Ask the expert: 4 tips for getting a job in design

Pritesh Bhatt, Pixel Pond, Recruitment Agency @pixelpondlife

1) Understand What Product Design Is

Look at and compare the job descriptions for a range of product design positions. This is a great way to increase their knowledge about the discipline, and it’s also a good way for candidates to discover where their particular interests lie and what type of product designer they want to be. So, compare positions across startups, agencies and tech companies – all of these roles differ slightly on execution and method – this is a great fact-finding exercise and also allows you to identify niches, figure out what type of business you want to work with, and gives you an appropriate sense of direction for your CV and portfolio. Naturally, some requirements will be consistent across the range of job descriptions, but these should be seen as the key indicators of what employers want in their product designers.

2) Make Connections and Ask for Help

Feedback is key. Although it can be awkward to approach experts for feedback or help, I always think it’s worth a shot. There’s no harm in sending a (polite) email – maybe asking to meet up for a coffee at lunch or a drink after work. In my experience, more often than not, industry experts are willing to help out their junior colleagues. A lot of the time they see it as a compliment! It’s also important to remember that biting the bullet and asking for help shows that you are dedicated and committed to self-improvement – and I don’t see why anyone would dislike that!

3) Linkedin and other Outlets

Everyone should try to have a Linkedin page. The more information you put, the better (if people don’t want to read it, they don’t have to). However, keep the information focused – do not mention too much about your personal life! If you can get recommendations that would also be very useful, maybe from a mentor or a previous employer. Another useful tool is to follow companies – this not only gives you industry knowledge but it also shows prospective employers that you know what’s going on.

4) Make Time for Personal Development

Use your spare time wisely. Be someone who is engaged and constantly learning about the industry, read up about it, speak to people and listen to their experiences. Commit to your own personal development, work on new things, such as some self-initiated work.

What advice can you give candidates about presenting their portfolio?

With portfolios, the purpose is to tell a story. Include some background information on the design process. Guide your listeners through the whole process and try to give them an insight into why you did what you did.  Explain what your obstacles were, what did you do to overcome them, whether it worked out in the end and what learnt from the process. We all have rationales which is worth breaking down, so the audience knows how you solved that particular problem.

Firstly, write down a script and practise it out loud to yourself, as many times as possible. When it comes to presenting: be clear, be concise, speak slowly and practise.  By the time the interview arrives you will have learnt your script and it will sound much more natural.

Next, present it to peers, friends, family and I would particularly advise doing it in front of people you know who aren’t designers. That way you can check for clarity of expression and simplicity. Finally, remember that being nervous is normal – everyone I have spoken to, from juniors to seniors, experiences some nerves when presenting. So don’t worry, it’s normal!

How can candidates source new projects to add to their portfolios to increase their job applications?

Some initiative come in handy here. For example, they could work on smaller, self-initiated projects which could be scoped out in their local communities. Perhaps they can find inspiration on their high street? Find companies who don’t have any digital presence and maybe they can offer to draw up a brief? This is great for the portfolio and it could also lead to other (paid) work.

What kind of ongoing career support do you offer candidates?

I’m developing a systematic way to ensure that the candidates we have placed, have access to post-placement career advice and support. For example, advice on salary expectations, advice on mentoring and volunteering  and general advice on the industry and how it’s developing. This type of service is not only useful for candidates, it also gives us useful insights too.

How do you match the values and particular skillsets of candidates with the right company?

Well, this is central to my job. The main aim is to understand individual candidates and clients as exactly that – as individuals. I meet people, talk to them about what they want and what they value, and then I break that information down into constituent parts. By doing this, I am able to see what makes each candidate and client different and what is particular to their skills, values, culture or ethos.

The more I have done this (and I’ve been doing it for quite some time now!), the more I’ve learned just how individual each client and candidate is. There is a skill to discovering that individuality. It’s not always easy. The best way to go about it is to ask questions and most importantly, to listen to the answers!