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How to leverage your existing experience to switch career to product design

Although switching careers is never easy, recognizing the areas where you have a head start can boost your confidence and how you present yourself when applying for your first design job.

Alex Dovhyi
Alex Dovhyi
4 min read
How to leverage your existing experience to switch career to product design
Photo credit: Jeswin Thomas

Product designers are in high demand right now. And this trend shows no signs of slowing. Over the past decade, most companies realized that their digital product must be user-friendly. Even in the AI era, when controversial jobs become automated, the demand for product designers only rises.

However, switching to a product design career still feels very daunting. Besides the tremendous positive outcomes that product designer career promises, there's also high risk and unpredictability. Many of my students fear wasting previous education or work experience. However, the best thing about a product design career is that everyone here comes from a different background and brings something new into the industry.

How to become a freelance product designer without experience?
The current state of economics forces people to find jobs that can bring value to businesses. We’ve all heard companies reducing their teams in response to challenging market conditions.
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There's another way of looking at things – the experience you bring from your previous career will almost always be valuable as you switch to product design. There are always transferrable skills that can come from all fields, from coding to social media marketing.

Here are a few tips on leveraging existing skills to support your new career as a product designer.

Soft skills

To succeed as a product designer, you need a wide range of soft skills — from communication to time management. The great news is that soft skills are often very transferrable. Here are a few examples of skills you're likely to bring from previous work.

Communication

Product designers must communicate their ideas clearly and concisely to others, whether by explaining the reasoning behind design decisions or annotating screen designs before passing them on to a developer.

Career changers with an experience in sales, marketing, or customer service have an advantage. The same is often said of teachers, pharmacists, and line managers! Consider times in your job when you presented a project or encouraged others to support an idea.

Empathy

"Empathize" is the first stage in the design thinking process. Product design is a user-centered discipline, and understanding user needs from the first person is crucial to problem-solving success as a designer.

Many professions necessitate a high level of empathy. Overall, experience in any customer-facing work will have enhanced your ability for empathy and your grasp of how to act on such insights. Jobs in healthcare, education, and customer service provide an excellent foundation for a career in product design.

Collaboration

Collaboration is required at every stage of the design process, whether it's coming up with ideas (brainstorming), performing research (working with users), or passing off work to a developer (discussion to solve problems and constraints that arise).

Whatever business you come from, the information and experience you got from working with people who think differently than you have considerable worth.