The right problem
In his book, Wicked problems: Problems worth solving, John Kolko reminds us that there are harder, more important design opportunities to be solved.
“It’s true, designers are often solving easier, more banal problems over and over again (ex; design a dashboard, a login flow, a chat interface, a place to show ads). Most of these problems are not wicked problems, but they are business problems that can help and impact a lot of people.”
While I agree wicked problems are worthy problems in need of solutions. Designers also have to balance the realities of their lives, including providing for their families, repaying their student loans, and contributing to their local communities.
I’ve learned it often takes solving the most visible design problems first to be able to build trust with your stakeholders to get to work on the harder problems, where an immediate solution might be known. You can apply design to almost any problem. Trouble recruiting? Review your organization’s communications (web, social, and outreach). Trouble fundraising? Take another design pass at the pitch deck. Trouble selling? Take a critical eye to user research and your product to identify where you think you can make more of an impact.
The right focus
Just like your product needs a strategy, your job search does as well. Sarah Doody, Founder of The Career Strategy Lab advises, "Be strategic about the industries and types of jobs you choose.” She encourages designers to try and focus on a particular vertical they are personally passionate about (ex: healthcare, climate tech, financial empowerment). This focus could build on an existing superpower from a previous career or help you make progress towards a longer-term path to a desired dream job.
With online job applications, there is a temptation to “cast a really wide net” or “see what sticks,” but in my experience, having a more targeted approach works better. When sifting through hundreds of applicants, hiring managers want to understand the motivation and intent behind a candidate's application. So, next time when you’re doing career outreach, try to stand out by demonstrating your selectivity, and how an opportunity uniquely fits into your professional mission.
The right role
We spend a lot of our time at work. By one estimate, the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. How we spend our days is how we spend our life. It’s one of our most important decisions.
So when designers come to me and say they’re looking for any kind of job, I have to challenge that belief. There’s such a broad range of product design jobs out there from autonomous taxi services to automated tax preparation. What are you most passionate about? What are you most qualified to do?
A hiring team can usually tell how much time and thought a candidate put into their application. Despite what a lot of people say, I think the cover letter is still critical. Why are you applying for this job? What experience can you highlight to demonstrate you’ve read the job description? I’m often surprised in interviews how many candidates don’t read the job description. It never looks good to reach the interview stage without knowing the qualifications the prospective employer is looking for.
The right team
Going further, have you read the company’s mission, vision and values statements? These should be exciting to you. Often times, in a culture fit interview, the hiring panel will compare the values you demonstrate to the values of the company. Have you met your future manager and team? These people should also inspire you to do your best work.
The right impact
Once you’ve found the right problem, company, role you should be motivated to design several good solutions and ship solutions that are done right. You’ll want to measure your impact to help your team make sure what you collectively thought would make a difference really did.