By: Craig Harshman

Throughout college you hear how vital your portfolio and the interview process are, but when do you get time to practice a proper, successful interview before the first “real” one? You don’t. You can take all the time you want practicing what you’re going to say and preparing answers, but what’s going to combat the nerves you feel when you walk in the door and shake the interviewers’ hands?

Some people may not get as nervous as others, but my first interview felt similar to the first time I was pulled over by a police officer. The afraid, concerned, shaky behavior hit me instantly even after I thought I could be as cool as the other side of the pillow–I mean, it was just a little speeding ticket. Nonetheless, here are a few ideas on how to make the interview process less scary and more enjoyable.

Brand Yourself

The first concern every designer has in an interview is about his or her work. Is it good enough? Did you include the right pieces? Is there enough to talk about? Thinking about this bef­ore an interview can cause anxiety and ruin all hopes of staying calm in front of your potential new employer.

Instead of selling your designs, think about selling yourself and your ability to produce the great work you are showing. Yes, the projects should showcase your talents, but employers want to understand how you solved problems you were faced with and how you can solve theirs in the future. Branding yourself as an asset to a company or team can help place you above the next candidate with an equally good portfolio.

What’s In the Bag

Selling yourself versus your portfolio is key, but that doesn’t mean that the work you bring is not important. Companies are always looking for something new and fresh but not at the expense of hiring someone who doesn’t fit their needs. A company needs an excellent designer, but also wants one that can think out of the box. Finding a candidate with both design and creative skills is the ultimate goal, so why not market yourself right into that spot?

In your portfolio, include pieces that hit on the needs of the company, but add where you feel you can bring extra value. It’s not about how much you bring to show, it’s about the quality of what is there. Bring a dozen pieces with you but make sure to have four or five that you feel strongly about in case you run out of time to show your entire portfolio. When showing your work, tell a story about each piece. Sharing a recap of the brief, an explanation of the process and highlights from the outcome can help an interviewer see the personality you put into the design, which helps reflect your personality and passion.

Be Yourself

Being nervous is normal, but as a designer trying to showcase your personal work, it can make nerves more intense. Bringing the right pieces of work to showcase and realizing employers want you, not only your work, is a start to being more relaxed; it’s also important to remember to be yourself. It’­­s good to show that you have opinions, a life outside of design and your own point of view so they see a free thinker, leader and a creative side to you. It may be hard to be yourself in a stressful situation, but remembering that the interviewer is a normal person can help you become more comfortable during crunch time (or you can picture them in their underwear like we learned in 1st grade).

If you have an interview coming up and are feeling nervous even after all of your preparation, three things that you need to remember are to brand yourself, be yourself and know what you’re bringing. If you can master the idea that they want to hire you, not just your portfolio, it will help you to be less nervous in general. Practice and prepare your work to show you’re the perfect candidate for the job. Good luck!

What tricks do you have to clam your nerves in a stressful ­situation? ­