Beyond Skills—Show Personality

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Updated October 11, 2023
Land Your Dream Design Job

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.

You are more than a collection of skills. When you start interviewing with employers, they also want to see who you are as a person—after all, they’ll be with you and you’ll be with them for eight-plus hours each workday. Now this might seem a bit like you’re revealing too much, or maybe you’d rather be a chameleon and blend in with the environment to fit in. Don’t.

In addition to your skills, you’re hired for your opinion—your views and your unique perspective that you’ve been honing all your life. Of course, there’s a subtle art to showing your personality strategically, as you don’t want to go overboard by revealing everything all at once. Focus on things that are unique, relevant, and that people can relate to.

As part of my portfolio I would sometimes include photos of dishes I made in the past to tell a more compelling story of cooking and design:

Figure: Food as Portfolio Work

In the past I’ve seen designers show hobbies, such as:

  • Cooking, which is a nice metaphor for design—you can be making something based on a recipe or you can create something new based on the underlying science and principles.

  • Visiting museums and new exhibits.

  • Sketchnoting at events and conferences.

  • Drawing and illustration.

Here’s an example.

I love exploring real and imaginary spaces like food, alternate reality experiences, cycling, movies, and TV. In early 2013, I successfully raised Kickstarter funds for a book about ice cream around the world. The book was released January 2016. I traveled to 7 countries and interviewed over 60 ice cream shops. My favorite ice cream flavor is goat cheese ice cream with roasted cherries.Jennifer Ng

Now that’s dedication!

The point is not to start going to museums, eating ice cream, and sketchnoting tomorrow. Highlight a hobby that you’re already passionate about, one that will resonate with others and help them connect to you on a human level.

Write Your Pitch

Great! Now you have your superpowers and you have highlights of your personality. Next, put it together in an easy-to-consume narrative. If a stranger met you today, how would you introduce yourself? What impression do you want to leave behind?

By drafting a couple of versions of your statement, you’ll get a better sense of the narrative you want to convey and will have a response at the ready when you’re responding to emails or hitting up networking events.

As with uncovering your superpowers—don’t be afraid to step away and ask for help. If you were to ask a friend or a co-worker, how would they describe you or pitch you? What would they say? Try this exercise with others or a group of friends—you might discover new qualities or some that you’ve taken for granted that others find valuable in you.

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