5. Lean Into Your Key Strengths

Increase your competitive edge and avoid crucial application mistakes

Overview

We’ve talked about a lot of skills so far that you’ll need minimum proficiency in.

Once you’ve cleared that level of minimum proficiency, you’ll become a junior-level design generalist candidate - someone who can perform many skills at a basic level, but does not stand out in any particular dimension

While this is a great and necessary step forward in your career, it’s just the first critical step. Without having one or two key strengths, you’ll hit a ceiling where you don’t know how to advance a product’s design. You’ll need to understand your strengths and weaknesses in order to position yourself in the job market and advance your career.

Let’s explore why and how.

Strengths Help You Stand Out

  • A designer who understands programming is very desirable to companies that develop software or technical products.
  • A designer who comes from a medical background may be very interesting to startups that are developing medical software.
  • A designer who is very visual is attractive to a company that requires very strong visual design in their products.

Strengths make you interesting and will help you stand out from the crowd. It’ll make you easier to remember when recruiters and hiring managers review the pool of candidates. Knowing your strengths will also help you pursue the right job opportunities - ones where you will have a higher chance of being hired, and where you will be naturally more interested in.

You don’t need to specialize in just one skill, either, to be considered a “strong” candidate. You can also have a unique stack of skills - aka, a skillset that no one else has. For example, a designer who is competent at designing AND programming is very rare and can get jobs that other designer can’t perform.

So think about what makes you unique. Think about what you’re naturally interested in and what you’re good at.

  • Do you prefer working on UI or UX?
  • Do you do programming?
  • Do you have a unique, non-design background?
  • Are you especially interested in machine learning?
  • Do you want to go for specialization, or do you prefer to have a unique stack of skills instead?
  • Are you really good at art, like drawing or animation?

Think about what makes you unique and lean into those strengths.

Apply for jobs that mention those strengths. Write about them in your application, showcase them in your portfolio, and talk about them during interviews. You’ll stand out far more than if you tried to be overly general about your skills and interests.

You Cannot Have Critical Weaknesses

While you maximize your strengths, think about your weaknesses.

Look at the designer jobs you want to do and are applying for, or want to apply for. Look at the list of required skills and responsibilities they want you to perform. Even if you have complete mastery of one of those required skills, you will not be hired if you are critically weak in another required skill.

You can be the best at UI, but if you do not understand basic UX, then you’re not a hireable designer. Even if you specifically go for a UI-only designer role, you’ll be expected to be able to collaborate closely with UX, and make accessible and usable visual designs.

Similarly, even if you’re amazing at UX, if you can’t do basic UI, you’ll be easily overshadowed by a candidate who does.

As a beginner, you are very, very easily eliminated at the start of the hiring process. You want to provide as little reason as possible to get eliminated from an interview where you can really shine. Critical weaknesses are a huge reason to get eliminated early on.

Minimize any critical weaknesses by 1) improving them to a basic level, especially by applying them in real-life projects and 2) avoid applying for jobs where that is the #1 they want you to do.

Mastery is Required to Advance Design

When you achieve minimum proficiency of your UX, UI, and execution skills, you’ve become capable of contributing to the beginning stages of design. You can create high-level concepts, realistic mocks, and user flows that are crucial to a product’s design.

However, as a product matures and enters development, you’ll have to tackle more granular problems. Developers and PMs will be looking to you to define microinteractions, create detailed and responsive UIs, and expand or change user flows that are consistent with the rest of the feel and look of the product.

To be able to do this, you’ll need to push your capabilities and achieve mastery of your UX and UI skills. Typically speaking, even experienced designers are not equally strong in UX and UI - they have a preference for one. So you don’t have to push yourself to be equally good in both, especially at first. Think about which one you’re more naturally interested in and push for mastery in that one first.

Checklist

  • Be able to articulate what makes you special - your strengths, interests, background, and skills
  • Eliminate your critical weaknesses by upping your skills and applying strategically to the right roles
  • Foster your strengths and improve your weaknesses by continuously applying them to real projects
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