No one ever graduates with all the skills required to do their first design job. As a hiring manager, it’s important to remember this. New entry-level employees are an investment. You hope they bring their passion for their field, and an eagerness to learn and do good work, but you can’t expect them to know things you may take for granted.

That said, there are some basic expectations any designer with a degree needs to be able to meet to land that first design job.

A lot of this advice applies to any kind of job, but I’m going to address this to graphic designers and web designers, because that’s my specific area of expertise.

Follow the instructions in the design job ad.

Sorry. I know it’s (seemingly) obvious, and stating it seems harsh, but it needs to be said.

Not every organization has the same expectations, but whatever their expectations are, they take them seriously. Even here at Chepri®.

Most will want a cover letter, resume, and portfolio, but an increasing number of employers are getting creative with their requirements.

Many will require you to attach specific file formats. Others won’t even accept attachments. Don’t confuse the two.

Spellcheck everything.

I know more than one hiring manager who will immediately disqualify any applicant for a single typo, regardless of how nice everything else looks.

Between two equally qualified candidates, most people will choose the one who not only claims to be detail-oriented, but backs it up with correct spelling.

It’s always a good idea to have someone else proofread your resume. A helpful friend can be a good defense against autocorrect. Bonus points for getting proper nouns, like InDesign correctly capitalized and spaced.

Don’t overdesign your resume.

The typography on your resume should be nice, which goes without saying. So, don’t sacrifice readability and the hiring manager’s ability to skim your resume by including decorative elements that push what should clearly be a one-page resume to two pages or more.

Use a strong visual hierarchy and focus on readability first, then add decorative elements. I’m not saying to use your word processors default resume template, but I don’t know anyone with a good portfolio who ever got disqualified for doing so. A strong portfolio impresses us here at Chepri®.

Use high quality images in your design portfolio.

Regardless of format, your portfolio should look great.

If you don’t know why your beautiful graphic looks blurry or jagged in your PDF or on your website, find out why and fix it. Other applicants have sent crisp, beautiful graphics.

Tell us something about the design projects in your portfolio.

An image-only portfolio shows us your aesthetics, but we also want to know about each project’s goals and how you met them.

If you treat your portfolio not just as a catalog of imagery, but as a collection of case studies, hiring managers will be able to better understand how you solve problems.

Personally, I love reviewing a portfolio and thinking “I wouldn’t have designed it this way, but I understand why the applicant did.”

Following all of my advice above (in fact following all advice anyone has ever given on the subject) will never guarantee you get the design job, or even an interview, but it should increase your chances.

Good luck out there.