Interview Tips for Landing a Creative Job

Interview Tips for Landing a Creative Job

Dan Garriott chuckles as he recounts the time he met a man who has since become a good friend, and they got to talking about their vocations. "He's a big-time tech recruiter," says Garriot. "I met him at a party, and he introduced himself as a ‘flesh merchant.'"

But Garriott, who founded Right Brain Resource, a small creative-staffing agency in Portland, Oregon, hardly takes the flesh-merchant approach to his job of recruiting and placing creative talent.

"When you deal with creative people, you have to really empathize with their situation," Garriott says. "You have to treat them with a lot of respect. The work they do is unique and valuable. They are not cattle; they are human beings."

But Garriott is quick to add that creative types need to be just as careful about the way they treat people as do those hiring them. "You have to keep in mind with a niche market, everybody knows each other," he warns. As a creative person, your reputation in terms of work style and integrity will precede you.

"If you meet someone and leave them with a bad taste in their mouth, they're going to share that with other people," Garriott explains.

For many years, Garriott worked as a graphic designer. In fact, he claims he "could probably walk from one end of the city to the other touching buildings that I've temped in for creative-staffing agencies."

As a result of his years in their shoes, he empathizes with creative workers. "I'm very passionate about helping creative people find work, because I've been one," he says. "I've been on the other side of the desk, saying ‘I need a job so I can pay my rent.'"

But for the past few years, he's been on the other end of the business -- the end that does the hiring. Having worn both pairs of shoes in the dance that is the hiring process, Garriott has unusual insight.

When it comes to the interview, Garriott has some great words of advice, which we've taken the liberty of turning into easy-to-remember cliches:

  • Pick Up What They're Laying Down: "In an interview, you'll be able to pick up on what they're looking for," Garriott says. "Talk about the stuff you've done that's related to that." You want to make sure they're comfortable that you can provide the services they need. "People will actually lead the interview for you and give direction in what way to go and what you should be talking about," he adds. "I think interviewing is not so much about spewing on about how great you are but listening to what their needs are."

  • Your Book Isn't Judged by Its Cover: "Don't be too elaborate with your portfolio," Garriott says. "You should let your work speak to how creative you are, not the packaging. There's no amount of packaging you can do that's going to trick them into thinking your work is better than it is."

  • Communication Is a Two-Way Street: "I think it's important to interview them, too," he says. "I think a lot of people go on interviews thinking that they have to impress these people to try to get the job and no matter what, don't disrupt the apple cart. But at the same time, you want to figure out what you're getting into. You want to go in with half a dozen good questions that you can try to get answers from that paint a picture of what the job is really like."

  • Honesty Is the Best Policy: "Don't say you can do things you can't," Garriott says. In the world of creative work, the cat will get out of the bag quickly, and not only will you lose the job you're interviewing for, you'll lose your good reputation.

  • Be Yourself: "I always tell people to dress the way they dress," Garriott says. "Don't overshoot it and be too stuffy." He adds that this lax attitude toward the dress code may be specific to the creative industry and even more particular to Portland's casual attitude.