With so many recent graduates vying for jobs in the creative industry, it’s integral that you bring your A-game to the job interview. Here, leaders from three prominent creative agencies offer interviewing tips and weigh in on what they look for in entry-level talent.

Brian Collins (founder of COLLINS), Amy Marshall (talent director at Hornall Anderson) and Michael Osborne (principal of Michael Osborne Design) are always on the lookout for strong creative job candidates to join their respective — and highly respected — firms. We spoke to them about what newly minted graduates need to know when they walk through an employer’s door. Gain an edge in today’s competitive job market by considering their interviewing tips:

What advice do you have for recent graduates going on their first interview? What materials should they prepare? 

Collins: It’s simple: Bring the kind of work you long to do.

Marshall: They really need to be prepared to talk through their work. Not just what the assignment or project was, but why they made the decisions they did regarding the design or strategy. What was the concept or idea behind the creative decision? Even if they think it may be obvious, they need to be able to articulate the idea.

Osborne: Good candidates know how to articulate their ideas and solutions for the projects in their portfolio. In the presentation, you can pretty much tell who loves what they’re doing. I’d rather get someone who’s passionate and has great potential. I can teach the person to be a great designer, but I can never teach them to be passionate or professional.

What do you need to learn about job candidates by the end of an interview? 

Collins: There are three qualities we look for: Curiosity (Are you fascinated by the unknown?), ambition (Do you know how to think big?) and discipline (Can you produce consistently good work?).

Marshall: Beyond having strong work visually (that’s pretty much table stakes), for us, it’s all about the thinking. So whether we’re hiring a designer, a strategist, or someone for our client service team, we really need to understand how a person thinks and how he or she approaches creative problems.

Osborne: I’ll ask something off the wall, something they weren’t expecting, to see them think on their feet. I also ask them something about typography. If you’re right out of design school, and you don’t know which typefaces you’ve put in your portfolio, then you’re in trouble in my book.

Because they often don’t have a lot of real-world experience, what is the most important thing recent grads need to bring to the table? 

Collins: Bring your sketches. Show how you think.

Marshall: I’d take a step back from your question and say that they should get as much real-world experience as they can before they graduate, in the form of internships and/or freelance work. No one is expecting them to have held a full-time job for years, but having an internship (or two or three) during college is a great way to apply all their learning to real-world problems.

Is a print portfolio necessary any longer or is a website just as effective? 

Collins: I still love them, but an analog book isn’t necessary unless your work has some dimension or craft that’s a key part of its conceptualization. A website is enough. A simple one is best. 

Marshall: It’s always nice to see how someone puts a printed portfolio together. But it’s absolutely not a requirement. A website is the most effective tool to show your work. But make sure you pay just as much attention to the design and quality of your site as you do to the pieces in it.

Osborne: I’m old school. I like seeing a real portfolio. If someone brings physical examples with them, that’s always a plus. I want to hold it. If you have 15 things in your portfolio and only 10 of them are really good, take out the bad ones because you’ll only be remembered for the mediocre stuff.

What is the worst offense an interviewee can commit? 

Collins: In most places, you’ll be judged by your manners. This includes not smiling when you enter the office, not turning off your phone, not listening when someone else is speaking, not thanking someone for his or her time, and not sending a thank-you letter within 24 hours.

Marshall: Not understanding the type of work the agency or company you are interviewing with does and not having any questions of your own to ask. This makes us wonder how interested you really are in working for us.

Osborne: Showing up late or being cocky.

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