Posted 19 April 2018

ustwo co-founder Mills on starting out: from landing the right job to finding a mentor

In honour of our birthday last week, the ever-inspiring Matt ‘Mills’ Miller, co-founder of ustwo, dedicated an entire episode of his podcast, JFDI Cast, to Lecture in Progress. At our request, he shared his tips on everything from putting a portfolio together and job applications, to finding a mentor. We’ve compiled an edit of his advice, resulting in something of an essential guide to starting out; and you can hear the whole podcast below.

On curating your portfolio
Your portfolio is a chance to show the best things you think represent you and your ability to tackle the job you’re applying for – don’t just put everything in there. [Sending] an online portfolio is a good way to get a one-to-one interview, then once you get that, you can properly express the processes behind your design – not simply what it looks like on the surface.

I would want to know the processes behind getting to each solution. Remember that whatever kind of designer you are – a visual designer, a UX designer, a product designer – you’re a problem solver. So we want to understand how you have applied problem solving to the solution you’ve given.

On side projects
Ultimately, the best way to publicise your work, in my opinion, is with a side project. We have an entire business dedicated to working with the biggest and best clients in the world. But at the same time, we made sure that, in order to win those clients, we put out stuff that we want to work on. We put our money where our mouth is.

Personally, I’m not that interested in seeing the work that you’ve done while at a job, I want to know more about you, the person behind the work, and what has made you so passionate. It’s becoming such a standard that students and people in places of work have side projects, but that’s the way to stand out.

“I’m not that interested in seeing the work that you’ve done at a job. I want to know more about you and what has made you so passionate.”

On keeping your mind and skill sets flexible
The creative industry is constantly in flux, which means you always have to stay on your toes. You might not necessarily need technical skills, but you do need technical awareness. You need to be passionate, you need to want to learn; have an open mind and leave your ego behind. When we started ustwo, we had a simple mantra: No ego, no asshole, just human.

On finding the right company for you
Find a company you really want to work for, that allows you to be you. Before you apply for the job, do your research on that company. Try and meet a designer to understand whether you’ll fit in. You don’t want to waste your own time going to interviews for jobs that you don’t actually want.

On job applications and interviews
What impresses me when hiring, is someone who has taken an interest in me and the company. It’s such a simple thing, but so many people don’t do it. Why did you apply for the job? What is it about the company that makes them special? What do you know about me? If you don’t know the answer to these, why would they care?

If you’re trying to get a job, you want to make sure that the person hiring you is going to find it as hard as possible to say no to you. If you’re showing an interest in the interviewer, talking about how much you respect them, then there is a bigger chance of creating a bond between you.

Don’t turn up late, show enthusiasm, listen – that’s key: Listening to the questions, asking questions about the company and knowing when to speak. The interview goes both ways. Once you’re in that interview, impress that interviewer by asking them hard questions as well. Turn that table.

“If you’re not enjoying something, be a problem solver, not a problem creator.”

On avoiding common mistakes in a new job
When you’re new in a company, the best thing to do is just to be asking questions, rather than thinking ‘I’m new here, so I better make sure I play with the big guns and throw in my views’. While your views are very valid, if you’re in a meeting with loads of people who have been in the industry for many many years, just make sure you’re saying the right thing. Asking questions is a better way to be involved in the conversation, to show that you care, and it allows you to build a good rapport.

You’ve got to be willing to put the effort and time in. I don’t mean working 24 hours a day, but if you’re in this industry, I don’t expect you to think of your job as a nine-to-five. While you’ll also need to shut off and do other things to re-energise, I do expect you to have passion and be playful [while at work]. At ustwo, we blurred the line between work and play when we started, because we knew that life for us was about solving problems.

On finding the right mentor
[Finding a mentor] can be as simple as reaching out to somebody that you look up to and asking. Just bear in mind that you’re not going to meet every day for coffee. But do put yourself in their position: If you ask “Will you be my mentor?”, they might not think they have the time for it. Make it simple for them. If you pay them compliments and ask, “Any chance I can occasionally reach out to you for some advice?” who wouldn’t want to say yes to that? The chances are they’re busy, so make it easy for them.

On taking care of yourself
In this industry, and world, we have multiple inputs coming left, right and centre (especially with things like social media), so you need to be on your mental health game. Prepare and create a fortress around you; get fit. I personally think it’s good to get out running every single day.

One of our values is to enjoy the journey, and I refer to this every day. If you’re not enjoying something, be a problem solver, not a problem creator. If you’ve got angst, give people feedback, don’t hold it in, slagging them off. Be that person who is prepared to say constructive things to people.

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