How to Use Working Not Working to Land a Job at a Top Company Like Nike
I wouldn’t say I found design so much as design found me. In college, I was a rudderless Art History and Political Science student and didn’t really have a grasp on what I wanted next. While interning at a grassroots political startup in the DC area, I found my role expanding beyond the Marketing Intern title when my boss asked if anyone at the company was interested in writing surveys and conducting “user validation studies.” After the startup was unable to continue its engagement with a design agency, I decided to seize the opportunity and would essentially trace over their vectors while learning Photoshop and Illustrator on YouTube. Over time, I felt not only my skills grow but my passion for design as well.
Eventually, I asked my boss if I could move into a new role as a designer. It was a risky move on my end jumping into something I knew so little about, but I knew my passion and excitement were there. In my mind, it was just a matter of time until the practice and skills came. I was taking a bet on myself and told my friends I found something new—something I didn’t know much about, but also something that sparked my creativity in ways academic disciplines such as Art History simply could not. But at the time, my boss said no.
I saw myself at a fork in the road. I could move forward in building a career in marketing at this startup, or I could just embrace the unknown. It was exciting but incredibly uncalculated on my part. Even less calculated was my move into freelancing, where I barely understood the business or how to create a design portfolio (let alone how to realize any of my work in code). I took on little projects for restaurants and small businesses here and there. Even while taking a course in UX, I still didn’t feel I had the skill set, community, or portfolio ready to compete with most out there. But the motivation and drive never left. Fast forward and after hours, weeks, and months of freelancing and learning front-end frameworks, I somehow convinced the people at 72andSunny to give me a shot as a designer. I never looked back.
As with many in the industry, I didn’t have the proper “BA/MA in psychology, user experience and design” or the “5+ years in an agile product development environment.” All I had was a desire to design great things that impact people’s lives through technology. So I can’t really say I ever found design so much as there was always a part of me that wanted to make elegant, useful experiences. But I just didn’t know where to start. Sometimes, you have to create your own opportunity and just do it.
The Frustrating Status Quo of Trying to Get Hired
Impersonal & Uncurated
It's always like hitting a moving target trying to find the right opportunity, people, atmosphere, and culture. I've definitely switched jobs and experienced more changes in scenery than the average Product Designer. Historically, I’d attempt to find work using LinkedIn, Designer News, Sidebar, etc.: a random mishmash amalgamation of disparate blogs and sites. I’d also engaged friends and people in the industry just chatting over email or G-chat about different opportunities here and there. But I wouldn't say I've had access to a curated form of job search that’s tailored to what you're looking for and addresses your needs.
Whether it be LinkedIn or niche blogs that just throw anything and everything under the sun into what “designer” means, these job sites produce results ranging from full-stack software engineer to marketing roles. You get blindsided by it and it makes you lose trust in the actual job search process when you're seeing how these algorithms are trying to put together the right match for you. But what they are doing is actually just trying to generate as much exposure as possible based on other similar postings. This method doesn't amount to a very focused or curated job search.
Time-Consuming & Energy-Draining
Naturally, towards the beginning of your career, you're definitely going to be spending a lot more mental energy and pure time and effort scrolling through job boards and looking through pages upon pages of uncurated jobs. But to be honest, pretty much every single job I’ve had (contract, full-time, or freelance) has been through some kind of human connection or curated experience. It's a small industry so I think a lot of people tend to know each other, and you make connections pretty quickly just from that.
Years ago, I was in a place where I was spending a lot of time and mental energy looking through 20+ different tabs on whatever job site and pouring through the results just to see what was there. But I think most creatives are coming to the conclusion that it’s not a sustainable way of looking for jobs and finding new work; human connection and curated experiences are not just more convenient, but also more efficient. This method saves time, keeps you engaged, and definitely provides more detail into what you're going to be embarking on next.
It's not just that it's not streamlined; the amount of mental energy and hours spent crafting your cover letter or individual responses to certain applications can get so time-consuming and taxing to the point where you're ready to tap out and say, "Well, maybe I'll just stay at this job for a while. Or maybe I'll just find this other easy branch of client work that I know I can get pretty easily."
And that’s not even getting into how much time creatives already have to spend on their portfolios, trying to create the best case studies or show off their work in the most aesthetically pleasing or interesting way. Even just spending time with your portfolio and making sure that it is ready and presentable to clients or potential interviewers takes so much mental energy, time, revisions, and iterations. Having to then tackle the job search can be overwhelming.
Joining Working Not Working
It was while working at 72andSunny back in 2013 that I had first heard about Working Not Working. WNW was pretty new back then. It was also really the first time I had been introduced to the advertising industry and learned what it meant to actually be a creative at a full-service agency. Learning about Working Not Working coincided with learning about so many different things in the world of advertising, art, and agency-life that I hadn’t known about before becoming a creative resident at 72andSunny.
I had heard Working Not Working was this special community for creatives and its purpose was not only for showing off your work but also for creating a larger sense of community among creatives, designers, filmmakers, animators, and all kinds of different disciplines under this one platform—all invited or handpicked in some way. Ever since I was at 72andSunny, I basically made it a mission to one day get invited because I heard about the social and professional benefits from another WNW member. It definitely took a while to fully develop a mature portfolio of my own work, methodologies, ideas, and opinions, but soon enough I was able to have a breadth of work ready to show to a larger community and join the platform.
Initial Reactions as a Member
No Bullshit: One thing that jumps out whenever I see something from Working Not Working, the WNW Magazine, or anything affiliated with the company is definitely the copy and the tone that it strikes: it’s familiar and cuts the bullshit. It is leveling with you as a creative and saying, "We understand you as a creative. We understand the multitude of creative doubts that you might have or frustrations that you might have with the industry.” It doesn't have a corporate tone to it, which is different from a lot of these other job sites or communities that present a very “elevator music” type of personality with their copy and site design.
In Service to the Creatives & Their Work: The site design itself is very clear too. I really do appreciate the black and white palette because it allows the work to speak for itself—erring on the side of being unobtrusive and really freeing up the composition. The work you present and the work you explore on other profiles can stand out a bit more, as it’s built into the informational hierarchy and the architecture of the site. It’s noted and appreciated, and definitely stands in contrast to the way LinkedIn or other communities might handle that.
The Working Not Working Experience
Completing a Profile and Maintaining a Presence
When I finally decided that I wanted to move on from a job in DC and come up to New York, I spent a lot of time with my profile and just maintaining a stronger public presence on Working Not Working—putting a genuine effort into constructing my portfolio pieces and writing about who I am, what I want, and how I’m going to get there.
I had come across a couple opportunities in New York as I was moving there, and I was really excited to find out whatever that next step in my career was going to be. I really didn't know how to go about finding it at first, and I remember falling into my old habits of looking at LinkedIn and looking at random job boards. I didn't feel like that method was serving the kind of needs that I actually have as a creative especially as someone who's a bit further along in their career looking for the next step.
Searching for Jobs and Applying
I was looking for more of a curated experience and thought, "Okay, why don't I check the WNW job board and see what's there.” I wasn't really interested in doing freelance work, so I definitely focused most of my search on full-time, onsite work. It has that nice switch that clearly lets you filter by full-time and freelance. In terms of applying, WNW offers probably the easiest application process I've had with any site of its kind. It's pretty simple: you just click apply and your profile is your application. It’s also nice that it asks you to confirm that you want to apply as a final check. I definitely appreciate that thoughtfulness behind, "Hey, are you sure that you actually want to apply to this?"
I applied to a full-time role at Nike and within a day I heard back about a job in New York from someone who was in the Global Design Recruiting organization at HQ in Beaverton. And just like that, I kicked off a very streamlined and informal conversation with a team at Nike about what they are looking for and how I could help. With the help of WNW’s platform, the interview process was casual and clear, breaking down the formality of job-seeking and interviewing. That day, the recruiter reached out to me and said, "Hey, I think your background is great and I love your work.” They were able to see my portfolio pieces and read my bio, what I'm looking for, and review my past experiences. We were able to have a nuanced and intelligent conversation, bypassing the typical introductory 45-minute call where I'm going through every single part of my career and trying to explain what I did here and what I did there for the past several years. That conversation wasn't necessary because it’s handled through the profile creation process, where you can show and not just tell. It’s something that I think Working Not Working's platform does particularly well and better than other sites like it.
Once she contacted me and messaged a couple times through the WNW messaging tool, my recruiter and I had an introductory call that lasted about 15 to 20 minutes, and then I moved almost immediately into longer conversations about my case studies and about my portfolio with people at Nike NYHQ, and then quickly into an onsite interview. Honestly, it could have been the fastest interview process of my career. It was particularly helpful because, again, it allowed the recruiter and team to already see my experience, see my work, see my process, see my case studies, and what I'm looking to do next—all to guide that nuanced conversation and put the entire interview process on a fast track.
Dream Destinations, Plural
I also interviewed with IDEO through Working Not Working around the same time. Just to reflect on things for a second, Nike & IDEO are two companies that I admire, have followed my whole career, and put a lot of value in. So even the fact that this community exists and that there is this direct pipeline to talking to people quickly and efficiently is amazing. And to top that, the fact that it even exists with hirers like Nike and IDEO is so invaluable. I don't know of another place where I could find that kind of connection to a creative community of job seekers as well as employers and hiring managers at these types of environments.
I did move forward with the role at Nike, as it felt a bit more aligned to what I was looking for. But again, having those opportunities in front of me was a dream come true to someone who took a bet on themselves over 7 years ago in DC. Going through the realistic expectations for each role, you understand a little bit more not just about the company but about yourself. Comparing different opportunities and having that conversation and reflection period was really valuable and helped me remember how far I’ve come.
Leveraging a WNW Profile
Keep Everything Up to Date
Stay active. Connect with people. Make inroads. Update your status. Keep your portfolio updated. Meet with people offline if you can. If one of your pieces is from a few years back, consider putting a different piece in. Technology changes all the time and your work and process may as well. It's not really an industry that stays put. Campaigns and the latest apps age quickly. Ask “is this some of my best and most relevant work?” If yes, great, keep it there. If not, be strategic and change it up.
Upload a Passion Project
Consider putting in a passion project that doesn't have anything to do with your clients or past work. Passion projects are what really allow employers and hiring managers to understand you and what kind of work you would actually like to do if there were no limitations. It also demonstrates your ability to design new solutions for a problem people may not have known about. You also don't need to fill in every single project slot that's available. Don’t put in five or six that you feel lukewarm about; show three you feel excited to talk about for hours on end. I think that's something that is always preached but not always followed.
Writing Bios: Answer the Questions You’ve Asked Yourself
It's really important to open up about what you're really looking for and not just saying yes to some big-name client in technology or advertising. If you’re a designer, like myself, are you looking to specialize in a particular part of design? Are you looking to do product work? Are you looking to stay in-house? Would you want to go into consulting? Would you want to go to an agency setting? Would you be interested in trying something else out? Is there a certain industry that appeals to you? Are there certain kinds of work that appeal to you? Are you really passionate about sports? Are you really passionate about sneakers? I am, so that kind of passion and interest really translated well to Nike because they could already tell I knew a lot about the company and could evangelize the importance of design within a sports-focused company.
Know Who You’re Talking To
I knew a lot about the history of Nike: what they’ve done, what they’re currently doing, and what they’re going through. Because of that, it really allowed me to have a much more nuanced and efficient conversation with the team. If you're really interested in fashion or you're really interested in working with a specific client, try to not only show your passion but your knowledge of the industry and their company. In the bio, be upfront about it. In the interview process, show your excitement. It’s not just what you're capable of but also about what you are interested in and what gets you up and makes you tick. That way you don’t waste time with opportunities you feel lukewarm about. It’ll also be helpful for employers and hiring managers when they're looking at different profiles and trying to understand what people are actually looking for, so they can cut through a lot of the noise.
Header Photo by Jerome on Unsplash
Nike NY HQ photos courtesy of Nike