Lessons learned in my design job-finding process.
In the past month, I’ve had the pleasure to chat with some amazing professionals. They range from product managers, engineers, and design directors, to design freelancers and business owners. As a young professional entering the workforce, I was curious about what it is that leads these people to what they are doing now and what they have figured out throughout their journey. Here’s what I learned.
1. Apply the Design Process to Life by Starting With the User
As a UI/UX designer, I am well acquainted with the design process where one talks to the user, study the market, understands their needs and wants, and develop a strategy before any designs on the actual product come into play. However, I’ve never fully comprehended the degree to which the design process is ingrained in everything that we do.
In job finding, before we start applying for positions, we can research the market and understand what the companies are looking for. We can identify the user who is going to read our job applications. Is it a designer? A recruiter? What are their wants, needs, and difficulties? To get what we want, which in this case is a job, we need to first create value for others from whom we seek it. We must understand what it is that others value. “Share your ideas. In doing so, you create value for yourself and the larger community.” Experience Designer Matt Davis from Microsoft Mixed Reality said to me as he answered my networking questions.
In the job finding example, recruiters value their time, they want to scan through applications fast and get the main points in the first couple of seconds of reading. Their difficulties may be that a portfolio contains too much information to digest, and their fear may be to miss a talent. Knowing that we can reframe our applications with the question of: how can we design a better reading experience for the recruiters?
We can also apply this design process to our daily life. In James Clear’s Atomic Habits, Clear encourages readers to establish their desired habits by designing the user experience for them. His main ideas are to 1. make it obvious, 2. make it attractive, 3. make it easy, and 4. make it satisfying. Take the example of a person trying to establish the habit of eating vitamins every day. They can make the habit obvious by placing the vitamin bottle in a clear sight view. They can make the habit easy to perform by attaching the new action to an existing habit that they have. The person can place the vitamin bottle beside the coffee machine so that every morning when they are brewing coffee, it is easy and obvious for them to reach for the vitamin bottle and take vitamins. In this scenario, to achieve our desired result we thought about the obstacles and difficulties that exist in the user journey. Then, we minimize these points of friction and designed the user experience so that it is easy and intuitive to perform the desired action.
It’s hard to remember to take vitamins when it's hidden in the cabinet. Put it on the coffee machine instead!
2. Tell a Good Story
“Stop thinking about showing your design process linearly, think about what the message is and how you can convey it. How do you create a cohesive story?” Zach Deocadiz, VR experience Designer at FitXR, spoke with a sense of urgency as he looked over my portfolio. One valuable lesson I encountered again and again from designers such as Zach, and many others who helped me in the past, is the importance of good storytelling. In the book Show Your Work Austin Kleon argued that the difference between a forged painting and the original master painting is the story behind it. Context is everything, and that difference decides which of the two paintings is priceless.
So how does one tell a good story? “Keep it simple, curate your story to the interview you are going for.” is Kash Daud, a Senior Product Designer at Microsoft’s advice on storytelling as a job searcher. In his opinion, if you can show the same portfolio to multiple companies, you don’t have a strong portfolio. From him, I learned you must understand clearly what it is each company you are applying to is looking for, then show why your story is relevant. You break things down into consumable pieces and design your story tailored to the user.
It is a good idea to follow Dan Harmon’s Story Circle as a storytelling structure. In this structure, a protagonist begins in a zone of comfort, encounters a challenge, struggles, and comes out of it changed. A good story needs a conflict and a main character, and the main character shouldn’t be you. “Whenever possible, you should endeavor to ‘make the audience or employees the hero’,” Harvard Business Review How to Tell a Great Story, “One of the main reasons we listen to stories is to create a deeper belief in ourselves…” An easy way to incorporate these concepts into a business pitch or a pitch to your landlord is to consider the story to be ongoing. “The first act is where you’ve been — what you want, how you came to want it, and what you’ve done so far to get it. The second act is where you are now in your work and how you’ve worked hard… The third act is where you are going, and how exactly the person you’re pitching can help you get there… the story shape effectively turns your listener into the hero who gets to decide how it ends.” Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.
Almost all communication is storytelling. The skill of storytelling can be used to secure a job, structure a website, write a tweet, pitch a business proposal, or win a presidency.
Dan Harmon’s Story Circle illustration from Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work.
3. Give Back, Show Your Process
One of the most valuable resources I came across in the past week is Anson Cheung’s collection of newsletters and posts. Anson is the former partner and studio director of Bould Design. What stood out to me about Anson is how much he gives back to the community. During a conversation with him, I asked him what he did differently that helped him advance his career in a fast pace. He observed he always thought of what is good for everyone. “I try to think about what would help everyone to be more efficient and successful. Too many people begin their careers only thinking of what’s good for themselves.” In the long run, his approach allowed him to help grow Bould to what it is today, making him an invaluable asset to the company and those around him.
It is through Anson’s newsletters, that I found the book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. One of the core ideas from the book is no matter what you do, there’s something unique to your practice that others would be interested in learning about. The book reminded me people love processes; they watch videos of how sausages are made! When presented in the right way, the processes we take to create our works are more valuable to others than we dare think. When we share ideas and journeys, we create value for ourselves. These acts of giving would inevitably come back to us either as new ideas, or a network of like-minded people willing to help and work with us. “If you want to get, you have to give. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice…be thoughtful. be considerate.” — Show Your Work
Sharing is underrated. People often don’t share because they believe in the lone genius myth. Show Your Work addresses this: “Good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.” A generation of people sharing creates a Da Vin Ci, a Mozart, and a Steve Jobs. Don’t be fooled by the illusion of stand-alone glory and start sharing.
How good ideas are born.
4. The 10X Rule
Talking with these talented professionals, I was left reflecting on my actions, or the lack thereof. I’ve thought I worked hard to find jobs, and that the post-COVID environment had been too tough. I thought to myself, heck, I applied to 100 jobs, and I tailored my resume for half of them. I reached out to recruiters and designers in the companies I want to work for. There isn’t anything else I could do. I was wrong.
“Understand the industry landscape you want to work in. Stay ahead of the latest developments in your domain. This goes a long way in showcasing your interest, dedication to your craft, and eagerness to learn.” Matt Davis told me.
“Go to the environments where the people you want to work with are.” Luke Gray, a product design Freelancer, and entrepreneur urged, “Meet up.”
“Create a separate portfolio for each company you are applying for. Create a unique story tailored for them.” Kash Daud recalled his past actions. Better yet, Cliff Warren, Design Director at Supernatural, suggested my design projects should closely match what the companies I want to work for are working on.
The effort I need to take to get a job, I learned, is 10 times more than I expected it to be. Grant Cardone explained this in The 10X Rule book. Which I discovered through Anson’s post on James Clear’s summary of the book.
According to James Clear, the 10X rule says that:
You should set targets for yourself that are 10X greater than what you believe you can achieve, and you should take actions that are 10X greater than what you believe is necessary to achieve your goals. The biggest mistake most people make in life is not setting goals high enough.
Common mistake 1: setting your sights too low.
Common mistake 2: underestimating how much action is required.
Common mistake 3: spending too much time competing and not enough time dominating their sector.
Common mistake 4: underestimating the amount of adversity they will have to overcome.
Design how you do things, start with considering the user
Tell a good story
Give back, show your process
Set goals 10X higher than what you believe you can achieve, and take actions 10X greater than what you believe is necessary to achieve your goals
Lastly, value experiences over end goals. Design director Cliff Warren, designer Matt Davis, and designer Kash Daud, all recalled their jobs right out of college with fondness. They told me there is much you can learn from the ups and downs of the journey. A small company can teach you more than a big corporation right out of college. Don’t aim for job titles, they said, aim for growth.
Thank you to the many people who replied to my messages and offered up their precious time to share their stories with me. Thank you to Prashant who gave me valuable personal advice on planning for the near future as an international student, Kienan Ahner-McHaffie who introduced me to his designer friend Luke Gray in the UK and offered me his journey as a freelance software engineer, and the many other talented people who had offered up their time and experiences to me throughout the years: Kian Chai Ng for his perspective on Mixed Reality designs, Dino Yoon for her multiple portfolio reviews, Justin Wong for his insights on business and design, as well as Michelle Chen, Nasya Vaz, Keira Xu, Perrin Jones, Griffin Kao, Eugene Meng, and my friends from RISD Amanda Yang and Rafaela Fajardo.