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.
Broadly speaking you can apply to jobs in two ways: casting a wide net by applying to several dozen companies or targeting your search to companies and roles that fit your skills and needs best.
Casting a Wide Net
By casting a wide net you can reach out to several dozen companies in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, that means you’re right there in the sea of resumes and portfolios, with a lower chance of standing out. You’ll get some responses, but the rate will be in the low single digits.
Even if you do get a response, it’s hard to tell if the role is a good fit for you. When you’re desperate, it might feel like anything that looks decent enough is a good fit, but it might not be the right opportunity for you, leading to frustration when you actually start working there.
In general, I’m against this approach. It’s time consuming, it has a low success rate, and it doesn’t lead to much learning in the process. Too often I see heroic funnels from junior engineers and junior designers looking for an entry-level position. They list out all the companies they’ve submitted their application to—sometimes in the hundreds—that led to few responses and even fewer interviews.
This is why I recommend you take a more deliberate approach in your search.
important A close cousin to the wide-net approach is the passive auto-pilot job-searching strategy. By having your portfolio up-to-date, your social media set up, and your LinkedIn outreach preferences turned on—you’ll get a trickle of recruiters reaching out. These won’t always be the most relevant matches, and you’ll still need to vet them, but it’s a low-effort way to capitalize on the hard work that you’ve already done.
Targeting Your Search
My recommendation is to target your job search and apply to places and roles that fit your skills and needs best. This doesn’t mean excluding yourself from roles that might be a stretch (that’s OK!). Rather you should be picky with your job search—by doing your homework now, you’ll save a lot of time later.
You’ll focus your efforts and ultimately will be able to find a satisfying job with a culture that fits you best. It will also give you a sense of control and the power to persevere in a process that might at times feel opaque and frustrating. Being intentional in your job search will help you stay focused and lend you a sense of autonomy and ownership over a process that sometimes feels chaotic.
With a targeted job-search approach, we’ll take a look at how you can use your superpowers and your personality to stand out.
One effective way to apply to jobs is through an employee referral. With a contact inside the company, you shortcut the tedious part of the process and your portfolio lands squarely right in front of the eyes of a recruiter or a hiring manager. How you ask for a referral makes all the difference.
Getting Referred by People You Worked with Before
The best referrals come from people you’ve developed a strong relationship with by working together. Think of these folks as people in your tight-knit inner circle. These are the folks that not only can get you in the door but write a glowing review so that the interview completely flips. Instead of selling yourself, they work hard to get you in and sell the opportunity to you.
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