It's quite possible Chelsea Vandiver is one of the most knowledgeable people we could ask about what it takes to get a gig at Portland-based Ziba. An employee at the design agency for almost 20 years, Vandiver has worked her way up to the very top and been the Executive Managing Director at Ziba for about four years. Ziba is a design consultancy that over the years has worked with the likes of GE, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Nike, Wacom, Philips, Johnson & Johnson and so much more; it can easily be said its own of the most respected design consultancies in the entire country, and Vandiver has certainly had no small hand in its success. Recently, the Managing Director took a little time to answer some of our burning questions about what she looks for in job candidates and some important lessons she's learned over the years.
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What do you look for when hiring a designer?
Of course we look for talent and a solid portfolio, but that is just the first pass. When we interview we are looking for designers with a potential for growth who believe that their best work is still in front of them. Passion, Curiosity, Tenacity, and the ability to leverage the collective perspectives of their teammates are the critical indicators of potential. I'm also always looking to be surprised or challenged, to see an approach or solution I hadn't thought about. Our greatest hires not only grow at Ziba, but contribute their unique perspective to grow our practice as a whole.
Is there a particular "tell" that signals a good or bad fit?
At Ziba, we are driven by intention. During an interview, when looking at a portfolio, I will often ask the question, what was the problem that you were trying to solve and how did your design deliver on it? If the designer can't articulate this, it gives me caution.
What is your best interview "horror story"?
One that comes to mind was a senior soft-goods designer who I was looking forward to interviewing because his online portfolio and experience was impressive. When he arrived for his interview, he brought in a gym bag, full of the clothes that he had designed. They were wrinkled, well-worn and judging by the strong odor in the room, in need of a good wash. He was a talented designer, but I just couldn't get past his lack of respect for his work.
What is the single most valuable piece of advice you could give to those on the hunt?
The most valuable thing to remember is that you only have to land one job. Don't treat it like a mass production job hunt. Be selective, focus on where you want to work and then do your research, get to know the firm inside and out. Pitch the person interviewing you on why you believe in the company and what makes you a unique fit.
Do you have any specific advice for recent graduates, or people just starting straight out from school?
Remember that the first job out of school is an extension of your education. Don't go for comfort. Work for people you respect and take a job that will challenge you and expect the most out of you. Think of it as an investment. It's more important to build a solid foundation for your career than to be well pampered with pay and perks —that will come later.
Regarding creative employment, what do you know now that you wished you knew then?
What I didn't realize was how short an actual design career really can be before you move into management or a career change. You may only have a decade of hands-on making. Compare your design career to being an athlete. You may age out. Show up every day. Embrace the honor to be invited to the table to make something better in the world. Make every project count.
Want to know more about Chelsea Vandiver and Ziba? Visit Ziba!