Dear Product Design Applicants...

Applying for a Product Design role shouldn’t be daunting. Here are 5 things to think about before shooting off that application.

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Applying for a Product Design role is a modern-day love-hate affair that some of us are all too familiar with. It can be an overwhelming or even an exhausting experience due to its competitive and constantly evolving nature.

If you are looking for a one-size-fits-all solution or a golden ticket of a resume and portfolio to send out in bulk, you are unfortunately out of luck. As the Product Design landscape is one that is always growing and evolving, so too must our applications to these roles. Here are 5 things to consider before applying to your next role, based on my experiences with Product Design applications.

Keep it Legible and Relevant

When we make first-impressions, we want them to be good rather than bad. I’d like to think the same for resumes since they’re the first thing that reviewers go through before your portfolio. Which is why it’s not the greatest of ideas to cram all of your life experiences into one page with 11pt text. 

A resume that is legible and concise speaks volumes about your mindset as a designer. It can show attention to detail and how you are able to structure information clearly.

You can view constructing your resume as if you were designing an experience - with the reviewer as your end-user. The most important thing to consider is the hierarchy of your information. You can think of it as the fresh brioche buns that hold together a burger. Guide your reviewer through important details - you can open with a brief line that encapsulates the type of designer you are, then list your experiences (in chronological order), skills, certifications and education. But it’s tempting to list anything and everything that you’ve experienced - because more is better right? Not always. Include what is relevant to the role, your reviewer will not need to know which primary or high school you went to. Please also avoid representing your skills as charts and data visualisations. Why? Because simply put, it’s not measurable. List the skills you are confident and have experience in - don’t go chasing waterfalls.

TLC preachin' the truth.
And while it’s a good idea to include your unique personality and flair in your resume to help you stand out amongst other applicants, make sure that this magic doesn’t overshadow the important details. You want to convince your reviewers that your skills and experience are what they’re looking for. Your design flex can happen in your portfolio.

Meet Case Studies, Your Best Friend

The work presented in your portfolio should have context. No designer has worked on a product without having had a process or coming across new learning experiences, limitations, or even failures. It is important to include these things in your portfolio as it will demonstrate your growth as a designer to your potential employers. How did you overcome these failures? What solutions did you provide? And how did your designs have to change as a result? These are great questions to touch upon in your case studies.

Here’s a basic guideline of a case study:
  • Context. Who are you designing this for? Why are you designing this? What are the business goals? It's a great idea to walk your reviewers through the thinking behind the solutions you have created based on the problems encountered.

  • Research. Further understanding your problem to reach your final outcome. This can include many different types of research; user interviews, surveys, user personas, competitor analysis etc.

  • Planning. How did your research play a role in your design decisions? You can show your thought process through user flows, use cases, user stories, storyboards, feature lists or scenarios.

  • Design. The design process is iterative, so don’t be afraid of sharing your sketches and wireframes. Your process is what’s important - how did testing your design prototypes lead you to the final outcome?

  • Wrap Up. It’s a good idea to provide a final summary to close your case study. What impact did your final design make? What did you learn? You can include your reflection and KPIs here as well.

But what if my work is more UI-focused?
That’s totally cool and okay. You can still touch upon some of the topics above. Maybe you didn’t have to conduct elaborate user interviews or create personas, but you might’ve utilised this data for your final design or researched design trends and tested the final design through a prototype you put together. Don’t forget the million-dollar word - context.

And lastly, please remember to include your role in each project. In most cases you weren’t working alone, so share your role in that project and what your responsibilities were - because TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK! Too cheesy? Okay. Moving on...

Your Portfolio - The Design Flex

Now for the exciting stuff… Your design flex a.k.a your portfolio. Another area where it’s tempting to include ALL of your work - ranging from high school to present. If you’re applying for a Product Design role, then your packaging, print, editorial or 3D architectural designs are not relevant. As awesome and creative as they are, it’s better to save those for Behance or Dribbble.

Then how do I know what sort of work to show?
The important thing to look at is the key responsibilities listed in the job description. Here are two examples:

“Fluent in translating stakeholder goals, user research, and complex user flows into simple UIs.” 
This is where your case studies will take centre stage. You can talk about these 4 aspects in a case study that you’ll include in your portfolio. Show off your design process and how you can work with the data you have to create your final outcome.

“Solid experience in prototyping and interaction design”
Show-off your final design with a prototype link in your portfolio! It’s as simple as that.

Another important thing to remember is that quality over quantity is greatly valued. You’re not going to lose brownie points if you only have 2 strong case studies to show. You’re more likely to grab the attention of the reviewer by doing that, rather than including 10 pieces of work that isn't relevant to the role.

The Google Drive Folderception

What is the “Google Drive Folderception” you may ask? It is when an applicant sends out a link that comes packaged with a surprise. Not the happy kind of surprise involving cake and confetti, but the kind of surprise that makes you cry a little bit inside. It is one of the single most frustrating things that I have experienced while reviewing applications: folders within folders, within folders, within more folders, until you finally reach single jpegs of work - tada! Gotcha. Impressed? No. Disappointed? Yes.

Submitting your portfolio should be accessible and not a frustrating maze your reviewers are forced to navigate. More importantly, sending through single jpegs of work doesn’t give the reviewer context and raises a lot of questions. Take the time to make sure that your work can be navigated and accessed easily.

Again, I beg of you. From one designer to another, please do not do this.

Don’t Steal Work

This really should be self-explanatory, but you would be surprised at the number of applications that I have reviewed where this is simply not the case. It’s a bummer that this is something that has to be reiterated here. 

Just because there are a plethora of free UI templates out there, it does not mean that CMD+C and CMD+V these templates straight into your portfolio is acceptable and no one will take note. People reviewing your portfolio will take note (and not a good one at that). This does not mean that being inspired by, or taking inspiration from other people’s work is not acceptable. 

When you are applying for a job, you want to show your design process, your potential, and your creative mindset - not how good you are at copying work.

Final Words

I hope these 5 things that I’ve gone on about will help you in your Product Designer job hunting journey. If you have any queries, suggestions or even want to have a chat about one of these points - hit me up. Happy job hunting and good luck to you all!

Side note: We're currently looking for an awesome Product Designer to join our team! Check out our open positions below.

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Claire Heckel
Your friendly neighbourhood Product Designer 👩‍💻

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