Career mode

A new chapter begins

A design career is an ongoing journey of expansion and discovery — often without end, but always with direction.

Updated October 12, 2019

It’s rare that we stop and recognize the moment that new journeys begin — as they are occurring.

Most of our adventures are events that we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of, and they tend to start without our full awareness. You might be on a journey — or two — of your own at this moment.

This moment is different because this is that rare moment when you recognize what is happening because you are choosing it rather than letting it happen to you.

Today, you are flipping the switch and turning your full attention to the job of finding a job. I didn’t name this section of the program Career Mode on accident. Everything we do from this point forward is in service of finding you career opportunities that will set the stage for the years that follow.

Your path through Career Mode will be unique to you because everyone in the program arrived at this moment on their path. Those paths span distance and circumstance that few can fully imagine, let alone fully understand. Everyone has cleared obstacles before but yet still has hurdles to clear. You’ve made a lot of progress, but you’re not finished with the job — which is why you are here.

But you didn’t come here for a pep talk. You came here to tackle the path ahead, and I am thrilled to be your guide. Let’s get started.

Prepping for the job search

The key to a successful search isn’t the sheer number of applications that you send out but how you position your skills and your work to potential employers. The steps below will help you maximize the impact you make on the job hunt.

Defining your range

Regardless of the type of journey you are embarking on, it is vital to determine where you are going before you start.

When embarking on a job search, few things matter nearly as much as determining the type of job you want to seek. Identifying likely jobs seems obvious on the surface until you understand how many types of design jobs fit into the ‘design’ umbrella. The projects you work on and how you feature them in a portfolio will play a role in how employers perceive you as a candidate.

This issue is a big reason why New Pragmatic emphasizes this in the Intro to Product Design curriculum. It is assumed that you have already identified the jobs you are interestd in pursuing. If not, this moment would be an ideal time to work through Product Design Jobs and make that determination as it will impact how you construct your case studies and portfolio.

I ask designers to choose three jobs they are interested in so that we can establish a job type that isn’t formed around a specific company or position. It’s nice to have a dream job, but you need to prove we can be gainfully employed as a product designer before stretching for the higher-profile positions.

Inside jobs

If you’re not currently employed, disregard this piece of guidance — but if you are employed, I would immediately seek out the HR staff for a list of open positions.

It isn’t uncommon for people to be employed at companies that have open positions for the type of work they want to do, but they lack the skills to land that role. I’ve personally been in this situation before, and I can assure you that your team would rather hire someone they already know than take a chance on someone from outside your company — provided the person they know can do the job.

Unless you are desperate to leave your current company, acquiring the skills and attempting to transfer into a UX or Product Designer position within your current company is significantly easier than finding work at a completely new firm. I saw this as someone who worked at the same company for 14 years and rarely held the same title for more than 18 months at a time.

Preparing to write

Design is often mistaken as a purely visual art form, when it is a form of communication that is conducted through a variety of ways. All of us write to some degree in our jobs, so it should come as no surprise that there is a fair amount of your portfolio that describes your process. Because our work does not speak for itself — and it never has — that means we need to demonstrate that we know how to communicate our ideas.

The case study is the meat of your portfolio, replacing the collection of visual artifacts that would have once masqueraded as a body of work. Now, designers explain their process and the struggles they encountered along the way. This isn’t to say that you won’t use project artifacts to display your visual skills, because you’ll do both. This means there is an extremely critical step needed to control the volume of information that is building in size.

Editing your darlings

When you see insanely long case studies or encounter every possible screenshot from a product demo, you’ve become ensnared in the trap of poor editing. Regardless of how good your work is, a poor edit of the content in your case study is the easiest way to camouflage your best work from potential employers.

Editing isn’t just for the written content, as many artifacts from your projects don’t logically work for inclusion in a portfolio case study. Yet, I see bloated case study after bloated case study in portfolios that I review.

Some forms of editing are simple. Misspelled words should be impossible in the era of tools like Grammarly, yet they still appear. Images that are too small or that won’t show up on mobile devices are the first things you should edit out.

Taking inventory

One of the hardest edits you will ever have to make is the removal of content that you thought you had but later discovered was actually lost. These are the case study wireframing gremlins that bite job seekers especially hard when you’ve allowed a significant amount of time to go by without organizing your work.

Most of the time, this is limited to visual assets, but I’ve seen entire prototypes go ‘poof’ into the darkness never to be seen again because of job changes, account downgrades, etc. You pour so much of yourself into this work; you might as well spend the time to take full account of what you have to work with — before you attempt to work with it!

Before you begin to build your portfolio, please do the following:

  • Make a screen recording of all product prototypes you have created.
  • Organize visual assets by type of work within the project folder.
  • Write a short intro for each project you might include in your portfolio.

Perfection that never comes

No amount of work will result in the perfect portfolio to submit for every position that you apply for. It’s important to remember that by itself, a portfolio will never land you the job, but you will have a hard time getting any job without a portfolio.

Luckily, portfolios are only one aspect of the job search. Because of this, you should aim to have a competitive portfolio that will attract enough attention to merit an interview. From that moment forward, the spotlight is on, and your ability to present information, lead a room, and collaborate with others plays a more significant role once you have secured an interview.

Exercise

To apply for most jobs, you need a portfolio. As we begin the planning process, it is essential to fill out this portfolio inventory spreadsheet. Selecting ‘copy base’ will duplicate the file into an Airtable account.

This spreadsheet provides you with a document of reference material that will guide you through the process of creating your case studies.

Once complete, update your Program Journal with links to any assets produced in this exercise. Post a link to your Journal in the #Feedback-Loop channel for review.

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