How to Get Hired When You Are Just Starting Out

Chris Javier Blog

No experience? No problem. Side projects and tailored applications can help overcome your lack of work history.


To those of us just getting started? How do you fill out “past experience” on an application when, frankly, you don’t have any?

We talked to Career Advisors from art and design colleges around the globe about resourceful ways to package any amount of experience on your CV, application or in an interview. Here are our top tips for promoting your “student” status and jumpstarting your creative career.

1. Include personal projects to bulk up your resume.

Don’t limit yourself to the confines of a traditional resume. Recognize that under “Skills” you can list everything from Photoshop to silk-screening, that studio time can be just as important as past employment, and that unpaid side projects show dedication, initiative, and responsibility. If the majority of your experience is personal, studio, or classroom work, add more of a description than you normally would, explaining the kind of timeline you were working with and why you chose the subject matter.


Above: Illustrator Simon Prades effectively displays personal work and side projects in his online portfolio.

2. Don’t just list the facts; tell your story instead.

Whether you’re looking to freelance or join a creative company, business is all about relationships, so recruiters, clients, and hiring managers want to know who you are and not just what you’ve done. Including a bio on your website or in your portfolio is a great way to share your back-story and highlight what you stand for.

Your bio should address the following five questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. How can I help you?
  3. How did I get here?
  4. Why can you trust me?
  5. What do we share in common?

3. Showcase your creative process by sharing iterations and mockups.

Show prospective clients and collaborators how you think by including the rough sketches, prototypes, mockups and mood boards that led up to your finished piece. In addition to showcasing your creative process, this will help define your role within a given project – something that’s especially important within the realm of creative collaboration.

For example, if your portfolio includes a website, specify whether you built the entire thing, worked on the graphics, coded the frontend, etc. Bonus points for including captions under each asset you display that explains where you got your ideas, how you made decisions along the way, and what impact they had on your finished piece.

Above: Illustrator Tyler Jacobson includes sketches and iterations that bring his process to life. 

4. Hiring managers expect tailored applications. Do your research before hitting send.

Before submitting an application make note of your target company’s style – you can gather this from their website, campaigns, client list, and the content they share on Twitter and Facebook. As many recent (successful) “Hire Me Campaigns”  have taught us – in some cases the medium can be your most important message. Want to get a job as a community manager? Create a Twitter campaign. If your specialty is information architecture, turn your skills section into an infographic. If working at Vimeo is your dream job, make a video resume.

Targeting your portfolio toward a specific company gives you an opportunity to showcase your skills, initiative, and passion for the company in question.



AboveFlorian Holstein, a Creative Director who was in love with design and sports, created an interactive website to showcase his skills and land himself a job at his dream company, Adidas. 

5. Don’t be afraid to mention your idols, mentors, or creatives you admire in an interview.

Refining your knowledge of established creatives in your industry can really add to your interview repertoire. Musicians often promote themselves by referencing the artists they grew up listening to or the albums that shaped them. This can be applied to any industry.

Picture two candidates with similar education and experience (little to none) interview for the same photo assistant job. The hiring manager asks, “So why did you choose to major in photography?”

Candidate A responds with the typical “because it seemed interesting and I wanted to get a job as a photographer.”

Candidate B says, “I’ve been obsessed with fashion photography my whole life. I used to tear Annie Leibovitz’ portraits out of my sister’s Vanity Fair and today I really admire the work of photographers like Steven Meisel and Mario Testino and the risks they’re unafraid to take.”

Candidate B has a clear advantage, making up for what they may lack in experience by articulating their passion for their field and knowledge of established artists and trends.