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.
Product designer is a generic title. In companies like Facebook, regardless of seniority, everyone is a product designer and so it’s hard to understand who is senior, which level they’re at, or even what their strengths and weaknesses are. That’s why it’s important to define the type of product designer you are—one way to do so is by highlighting your own superpowers.
When we typically think of superpowers, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the mastery of a specific skill. Obviously this superpower should be highlighted, but don’t worry if you’re not there yet or if you can’t point to one skill that’s excellent.
What skills do you have that are above average? What work using those skills are you proud of? It could be something as simple as rough illustrations and storytelling. What missing skills or perspectives can you bring to a team? What’s your unique point of view? What unique experience do you have based on your previous roles?
Another way to get at your superpower is to look at transferable skills that you’ve employed at other jobs. Think about the past experiences you’ve had and how they’ve equipped you to understand the customer better, to collaborate, or to be meticulous in one’s craft. For example, if you’re coming to design from a different field, let’s say education, then you know how to run experiments, engage a tough audience, get everyone to participate, and manage group performance over time. If you have a degree in psychology, you understand why people do things the way they do, the complexity of human interaction, and why people, as Daniel Ariely calls it, are “predictably irrational.”
Your unique experiences can also be your superpower. No one has the same experience of the world as you do. Given your background, your environment, your circumstances, and your unique upbringing, there’s something different that you bring to the table. If you can’t think of a superpower—ask a friend or a colleague. The external perspective is helpful, as we sometimes don’t give ourselves enough credit. Also take a look at Heather Phillips’s article on how to find your design superpower.
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: