Series: "If I Knew Then..." TIP 1 Be Honest


Be Honest.

I know that's simple to say, and should be a pretty obvious way to live your life, but here's a tale of how honesty worked in a different way than I expected.

After I completed my first year of college, studying graphic design, I got a job helping out in the Alumni office for the summer. I answered phones, made copies, did the normal office-type work. There was nothing creative about it.

One of calls I answered was from a magazine editor asking how much graphic designers made an hour. I had no clue and passed the call along to my manager. I had just completed my first year of design school, and barely had a grasp of what "graphic design" was. A short while later, the editor called back again and asked me if I had ever designed a magazine. I told them that I had not, and explained that I just completed my first year of school, and really didn't know anything. They called back yet again, and asked if I had ever created even my own 'zine, or any kid of personal publication. Again, I told them no, that I had no experience, and had barely even turned on a computer (our first year was almost all hands-on; pencils, X-acto knives, ruling pens). Shockingly, they asked me if I wanted to apply for their open graphic designer position. I hesitated for only a split second before I said "Sure!" I figured I had already told them that I didn't know anything, so it wasn't like I was lying about experience or credentials!

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


I went to the interview, which consisted of me and a handful of their staff. They handed me a copy of their magazine to look through. They asked me to pick out a layout that I didn't like. Talk about a stressful position—who was I to judge their design work?! I was a novice designer, and I was sure whoever had designed the magazine was sitting in that room. I flipped through, pointed to a page, and timidly said, "this one seems a little bit off." They exclaimed, "We hated that one!" and walked out of the room.

A few moments later, they came back with a disk, popped it into the computer, and asked me to redesign the layout. Uh…OK. Had I not mentioned that I really didn’t know how to use any of the programs?! I fumbled through starting up the computer, clicked around to at least make it sound like I had a clue, pulled out the most basic of elements (like drawing a line with an arrow at the end--cringe!) and changed some colors to the stock colors in the palette that had already been up on the screen. I asked for help a few times, continually reminding myself that I already told them I didn't know anything as a way of justifying me terribly failing this whole ridiculous interview/test.

When I finished the new and "improved" layout, I called them back in. To my complete surprise, they actually liked what I did! They called me the next day and offered me the graphic designer job. I started the next week, and within 6 months was promoted to Art Director, then eventually Creative Director. I worked there for 6 years total.


Years later, I asked why they had given me the job, when I was CLEARLY not qualified at all. They said that skills can be taught, but my ability to learn, question and stretch myself was natural born. They liked that even on the original phone calls I didn't just say, "I don't know" and hang up, but I took time to troubleshoot with them, offering to bring in other people to answer their questions, and attempted to source answers. I flat out said that I didn't know, but followed it up with suggestions, and ways of working through their issues. When I interviewed, they obviously knew that asking me to redesign a layout would be impossible. They were impressed that I dove in, then asked for help, never pretending like I knew anymore than I did. 

I learned so much from that job, skills that I use to this day. I learned to never be afraid to say you can't do something and then ask for help. There is power in that position. Being vulnerable gives the person you ask for help from an opportunity to elevate themselves, as well as you. Oftentimes you'll get way more knowledge than expected, and a very friendly teacher. People like being asked for help, especially if it's their specialty, and you come to them honestly, without ego. There's power in the teaching role, as well as in being a life-long student.

What was wonderful about that job was that I was able to work full-time, as well as being in school full-time, allowing me to take what I was learning in class directly to my real-world job, and vice versa, I could take challenges I had at work back to my teachers and ask for their advice. Being honest and upfront about my skills, and obvious weaknesses, was the first step in securing their trust. Being flexible, open to offer help, and being fearless while jumping into uncharted territories opened a door that paved my career path.

All of it just goes back to the adage, “Just be yourself,” and be willing to go the extra mile, as you never know what lies ahead.

See ya tomorrow.

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