Landing Your First Interior Design Job: What Do Employers Look For?

We’ve been offering an Interior Design program at Herzing for several years now. When we put together the curriculum, we looked very closely at hiring trends and the specific skills employers are looking for in new designers. 

What kinds of companies are hiring interior designers? What creative and technical skills are most in-demand right now? Who is hiring our graduates? 

We discovered that whether you take a university interior design degree, or choose a college-level diploma program, the skills you need to get hired are basically the same. 

What does this mean? It means that you’ll be starting out in a junior designer support role. In most cases, you won’t be developing main design concepts and making leadership decisions right away.

Instead, you’ll be assisting a senior designer with key tasks like creating floor plans and models and keeping projects on track. 

You’ll have to prove yourself in a support role, before you can move up into more creative leadership positions. So, exactly which attributes are employers looking for in junior designers? 

These are the main skills you’ll need to land your first interior design job, and show you have what it takes to advance in this industry. 

 

AutoCAD for Interior Design 

Solid knowledge of computer-aided-design software (like AutoCAD) is absolutely essential for getting hired as an interior designer. 

Designers use this software to create floor plans, elevations, sections, and architectural details. Additional software like SketchUp is also used to create 3D renderings, models, and walk-throughs of new design concepts.  

Students in interior design training spend a lot of time learning and practicing these technologies. They are used to create examples for your portfolio and present design ideas to clients and builders. 

 

Photoshop 

Photoshop is another basic requirement for interior design jobs. Designers use Photoshop to scan and manipulate hand-drawn sketches. It’s also used for photo-retouching, special effects, filters, and masks. 

Photoshop is commonly used to help create presentation materials for design concepts—a task that usually falls to a junior designer. 

 

Space Planning 

When you first start out as a junior designer, you won't be in charge of overall design concepts. However, that doesn't mean you don’t need a grasp of fundamental interior design principles, such as space planning. 

Space planning is the process of organizing and arranging spaces in an interior environment. It’s all about using the space you have in the most functional way, without sacrificing on aesthetics.  

Good space planning takes into consideration: 

- How the space will be used 

- Safety and accessibility 

- Functionality 

- Client preferences and priorities 

- Ergonomics 

- Circulation 

- Building codes 

Your ability to plan spaces in smart and creative ways, and make useful suggestions to lead designers, will help you get noticed (and get ahead) early in your career. 

 

National Building Code 

The National Building Code sets minimum standards for the design and construction of buildings. These are the rules you must follow to ensure your designs are safe and legal. 

The National Building Code covers every aspect of building design and construction, including elements like: 

- Building materials 

- Fire protection 

- Snow load calculations for roofs 

- Sound transmission between apartments and condos 

- Staircases and handrails 

- Wheelchair accessibility 

Every interior designer, including those new to the field, must be familiar with the Building Code to ensure their concepts are compliant with regulations. 

 

Open to criticism and feedback 

You cannot succeed as an interior designer if you can’t handle criticism. Criticism is part of the job. As a junior designer, this attribute is even more important, as you must be open to feedback and corrections from supervising designers. 

Your ability to learn from mistakes and continuously improve your skills will be key to qualifying for promotions. Your employer will be watching very closely to see how well you listen and respond. 

This skill is key for dealing with clients who don’t like your initial concept, or request changes throughout the project. If you can’t handle feedback from your boss, how will you cope with a challenging client? 

 

Excellent customer service skills 

Interior design is a client-driven field. In other words, design firms can’t exist without clients. And if your designs don’t meet your clients’ needs, you’ll soon be out of a job! 

Interior designers need a whole range of communication and customer service skills to succeed in this career. These include: 

- Truly listening to what the client wants 

- Explaining  your design concepts clearly and persuasively 

- Negotiating with clients 

- Managing clients’ expectations for what is possible/impossible 

- Responding to criticism from clients with grace and professionalism 

- Gently persuading clients to try new ideas  

- Keeping clients updated on progress, delays, challenges 

- Coordinating with builders, suppliers, contractors, etc. 

 

When hiring a junior designer, employers are looking for articulate, professional, mature candidates. They want people who can work well with a team and make a good impression on clients. 

Consider this: the work interior designers do is very personal. You are helping people create their dream home, or a new interior for a business they’ve worked very hard to build. 

Employers want to hire designers who understand the personal, service-oriented side of the business. They’re looking for candidates who will make the client feel special and deliver a very high standard of service and quality. 

Think you have what it takes? Read on to learn more about interior design training and first steps to start your career. 

 

Project-Based Interior design training 

A quality Interior Design program doesn’t just “instruct” students on the skills listed here. The courses should be very "hands-on" and project-based. You will need plenty of experience applying the software, design principles, and creative skills needed to actually land a job after graduation.

Herzing Interior Design instructor, Matthew Salmaso says it best: 

"In terms of getting hired, the most important skills our students learn are space planning, learning how to read an architectural document, understanding the National Building Code, and using software to create and present a design from scratch. We do kitchens, bathrooms, homes, hotels, plus architectural details like doors, windows, staircases, and electrical legends —all the real design work you’ll need to land your first job." 

 

A project-based Interior Design program ensures you’ll graduate with a professional portfolio of work to show employers and prove your talent. 

Internships are also very important. If you’re brand new to the industry, an internship provides experience for your resume and a connection to a possible employer. We often have interior design graduates who are hired straight out of their internship. 

If you’re looking to delve deeper into the history, theory, and philosophy of design, a university program is probably a better fit. On the other hand, if you’re looking for faster training that focuses on practical design skills for entry-level positions, a quality diploma program makes more sense. 

Not sure which training is right for you? Meet with an Admissions Advisor. They can walk you through the differences, and help you figure out which type of interior design program fits your interests and career goals. 

Get started right now. Click below to explore Herzing’s 18-month Interior Design program. See a course list, admission requirements, and chat live with an Admission Advisor. We’re here to help! 

Explore Herzing's Interior Design Program