Alexander Younger, the President and CEO of Design Lab, came by to give us excellent advice regarding the job search process. He talked about the importance of company culture, and the difference between the waterfall and agile working process. Design Lab is an agency in downtown Toronto that has a strong corporate culture and has won many marketing & communications awards. All of their computers are powered by the sun, and they even have a useful green mini site and energy calculator that can help you cut down on energy consumption and costs. Overall, Alexander’s presentation made me more optimistic about job searching.
CULTURE AND PROCESS
One of the first things Alexander talked about was the importance of a company’s culture; however, culture can be a double-edged sword. Using the metaphor of rowing, Alexander said that culture is when people of all different personalities come together to work towards a goal. They must all have the same vision, and must cooperate with each other in order to reach their goal, lest their boat goes the wrong way, or stays stagnant in the water. Work culture is the same way, and gives direction to the entreprise. It’s what happens when the CEO leaves the room. Culture is about passion, collaboration, trust, and doing what you love. Strong cultures encourage constructive conflicts. Before Alexander’s presentation, I had never considered looking into a company’s culture, but now I will make it a priority.
WATERFALL VS. AGILE
A lot of the guest speakers have talked about the waterfall versus agile working process, and all of them seem to come to the same conclusion: not one process works best. It’s good to combine both in different stages of the work in order to complete the project.
Alexander gave us a run-through of the cycles of work for both waterfall and agile processes.
Design Lab uses the waterfall process up until the construction stage; then they switch to agile. Agile allows people to work more collaboratively, but it is impossible to predict, and it’s a difficult way to win over clients (who prefer having solid deadlines and budgets).
THE COVER LETTER, RESUME & PORTFOLIO
I’m always curious to know how employers go through reading cover letters, resumes and portfolios. Alexander said that strong cover letters are not general; they’re tailored to the company you want to work for. You must say what you can offer in an honest and direct way. For your resume, it’s good to include what you like to do outside of the office to show that you’re human. Don’t over stress what you do; and only show what you really want to do.
In regards to your portfolio, don’t get too edgy or cool. A solid portfolio that lists the goals of the project in a straight-forward way is better than one that’s trying to do too much with over-the-top designs. Another thing to consider that many other guest speakers have touched on before is to always remember that everything that has or will ever be posted about you online will be looked at by potential employers. It’s best to google yourself and see what comes up. Alexander said that he checks people’s Facebook and LinkedIn profiles very thoroughly, and I’m sure a lot of other employers do the same.
DE-STRESSING THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
Love ’em or hate ’em, at some point in a designer’s life they’ll have to be interviewed. It’s good to find out something about the people who are conducting the interview beforehand. Show you are interested in them as well as the company. Bring your own set of questions (write them down if you have to). Don’t put on cologne or perfume because people could be put off by the scent, or worse, be allergic to it.
Alexander made a key point that struck me deeply: never settle; make sure you do something that makes you happy. If you don’t know what that is yet, ask yourself what you don’t want to do. I’ve been through job searches and interviews where I felt like i had settled, simply because the job was looking to hire in batches, and maybe I could be lumped into that batch. There is a dangerous allure to job stability and benefits, and although some jobs might seem like a good catch, I had to ask myself if I could grow in the company. If not, could I really see myself doing the job in the long term. The answer, of course, was no. Benefits be damned, I think I would be doing myself a huge disservice if I had settled for a dead-end job. I love web design because it makes me happy, fuels my imagination and sharpens my problem solving skills. I would be miserable if I couldn’t work on creative or challenging projects in the workplace.
“To be hired by the right company, you must not be afraid to fail.”
Alexander’s words really hit a chord in me, and made me more optimistic about the future. Sometimes failure is a blessing in disguise. It could lead you to a new job opportunity that’s better for you. I want to feel safe in the workplace, because it’ll be hard to go to work everyday if the people you work with make you feel intimidated or uncomfortable. I want to make sure that the future company I’ll be working for tries new things so we won’t get bored. Great companies are the ones that push themselves to learn more and go beyond the limits of the project. I’m so grateful for these guest speakers because they’ve taught me to re-evaluate myself and my values when looking for a job.
• It is a small world, so don’t burn your bridges!