You’re reading an excerpt of Land Your Dream Design Job, a book by Dan Shilov. Filled with hard-won, personal insights, it is a comprehensive guide to landing a product design role in a startup, agency, or tech company, and covers the entire design interview process from beginning to end, for experienced and aspriring designers. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.
Auto-Piloting Your Job Search
Here are some low-effort online strategies to help you land the first interview. Using a blend of different methods, both offline and online, will help maximize your chances of landing the phone screen.
Make Companies Apply to You
What if instead of applying to companies, the companies applied to you? Reverse job auction sites flip the traditional model of filling out the same form repeatedly for different companies. Instead you submit one candidate profile and companies bid on your profile over several rounds.
Although you won’t find the giants like Facebook or Google here, the caliber of tech companies is high. You’ll get outreach from smaller startups and mid-size companies, as well as larger and more mature organizations like big consulting companies that are building up their design teams.
Some of the sites you can check out in this category:
Hired offers a personal assistant to help you navigate the job process. To my knowledge no other platform has a free service like that. That said, some designers didn’t have as much luck due to being either new to design or because of applying internationally. It can be a mix, but don’t let that stop you from trying these platforms out.
Make the Most of Job Boards
When applying to any job, the best approach is to establish a personal connection first. Without it, applying online is playing a game of numbers, and the odds are usually not in your favor since you’re competing against many qualified candidates.
Yet it would be a mistake to ignore job boards altogether. Sites like LinkedIn provide advanced intelligence on companies, people, and salaries offered. If you do choose to apply through a job board, try to find out who the hiring manager is and follow up with them directly.
In addition to job posts on Dribbble and Behance, take a look at these other design resources too:
These days most recruiters are on LinkedIn. Usually they’re given a specific criteria to find and filter candidates—for example, mobile app designer in the gaming space at a mid-stage startup. While some designers forego LinkedIn altogether, I think it’s a missed opportunity, especially when you’re new to the industry. With LinkedIn, you can get a summary of profiles for applicants applying to the same job.
Use LinkedIn as another channel to promote your work. Be sure to fill out your profile and use it as an opportunity to brand yourself. Then flip the switch on your profile to let recruiters know you’re actively looking for jobs.
Figure: Applicant Profiles on LinkedIn
With LinkedIn you can get a summary of profiles for applicants applying to the same job.
If you haven’t used it in a while, you can usually get the gold subscription for a free one-month trial. I found it helpful to get the inside scoop on jobs, profiles, and a (rough) salary estimate. LinkedIn premium now comes with LinkedIn Learning, which makes it a good value.
Figure: Discover Common Connections (and Competition) on LinkedIn
You might discover new common connections who changed jobs recently.
Check out who your competition is for the job to get a rough idea of their skill level, but don’t let the job requirements or their experience deter you.
Finally, examine the company to see if there are any common connections. LinkedIn will also show people you went to school with who now work at this company. Use this information to get a referral—and remember, referrals can come from people you’ve just met.
If you’re specifically interested in working with startups, AngelList is a great resource—think of it as a cleaner, curated LinkedIn for applying to startup gigs while getting a transparent salary estimate.
As a side note, AngelList has one of the best newsletters and blogs for tech careers hands-down.
Figure: AngelList Design Roles
In July 2020, there were 1,939 product design roles in startups all over the world.
Applying to Jobs as Soon as They’re Posted
Sometimes when you apply to a job through LinkedIn, the posting has been live for a few weeks and the company may have already extended an offer. You can avoid this fate by setting up job alerts and get a consolidated list of new jobs as soon as they’re posted. Most job boards have this feature as well.
If you truly want to get ahead, reach out before a job is posted. Doing so gets you in front of the line before a line even exists. A good way to do this is by setting up an informational interview to learn more about the company and the team.
Figure: LinkedIn Job Alert Preferences
Set your job preferences.
Aside from the usual suspects like job boards and networking sites, designers are hacking together existing platforms to share job posts. Here are a couple of places I found useful.
Every month there’s a post on who’s hiring. It’s against group policy for recruiters to join, so the posts are usually made by hiring managers themselves or by designers working for those companies. Usually these posts net a significant number of responses and the caliber of tech companies is high. Most importantly, it sheds a layer of opacity since you can reach out to the person who posted the job.
Twitter for #Designjobs
Twitter can be a good source for connecting with designers directly and for searching for design jobs via hashtags. Yes, this approach might be time consuming, but there are useful pockets of design gigs in the ecosystem.
When you’ve applied to jobs, there’s often a delay on the other side in getting back to you. The hiring manager may be busy, reviewing other applications, or gone on vacation. That said, when you’re looking for work while unemployed, every day counts. Believe it or not, you have more control over the situation. You can either continue applying to more places, or follow up with places you’ve applied to.
Since we already covered various strategies for the former, we’ll focus primarily on the latter half—the follow-up. A big part of getting the first (phone) interview is figuring out what’s happening on the other side. Did they get your application? Is the job still open?
You can get to an answer by proactively reaching out to the employer:
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