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What employers look for #4

The fourth installment is from Simon Manchipp, co-founder at London-based SomeOne.

SomeOne in London studio

Everyone is a graphic designer these days. Everyone has chosen the colour of their wallpaper, curtains, or the colour of their car. So everyone thinks they are qualified to make graphic judgements. After 10 years in advertising I found a similar thing with music — everyone smiled and nodded over the moving image, very few questions over the edit, the grading or the lighting, but everyone, almost everyone had something to say about the soundtrack.

“Have you tried Elvis?” “What about Nirvana?”

It said more about their musical taste than what was right for the ad. But they felt they could confidently contribute.

The same occurs with applications for jobs at SomeOne. We get hundreds of applicants for the few jobs that come up here. But some of them, man alive… I really wish they’d read what I’m about to write.

SomeOne in London studio

SomeOne in London studio

Your portfolio: I run a company. It’s tough. Complex. Very time consuming. I am time-poor. So your portfolio has one purpose: Dazzle me. From the first page. Show me what you got. Now is your chance to make me double-take. Make me actually stop the other thing I’m doing. I get about 20 seconds to jump through your PDF. Often on an iPhone. On the way to a meeting. So make it count. Beautifully crafted, brilliant ideas. And don’t worry, it need’t have actually been accepted by the client (although that always gets extra kudos). Show me your cut. The one that floats your boat.

And being SomeOne, we do want to see your logo work. But make sure it is applied to something, inventively, progressively, interestingly. Make a BrandWorld — not just an Illustrator vector whacked on a LiveImage Photoshop file. Show me how the work goes deep. How you use it to create a rich brand world… not another logo rubber-stamped everywhere. If I cover the logo, what else is there to tell me who’s talking? Make it all shine. Dazzle me.

SomeOne in London studio

Copy: Show me you can write, not just make other peoples writing look good, and you’ll get my attention. A witty, smart, appropriate CV will always add value. Never underestimate the CV. It’s old-school, but it tells me a lot. it tells me you can string a sentence together… which probably means you could speak to a client, which probably means you are confident, which probably means you are good. Probably.

SomeOne in London studio

Strategy: What was the big idea behind a project? We start all our credentials with a quick run through of: What the challenge was. How we approached it. What the results were. Why it worked. Where it worked. It’s a really simple construct, but if you can answer each of the sections, you get a quick and effective way of describing the creative work behind the creative work. Show me you think. And how you think. And where that thinking works.

SomeOne in London studio

You: If you get hired you will love what you do. You won’t quite believe you get paid to do it. You will always be amazed that you’ve managed to make a career out of doing stuff you love. In fact, You’re always going to be waiting to get found out. Everyday you get to go to a cool studio, in the coolest city in the world, to work with the coolest clients on the planet, to just do cool stuff for them, with the coolest people… then go out for drinks with them all. That isn’t a job. That is amazing.

So get excited. If you don’t want it more than the next person, the next person will probably get it. Don’t be annoying, be clever. Think — what’s going on right now? What is topical. What are they up to? How can I be useful? Then do it.

SomeOne in London studio

10,000 hours: You are probably young. Fresh from college even. And that’s cool. That’s how most of our designers start. But 10,000 hours is widely accepted to be how long it takes to be an expert. In anything. From playing the guitar to the way you operate on peoples brains. It’s the same with design. You need to do your time. There is no quick fix. You can’t be an overnight expert. So do your time.

The Beatles went to Hamburg to rack up their hours faster than waiting the usual 10 years (the average time it takes to get to 10,000 hours under your belt). They started playing at 8pm and got home at 8am. Every day. For Months. You are no different. To get noticed, to get hired, to keep the job, to get promoted, paid more, you need to be the first in, and the last out. Everyday. All the time.

Getting the job is tough. Keeping it is harder.

SomeOne in London studio

Visit the SomeOne website. Follow Simon Manchipp on Twitter.

Other parts in the series:

What employers look for #1, by Eric Karjaluoto of smashLAB
What employers look for #2, by Jim Walls of 160over90
What employers look for #3, by Rochelle Fainstein of Sterling Brands
What employers look for #5, by Blair Thomson of Believe in

Photography of the SomeOne workspace by Alex Edouard.

My second book on Amazon

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31 comments about “What employers look for #4”

  1. I loved the 10,000 hour point. Everyone seems to think they are an expert if they’ve done graphic design or marketing for a little bit of time. You don’t become an expert until you’ve put in the time and the struggle learning the craft.

  2. Indeed I have heard the point about 10,000 hours being needed to become an expert in anything; problem is few designers have that experience (the ones that do are being hunted by companies like SomeOne ;)

  3. First off, thank you for a great article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and subsequently understanding the processes undertaken when hiring a new creative within a studio.

    I do, however, have one question which you may hopefully be able to shine some light on:
    As a sole Graphic Designer within a small commercial company (creating their brand, adverts, exhibition graphics, moving image etc..). I would like to know if there are any steps I would need to take in order to approach the ‘design studios’ of the world, having not been in that environment before.

    Thank you in advance and, again, congratulations on a successful article.

  4. ‘You are probably young. Fresh from college even. And that’s cool. That’s how most of our designers start. But 10,000 hours is widely accepted to be how long it takes to be an expert. In anything. From playing the guitar to the way you operate on peoples brains. It’s the same with design. You need to do your time. There is no quick fix. You can’t be an overnight expert. So do your time.’

    ^SO TRUE. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this concept simply not understood. I’m a young designer and I just do not know why others are not following suite. We have had interns at my place of business that think they are hot sh*t and truly do not know the meaning of working long and hard hours to get to the next level. It simply kills me. ‘Do your time’, it cannot be stressed enough.

  5. It makes a change to hear good advice from somebody actually deep in the game, rather than bad advice from some opinionated blogger on the fringes. The bit about 10,000 hours is so true, I’m working out how many i’ve done right now.

    Great series David, a great range of opinions and very impressive book of contacts!

  6. I was wondering……what exactly can a new hire be expecting to do?
    Is there a designer hierarchy? Who pitches the client, who designs the product, do new hires just complete other’s work?

    If I come in at 6 am and leave at 10 pm what have I accomplished in that time? How is work reviewed? Do I need to be a salesman too? How steady is the work…am I busy all year?

    I think everyone wants to design stuff and work on their own ideas…but is that what really happens?

  7. I just found this series on your site, and really appreciate your get-to-the-point attitude. As a trained Interior Designer, I always feel quite a stab when someone says “oh, I like decorating too”.

    The hours plus the portfolio is key. Thanks for the great article.

  8. Taking 10 years to clock up 10,000 hours seems a very long time. I may be completely mistaken (I’m a student and new to graphic design so I’m only speculating here… grain of salt and all that) but that would equate to roughly 19 hours a week or about 3 and a half hours a day for a five day week.
    Be great to work those hours but maybe not so much on the payslip.

  9. @jasonvana — Thanks

    @mquotes — Yep — Outliers by Gladwell covers it brilliantly.

    @jordhemsworth — Working ‘in-house’ is a tough gig — but a rewarding one… we know brilliant designers working for Dyson, Innocent and Eurostar… if you want to go Agency side, it’s a very different experience, but not an impossible move at all. Build up a great folio. Demonstrate how you’ve moved things on. Approach agencies. Simple as that. (And don’t give up!)

    @krystikalkman — Yep, we’ve all met them!

    @Meridith — Every agency is different. For me, if we hire a new designer, they should be the most exciting person in the room, and should be working on live projects from day one. There will be an element of ‘cutting out boards and making tea’ But not all the time. That’s stupid. The newest junior designer should be the one with the freshest thinking, challenging everyone. So while juniors have to rack up their 10,000 hours to get to the top — and being generally helpful is part of that — the position is one of designer, not courier. So it should be treated as such.

    @Matt — It’s a guide! — You can do it faster. The 10,000 hr story with regards to the Beatles goes that they only knew 3 songs when they started in Hamburg. Their job was to play 8 hours a day. That’s a lot of hours to play the same 3 songs. So they started coming up with new songs. They played every day for over two years. If they played 7 days a week, that’s about 3,000 hours per year. That means it took them 3 1/3rd years to reach their 10,000 hour mark. Of course there were a few opportune breaks that came along. The timing was right. They achieved their 10,000 hours as Rock and Roll become the hot new thing. — Read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, there’s a great one in there about Bill Gates & the 10,000 hrs too.

  10. Meredith, it all depends on what you’re hired to do. There will be defined roles within any studio that will have a varied amount of roles and responsibilities attached to them. These should be outlined on any job description. You should go into any position knowing what is expected of you.

    Reading each entry in this series, it seems that there’s an underlying theme that you should be prepared to work all hours and be thankful for it. This is partly true. The thought of working every hour under the sun is a scary prospect when starting out, but it won’t happen everyday, and if it does, you should be bringing in more staff to ease the burden, or taking a look at your time/project management skills. If you’re working all hours, you become tired and the work will suffer.

    The amount of time spent on a particular project should depend on a number variables, such as budgets, deadlines, clients. I’m like the next designer, happy to plough the hours in, but being in an office for all hours everyday will not result in a good work/life balance – as mentioned in #3 of this series. Once you settle in you’ll get an idea of what you can and can’t achieve in the working day.

    When you’re working for an agency, or as a freelancer for that matter, you will be designing stuff and working on your own ideas, that’s what we do and it’s amazing.

  11. Thanks for the response Simon. Outliers looks like a very interesting read, I’ll definitely have a look… thanks for the recommendation!

  12. “But some of them, man alive… I really wish they’d read what I’m about to write.”

    Isn’t that YOUR mistake? Wouldn’t something like what was written in this article be part of the job description?

  13. Just a general thank you for posting the series David :) A very interesting and helpful read!

  14. @Matt – If you’re working for a large company, odds are good you’re lucky when your eight hour day includes 3-1/2 hrs of actual solid design. I’ve had days where I got no design in at all because of meetings and dealing with design-by-committee and putting out fires (that doesn’t even include the fact that I also program and the previous job where I was also the customer rep and salesperson; each of those things gets its own 10,000 hrs!). That means putting in those hours outside of work, for a lot of us. If I relied on just my job to get my “10,000 hrs,” just 10 years would be ambitious and probably not nearly long enough!

    @Meredith – Every place is different. I worked at a place where I was responsible for everything from cold calling and landing sales up through design, programming, customer service and followups. Pretty much every aspect except billing. But I know designers who are horrified that I do my own image optimizations and code. I definitely recommend working at a place where you are responsible for the project from end to end for at least a couple years if you can find it. It’ll help you get a feel for your role in the process if you later move on to a place where you’re only doing one segment of the customer work.

  15. Thanks so much for these articles. I totally agree with the 10,000h. I have been working for about 4 1/2 years now as an in-house graphic designer and even though sometimes I feel like pulling my hair and
    screaming out loud (to the bosses who think knocking-off is the way to go and kill design by committee) I have learned a lot, from valuable time management to interpersonal skills and communication refinement to “never give up” and keep on learning. In the end it comes down to the right amount of talent, a wicked portfolio and a dedication/passion to the job. If you love what you do, you will put in the extra work, hours and strive for more.

  16. @manchipp — Fantastic. Thank you for the feedback. It’s great to get advice from someone (no pun intended) like yourself. My aim was and still is to work as part of a creative agency so there’s no way I’m giving up on that!

    Thanks again for your constructive feedback & opinion.

    Jordan

  17. I’ve been really enjoyed this series of articles… they are full of helpful hints.
    I’m wondering (or suggesting, depends on the answer), will there be an interview to a company that asks for, say, motion designers or animators? It’s just that I haven’t found good input on portfolios for these kind of jobs …considering, for instance, the mandatory pdf that has been talked about here, I’m not sure what the best solution would be for someone that wants to send their showreel to an employer that has no more than 15 seconds to spend per applicant.

  18. I always get disenchanted by employers who expect designers to be first in and last out and do an insane amount of hours and have no life balance outside of work. Yes, of course we all need to put in our time, a lot of time but no other industry that I’ve worked in expects people to come in and magically blow them away. Other industries seem to look at drive, potential, communication ability and willingness to learn. I interview candidates for my workplace and luckily we have had excellent people come through our doors and really contribute to growing the company. And I do look for great work and a style that is unique and refreshing but above all it’s about attitude. I can’t highlight enough candidates that come through our door that might have great work but lack a lot of qualities that make people want to work with you: no smile, dry personality, no confidence, lack research of the company, poor communication skills and many more issues.

    Design is important but so is life and relationships and those are what actually provide us with the ingenuity and inspiration to produce lively work. If you spend all day at the office mulling over pixels and not taking a look at the big picture, your work will surely suffer. I really can’t emphasize enough seeing design work that doesn’t relate to people, all it does is look pretty and impress other designers.

  19. @Joel… The question posed for me was ‘what tips would you give to get a job in design.’

    Work hard. It’s a really good tip.

    Considering your ‘work/life balance’ at interview in a highly competitive market. Isn’t good advice. If you want to get that job. 

    Thing is Joel, I am very lucky. I do what I love. I don’t sweep the roads. I don’t add up other peoples dreary numbers. We as designers dream, we laugh, we play. I interview people every now and then. But really I love creating things with people that inspire me. 

    No wonder competition is fierce. Everyone would love this job! 

    Yes. When you start out, you turn up early. Leave late. Might even — shock horror — work all night. Or work a weekend. **Shudder!**

    But it is a laugh! Working all night. Getting Pizza’s in. Cranking up the music. Sorting the work. Getting it perfect. Just in time for the pitch. It’s a buzz! You make some great friends along the way. Do some silly things. Muck about. And when you win. It’s an amazing feeling. 

    But, you do need to want to do it. 

    Or someone else will bump you out of your cosy work/life balance and win that project. Or your job. 

    People don’t complain about work/life balance when they love what they do.

    From Eames to Hoefler. Brody to Saville. Kalman to Speikerman. They are significant because the don’t draw a distinction between work and play. It is one and the same thing. 

    No one asked Eames to make much of his stuff. He just did it. Because he wanted to. Brody started Fuse because he fancied it. For a laugh. Hoefler created HTF Didot because he could. Not because he had to. They were driven to do it. No one drove them. 

    You do good work. You’ll get more good work. Do crap. Get more crap. It’s that simple. 

    And if you are more worried about making sure you have harmonic balance. Well. Perhaps working in a fast moving, progressive, global hot-shop isn’t for you. Stick to doing flyers for the local yoga instructor.

    Angus Hyland (Pentagram) told me recently that he looks for patrons. Not clients. Because then he can do what he loves to do. That’s the spirit I’m talking about. If you don’t just want to do it anyway. If you don’t want to get in there. Make stuff better. Faster. Easier. More compelling. All the time. Then watch out. Because lots of people do. And they might just take that job you’ve just landed. 

    We all find ways to do what we love and spend time with the people we love. I’m not saying become a typographic zombie. Just that you have to work hard to get into design. And it stays hard to keep in the game. Because everyone wants to do it rather than get up at 3am every day to risk their life as a fisherman. 

    So. I worked my socks off to not only get, but keep this lucky break from breaking. And it’s worked so far. 

    That’s why I gave the advice work hard. Be first in. Last out. 

    It’s so you keep that amazing feeling of doing what you love everyday. And know that once you have racked up your 10,000 hrs there’s a good chance you’ll be happily at the top of your game. Running your own company. Looking to hire someone that loves creativity as much as you do.

    As for the work/life balance. I think it’s best saved for the moaning masses who do a job. 

    Not those who enjoy a vocation. 

  20. Work hard is a relly good tip. Agreed.

    Then the entire argument goes downhill from there.

    If working all night or the entire weekend becomes the norm (which is in fact in the industry), then something is wrong at the core of how the workflow is managed.

    But that is only one problem. A patron? Really? Then what you love to do is art and not design. Nothing wrong with that tho. An art, by the way, can be succesfully used in a design plan

    Then, the whole 10,000 hours is by far an oversimplified explanation of a complex phenomena and has been blown way out of proportion. Yes, you said it’s a guide, yet keep pounding that number as it is widely accepted. By whom exactly?

  21. I love people who love what they do so much that they do it all the time. Even if they are not paid to, because it’s fun, and fun isn’t hard work.

    The best designers, like the best comedians, love what they do so they never switch off. But sadly few of them love their jobs so much that they are willing to do them 24/7, because their jobs will rarely if ever, love them back. Their jobs won’t give them a family or broaden their horizons as much as life will.

    If you are trying to run a business based on your employees working twice as hard as they should, that’s bad business. It’s churn and burn and it’s not sustainable in the long run. As an employer you have a responsibility to the people around you including your staff, their families and your family.

    It is possible to still be really good at what you do and still do great work, at work because it’s fun and fun isn’t hard work.

  22. Hi @Ben.

    Quite agree. If it’s fun, it’s not hard to like it.

    I guess that’s why, over the past 6 years, only 1 person has ever left SomeOne (and once they did they wanted to come back!)

    No Churn & Burn here.

    I guess what I missed out was alongside ‘Work Hard’ — is ‘Play Hard’

    We go out a lot too! — You only have to look at our website (here: http://www.someoneinlondon.com/category/who ) to see us playing in Reykjavik, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Barcelona, Paris and of course London…

    It is after all meant to be a fun business!

  23. @joel
    I so agree on the attitude. I have worked with people that had little communication skills and were just really unpleasant to be around. You couldn’t talk to them and never mind trying to collaborate on the design. I would love to work for a studio were I have co-workers that I jive with and come up with some great designs, no matter how long the work day lasts. We have a saying here in Quebec: “Ce n’est pas ma job” ~ “It’s not my job”, meaning I won’t do more that what I was hired for and I won’t stay longer either. It can really hinder the work sometimes. I think it’s all about taking pride in what you do and the long hours won’t seem long.

  24. Terrible article, chucks a lot of cliches about design portfolios without any practical advice about how to actually achieve it, saying my portfolio needs to ‘dazzle’ helps no one.

    Saying that you are time poor but also demanding in depth case studies is a bit of a contradiction.

    Designers aren’t copywriters, the work will speak for itself – write well but don’t worry about being ‘smart and witty’ at the same time.

    The long hours culture that is being promoted there is terrible, no one should be working 12 hours every day just to impress, you’ll burn yourself out. Avoid agencies that expect that sort of work ethic, smart time management and a strong production process will always perform better than long hours.

  25. ‘Conti­nuous effor­t — not stren­gth or intel­ligen­ce — is the key to unloc­king our poten­tial.’ Winst­on Churc­hill.

  26. As I’ve been beginning my career in the graphic design field, I’ve been most concerned about the best way to present myself as worthy designer to a new job opportunity. It seems as though I continuously get rejection upon rejection. Do any of you have suggestions on how to change my chances and find out what it is I could be doing wrong or how to get positive, yet critical feedback on my portfolio from outside sources?

    I also struggle with considering myself a witty copywriter. I often find it difficult to write something creative that reflects the pertaining design. Any suggestions would be much appreciated on how one could develop their copywriting skills! –Thanks!

  27. Love the whole article. Everything about it. Especially the 10,000 hour thing. People these days think Graphic Design is easy. Plus the term Graphic Design is usually taken for something that its not. Result: everybody claiming to be a “Graphic Designer”

    Also, young designers tend to forget that the person viewing their portfolio doesn’t take more than 20 secs to figure out whether he should hire you or not.

    Love the “What employers look for” series.

  28. Dear Mr. Airey,
    What is a great website for Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and website creating tutorials? Also, what do most employers look for in a portfolio when seeking a future employee? One art director told me to include logo’s and a lot of typography.

  29. If there’s something I’m stuck with in Illustrator or Photoshop, I’ve found YouTube to be a decent resource. A lot of kind folk have uploaded tutorial videos. As for your portfolio, that was kind of the idea with this series. Have a read of Blair Thomson’s opinion next. And good luck.

  30. Wow, is this article supposed to help anyone or just scare off designers from this company? The only thing that was missing from the article was “you should never leave work and sleep here too!” I understand deadlines but working under pressure and long hours has proven to be unproductive.

    At least now you know where you shouldn’t apply for job.

    Ps. Thanks David for putting together all this, at least you are giving us an insight of some agencies, good or bad.

  31. Hi Nick. Thanks for your comments.

    I certainly wasn’t trying to give the impression that to work at SomeOne you need one of those ‘you don’t need to be mad to work here, but it helps’ stickers over your desk.

    We haven’t worked the weekend for months and months. In fact I can’t remember the last time we did that.

    Or pull an all-nighter. (Very common elsewhere)

    Or do many of the mind numbing, exhausting things expected of the traditional agencies.

    But we do work hard. Because to look effortless you need to think smarter.

    They say the reason people think magic is magic is that they don’t take into account the amount of extra work the magician is prepared to put in for a seemingly simple trick.

    It’s like that at SomeOne. It all looks simple enough. But it’s got a lot of rigor behind it.

    The point I was trying to get across was that being good in the design sector is not a doddle. You need to work at it. But that’s not to say we sleep under our desks!

    Actually I’d suggest we have considerably more fun than the average design practice.

    For example, sure we have the free drinks every Friday…

    and the cinema trips…

    and the gallery visits…

    and tickets to top lectures…

    … but we have also taken the entire company abroad every year since we started to celebrate another successful year. Reykjavik. Copenhagen. Barcelona. Marbella. Berlin. We even did the Lillyhammer Olympic Bobsleigh one winter.

    I don’t think you’d see a miserable bunch of workaholics do that from their under desk beds.

    We muck about a lot. Laugh more than anywhere I’ve ever been. Enjoy it more — because we work a bit harder and so we get more out of it all.

    But. True enough. We are not for everyone.

    Perhaps if you are near our place sometime in the future you should give us a call and see if you can pop in. Then you’ll see for yourself what a horrible place to work our studio is.

    Hope that helps.

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