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.
By now, you should know the nuts and bolts of how to land your dream role. From taking stock of your various skills, building your identity, structuring your portfolio, and navigating the various interview types, to reflecting on the feedback and wrapping things up with negotiation and a strong start.
As we know, design is never a linear process from A to B, and often there’s a big, messy middle. Knowing how to get to your dream role comes with an understanding of what skills you bring to the table and how to properly communicate them in various stages of the process. Reflecting on your experience throughout these stages is key, as usually new information comes in to help us steer our job search in a favorable direction. While each journey is unique, having a destination in mind makes navigation easier.
Is Remote Work Here to Stay?
Over the course of writing this book, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we get work done (and how we interview) has shifted dramatically. The journey has been redefined. Gone are the days of in-person interviews—now you can talk to many companies all from the comfort of your home.
Of course this brings new challenges. It’s hard to get a feel for a place when all you see is a bunch of faces in rectangles on Zoom. Networking is no longer an in-person affair but has been pushed online as well. Maybe location isn’t as critical as we once thought. If we can get our job done remotely, especially in the midst of a pandemic, then this can usher in a whole new world of flexible work arrangements, opening up opportunities outside of the traditional tech hubs of the world.
When Should You Start Looking?
A common question that I sometimes get from folks who are already working is, “What’s a good number of years to stay at a job before you start looking?” Ideally, you’re in a place long enough to make an impact, and you outgrow the position or the company. There’s nothing left to learn, there’s not a clear or appealing path to growth, and you may see a more fruitful opportunity elsewhere. Sometimes this means being at a job for a few months, other times it means working at the same place for a decade.
Of course there are exceptions to this. The company may be doing poorly, is downsizing, or it has a toxic environment that wasn’t apparent during the interviews. This could all happen, and there’s no imperative to stay at a company that doesn’t invest in you. Today’s world offers designers a lot of challenges to address. The trick is to find the right alignment given your strengths and needs.
In her excellent book, Ask Me This Instead, Kendra Haberkorn recommends candidates ask themselves why they would want to run away from a particular job. Sometimes these reasons can be obvious. Other times you might need to do a little soul searching to think about what you value in work and see if these values have changed since you last searched for or accepted a job.
I encourage you to write your reasons out. Similar to the §interview retrospective exercise and your §reflection at the end of your onboarding—think about the things that are working, what could be improved, and what you’ve learned. In doing so, you may not actually need to look for work, potentially many of these can be fixed on the job through some conversations with your manager. Kendra also suggests asking yourself what job you would run towards. After all, you don’t want to leave a place out of anger just to find yourself in a new role that’s just as bad or worse. Preparation is key—and figuring out what you really want and really value is part of that.
Lastly, you don’t have to be actively looking for opportunities to stay in touch with your network. Develop the relationships before you need them. Talk to recruiters and your peers. Reach out to hiring managers you admire, especially when you’re already in a great role you love. Since you’re already working, there’s no undue pressure to find a job immediately and settle in a less than perfect arrangement just to pay the bills. These conversations will be a lot more enjoyable and will help you get a pulse on the industry and where it’s headed. In the words of Harvey Mackay, “Dig your well before you’re thirsty.”
Own Your Future
If your job search is over and you’ve signed an offer, you might wonder, “What’s next?” First of all, congrats, landing a role can be a challenging process and you’ve proven yourself to be a top candidate. And don’t let that imposter syndrome get in the way—the decision to hire you has been made. Now it’s important to concentrate on the work at hand, to accelerate and grow.
When some time has passed, I always encourage folks to revisit their ideal role template. Take a pulse check about every six months or so. Are the things that brought you to this job still there, or have things changed? Depending on the company and market, the rate of change may be drastic. Or maybe there were no changes to the company at all but perhaps your own needs have changed. Revisiting your original dream role North Star will help you continue steering your career in the right place with new information.
Landing a dream job with a great salary is just the beginning. It’s what you do afterwards that will set you up for success, whether it’s in your current job or the next one. Take another look at your skills and traits. If you’re interested in getting promoted, make sure you bring that up with your manager so that you can work on a development plan together.
Design is a changing discipline. While fundamental principles of human behavior remain the same, technology is changing rapidly. Stay up to date, continue learning. These core skills will help you perform well on the job and will also make you a strong candidate so that you can write your own ticket and define your future.