So you want to work for Sara Nelson Design…

An extremely perceptive young man once asked what we are looking for when we hire. It was such a great question, that I penned the response below.

This may not be the same criteria other employers use, BUT if you’re in college preparing for a career in design, I encourage you to invest AS MUCH in your understanding of business and communication as you do in your design and illustration skills.

Dear C****, 

Thank you for asking. Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of the skills and attributes that we look for:


1) How is this person’s use of contrast? 

2) How’s the handling of typography? Is the kerning good? Is the line spacing good? Are the line lengths short? Are the fonts readable and appropriate for the situation?

3) Can this person draw? (Not a deal breaker, but it’s a great skill to have developed!)

4) How well do they know InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop? (What other software do they know well?)

5) How are this person’s thinking skills and creativity? Have I seen these concepts before? 


1) How is their use of the English language? It must be excellent. We work with the written word and subtle nuances of the language all day long. Even understanding clichés and cultural references are important.

2) Spelling and grammar matter—a lot. A typo in the resume, portfolio or email is a big red flag. We all make mistakes, but professionals do everything they can to ensure that work doesn’t go out with typos.

3) How are the written and oral communication skills? Can they present ideas in a persuasive way? Can they make a formal presentation?

4) Can they write a clear, concise email message? I don’t have time to proofread employee communications (unless it is something very touchy…in which case we all review it). I need to know that they are representing the company professionally in every communication.

5) Will this person pick up the phone and call someone to clarify?


1) Is this person a “grown up”? Are they mature, confident and poised enough to deal with a wise, mature, millionaire client?

2)  Where is this person in their career? Can they hit the ground running, or do they need a lot of guidance from our other well-paid, fully-booked, staff members? (If they need guidance, are we willing to take on that expense?)

3) How is their work ethic? (I like seeing that a young person spent their summers bucking hay or washing cars. It tells me that they know how to work.)


1) Is this person a fine artist at heart? (Creates to fulfill their own vision and passion, not that of a client). If so, we will likely pass. We need people with a servant’s heart.

2) Is this person likable? Could I work with them everyday? 

3) How well will this person fit into our culture? We’re not looking for clones, but someone who shares similar values with us AND complements our team.

4) Do they bring a different point of view? 

5) Are they attention needy? (An immediate disqualifier.) We work in very close quarters and need to focus. An attention-needy individual is a constant source of disruption.)

5) Does the work this person produces look like it came out of our studio?


1) Where did they get their education? (Yes, we have preferences. Some programs are better than others or have different standards or emphases.)

2) Do they have an understanding of how business really works? (In a perfect world, the candidate would have studied business alongside design.)


Finally, we have to look at how much it will cost to bring this person up to speed. How much time it will take away from other staff members’ billable time? How much can we charge for their time? How soon will we realize a profit? What is the likelihood that they’ll stay long enough to recoup our investment? 

Is there a demand for the work this employee will produce?


Without integrity, NOTHING else matters. Integrity is pretty hard to assess in an interview and resume, but if it’s lacking, the employee won’t last long on our team. 

So there you go! Thats roughly speaking how we judge a candidate. And one final thing – we never advertise to fill a position. If we have a specific need, we look around and ask around. We look to see who is showing what online. For the right talent and character combination, we might find a space whether or not there is one, assuming that we can find a way to make it work.

Good luck in your career!