Looking for a graphic design position can be extremely stressful, even for the most skilled designer. Trying to land your first design job out of school, when you’re definitely NOT the most skilled designer, can be a nightmare. Back when I was applying for my first real job I had some terrifying dreams about all the ways I could potentially bomb an interview.

Now that I’ve been out in the working world for a few years, I’ve gotten to see the hiring process from the other side. There are definitely some things I’ve picked up on over the years that any designer looking for a job should keep in mind.

First and most importantly, this is a visual field. No matter how many internships you had or clubs you were in, your portfolio is your true resume. If you don’t have the work to back up your written resume, an employer can’t possibly get a feel for your style and know what you are capable of. Sure you may be a great designer and would knock people’s socks off in an interview, but you have to get the interview first, and you won’t get there without showing off your best work in the right way.

Most companies have a specific process for job applicants, and often this limits what kind and how many designs you can show off. If the job application asks for you to submit your two best designs, there’s a lot of pressure for you to choose the right pieces. Hopefully the employer will continue through to your full portfolio, but I can tell you from experience this is often not the case.

One of the most important things to consider when selecting which designs to show is what kind of work the company does. Look at their existing portfolio and select work you’ve done that feels similar to that. You want the person in charge of hiring to say, “I can see them working with us.” You may consider your best work to be some really elaborate t-shirt designs you created in your last internship, but this isn’t about your personal preference, it’s about convincing the company you’re a good fit.

The way you present your work is also very important. Obviously it’s important to use the correct file type, size, etc., but spending a little time on layout is a good idea as well. For instance, your web portfolio may have design elements around the work, or a background image, but when submitting an individual piece for an application it’s best to only show what’s important. It’s okay to have a short description, (especially if it’s student work), but always try to keep it clean and simple so your designs can do the talking. Cluttered graphics send the wrong message about your style and taste level.

It really all boils down to spending a little extra time when applying for jobs. You could apply to ten companies and send the same designs to each, or you could apply to five and really dedicate your time to understanding the company and showing them why you belong. The latter is more likely to get you the results you want, and more companies will continue to your full portfolio, where you can really show off your creative side and range of skills.