keep the focus on the object rather than the subject.

Therefore by incorporating an active tone of voice will make the sentence structure in my CV easier to read. This is always a good thing and as my cover letter will be quite straightforward and to the point, it is unlikely that I will require a passive voice to focus on the object rather than the subject.

Image of cv and cover letter

Designing and Personalising Your Cover Letter

You should also consider design when creating a cover letter. We were advised in this weeks letter to match the style to our CV’s if it is a physical company and not simply being emailed. This makes sense as both your cover letter and CV will be received together and therefore they should appear similar.

When it comes to personalising your CV it is always a good idea to track down and get the name of the person you are addressing the letter to. If it is not clear on the application or website then it is definitely worthwhile placing a call with the company and asking for the name of the person who is overseeing the recruitment process. If you are still unable to get the name of the person then use their job title to address them. As this is a formal document we were also advised to always use ‘Dear’ rather than ‘Hi/Hey’.

Throughout your cover letter, it is also important to remember to be enthusiastic and passionate. It is important to demonstrate this from the first paragraph as this will set the tone for the rest of the letter. You may also want to consider including how you came across the position, why you are excited to work for the company and why you feel you are a good fit. This is where research comes in. It is good to have an understanding of the companies values so that you can demonstrate what it is about these values that you find interesting or exciting.

A final point to consider is that cover letters can be particularly helpful if you want to approach a company about a job that is not hiring. In this instance, a cover letter can make a real impression. This can pay off in providing you with a position or networking opportunities. While you may not see the results right away don’t be discouraged as it may pay off down the line.

Making an Impact

Image of envelope

It is important to remember when you are applying for a job you will likely be one of many applicants. Therefore you might want to think about how you can make an impact at this early stage.

One way to go about this is by posting a physical copy of your CV. This will be more noticeable than sending your CV via email. However, there may be instances where you have to apply via a forum or portal, in these cases you can simply follow up by sending in a hard copy perhaps in advance of an interview.

Here there is a lot of scope to get creative. An example provided in this weeks lecture was to send your CV in a postal tube, I thought this was particularly ingenious and know that I would definitely remember receiving anything in a postal tube. Other approaches included different forms of packaging and use envelopes such as coloured envelopes padded packaging, cardboard packaging etc.


Image of 20 questions text

In today’s workshop, we did 20 questions. This was a really fun exercise. We each selected a random post-it with a job title on it. Then the other members of the group had to guess what your job was by asking you 20 questions about the role. The team only had one chance to guess the job following the 20 questions therefore you had to use them wisely.

What I loved about this exercise was that it gave us the opportunity to work in groups. As we all had to decide what our guess was going to be and what questions to ask, it was a highly collaborative exercise. Due to circumstances relating to COVID-19 this was a great opportunity to get to know others in the class better as well.

It was also helpful in terms of thinking about how we classify different jobs and what qualities and skill sets are related to different jobs. This gave us the opportunity to consider how we would classifier our own skillsets in relation to the jobs as well.

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