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How You Can Find A Design Job You Will Truly Love

There comes a time in nearly everyone’s career when changing jobs is the natural next step. As a designer, you might start looking for a new job when you feel you have hit a wall with your current employer or when greater opportunities are present at other companies.

After taking the necessary steps to prepare for a job search, like updating your resume and nurturing a small savings account to provide a little cushion, think about what you want in your next job. Planning for job requirements, salary and perhaps location before applying is obvious, but many people forget to set criteria for one major thing: corporate culture.

Further Reading on SmashingMag:

The Foundation For Innovation Link

Corporate culture is defined by an organization’s values and philosophy; it is a set of collective beliefs or personality traits that govern everything a company does. Corporate culture shapes every aspect of an organization, from operations and business policies to “extra-curricular” activities and day-to-day staff interactions.

To be truly happy at a job, you have to find a company that resonates with your personality and that provides an environment in which you can thrive. In the US, the average full-time employee works nearly 1,700 hours each year. When you spend that much time at work, the job becomes a part of your identity, an extension of you. Isn’t it fair to say that the company you work for represents you as much as you represent it?

What Helps You Thrive? Link

Before even applying for a job, consider what kind of culture you feel you would best fit in. After all, you are 27.2% less likely to leave a job in the first year if you join a company that is a good fit for you.

Think about what kind of work environment is best for you. (Image credit6)

List the traits that you feel a good corporate culture should have by considering the following:

  • Management style
    Are you more comfortable working with few restrictions, or do you like a more hands-on approach? Do you need feedback and affirmation?
  • Opportunities for growth
    Where do you want to be in the next three years? What would you like your responsibilities to include?
  • Work environment
    Do you work best in a fast-paced, collaborative environment, or do you do your best work in silence? Do you enjoy socializing throughout the day, or do you work better without interruptions?
  • Corporate personality
    Would a more serious and professional environment work best for you, or would you prefer a more casual workplace?

By thinking of these criteria, you will be able to determine what kind of research to conduct and what kinds of questions to ask before and during your interviews.

Become A Culture Detective Link

Most of the time, you get only a few hours with the hiring manager to determine whether a company is a good fit for you, and vice versa. One of the best ways to find out whether the company you are interviewing with has a culture that meets your requirements is by doing a little detective work beforehand.

A company’s culture is strongly molded by the people who make up the organization. Use tools such as LinkedIn to get an idea of the work experience, skill sets and possibly even hobbies of your prospective colleagues. Look at the profiles of the leadership and management team. Do you feel you could learn from them? Do you have experiences or skill sets that seem compatible with those of employees of the company?

Do research to uncover the true nature of a company’s culture. (Image credit8)

On a few occasions, I have seen applicants even reach out to a current employee in a similar position within the prospective company to get a better idea of the culture and work environment. This is a great idea. You will often get an inside glimpse of the organization, while also getting to know a potential colleague.

Common Criteria For Designers And What To Ask Link

The interview is a crucial time to prove to the company that you are a good fit for it, while also determining whether the position is a good fit for you. The number-one piece of advice I can give at this point is to go into the interview prepared to be yourself. This is a two-sided discovery process. When you’re honest with who you are and what you want in a job, you will be able to determine whether the position meets your criteria.

Through my work with designers and UX professionals, I have witnessed patterns in the environments that creative professionals truly thrive in. To give you some ideas, consider asking variations of the questions under the headings below to determine whether a company makes sense for you and fits your criteria.

Is the Company Design-Driven? Link

Challenge yourself to grow in your skills and experience by working for a company that puts design at the center of its business. Companies such as Apple and Airbnb have built a culture around design, making it a priority and an essential part of their innovation. Working for a design-driven company will force you to work outside of your comfort zone, to innovate, to work smarter and grow beyond the confines of “ordinary.”

  • “What is your design philosophy?”
  • “How do you as an organization value design in your daily work?”
  • “How has design changed your business?”
  • “What do you feel is the most innovative design project your company has done recently?”
  • “What inspires you about your employees’ most recent work?”

Does Creativity Trump Tenure? Link

The best working environment for a designer is one in which creativity is rewarded above all else. Companies that discourage risk are actually cultivating a norm of anti-innovation, and nothing crushes a designer’s soul faster than that. As a creative, you know that your job is to take risks and to seek out new ways to solve problems. You will thrive in an office that encourages this behavior, that nurtures your ideas and that moves people up based on initiative and skill, not just tenure.

  • “What do you look for in your employees?”
  • “How do people in your organization move up? What qualities do you look for?” (Consider how this translates back to your career path.)
  • “What does the career trajectory look like for this position? How do you groom your talent for growth?”

Are Togetherness and Collaboration Valued? Link

A corporate culture of “togetherness” emphasizes collaboration among employees. For designers, this is extremely important. Collaborating with people with different design backgrounds and experiences, and possibly even from different industries and professions, will help you to solve problems in ways you had never thought of before. This process of collaborative learning is crucial to your continued growth as a professional and an artist. Togetherness can also take place during a company’s extra-curricular activities.

  • “What is the day-to-day interaction like between the different departments here?”
  • “How do you establish or nurture a sense of camaraderie among employees?”
  • “What do your coworkers or employees do after hours?”
  • “What kind of non-professional events or activities does the company sponsor for employees?”

Is Innovation a Priority? Link

What propels you as a designer is likely a desire to create amazing work and to do it better each time. Because of that internal drive, you would likely become complacent by doing the same work over and over. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for instance, demands that employees be inventive. Amazon even established a group within the company, Web Lab, that is in charge of experimenting with UX design to find improvements — they are constantly innovating.

Companies that place innovation high on their list of priorities will look to their designers to think creatively and strategically, to solve problems with design answers. You will be encouraged, perhaps expected, to use cutting-edge tools and techniques in your work, which will also push you to continue honing your craft.

  • “How do you inspire innovation in your employees?”
  • “What work has your company done that you feel was cutting-edge?”
  • “How much time does your company dedicate to learning or teaching employees new skills?”
  • “Where is your company going? What are your major initiatives for this year?”

Read Between The Lines Link

When evaluating a company’s culture, listening to what the interviewer doesn’t say is as important as listening what they do say. Pay close attention to body language and hesitations when asking questions. An interviewer struggling to come up with an answer to a question as easy as, “How would you describe your corporate culture?” could indicate that the culture is not well defined. This is dangerous, because I often find that corporate culture is the glue that keeps everyone working together, the grease that keeps the engine moving the collective forward.

Listen to what people tell you during the interview and read between the lines. (Image credit9)

While waiting for the interview or when exiting the office, look around you. How do people look? Happy? Miserable? What do they have on their desks? One study suggests that messy desks indicate a creative environment (perfect for designers). If you make eye contact with someone passing by, do they smile or quickly walk by without acknowledging? These are all ways to better understand the corporate culture in which you might be working.

Evaluate Based On Your Criteria Link

After the interview, sit down with your list of criteria for corporate culture and go through it one by one, noting what you heard during the interview and observed in the office. Make sure to cover the most important items. If your criteria have not been satisfied by the information provided by the interviewer, perhaps this is not the position for you.

Sometimes the evaluation process will last beyond your acceptance of a position. Even after carefully considering all of the aspects we have discussed, things might not fall into place. If, for some reason, you start a job and find that what you thought the culture would be misaligns with what you are experiencing, you still have an opportunity to make an impact and offer ideas to influence the organization.

It could just be bad timing, a case of a great company going through a rough patch. In this case, evaluate the leaders of the organization. Do they have a vision and a plan? Is the plan clearly defined and actionable? This will give you a sense of where the company is at, as well as a road map of where it is going and how the journey will affect the culture and your future at the company.

However, if it truly is a mismatch, then account for these factors as you look for your next position. Before deciding when to leave, consider whether you are financially and emotionally prepared to leave or are in a position to remain there while you look. Ultimately, finding the perfect corporate culture means understanding where you fit in best. That process takes time, so sometimes getting it wrong is perfectly natural, despite our best effort.

Joining a company with a culture and personality that align with your values and that support your ambitions will ultimately make you happier and more successful in your new position. Be honest with what you need and want in an employer, and settle only when the most important criteria have been met, even if that means leaving a new job for a better fit.

If you want to know more about what is possible in a corporate culture before drawing your list, check out these great reads:

(ah, il, al)

Footnotes Link

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Susie Pollasky is Talent Ambassador of Digital Telepathy , a UX design company that is passionate about crafting meaningful experiences and products [like Hello Bar (acquired by Crazy Egg), Impress, and Filament] and fostering great company culture.

  1. 1

    Great article, lots to think about and consider, even if we’re comfortably employed in a company now. I think it’s so important to know what we want at all times and to make choices that are best for our selves. It is then that we can begin to set ourselves up for success.

    • 2

      Thanks for the read Kirby! Definitely agree – we may not always know what our next steps look like, but rather by understanding what is important and meaningful to us in our work – we are able to make decisions along the way that guide the right direction for our careers.

  2. 3

    Really nice your content about Designer want to say thanks and appriciate you and hope you will publish more useful content in your smashing Magazine Website.

    • 4

      Thanks! I’ve had a blast working with Smashing Magazine – looking forward to many more articles in the future. :)

  3. 5

    Perfect timing article!. I found greater opportunities to other company right now and I’m planning to move there.
    Great Read! believe me or not we just talk that this day. :-)

    • 6

      Congrats on the new gig Peter! Keep us posted on how it goes. :) Cheers to the next chapter of your career!

  4. 7

    Brilliant article. These hints and tips are superb. There are some very wise words in this article which I am sure will help any designer out.

    • 8

      Thanks for the kind words Robert! I’m passionate about the design community and grateful to get to work with so many talented creatives. Please do let me know if there are other topics you’d like me to cover.

  5. 9

    Great article Susie, thanks for sharing.

    • 10

      Thanks for the read Okibi! If there’s anything else you’d like to read about related to careers in the creative space, please let me know!

  6. 11

    Sarfaraz Ansari

    November 17, 2014 4:52 am

    Fantastic! article i hope it will help me a lot in future. Thanks for sharing

    • 12

      I hope so too, Sarfaraz! Thanks for the read, wishing you an excellent future in your career path.

  7. 13

    WOW, This is really great post, very informative, learnt so many things that didn’t knew before. Thanks for sharing such a useful information.

    PS: I went to your website (dtelepathy) and it’s truly inspired me by the background, animation + the motivation words written there. Excellent job.

    • 14

      Thanks for the kind words, Usman! Glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for checking out Digital Telepathy’s site. I’m so proud and grateful to work with this team – the people of DT are incredibly talented.

  8. 15

    Any chance on doing an article on finding employment on those who have decades of experience. It seems that employers are only looking for interns or those with less the 10 years of experience.

    • 16

      Thanks for the suggestion Allen, great idea! I will add this to my list, it’s definitely a topic that has come up regularly with candidates.

  9. 17

    This article made my day :)

    • 18

      Susie Pollasky

      November 25, 2014 8:14 pm

      Thanks for reading the article Jay! If there are other career topics you’d be interested to read, please let me know!

  10. 19

    It’s great to see an article like this – the atmosphere and corporate culture where I work are very important to me, so I intend to use these tips in future. Hopefully not any time soon though, I love where I work at the moment – great culture and work-life balance!

    • 20

      Susie Pollasky

      November 25, 2014 8:13 pm

      Helen – love to hear that you’re happy with your current gig! Sending Thanksgiving gratitude your way, appreciate you reading the article, and wishing you the best in the evolution of your career. :)

  11. 21

    Wow, thank you so much for this amazing article! I am graduating from art school next May, so this article couldn’t have come at a better time! I will definitely ask some of those questions when I get to the interview rounds.

    • 22

      Susie Pollasky

      November 25, 2014 8:14 pm

      Great Nancy! Congrats on the upcoming graduation, what an accomplishment! Jazzed for you to take the next steps in your career. Wishing you all the best!

  12. 23

    27.2% – you made that up didn’t you? Made me smile, though. Nice article.

  13. 25

    Very interesting articles. I specially love the thoughts on questions. This would help me a lot when changing job as well as knowing more about my colleges when we will as same things to them.

    Thanks again.

  14. 28

    I love smashing magazine

  15. 30

    It is hardly common or practical for somebody to go through the entirety of their career on a single job or position. It is safe to say that for the most part, everyone changes jobs or even careers in their lifetime, perhaps many times or perhaps several times. This comes to take a special significance when someone is a designer. Through the course of a career in a designer’s lifetime, there are many circumstances for why a designer might consider and execute the finding of a new job or position within their career field. Many of such reasons could be that a designer feels as if his or her job doesn’t offer him or her a challenging or fulfilling atmosphere or freedom. Perhaps, like the article stated, he or she feels like he or she is at a dead end in their job; not moving forward or climbing the latter of achievement. There is also the possibility that his or her job doesn’t offer a fair possibility of promotion or advancement, or doesn’t offer it at all altogether. This is when it is an adequate time to start looking out for better jobs. To get the job that a designer dreams about, you have to take into account different characteristics: chance for advancement, recognition, challenging and exciting atmosphere, honest employees.

    • 31

      Susie Pollasky

      November 25, 2014 8:23 pm

      Amen, Jorge! The more experience you acquire, the more you’re able to refine what’s fulfilling in your role and your career must-have’s. Appreciate the read! :)

  16. 32

    And sometimes, you just make a mistake. I once joined a company which seemed completely social from the outside. Everything supported that it’d be great fun to work there. Nice outgoing social people, lots to do, lots of nice projects etc. Even in the interview I could not find a speck of doubt that I would not enjoy my time. Unfortunately it turned out to be the other way around. Once there it was completely the oposite. Very anti-social and I didn’t have much work to do even if I requested it. Let alone do the work I was hired for. It was a shame!

  17. 33

    Loved the article. Sometimes it is tough to observe the people around when you go to interview in a company and even sometimes you cannot understand the company by researching on social media as few companies do not socialize (have visited a good multi billion company in healthcare).

  18. 34

    Steven Wakabayashi

    December 8, 2014 3:23 am

    AMAZING as always, Susie!!

  19. 35

    Just remember that when you are up without sleep for days and dealing with all the stress of meeting deadlines, there are people out there without astronomical art student loans (some without degrees) who are making more than you. I tell me kids to either go into nursing or join the military. Both offer better pay and benefits than you’ll ever make as a designer.

  20. 36

    Susie, as someone who has hit a proverbial ceiling and is working on moving to a new company and advancing my career even further, I must say that this was an incredible read to come across. Thanks so much for writing this and it is well-written and full of excellent advice!

    I also went to the website Digital Telepathy and it was an incredible experience to browse through. The design, UI/UX is fantastic and I really enjoyed watching the flyer be created in super-speed with Photoshop. I even went as far as looking at your careers page and seeing what your company looks for in a UX Designer… Dang, if only I lived in San Diego. I’m sure Digital Telepathy is an excellent place to work!

    – Chance

  21. 37

    As someone who is strongly interested in transitioning into the UX design and research field, I really appreciate the insight of this article. Company culture can often initially be overlooked, despite arguably being one of the most important aspects to consider when applying for positions. Overall such a great read and so helpful!

  22. 38

    From this article I have gathered that choosing a job for designers is more than just income. You have to take into consideration the management style, opportunities for growth, work environment, and corporate personality. Finding the right company to represent is crucial. “Pay close attention to body language and hesitations when asking questions” is one of the greatest quotes within this article. It is so true that you can tell a persons mood and or personality from body language. Another tip I discovered is to look around the office when entering or exiting. Take a look around and see if people are happy. It is a great way to see if I the designer would be happy there. Finding a great job is one of the most important things. Getting up for work everyday is much easier when you love the job and place you are in.

  23. 39

    As a student graduating soon I’ll be entering a different business realm than I am currently in. Going from a low level parts warehousing job, to the field of marketing is a pretty huge jump. Reading through this article was awesome, and gave me some good ideas to think on when choosing the company I wish to work for. Finding the balance between work and my life is the goal. I’ve been working my job for almost three years now and, at this point plan to work for the same company I do now. We have a great set of values and a great corporate team driving us forward. That being said it was mentioned previously how rare it is for a person to stay with one company for a very extended period of time. You may top out, or lose interest. Whatever the case I’m taking what you’ve written and committing it to memory, to help me in my future endeavors. Thanks!


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