How To Get Your First Design Job With No Experience

Last week, we examined a few different paths designers can take in their careers. Developing your soft skills—and gaining confidence in them—is essential in transitioning to the professional world of design. But when you have no work experience under your belt, how do you show employers you’d be a great design hire?

The answer to this question, which I learned while recruiting designers at Dropbox, is to demonstrate an explosive trajectory. This lesson covers four characteristics that signal to employers you have tremendous potential—and make it easy for them to say, “Yes!”

  1. Why is trajectory important?

    37signals is known for developing world-class collaboration tools and providing insightful commentary on business, culture, and the web. In this post, co-founder and president Jason Fried explains why evaluating a designer is more than just looking at who they are today.

    As you read the post, consider how leading technology companies are thinking about potential in design hiring.

  2. Be prolific

    Prolificness is one of the strongest indicators of a new designer’s potential. When your portfolio demonstrates the consistent and frequent practice of design, you’re expressing drive, passion, and a willingness to learn under imperfect conditions. It also suggests a fast-growing skill set that will continue to rapidly improve.

    Jessica Hische is a prolific letterer and illustrator known as much for her side projects as her client work. Examine this broad collection of her “procrastiwork”, which ranges from educational material to creative flexing. What can you design independently to expand your own body of work?

  3. Define and articulate your design process

    Design interviews often require you to talk through your process or complete an exercise on the spot. Being able to speak precisely and passionately about your intent will show potential employers who you are as a designer—and who you have the capacity become.

    The foundation of a great process is asking the right questions, which will often illuminate the right solutions. This article discusses questions to consider during each stage of the design process. As you begin your next project, ask yourself: Who is this for? What do they want from it, and how can I emphasize those things?

  4. Show your work

    Before we arrive at a finished design, we often discard concepts, prototypes, and sketches that helped us get to the final product. Capturing and sharing that work can show our design thinking and build a narrative around what we create.

    As an example, I’m sharing some of my own process. This is an article I wrote a few years ago, discussing how I designed a layout from scratch. This has become part of my portfolio and I’ve used it repeatedly to get new clients and full-time work. As you work on your next design project, save and review those artifacts from your process. What story do they tell?

  5. Practice relentlessly for the interview

    A couple weeks ago, I was having coffee with a friend who brought up a talk by a designer he admired. It was so articulate, moving, and useful that he asked the designer how he pulled it together. The secret? The designer developed and rehearsed it over six months. The talk was Wilson Miner’s “When We Build”, which I’ve included as an example of the power of relentless practice.

    Every design interview is configured differently—there may be critique, collaboration, or a presentation—so ask what to expect and come outrageously prepared. Put more effort into nailing it than anyone would reasonably expect. When you’re just starting out, that’s the only way to make it look easy.

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