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10 Mistakes Designers Make When Applying for Jobs

Applying for jobs can be a daunting process, but it is important to remember to put your best foot forward when sending out your applications. Employers get tons of submissions every day, so make yours stand out by not making any fatal errors. Read below for the top 10 mistakes designers make when applying for jobs and what employers are looking for in resumes, cover letters, and portfolios:

1.  Sending resumes in .doc instead of .pdf

It’s surprising how often designers send resumes in the .doc format. Microsoft Word is not the program designers should be using when laying out their resume, and may result in an immediate rejection. We recommend using InDesign or Illustrator to design your resume. Your application is a great chance to show off your design ability so use design programs to layout a beautiful resume. One of things you will often do as a designer is creating logos, letterheads, and business cards, use the opportunity when you are applying for a position, to showcase those skills by creating your own brand identity for the documents you send to potential employers.

2.  Sending form cover letters

Employers can tell when you have cut and pasted a form cover letter from the web. The jargon is always the same. Your cover letter is your opportunity to show your personality to the company you are applying to, so use the opportunity to demonstrate why you are the best person for the position. Use your own words, not the words of others to illustrate why you are the best candidate for the position. Include ways in which your style blends with theirs or call out specifics about their company like their company culture or artistic style as the reasons why you want the position. Don’t make it seem like you just want any position.  Show that you want their position because you want nothing more than to work at their company. When you are applying, you are asking to be a part of their team so show you have some team spirit and you have taken the time to research the company and care about working there specifically.

3.  Not following instructions/directions

Most companies will immediately reject your application if you have not followed the instructions they have outlined in their “help wanted” post or ad. Read the requirements carefully and make sure that you have followed them to a tee and have sent the requisites in the correct format.

4.  Not showing a diversity of work in portfolios

Every portfolio should include work in the following categories: branding, illustration, print design/layout, and web design. If you also have work in other categories include those as well, but you’ll want to have at least 2-3 examples within each category listed above. If you are fresh out of school and don’t have much client work, create spec work to show you have the skills necessary to land the design job you want. If you only show you can illustrate and provide no work that exhibits your skills in designing brand identities, a company will not know you can complete work in those areas. Show a company you are a jack-of-all-trades designer and you can handle any client project that comes your way.

5.  Spelling/Grammatical errors

If a potential employer can spot a spelling or grammatical error within seconds of looking at your resume, cover letter, or portfolio then you haven’t checked your work. What would happen if you made a spelling error in a clients’ project and sent it to print? Who would pay for the mistake? The answer is probably you or the company you work for. After you have completed your resume, cover letter, and portfolio, send it to friends, family, teachers, etc. and have them check over your work. If an employer can catch the mistake within mere moments of opening your documents, then your friends or family will be able to as well, saving you a potential rejection email for your carelessness.

6.  Not having an online portfolio

We live in the digital age and every designer whether you are a web developer or not should have an online portfolio. Sites like Behance make it a breeze to customize your own portfolio site, so take the time to create one before applying for jobs. The best option is to have your own website so you can truly stand out amongst other applicants.

7.  Obviously cutting and pasting from past resumes or cover letters

This is an egregious mistake. If your cover letter has 2 different fonts that might also be different sizes, it is obvious to them you cut and pasted and didn’t take the time to consistently format. I know searching for jobs can be a laborious process and many times you are applying for multiple positions at once, but the employer shouldn’t know that, all they should see is you are dying to work for their company and want nothing more than to be apart of their team.

8.  Asking potential employers for recommendations or help in job search

When you apply for a position and are not awarded the position, you should not ask the employer for recommendations for other companies you should apply for. It is not the responsibility of the employer to aid in your job search, so don’t ask them for suggestions of their competitors. The web is a great resource to find job openings and design firms in your area. Take the time to look for them and don’t ask a potential employer to help you.

9.  Not taking your time

This has been covered slightly in the other rules, but it should be iterated again. TAKE YOUR TIME applying for positions. Check your spelling, have someone proofread your resume, cover letter, and portfolio, carefully craft your cover letter to reflect your personality and interest in the company, and make sure it isn’t obvious to the employer that you have hastily put together your application. These little mistakes make it easy for an employer to not consider you as a serious applicant because you didn’t take the application seriously.

10.  Applying for multiple positions in a company

When you apply for multiple positions in a company it shows that you don’t have a specialty. If you aren’t qualified for the position then don’t apply for it. Apply for the one you are most qualified for. If you are trying to branch out or gain a new specialty then apply for the position you are most apt for and once you have the position, pair up with the person who does what you want to do next and learn from them. It is much easier to move into a new area of expertise within a company than coming in cold.


We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • Stephanie Noel

    Wow! I love this article. I wished I read this before applying for work awhile ago. Does apply for jobs not related to design? And can this applied to jobs like copy print place?

    • Simon H.

      I’d say this applies to almost any job search :-)

  • Stephanie Noel

    I’m totally coming back tomorrow to see what else is writing.

  • Athena Cooper

    Really appreciated this. I had actually been wondering if I should par down my portfolio–thinking that the branding and print work which I don’t tend to do as often would make it feel scattered. After reading this though, I think I’ll leave it all in. Thanks!

  • Charlotte W.

    I don’t think having a hugely diverse portfolio is beneficial for designers who have a very specific specialty. I’m an interactive designer. While having a little bit of print work can’t hurt, primarily having interactive work is what will land me an interactive job. Show the kind of work you want to do, not just anything you’ve done.

    • Heather Mariano

      That’s true if you’re applying for a position with a specific title, such as interactive designer. If you are applying for a more broad position, diversity in your portfolio is definitely an advantage. Thanks for sharing!

  • Clancy Pannell

    Thx for the post Marissa! It’s always nice to have a little bit of advice when searching for a job. This helped.

    • Go Media

      So glad we could help, Clancy! Happy job hunting! :)

  • Craig S Grant

    All good points but #1 ia a bit of a gray area. I’ve had several HR directors and recruiters tell me that .doc is a preferable format. probably becuase they can run through their keyword system to sort.

    • Heather Mariano

      Hey Craig, that’s definitely a fair point. I would consider the size of the firm when sending your resume. If the company is small-medium sized (like Go Media), a PDF is definitely preferred as we do not do keyword searches. A .doc is probably only preferable to a larger company. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Natie Nolasco

      A good solution is to send both, a .doc AND a beautiful PDF, that way you satisfy their requirements AND get to show off your killer InDesign skills. I usually create my .doc with minimal formatting and check it in both PC and Mac platforms to make sure it looks ok.

  • sayeed

    Nice post Marissa. Extracted the most important issues. Thanks for sharing Marissa.

  • Marwa EL-sherbiny

    thanks a lot U made it for me, <3