Illustration by Sasha Kolesnik

You are not alone.

Job searching is tough. For candidates, It’s never been easier to apply for several roles online. For hiring teams, it can feel like swimming back-stroke through the talent pool. You can’t see everything that’s there or where you are heading, and you can only really take one stroke at a time. 

If you’re applying to a company like Google, you might be competing with over 3 million other applicants who apply there every year. Unfortunately, this incredible scale of qualified applicants makes it difficult for hiring managers to give candidates constructive feedback and applicants are left not understanding why they aren’t making the cut. 

How can you improve your odds?

While getting feedback from hiring managers is not always a viable option, there are other avenues a designer can take to get their portfolios and interview preparation in check. Companies have boards which give them diverse perspectives. Try creating your own informal cabinet of peers, colleagues, and professional contacts. Often the most helpful feedback comes from people who know you and your work well. 

Online communities like ADPList allow you to schedule meetings with senior designers to review your work. 

1. Know what you stand for

Simon Sinek, author and inspirational speaker, recently tweeted:

Just like a company needs to clearly communicate a unique promise, you need to develop your own professional brand which distills who you really are. Think about how you are different from others, and how that can be advantageous.

2. Be concise

With digital brands, I find just a few words and a specific promise can work wonders. Airbnb’s tag line used to be “Travel like a human”. Now it’s just two words:  “Belong Anywhere.”

So, it’s not about telling a long story, it’s about communicating succinctly.

3. Remember your audience

We know from task-based research studies, most people don’t read word for word on the web. 

This rings true for your audience - the hiring teams. These individuals are often moving quickly to identify who you are, what you’re great at, and why you think you might be a fit for the role they’re looking for. 

Make it easy for them to understand what you care about, your desired industries, your desired job locations, contract/full-time preference, and the type of team dynamic you’re looking for. I’ve shared previously how you can Make Stuff That Matters, if you’re explicit and intentional with the type of work you want.

4. Communicate your strengths

Unless you’re applying for a job in advertising, pitching yourself shouldn’t be about getting attention, but you do need to work on that pitch. What are you really great at? Beyond being a generalist Product Designer, what do you excel at?

5. Show, don’t tell

For designers, a pitch is often visual, but words about who you are, and what you stand for should support it. Especially if they have nice typography! 

When selecting your work for the portfolio, the style, appropriateness, and the impact of your work will help determine where you will end up. Make sure to keep your portfolio up to date for your next job, and not necessarily the job you have. How do you do this?

6. Over-deliver on the work

As a designer, you can always do another iteration, variation or exploration. The same holds true for the portfolio and your pitch. In order to really stand out, you need to go above what is expected with the quality, completeness, and the thoughtfulness of your work. What can you do better? Keep practicing. Keep pitching.

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