How to Set Yourself Up to Find Your Dream Design Job

Let me guess: you’ve just filled out your 40th job application. By heart, you know your strengths, your weaknesses, and which references will say the best things about you.

It’s been weeks, if not months, and you’re exhausted. For every few applications, you get a call. If you’re lucky, the phone screening will turn into an interview. Then, you'll kick ass and the interview will go so well that you get a job offer (I just know it!).

In this hypothetical situation, you now have to make up your mind. By now, you’ve been searching for the perfect design job for what seems like forever. Everyone tells you that you shouldn’t accept the first job offer you get, but it’s so tempting.

What do you do?

I'll be completely honest: I've never worked a design job in my life. However, I've recently gone through the job hunting process and I know very well as frustrating it can be. I also chatted with a few local Seattle designers who offered their opinion on the matter.

So, before you risk getting stuck in a position that doesn’t fulfill your creative soul, complete these crucial steps to establish whether this is truly the job for you: set goals and ask questions.

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Set Dream Job Goals

The first step is to establish goals for the kind of work you'd like to see yourself doing. Putting these  in place at the beginning ensures a smoother process by limiting the options down to those that are in line with your goals. 

To begin, fill in the blanks below. Don't assume that any one company will meet all of your requirements. Instead, assign priorities and decide what you’d be more willing to negotiate on.

  • My ideal company to work at will have between [number] and [number] employees and be located in [location].

  • While employed, I would like to work on [ideal projects] and achieve [goal].

  • The perfect team would include [ideal team makeup - i.e. do they hire women into leadership roles? Are there senior people who can help me grow? Does the team reflect the customers they serve?].

  • Ultimately, I want to be working toward [end-goal - i.e. self-promotion, management duties, or a step towards a long-term personal/professional goal].

Setting goals for your ideal company is crucial to ensuring that you don’t give in to one that doesn’t fit your needs. These goals will help put you on the offensive for when you begin your job hunting process.

For an example of what this looks like, take a look at Julie Ann Horvath’s article on Hiring and Being Hired in the Tech Industry.

In it, she quotes her mentor in a truly inspiring quote:

“Think of it as being an investor in the next company you join, because you totally are one. You’re investing your time, your energy, and your talent.”
— Leslie Bradshaw

Asking the right questions

Now that your goals are set, it’s time to ask the questions. These questions will help to prevent you from being stuck in a job that you end up hating down the road.

When it comes time to deciding upon which company you're going to work for, ask yourself:

  1. Is the company doing something I can wholeheartedly get behind?
  2. Does the company have a mature/modern approach to design, and does design have a genuine seat at the table in terms of where this company is going?
  3. Is the culture highly collaborative in an iron-sharpens-iron kind of way, or do they seem to inject unhealthy dynamics (pressure, internal competition etc) to get the work done?
  4. Can I lead and be cultivated at the same time here?
  5. Am I blown away by the quality of their work as it stands today?
  6. Are there ways to improve it, and am I capable of pulling off those ways?
  7. Is there anyone at the company that I can truly admire?
  8. Is the company self-motivating in some way (i.e. High compensation and/or benefits, cool products/services, lots of data, great design opportunities, giving back to the community, etc.)?
  9. Do I see myself enjoying it more than what I’m doing now for at least the next 2+ years?

You may also have some of your own questions that are tailored specifically to the company and the type of job you’re trying to get.

For example, maybe you’re looking to grow yourself professionally. In that case, you might want to find out whether they offer any professional development courses, or assistance to access classes outside of the company.

Use both your goals and your questions together to help make a more educated decision. Ultimately, after this process, you should have a clearer understanding of what decision to make from there.

In other words, the key to kicking ass at finding your dream design job is to understand your ideal work environment, ask yourself the right questions, and consider yourself as an investor rather than a candidate.

Note: Thank you to Graham Stinson, Luz Bratcher and Allen Chan for letting me use your feedback from the Seattle Designers Slack group.

Ashley Hoffman is a freelance content marketer based in Seattle who writes for businesses in the tech and design industries. She has studied digital marketing for over five years and has worked as a marketing professional for over two. She loves good books, awesome design, coffee, and natural disasters.

Find her on Twitter: @ashhmarketing