For several years at my previous position, I managed the marketing and creative team In that role, I had the opportunity to hire several full and part-time graphic designers. Having been through the process a few times, I thought I’d share some thoughts from the hiring manager side. Hopefully, I can share some tips and tricks that will help you stand out from the crowd and get that interview and  ultimately that position.

I like hiring designers. I think hiring a designer can be easier than hiring a writer, for example, because its very easy to see at a glance if the person who has applied for one of your position “gets it.” I’m not disrespecting writers – certainly a good writer can transform themselves and their work to meet the needs of an organization, position, or assignment.

The Cover Letter

The first step is having a decent cover letter. When I read them, I don’t spend a ton of time on them. Unfortunately, most of the time they’re filled with weird language, stuffy phrases, and are just plain weird.

I asked my friend and colleague Jen Lombardi, owner of Kiwi Creative here in Cleveland, Ohio, what she thinks about cover letters. She said:

A short cover letter that shows personality and a sincere interest in our company/culture/clients/anything! If you send over a 10-paragraph generic cover letter filled with politically correct fluff, you’re automatically disqualified for sending me the same bull$#it you’ve sent the eight other jobs you’ve blindly applied for that morning. Personalize, people! Show that you’re interested in us and explain why we should be interested in you.

The Résumé

The best way to get on my radar is to have a nicely designed résumé. I don’t mean an over-designed résumé, I mean one that’s clean and hierarchical. Please avoid crazy, hard to read fonts. I’m all for fonts other than Times New Roman, but no Zapfino. Or Impact. You’re laughing, but I’m serious. I’ve seen it.

Tell me where you’ve worked, what tools you are good at, and where you went to school. Won some awards? Cool, put them in. Certified in any special areas or topics? Good, throw them in.

Designer Resume skill bubblesOne trend I’m noticing on designer résumés is people using a bubble chart to show their skills. Don’t do this – it’s not helpful. Your 8 out of 10 in Photoshop isn’t my 8 out of 10 in Photoshop. Your 10 out of 10 in WordPress isn’t the same as my 10 out of 10. They’re visually cute, but they don’t help me gauge your skills and talents.

The Portfolio

The best way for me as the hiring manager to see if you “get it” is to include a link to an online portfolio. I don’t care if its web pages, rotating galleries, even a big PDF, make sure you are linking to something. I don’t care if you have a page on Coroflot, Behance, Wix, or whatever tool. Honestly, I think it’s worth a few extra points if you have your own domain name and designed a site as a way to further show your skills, but it’s certainly not a deal-breaker.

I can’t comprehend how a person would apply for a job as a graphic designer and not include a portfolio.

This isn’t a rookie mistake either. In recent searches, I found even experienced designers and art directors didn’t include a link to your portfolio. If you don’t have a portfolio, you’re not moving on. It’s not uncommon for me to get between 80 and 100 applications for a position, and I don’t have time to go search you out online in the hopes of maybe finding your portfolio.

NO QR CODES ON DESIGNER RESUMESI review resumes on my desktop computer, so make your portfolio link very obvious. Several resumes I’ve reviewed have had links to portfolios as QR codes. Don’t. Do. This. Please.

Now, on to your portfolio.

Please, put your best and most recent work in your portfolio. Put it the top. You may really proud of the annual report you did 9 years ago, but styles change, tastes change, trends change, and so on. When I look and I see stuff like that, I think that you’re stuck in the *INERT DECADE HERE*. Did you win 10 Addys for that piece? Cool, keep it in but tell me that you won for that piece.

I don’t see this a lot, but it’s always nice when a designer includes a little bit of narrative about what they did for a particular piece or client. For example, say “I was responsible for design as well as did low-level copy editing.”

If you are looking at your portfolio and you’re not feeling a particular piece, take it out. I’d rather see fewer awesome samples than 100 average ones.

Jen is looking for samples similar to the work her agency does. Your portfolio, she says, should have “design samples that reflect the type of work we do for our clients. (Hint: Our portfolio is online…it’s not hard to research.) Don’t apply to be a web designer and send me a portfolio full of children’s book illustrations.”


Here’s the stark reality.

There are many more designers than there are jobs. Jen says she often sees in excess of 100 applications for each designer position she has interviewed. That’s a large amount of people to try to stand out in. That’s why it’s critical you have a decent cover letter, an easy-to-read résumé, and a good online portfolio. It’s going to take great work to stand out, and if you are missing elements, or they’re bad, or incomplete, we’re going to move on quickly.


If you do get called in for an interview, and you don’t get the position, don’t take it personal. Same goes if you apply for a position and are not asked in for an interview. There are many reasons we select the people we do. My tip: thank the interviewer and team for their time, and keep an eye out for future opportunities.

I would also recommend not emailing or calling to argue the fact you didn’t get an interview or the position. You’re not going to change my mind, and it will ensure you get automatically disqualified from any positions we post in the future. Just sayin’.

Good luck out there!

This week, I had the privilege of speaking at HighEdWeb 2016, held in Memphis, Tennessee. As usual, it was a great conference full of informative sessions and even better people. For me, that’s really the highlight – seeing people I’ve known for years, sharing our successes, our struggles, and a drink. Or three.

This year, I talked about the new HTTP/2 protocol. Modern browsers require HTTP/2 to be served over TLS, so an SSL certificate is needed. While many of our .edu sites have SSL certificates, they can be a pain to install on other servers, test sites, and other projects we work on. I walked through installing Let’s Encrypt certificates.

Here’s the excerpt of the session:

When it comes to web pages, speed is always important. Users leave if a site takes too long. Google ranks faster sites better. Our browsers, computers, and smartphones have all evolved, but HTTP/1.1 was last updated in 1999. In internet years, that’s 5 lifetimes ago. Now, HTTP/2 has emerged as a modern update for serving content to users, quickly and securely. In this session, we will discuss HTTP/2, its improvements, challenges, and opportunities for web developers in higher ed. This speed comes at a cost – HTTP/2 is, for now, only servable via HTTPS, so we will explore easy SSL generation with Let’s Encrypt, a new certificate authority offering free SSL certificates.

You can view a PDF of my slide deck.

Highedweb DO IT LIVEIn my nearly 20 years of working in higher ed, I’ve been fortunate to have given dozens of conference presentations, but this year’s HighEdWeb presentation broke new ground for me. I’ve sat in many technical presentations where the presenter showed their tech, or their code, but not too many where some of the work was done live at the podium.

So I challenged myself – I thought what better way is there to show how easy it is to install a Let’s Encrypt certificate, so I took a big risk and did it live, in real time, on a real site, in front of 60 people.

I practiced many times, and most times it worked, other times the process was full of errors. On Tuesday, however, it went flawlessly and I generated and installed an SSL certificate successfully. Man, what a huge relief.

The Twitter backchannel was great:

Since the SSL certificate creation process went so smoothly, I also decided to turn on HTTP/2 on one of the test sites I included in the talk. Luckily, turning on HTTP/2 in Nginx is just a matter of adding a few bits to a config file. I did that, restarted Nginx, and showed that we were now serving HTTP/2 traffic. It was cool to have a bunch of folks in the audience testing the sites for me as we went and confirming the results.

All in all, the session was a lot of fun to put together and present. I learned a great deal during my research process, and based on the feedback, it resonated with folks as well.

If you’ve been thinking about submitting to do a presentation at a conference, such as HighEdWeb, I strongly recommend you give it a try. Presenting is exciting, rewarding, work-intensive, scary, and fun. This year’s talk was my third full session at HighEdWeb and my first solo presentation (minus the poster I did ’05), and it’s exhilarating to be up there sharing your experience and adventures.

Looking for some presentation tips, here are two great presentations from the Management and Professional Development track I co-chaired with my friend and colleague Aaron Rester from Roosevelt University.

The first, given by Genevieve Howard, talked about 5 public speaking skills you can incorporate into your presentations. You can view her slides here.

The second was given by the great Karlyn Borysenko and the great Jeff Stevens. Entitled “The Art of the Presentation,” it was full of tips and best practices when it comes to giving an engaging, memorable presentation.

These two presentations should arm you with the knowledge you need to be able to share your expertise and knowledge with your higher ed colleagues. It’s taken me around the world, so I strongly endorse giving presentations.

It’s interesting to see Google really pushing AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) and featuring sites that are AMP-ready more prominently in its mobile search results.

What’s AMP? Good question. It’s one I’m going to let my friend and colleague Jen Lombardi, owner of Kiwi Creative, explain, as she did in this blog post for the EdUI conference. She says:

With faster cellular data networks and increased access to Wi-Fi, people have come to expect that websites will load quickly and be easy to explore. But what if pages didn’t just load fast…but instantaneously? That was the goal of a group of publishers and technology companies that started the open source initiative named The AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) Project.

Introduced by Google on February 24, 2016, AMP pages now load 85% faster than standard mobile web pages…and this speed matters. According to one study, mobile pages that load one second faster experience up to a 27% increase in conversion rate.

Google says this:

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an open source initiative that embodies the vision that publishers can create mobile optimized content once and have it load instantly everywhere.

It’s interesting to watch Google reach into this space. Many of our sites today are responsive, but I find that even when responsive, the sites are huge, often unoptimized messes. This is especially prevalent in WordPress, where each plugin adds its own javascript and CSS files, and it doesn’t take long for a simple one page website to be well over 1MB in size. That’s crazy, especially on mobile.

AMP is forcing developers to reconsider the information they’re presenting, but the reward is more visibility in Google.

While AMP pages are getting pushed big time by Google, implementing this new technology can be tricky. For example, all your CSS must be inlined and not in external files. One more thing – that CSS has to be less than 50k. Search Engine Land has a deep dive into how to create these pages.

Want to see an AMP page in action? Here’s a post I did about Instagram a few months ago, but in AMP format. Have a look not only at the design but at the code inside it. You’ll get a taste for how much you have to shift, style wise, from external files into the actual HTML file.

As this site is created in WordPress, I turned to an AMP plugin created by Automattic.

Spoilers: there’s no setup or config for this. You install it, turn it on, and that’s it. It does all the work in creating the correct template, inline CSS, and body copy in all the ways Google wants it to be. My pages are also passing the AMP Validator tests. Yay.

AMP validation results for this site

This plugin also adds a meta tag to your regular WordPress theme, again with no added work on  your part, alerting Google that an AMP version of that page exists. It looks like this:

<link rel="amphtml" href="" />

That’s enough for Google to know there’s and AMP version and present it, if necessary, to site visitors via search.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re mind is traveling down the rabbit hole of all sorts of web development issues – issues like SEO, analytics, design, and more.

Read Jen’s post above as she covers SEO and design nicely, but AMP does allow developers to do analytics, ecommerce, and even advertising. This post from Google talks about how to integrate Google Analytics into AMP pages. If you use Jetpack and WordPress stats, this is another thing that the AMP plugin sets up automatically for you.

If you use WordPress, you should try this plugin. If you don’t use WordPress, the process to implement AMP can be more difficult and time-consuming, but if you rely heavily on Google, the reward may be worth the effort.