Work requires experience, but experience comes from work.
This is the dilemma many new designers face when they’re looking to break into the industry.
Founder and CEO of Path Unbound, Stella Guan, had the opportunity to interview Christina Nguyen — a creative recruiter and career coach whose candidates have worked with Facebook, Samsung, Microsoft, and Amazon — where they discussed what companies look for in designers.
Nguyen also has her own career coaching business to help designers, developers, producers and specialists land their dream jobs through resume consultation, portfolio feedback, interview coaching, and more.
Storytelling Skills Can Make Or Break Your Career
From Nguyen’s experience, a candidate’s ability to articulate their design process and how their design solves the company’s business problems are some of the top skills employers look for in designers nowadays. This requires good storytelling and presentation skills, which are often overlooked when most people think of top skills for designers.
Designers Should Understand Business
Nguyen also emphasized the fact that art is not the same as design. Art tends to focus on self expression and aesthetics; design deals more with how it can serve a functional purpose in solving a problem.
When asked about the importance of design degrees to employers when comparing with design bootcamps, Nguyen responded that there is a misconception that formal degrees get jobs.
Some employers prefer designers with a formal education but this sentiment is fading away in the industry where employers value the skills of a candidate more than their formal education history.
Overcoming Bootcamp Inferiority Complex
Nguyen noted that students who graduated from degree programs have a good background in theory but are behind bootcamp students in getting practical, real-life experiences and projects.
There is also not enough emphasis on portfolios in formal education. According to Nguyen, recruiters spend as little as 10 seconds on designers’ resumes but spend much more time on their portfolios. They can usually tell what kind of skills a designer has from looking at a few case studies.
When discussing UX designers specifically, it’s not enough to show just screenshots of wireframes when describing the design process to interviewers. Interviewers want to know what the problem was; what steps were taken to solve the problem; what kind of challenges were encountered; and what the outcome was.
It also helps to give more than just surface level information about the product/project.
Soft Skills Will Help You Stand Out
Nguyen recommends designers to not assume that everything is clear in their portfolio to their potential employers. Designers must be able to describe the project or design process as if the audience doesn’t know anything about design.
In the workplace, it’s common to encounter situations where designers have to speak to non-designers about design.
Being open to feedback and setting aside their ego are important skills for designers in this context since stakeholders or clients may not like their work.
Entry level jobs are difficult to obtain in every industry, including design. Many early stage positions don’t get advertised and become filled by referrals. Nguyen pointed out that applying to jobs and sending cover letters are not the only ways to get hired.
For example, networking is a great way to find out about job opportunities. Most creative recruiters find potential candidates through LinkedIn so having a good online presence is also helpful in getting hired.
Full-Time Jobs Are Not The Only Ways To Gain Experience
Work experience also doesn’t have to come from typical full-time positions. It can also come from freelancing, working with startups, and working on volunteer projects for non-profit organizations.
Nguyen suggested that designers can even partner with software developers and engineers to create their passion project.
It takes more than hard skills to get that first design job. Recruiters and employers look for candidates who are also good at presenting and storytelling.
New designers are encouraged to find creative ways to find job opportunities other than applying to job postings.
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