Changing career to become a designer
This is an edited transcript of Episode 008 of Design, In Confidence, mindfulness & design podcast with Stefano Bellucci Sessa’s learnings on creative confidence, emotional intelligence, and mental health.
I’m a podcaster and innovation consultant.
In the past, I’ve been a service, UX, and visual designer.
I’ve been a teacher and an event organizer.
I was a boy scout leader and improviser.
My career changes haven’t been really radical.
But as a mentor on ADPList, I helped many migrate into design from industries like finance, marketing, or really different jobs.
They felt more confident at the end of our chats – so I’ll share here a few things I tend to share with them.
Who is this blog for?
If you are a career-changer, keep reading – you might unfairly compare yourself to entry-levels and juniors, undermining your confidence during a challenging moment of you career.
If you are not a designer, keep reading – some of the suggestions are design-specific, but I believe those from other industries might take something out of it too.
It might help to read what I wrote on comparisons.
If you are not a career-changer, be mindful that this is the least junior-friendly blog I made.
And that’s because, career changer aren’t juniors anymore.
Accept that — juniors are naive, which makes them eager to learn and worry less.
And that’s ok.
And once you do, acknowledge the bias that creates you: you might have high expectations of what it takes to be a designer.
Even more, if you’re moving into this career because you worked with some amazing designers that inspired your career change.
It’s a new career — lower that expectation.
Focus on your real potential and competitive advantage.
You are innovating your career
I’ve seen many career changers hiding and rejecting what they’ve done in the past instead of building on it.
Changing career means innovating by moving into a new industry. Just like Apple innovated by moving into the phone industry.
They innovated by building on what they’ve done before – you can do that too. Don’t hide your past.
Apple didn’t create a new team of people without access to any of the technology and the design knowledge that created the iPod and the Macintosh.
Let’s see how it’s the same with your career.
What you might undervalue
In my mentoring chats, I see 4 things usually undervalued by career changers:
- their seniority
- their experience with specific people and sectors
- their skillset
- their experience as designers
#1. Are you really an entry-level?
The most obvious but often undervalued.
I spoke with many with an experience I wish I had. However, they didn’t show in their portfolios and CV their experience:
- managing projects
- managing stakeholders
- collaborating in multidisciplinary teams
These skills are sometimes unfairly expected from entry levels.
And if not, they usually are the risks and compromises an employer is willing to take when hiring them.
I don’t know your level, of what companies need.
But this makes you at a different level than an entry-level.
What people and areas are you an expert in?
Change is not easy — there are lots of unknowns.
Make it easier by starting on what you know about.
Every organisation has customers in a specific sector or area.
They might find really valuable your knowns in the sector you are moving from or of types people you belong to (e.g. you are a parent) or people in your life (e.g. you worked with teachers, accountants, doctors).
For example, if you belong to their customer segmentation, tell them about it – that gives our competitive advantage because you understand the users better. And if they don’t consider co-design with users valuable, they are the problem, not you.
In confidence, years ago I met someone with the same design experience as me, but he used to be a doctor. I was so jealous – they had so many knowns that made them a greater fit for the UX in the healthcare sector.
What specific skills do you have?
Designers have many skills.
Some are must-have, others a should-have, and others a nice-to-have.
And then, designers won’t have many other skills.
If you have a designer’s should-have skill, you have a competitive advantage on some.
If you have a designer’s nice-to-have skill, you might a unique selling proposition compared to many.
If you have a skill designers don’t have, you might disrupt the design industry.
Think of all the skills you’ve learned in your previous job.
Like maths, data analytics, interviewing or any of your sector (e.g. marketing, law, or finance skills)…I can’t even name them – so I can’t even imagine how they might be useful for design.
But you can — bring your skill along.
It might become, one day, at least a designer’s nice-to-have skill.
What about all the skills that are a must-have for designers?
What have you already designed?
If you read my blog on the difference between innovation, creativity and design, you know what I’m about to say:
You already are a designer.
Look back to your past jobs and projects – even if you weren’t a “designer”, you probably “designed” something.
Find the anecdotes of when you made decisions of if, why, and how something should change or work. Hopefully, you’ve done it with some ‘common sense’– understanding problems and testing solutions.
After doing a UX course, I realised how often I was using UX methodologies (e.g. card sorting, or user testing) without knowing their name.
I saw this in many mentees hiding their “design experience”.
One of them wanted to move from crew manager to service designer.
They had only UX course’s projects in the portfolio, hiding years of choosing efficient activities and tools for the crew and making sure customers were satisfied – that’s basically a description of a service designer (on a ship).
I have no idea who you are and what you are applying to.
I don’t know whether these things apply to you or not.
Be mindful of all your experience, knowledge and skillset – don’t undervalue them.
And mindfully design your confidence for a career change. You needed (and deserve it)
And you also deserve a big pat on your shoulder, because you are daring to do it – so do it.
Start your journey.
Backwards a few steps in your career, maybe much less than you think.
Bring with you all the things that make you much better (or different) than those you are comparing yourself to.
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If you got this far, I’m sure you’re a great listener — which I thank you for.
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And remember to thank yourself, for the time you spent to learn, and grow.