Issue 8: How do I find a design role with limited professional experience?

How do I negotiate multiple offers?

Welcome, designer.

Happy Tuesday! I’m happy to have a wonderful guest author today to help tackle one of the most common questions we both get. I’m also happy she’s here because I’m currently in the midst of moving cross-country to NYC and have been hugely thankful for her contribution as I run around like a mad person. Anyways, I hope you’re having a wonderful week ahead and let’s get into it.

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This week, we answer:

  • How should I approach finding a design role with limited professional design experience?

  • How do I negotiate multiple offers?

How should I approach finding a design role with limited professional design experience?

I pivoted my career so most of my professional experience isn’t within design. It’s been a challenge so far since most job postings I’ve come across noted 2+ years as requirements.

This week, I’ve asked Yang You to help answer this question. Yang is currently a lead product designer at Anchorage Digital, where she designs crypto experiences for institutions. She started her career as a consultant and since making her own pivot into design, Yang has been passionate about mentoring young designers and bringing underrepresented minority designers into the crypto space. If that’s you, reach out to Yang to chat. Otherwise, you can find Yang on Twitter or LinkedIn.

P.S. If you have any interest in designing for crypto (and the new financial world), her team at Anchorage is hiring for a senior product designer!

Fellow career pivoter here 👋 Let me start by saying that I feel you. It’s hard, finding that *first* design role. I was a consultant when I made the decision to pursue a full-time role in design and I felt the chicken-and-egg scenario. How am I supposed to get my foot in the door if all these job posts ask for 3 years of experience?

There are some practical steps you can take:

1. Build up confidence in your design skills, in addition to your portfolio.

Ask yourself this: Do I have a foundational grasp of the design thinking process to be able to apply it to a project? Do I feel confident in iterating on a solution to a brand new problem?

If the answer is no, there are ways to build up that confidence, which is crucial to convince your new team to hire you.

  • 🧑‍🏫 If you haven’t grasped the fundamental concepts, consider taking a course
    After dabbling in wireframing, I knew I still needed a foundational understanding of the UX methodology. I made it clear to my manager that I wanted to pursue this path, then asked for sponsorship to take this part-time course on UX research and strategy. This commitment gave me the confidence to know how to apply research in just about any new problem space. If paid courses are beyond your means, a great place to start is on Coursera or this list. Some established design programs also provide payment plans or tuition adjustments.

  • 📐 If you haven’t mastered the design tools to execute on those concepts, practice by “copying”
    Take a screenshot of your favorite app or website, drop it into Figma or Sketch, then recreate it from scratch, down to the components and icons. This is a common exercise included at the beginning of UI courses to train that design eye and warm up to design tools. You will uncover the nuances that go into the screens we see everyday, and even discover some visual illusions (like how the Google logo is not a perfect circle). Do this purely for practice and not to include publicly in your portfolio.

  • 💡 If you’ve grasped the skills but lack case studies in your portfolio, craft your own
    The best part about being a UX designer is that our problem solving skills can be applied to many facets of our daily lives. What was a frustrating moment you’ve had in the past week? Identify the problem and ideate on solutions. What was something a friend complained about recently? Conduct an ad-hoc user interview with them. Go through the entire process of problem identification to prototype, and build it into a portfolio case study that you’re proud of. You can even go the extra mile by using no-code tools to build, deploy, test, and iterate on the live product! Showing initiative goes a *long* way for an entry-level designer position.

2. If you are currently employed, look for opportunities to switch internally.

This option may not be available to all, but sometimes it’s worth looking inward first. That first design role can be closer than you think.

My first official title as a designer came years in at my first employer, but I looked for ways to design before I had that title. On my very first project as a consultant (we were building a data visualization tool), I noticed that the workflow to get to my end goal was very complex, so I came up with a few ways to simplify it via sketches on my iPad. I shared them with the project director, and to my surprise, he not only took them into consideration but invited me to help think through more solutions as we built the product.

I said yes to every opportunity I could to apply my design skills to the company, and it eventually led to switching to my first in-house design role within the company. Since the director had seen what I could do, he was able to connect me to my next team that needed a designer. Looking back, this was my foot in the door.

Find ways to apply design thinking in the place you’re at today. Show your manager or leadership that you have the drive to make things better through design, and they may just help you complete that transition.

3. Use your existing professional experience to your advantage.

Find parallels from your old gig to your new one, and highlight that in your story as a designer. Design is more-or-less a form of problem solving, which is highly applicable regardless of your professional background. In interviews, speak about a problem that you noticed at your old workplace and how you would (or better yet, did) make it better.

  • If you’re an architect, how did the design of a building and its future inhabitants translate to designing digital products?

  • If you’re an engineer, how did balancing physical or technical constraints teach you about making tradeoffs to get to a final solution?

  • If you’re a consultant, how did you understand the needs of your clients, and compare those to user research methodologies?

  • If you’re a customer service or sales rep, what did you learn about your customer that told you about their most pressing pain points, regardless of what you were selling?

4. Be strategic about the jobs you apply to.

It may feel like the efficient thing to do is to blast your resume to every open role, then sit back and wait. While you may win at the numbers game, there are ways to position yourself more strategically in the application process:

  • Look for large and medium-sized companies, which are more likely to have the resources to support and mentor an entry-level designer than smaller startups. There’s a better chance that they can provide the mentorship and established design process to help you grow and succeed.

  • Look for referrals by connecting with designers who work at those companies. Reach out with genuine interest and ask: “How have you found it there?” You may not always hear a response, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Use LinkedIn or ADPList to identify people in your network (or are a hop away) who work at those companies. Referrals go a long way when there are many applicants in the pipeline.

5. Set aside your doubts around “Am I qualified?”

Here’s a secret: As someone who’s been on the hiring team side, know that “2+ years of experience” is *almost never* a hard requirement 🤫. Especially if you’re female-identifying or an underrepresented minority in the design industry, set aside your doubt of “Am I qualified?” and submit that application. Unfortunately, job descriptions tend to be written with unconscious gender or racial bias, and it’s important to be aware of that as a candidate.

Finally, trust the process. I know that feeling of sending hundreds of applications into an abyss and not hearing back. Show up with a strong portfolio, confidence, and eagerness to learn, and the right opportunity will come along!

How do I negotiate multiple offers?

Considering different factors like compensation, culture, and industry.

First, congrats! The fact you’re asking this question must mean good news.

Next, I’m going to tackle this in 2 parts:

  1. How do I decide which offer I want to take?

  2. I know which offer I want but how do I negotiate that offer to be more competitive before I accept it?

Deciding on an offer

First thing that comes to mind is: there is no right answer. You know yourself best and no one path exists that will make everybody happy. So, the more you’re in tune with what you want out of the next 1-5 years of your career, the more informed you will be in your choice.

Now, while self-awareness is literally one of my favorite rant topics, even I know how much of a cop out answer it can be. So for a more tactical answer, here is a wonderful resource by Joel Califa, Design Lead at Github:

It’s a simple system of listing out all the different factors you care about and then assigning a weight to how much you care about it. It’s an extremely rational approach and it should be taken with a grain of salt but it is, nevertheless, helpful.

Negotiating a weak offer

This part’s trickier. There are a couple scenarios you can find yourself in:

  • You have a stronger offer elsewhere
    It goes without saying this is the most ideal. Many companies these days only budge if you have a competitive offer on the table. You can usually share this with your recruiter and they would use it to argue your case.

  • You don’t have a stronger offer
    In this case, you can turn to market rates. When you apply to a job, part of the description may have stated “competitive salary,” which usually translates to market rates or above. Employers will have their own definition of what that means so do your research and be armed with evidence.

In either of the above scenarios, you’ll ultimately need to provide your recruiter with a desired compensation. Some negotiation 101 rules:

  1. Always share a range. Never just share a single number.

  2. Always ask for more than you actually want.

Here’s an email that I sent during a previous job hunt. Some context here: I’d already shared a desired range over the phone. I didn’t have a stronger offer on the table but having already spoken to another employer about what the expected compensation would be there, I used it to negotiate this offer.

I should mention that my recruiter was incredibly accommodating throughout the entire process. He was gracious and actively worked with me to put together a strong case for my desired compensation. I’ve been fortunate that this is a pretty common experience.

That said, easier said than done. It takes a lot of confidence to talk money but know that employers always expect you to negotiate so they will lowball you the first time. So do yourself a favor, get uncomfortable, and get paid.

Good luck!

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Until next time, 👋

— Lily