editione1.0.2Updated February 27, 2023
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’ve accepted an offer, negotiated it, and now all that’s left is to tell your current company that you’re moving on. First off—congrats! Success in design is often nonlinear. It’s not about going to an expensive university to end up working for a prestigious company. Great designers know that. They’ve oftentimes experienced different cultures, worked with different people, and have seen industries shift. They understand that you can’t learn everything in one place.
Here is how you can quit well, set your current team up for success, and prepare for your next opportunity.
The first person to tell about your leave is your manager. It’s likely that they’ll try to persuade you to stay and offer some sort of incentive, such as a higher salary. If your current job isn’t meeting your needs that you hired it for, stick to your principles. People usually don’t quit over salary. If you got to this point, it’s likely that there’s a list of things that aren’t going well at your current job. It’s bittersweet to say goodbye and venture into uncharted territory, but if you’ve done your homework, the move will be worth it.
important Ask yourself: If somebody were to pick up your job today, how can you set them up for success?
Depending on where you’re working, the law is usually flexible. In the United States, many states have “at will” employment, which means you can quit or get laid off at any time. You don’t even have to have the conversation with your boss; just write your letter of resignation and be done with it.
It would be, however, a disservice to your team to leave so abruptly. This is especially true if you’re the only designer at the company. If somebody were to pick up your job today, how can you set them up for success? Can you pay your expertise forward? One of the things that I appreciate in my current role is the strong design system that a prior team has put together. Even though I didn’t have the opportunity to overlap with them, their work stood the test of time on its own.
We leave jobs because they don’t serve our needs well, but this doesn’t mean that this job can’t be a perfect fit for someone else. So if you know someone who’s interested, let your team know—doing so will help them get back their footing quickly.
storyWhen I decided to leave one of my jobs for grad school, I started actively looking for a replacement. I reached out on local UX job boards and pitched the job at a number of design events as well. Eventually I met a designer who was not only excited about the role but also had relevant industry experience. I introduced her to the company, helping her get a head start on the interview process.
If you already have regular one-on-ones with co-workers, now’s a good time to sync up for the last time. Take advantage of these to express your gratitude and thank your co-workers. This is your last opportunity to give feedback, highlight their successes, and share the good times you’ve had together.
One of the things that I appreciate about our design industry is its tight-knit sense of community. Investing in and developing professional relationships, regardless of the company, is key. These people may follow you later. Or you may follow them to another role in a new company. You never know. Companies come and go, but relationships last.
On that last point, make sure to send out an email thanking folks, and leave contact info (usually a personal email) to stay in touch.
On the other hand, you may totally hate your job. This gig has been driving you nuts. You feel underappreciated and overworked. No one really seems to care. If that’s the case, resist the urge to (metaphorically) flip a table.
Yes, this situation isn’t good. A two-week notice isn’t required but is typical. Do the best you can and wrap things up. As Tina Seelig recounts in her book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, an employee who was quitting refused to help during a critical time and as a result, “the damage she did to her reputation during the last weeks of her employment dwarfed all the positive things she had done in prior years.” Take the time to wrap things up as best you can and move on.
While the recruiter or even the hiring manager at the next role might pressure you to start as soon as possible, don’t give in. The time that you spend between your (now) past job and your future job is just as important. Use it wisely to rest and reflect on your experience.
If your previous job has caused you to burn out (or if you’ve burnt out multiple times already), then rest should be top priority. Don’t try to do much work during this period. Disconnect fully. Catch up on what you’ve been neglecting.
Once you’re refreshed, take the time to reflect. This is a good time to revisit your original job framework:
Where are you in your career now?
What has worked well or not so well in your prior jobs?
What skills do you want to grow in your next job?
important Getting clear and writing the questions and answers out will help you frame the narrative of your previous job and tie up any loose ends. You’ll also get a better signal of which opportunities to pursue in your next role. And when you’re ready, start planning your onboarding.
In tech jobs, two-year stints are becoming the norm. If you started working at 21 and retired at 65, that’s potentially 22 jobs and 22 different onboardings. This number may be higher if you’ve worked for startups, since some companies don’t even make it past the first year. Regardless of the company, ramping up to a new role poses unique challenges. Although companies usually have an onboarding process in place, many of them are short and aren’t role-specific. Don’t leave this crucial part of the process to chance. By structuring your own onboarding, you’ll be able to build strong relationships, avoid pitfalls, and create momentum toward great work and your next promotion.
important Every onboarding will be different. Depending on the size of the company some phases may take about a month each. Some phases may be a quick affair while others may drag a little as you get into the details. In a small startup your onboarding may be compressed to a week or even a few hours. So take these as a starting point and be sure to adjust them to your context.