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Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for Creative Jobs

5 min read
Product Marketer at Hike

Make sure your application package draws attention for the right reasons

The creative industries are as popular as ever – combined, they’re home to 3.2 million jobs in the UK. Regardless of your specialty, there are plenty of opportunities to start or grow your career. However, applying for creative jobs presents some unique challenges. A basic CV isn’t enough in most instances – you need to show evidence of your skill set in more dynamic ways. A lot of roles at firms and studios are constantly evolving, so your previous experience isn’t always a direct match for the role you want. And most importantly, creative fields are highly competitive and you need to stand out, though some candidates attract attention for all the wrong reasons.

Brando makes branding B0k R Afte JZY unsplash

General errors on creative job applications

Whether you’re applying to be a graphic designer or an architect, there are a few common mistakes to avoid:

  • Using a “form” cover letter: A “form” cover letter is a standard text in which you only change the name of the company or the recipient, but the rest of the message stays the same. No two jobs are alike and, odds are, you’ll need a completely different letter for every application.
  • All aesthetics, no substance: Individuals applying to creative jobs tend to load their CVs with cool graphics, photos, and eye-popping designs, but in the process, they leave out relevant information, like past job duties and internships.
  • Arrogance: Some creatives behave as though they’re the best candidates to ever apply for a job. They make sweeping generalisations about their skills and the quality of their work, and, unsurprisingly, they don’t even make it to the interview stage.
  • Unrealistic salary expectations: When asked, many applicants toss out salary expectations that are just too high. Even if they’re the right fit for the role, they’re removed from consideration.

Yet still, these aren’t the only missteps to be aware of.

Industry-specific application blunders

When applying for creative jobs, you must craft a compelling narrative about why you should be hired. But that narrative should be grounded in relevant facts that reflect your understanding of the job, the company, and the industry.


In a recent Cosmopolitan UK article, hiring managers revealed some of the worst errors they’d seen on job applications. Reddit user chud_munson shared an anecdote in which a candidate lied about his technical proficiency: “I interviewed a guy who had an 18-page CV. It just had every technology he had ever heard of. He didn’t know anything about any of them.” The big takeaway? Avoid misrepresenting your technical skills on your CV at all costs.

In the UX field, attention should be paid to crafting a winning portfolio. Many UX designers present case studies that are too long or that fail to show any diversity in their approach to problem-solving. But perhaps what’s most egregious is including portfolio samples that are irrelevant or just plain bad. In an article for UX Design, Product Designer Mehek Kapoor shared one example in which a candidate designed an app to alert customers that their orders are ready – while they’re waiting in-store. It was unnecessary, as the store employees could just call out the customers’ names when their orders were ready for pickup. Kapoor was looking for a project sample that solved an actual problem and showed real skill – what she found was simply a waste.


Licensed architect Brandon Hubbard has seen his fair share of job application errors in the architecture industry. Some candidates mention specific building features on their CVs but fail to share how they contributed to them. Others may submit CVs that are too long or that highlight irrelevant skills. The most concerning, however, is the use of confusing graphics, like the one below.

Percentage image

The candidate wanted to display his expertise, but it’s not clear what these percentages mean. Does he only know how to use 50% of AutoCAD’s features? And if so, why would he share that with a prospective employer? It can be helpful to use colourful graphics on a CV, but their message and intent should be crystal clear. Otherwise, leave them out.

Graphic design

A lot of graphic design job applicants focus their portfolio on just one type of design. Instead, you should include samples of your work in branding, web design, illustration, and print. If you don’t have professional examples of each, create some spec work to fill in the gaps. And, make sure your work is available online and not just as a physical portfolio or attachment.

As a graphic designer, you should also tailor your portfolio to your audience. For example, if you’re pitching to a small, individual client, your portfolio needs less jargon and more detailed explanations of your professional process.

Tips to avoid common job application pitfalls

Though each creative industry has its own requirements, there are some overall tips that can increase your chances of success:

  • Research the company and tailor your application to both the role and the organisation.
  • Build a complete portfolio that shows your absolute best work and the full range of your skill level.
  • Present yourself as the right person for the job but be humble. Show that you have talent but that you’re also willing to be a team player and learn the culture.
  • Study your industry to determine how creative you should get with your CV and portfolio. Some companies may be more open to innovative, multimedia designs than others.
  • Prepare yourself for skills tests, as these are common in creative fields.
  • Proofread your materials to check for spelling and grammatical errors.

In applying for creative jobs, a lot can go wrong, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Do your research and put your best foot forward – you just might end up in your dream role after all.

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