RGD HeadStart Conference: Part 2

The second half of the RGD HeadStart conference was just as jam-packed with useful information as the first half, plus with extra free goodies (seen above). The presentations exceeded my expectations and made me think about things I wouldn’t have otherwise considered such as how to be a successful freelancer. I also got much needed advice on how to approach interviews, and how to lessen the anxiety when it comes to networking. During the talks, we were encouraged to tweet pieces of information and quotes that we found valuable during the conference. To my utter surprise, I was selected as one of the winners of the contest. I received a book called Playing with Sketches: 50 Creative Exercises for Designers and Artists by Whitney Sherman. As a book lover and artist, I was over the moon. I now have a way to help combat art-block, and I can fill my sketchbooks with new ideas.


Since I am a web designer, the presentation I was looking forward to the most was about how to create a digital portfolio that would wow employers. Vince Galante, the principal of The Pixel Shop, told us that portfolios are only one component of a successful job search. He stressed that you shouldn’t base your job search on your needs because it’s not about you! In a job search, you’re part of the equation, so be aware of the needs of whom you’re communicating with. Think of the employer, and ask yourself what they’re looking for when they see your portfolio.

The Pixel Shop

The Pixel Shop powers the DesignThinkers conference website, and many other well-known Canadian brands such as Sears Canada and Food Banks Canada.

Hiring the wrong person is an expensive mistake. Vince advised us to test and proof-read our portfolio site thoroughly, but don’t rely on spell check. You don’t need a client’s project to do good work; good designers must show a willingness to take on design projects from their own initiative. An important piece of advice to developers and web designers is that your portfolio is a piece of your portfolio, so treat it with as much importance and care as the pieces you put into it. Employers are going to look at your source code, so make sure it’s clean. The final skill that Vince mentioned is to simply be human. Show you have a passion for something other than design. No one wants to work with a robot!



Our next presenter was Kimi Abdullah, Marketing & Operations Manager at Creative Niche. She gave an engaging talk about freelancing success. I’ve always wondered what it took to be a freelancer, and she opened my eyes to the immensely hard work involved in sustaining yourself as a business. Good freelancers need to learn about sales management and negotiation. They are their own brand; as such, they need to communicate their brand all the time. Because they are providing a service, they must have flexible work hours, so the ability to travel will open many doors.

For those aspiring to be a freelancer, it’s best to first seek roles as a project manager and keep people organized. Go above and beyond what is expected of you, establish milestones, meet deadlines, demand timelines, and answer your emails! Create relationships that feed you work and money. When working with clients, you should know the client’s business, research their history and main competitors. Most importantly, ask questions! It’s expected and encouraged of freelancers to ask more questions and clarify what exactly the client wants and means. It’s ok to say you don’t know how to do something. The worst thing a freelancer can do is hide from a client or ignore their emails — it’ll make for awkward situations when you encounter each other at the grocery store. Kimi advised to never quote until you’ve read the brief and established a scope, and always draft a contract. The number one trait people are looking for when hiring a freelancer is attention to detail. View the RGD Salary Survey to see how you should price yourself if you’re considering a career as a freelancer.


Networking might seem like a cakewalk to some, and terrifying for others. Lynn Ridley, the Creative Vice President of Jan Kelley Marketing spoke about making the most out of professional networking, and helped us overcome its hurdles.

Jan Kelley

Lynn and her team specialize in network marketing. They believe that success depends as much on marketing to the network as it does through the network.

She advised us to be available on the major networking sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter. We should keep our LinkedIn profiles active, give people recommendations, and ask for them ourselves. Participate and follow LinkedIn groups to show what you’re interested in. As for Twitter, she said to treat you bio as a short, professional introduction. Tweet consistently, but not constantly. Follow trending topics, and participate in conversations. After attending events that involve networking, you should reach out to employers, reconnect and stay in touch. The most valuable lesson I got from her talk was that networking is like gardening; you have to plant seeds and nourish it before it can grow. She said it’s easier to network if you replace the word “networking” with “researching.” Thinking this way takes some of the pressure off.


The last presentation of the day came from Barry Quinn, Creative Director of Juniper Park. He gave us a thorough look at how to approach employers, understand what they’re looking for, and what NOT to do during interviews. Barry compared interviewing for a design job to participating in the Hunger Games. People compete for a coveted position, but in the end only one will win. In order to do so, you must determine what you’re good at, and create advantages for yourself. Edit what you show and say during the interview by highlighting your positives while diminishing your weaknesses–but don’t be too cocky. I liked the analogy Barry used of our portfolios as an “organic creature.” We must feed it, morph it, and let it grow. So what kind of designers are Barry and many other employers looking for? It is someone with:

1. An innate understanding of type, colour and proportion.
2. An active mind that is always curious.
3. Interest in whatever it is that they do.
4. Strong social skills. You should be a person people want to collaborate with.
5. Discipline and passion.

Designers who can show a unique design vocabulary in their portfolio often do better in interviews. What he means by “design vocabulary” is that elements of the design (such as parts of a logo), can be re-used in other areas of the website or promotional materials. It’s not enough to just show a few good logos during the interview. You must show how the logo (or parts of it) can be integrated into other platforms, and how it can live across many mediums. Show the scope of the work!

Barry also gave us advice for interviews. We should find out who the gatekeeper is, and who controls access to them. Dressing business casual is a safe bet, don’t look overdressed. To relieve stress, go into the interview expecting that they won’t hire you–this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care about it. Just pretend that you’re having a design meeting, rather than a do-or-die job interview. What if there is no interview? Barry suggested to request an “informational meeting”, even when there’s no job. This way, you can get feedback, then put it into action. Make sure to follow up and make friends. In real life, tenacity often trumps talent. Just be tenacious, but don’t be a pain in the derrière.


• Don’t sell yourself short.
• Your work should not feel laboured.
• Go the extra mile for clients and the people in your network.
• Help your fellow designers out. Be kind. Do things for other people, but don’t work for free!

Stay Connected! Check out RGD’s website for more events like HeadStart. View Creative Niche’s job board and start job hunting today!

Thanks again to Creative Niche for giving me this opportunity!


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