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8 genius strategies that landed my first job
The true story of how I landed my first job in tech with zero experience.
👋 Hello! Welcome to this week’s ADPList Newsletter, a weekly advice column. Each Tuesday, we tackle design, building product, and accelerating careers. We’re looking for sponsors. If you’re interested to support our newsletter to advertise, let’s chat here.
Hi fellow readers,
I hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend. Last week, we launched our Podcast, View From The Top. The first episode is now live on “Lessons from LinkedIn to Calendly: Building a Design Career, and Scaling Design Systems” with Jess Clark. Have a listen and let me know what you think 🙏.
Today’s topic is also career-related, especially in this difficult market where companies are not hiring as much, and layoffs are happening.
Q: I’m having a tough time finding a job in tech. What are proven strategies I can use to land a job?
Tech is a fascinating field, a blend of artistry and functionality, psychology and aesthetics. But breaking into it can feel like trying to solve a Rubik's cube blindfolded. As someone who has successfully made the transition into the tech industry, I know firsthand the challenges and struggles that designers and product managers face.
Today, I'm sharing 8 proven strategies from my personal story, a self-taught designer who landed a Design Lead role at Gotrade (YC S19).
Let's dive into the 8 key strategies (🔮 with interesting historical references from famous figures).
Step 1. Understand The Company
Before you can woo a company, you need to know them inside and out, like a biography writer researching their subject.
🔮 True story: Remember when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 and steered the sinking ship back into clear waters? He had an intimate understanding of Apple's mission and culture. You need the same level of understanding about the company you want to join.
Research the company's mission, recent news, market trends, and the backgrounds of its leaders and interviewers.
Use tools like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and the company's own website to gather information.
Try to understand the company's pain points and how your role could address them.
Step 2. Leverage Warm Intros
In the world of networking, warm introductions are the holy grail. They're like a secret handshake that gets you past the velvet rope and into the VIP section.
🔮 True story: In the early days of Airbnb, the founders used warm intros to connect with potential investors and mentors, leading them to their first funding round. It can work the same way for you in landing a design role.
Scan your networks for any connections to the company.
Engage with their content and ask for advice or mentorship.
Use platforms like LinkedIn or ADPList to find potential connections.
Step 3. Craft for "Tell Me About Yourself"
This is your moment to shine, to craft a narrative about your past, present, and future that will captivate your interviewers.
🔮 True story: When Elon Musk explains his journey, he doesn't just list off his accomplishments. He talks about his passion for technology, his visions for the future, and the key decisions that led him to where he is now. This is the same kind of storytelling you need to master.
Develop a concise but compelling story about your journey into design.
Highlight key decisions and insights that have shaped your career.
Practice this story until you can tell it naturally and confidently.
Step 4. Targeted Companies
Just like how different species of birds have unique calls, every company has its unique needs and preferences. Meta and Google, for example, lean towards data-led design, while Apple is all about visuals.
🔮 True story: In 2009, when Square was just a small start-up, they weren't looking for a jack-of-all-trades. They needed a designer who could build a simple, user-friendly payment app. Knowing what a company is specifically looking for can help you tailor your approach and stand out from the crowd.
Understand the needs of the companies you're interested in.
Learn about their past hires and what they valued in them.
Tailor your portfolio to match the company's style and needs.
Step 5. Targeted Network
Before you send off that job application, try to connect with a few employees at the company.
🔮 True story: When Sheryl Sandberg was considering joining Facebook as COO, she met with numerous employees to understand the culture and challenges of the company. This not only gave her insights into Facebook but also helped her establish connections within the company.
Reach out to 1-2 employees at the company.
Send a personalized note asking if they'd be willing to share their insights about the company.
Use the information you gain to improve your application and interview preparations.
Step 6. Challenge Them (Humbly)
When you're asked, "Do you have any questions for me?" during an interview, it's your chance to show your preparation and curiosity. You want to challenge their thinking, not just ask about vacation days or company culture.
🔮 True story: When Reed Hastings was considering investing in Netflix, he didn't just ask about their business model. He asked challenging questions that made the Netflix team think deeply about their strategy and future. You want to do the same in your job interviews.
Prepare thoughtful questions about the company's projects, strategies, and challenges.
Show that you've done your homework by asking specific, informed questions.
Be respectful and humble when asking these questions.
Step 7. Contribute Into Future
Interviews are not just about what you've done in the past, but what you can do in the future. People want to hire folks they're confident can bring in results (fast).
🔮 True story: When Sundar Pichai was interviewed at Google, he didn't just talk about his past experience. He also shared his vision for Google's future and how he could contribute to it. This approach can work for you too.
Think about what skills and ideas you can bring to the company.
Show them how you can contribute to their future success.
Be specific about what you'd improve and how you'd do it.
Step 8. Tell Story With Results
Forget about going on and on about your design process. What matters is the impact you've made with your work. It's like showing the delicious cake you baked, not explaining every step of the baking process.
🔮 True story: When Jony Ive presented the design of the iPhone, he didn't just talk about the design process. He demonstrated the end result and its impact on the user experience. This is the kind of storytelling you need to employ in your interviews.
Showcase the results of your design work in your portfolio and during your interviews.
Highlight the impact your designs have had.
Limit the explanation of your process to about 10% of your presentation.
Final key takeaways
Research: Thoroughly understand the company, role, and key personnel before the interview.
Networking: Leverage your connections for introductions and insights into the company.
Prepare Your Story: Craft a compelling response to "Tell Me About Yourself", focusing on key decisions and insights.
Tailor Your Approach: Understand the unique needs and goals of the company and tailor your portfolio and application to match.
Connect with Employees: Prior to applying, engage with 1-2 employees from the company to gain insights.
Show Critical Thinking: Use the opportunity to ask the interviewer questions to challenge their thinking and demonstrate your preparation.
Internships: Shine in an internship by exceeding expectations and making yourself indispensable.
Apply for the Right Jobs: Exercise empathy, make your CV/resume a story, and tailor your approach to the company you really want to work for.
Nail the Interview: Articulate your creative process, describe design challenges you've experienced, and explain the rationale behind your creative decisions.
Hope you enjoyed today’s read 🙏 thank you for those who have shared with me your advice throughout this journey. Curious, what else would you add to this list?
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