Content Design London

Getting your first job as a content designer - part 2

Published 23 October 2020, by Sally Schafer in Content Design Content Process.

So, you’ve had a look at your current skills, read up about content design, maybe done a course, and tried to find a few like-minded folks to connect with. What might your next steps be to getting your first content designer role?

Analyse your current role

You may well already be a content designer but your organisation just doesn’t call it that. I spent the first part of my career creating travel guides. I had always seen this as a drawback to getting a content design role because it was print based rather than digital. But a lot of what I did was essentially content design:

  • analysing travel trends and sales patterns,
  • talking to travellers about what they think, feel, want and do,
  • understanding different markets, audiences and competing brands,
  • creating content and chapter structures that mirror (literal) user journeys,
  • calling destinations by the names travellers commonly use,
  • deciding when we needed text, an image, an illustration, a map or a timetable to best meet the user need,
  • working with designers on the layout of guides,
  • testing iterations of the product with travellers,
  • presenting publishing plans to stakeholders,
  • negotiating with and working alongside subject matter experts (travel writers),
  • writing, editing and proofreading text,
  • analysing travel trends and sales patterns, and repeat.

Take a look at what you currently do and see how much of this mirrors a content designer job description. You can then use these examples in an application and interview.

Introduce content design to your current role

Is there a way to start introducing content design into what you currently do? It’s not always easy but there are sometimes small steps you can take. For example:

  • measure everything you do, even if it’s not expected or asked for,
  • volunteer to help with any user research your organisation is conducting,
  • look at ways to conduct your own user research, even if it’s just 30 minutes desk research
  • ask people to test your ideas – asking 5 people for feedback can give you a perspective on what works and what doesn’t,
  • ask a colleague to crit your work and offer to do the same for them,
  • test an idea and write down the results and don’t worry if it doesn’t improve things – understanding what doesn’t work and acting on it is also valuable experience.

If it’s just not possible to fit this into your day job, is there a way to volunteer your time with a local charity or organisation that might benefit from some content design?

Transfer at a different level

Some of the content professionals I spoke to said they’d never really done content design themselves, but were leading teams of content designers. A passion for, and training in, content design principles, together with experience and skills that they could transfer from other roles, was enough to get them the job.

Track your competencies

While you’re gaining knowledge, skills and experience, make sure you’re tracking it. For each relevant task or project you’ve done, see if you can write it down using the ‘STAR’ format (situation, task, action, result). Even better add an L for learning. If your task or project ‘failed’ don’t discount it – just make sure you have a clear idea of what you did, or would have done, differently.

You can use this list of competencies to:

  • update your CV and fill in applications,
  • plan interview answers.

It can be helpful to take a screenshot of whatever you’re working on before you start (if it’s not brand new), and then one of the completed iteration, so you have a visual reminder of what you’ve done. Screenshots of heatmaps and data can also be useful. This is especially handy if you want to create an online portfolio of your work.

Although some recruiters may ask you for a portfolio, no one I spoke to mentioned that they’d needed one to get their content design job.

Everyone’s winging it

When you’re trying to get a new role, it can sometimes feel like there’s a secret sauce that you just haven’t found. But speaking to other people working in content and content design, I was surprised by how many admitted to feeling imposter syndrome.

There’s such a range of skills involved in content design, it’s unlikely that you’d be expected to be an expert, or even have experience, in all areas of the job. Passion, commitment and the ability to demonstrate relevant skills and experience can definitely be enough.

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