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I got a $215,000 job offer in product design during the pandemic with only 2 years of experience. Here's how I did it — and why I ultimately turned it down.

Submitted by Tech Insider on April 19, 2021 - 2:48pm

Lily Li

Summary List Placement

Product design jobs in Silicon Valley are ultra competitive. People from all over the world try to break in, and I've personally seen how a single job listing brings in hundreds of applicants.

I had 2 years of product design experience under my belt, which consisted of tons of scrappy projects and learnings. I didn't come from a "prestigious" school, or at least one recognized by Silicon Valley. I studied at Virginia Commonwealth University, a public arts university, and while it's recognized by folks on the East Coast, no one in Silicon Valley has heard of it.

I bring up Ivy Leagues because typically, graduating from those schools with a computer science or software engineering-related degree is what opens doors. If I wanted to make the traditional leaps in my career, the best way was to "level up by pedigree" (I've heard this verbatim from executives) and I'd have to go back to school.

But I didn't want to take out any more loans.

I realized that in order to further my career, I'd have to play the game differently.

The pandemic was the big moment that got me to start taking action. I already ran in-person product design workshops in San Francisco, but when the pandemic began, I had to run everything remote.

That got me thinking: instead of just building a local design community in San Francisco, why not take it global?

At first, I did simple speaking videos on YouTube and fun dance trends on TikTok. There was a huge demand for tech content, especially for product design specifically. I started to gain a large enough following, and it made me take content creation more seriously. I started posting daily on TikTok and Instagram, and weekly on YouTube.

I posted videos on how to pass product design interviews (like tutorials on how to whiteboard, a common challenge for design interviews) and shared the best advice I've learned throughout my professional career (like studying the interaction design book About Face).

Once the economy picked up near the end 2020, tech companies started hiring again and I knew I had to start interviewing at companies to keep myself sharp — not only to see what was out there, but because I was teaching this stuff to other designers as well. Through my tutorials and online workshops, I helped people land jobs at companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and startups around the world. 

I cold-outreached on Linkedin to a manager at one of the most prominent fintech startups in Silicon Valley.

They were particularly impressed by the work I was doing outside of a regular 9-5 — my YouTube channel with all the tutorials and growing a social media following — and promptly set up a time to chat with me.

The call went pretty well, and they put me in their interview pipeline for a senior product designer role. I remember thinking that if I got the role, I could be working on a product that would impact millions of lives.

Interview day came, and it took place on Zoom. I wasn't too nervous since I had done my pitch and interviewed many times before. Here's what the schedule looked like:

9:00 - 10:00 AM  Portfolio review (presentation) with six panel members:

      • Senior director, mobile
      • Director of engineering, mobile
      • Staff product designer
      • Staff designer of design systems
      • Senior UX researcher
      • VP

10:00 - 11:00 AM  Whiteboard design challenge with two panel members:

      • Staff product designer
      • Staff visual designer, design systems

11:00- 12:30 PM  Break

12:30 - 2:45 PM  Four 1:1 meetings with the UX researcher, director of engineering, VP, and recruiter

At the very last meeting with the recruiter, they told me that all the feedback they'd received throughout the interview was extremely positive and that I had done exceptionally well. They said to expect an offer, and within 3 days I got a verbal one.

Finally, I received the formal offer: $167,000 base salary (over the 90th percentile for product design base salaries, according to Glassdoor), with a quarterly 15% performance bonus based on the base salary, and the remaining amount in stocks. The company was also set to IPO before the pandemic hit, and it has since gone on to IPO.

I ended up not signing because though it was a dream job, it wasn't my dream job.

Today I'm at a design agency called Gestures. For my current project, I'm designing an app for a sustainable beauty company that let's people buy beauty products like shampoo and then refill them at kiosks. I still make content for my social channels, too.

Some of my mentees have asked why I turned down such a lucrative offer, especially during the pandemic. And it comes down to understanding my intrinsic motivations. I realized I'm the most energetic and fulfilled when I'm working on something I'm very passionate about.

That's how I've been able to grow my online persona Designalily — it's fun to do, so I willingly spend my free time on it.

For those reading this post while actively looking for design roles, I advise you to follow and fulfill your natural interests. Carve out unique expertise from purposefully gaining experience led by these interests.

Initially, it may not be as well-paying as working for a large company, but there's only so much motivation money can buy, and it'll always feel like laborious work. I personally realized prizing my time over money leads to more fulfillment and happiness. Seek opportunities to learn from and become the person you envision — money always follows.

Lily is a product designer and content creator who goes by Designalily. She's taught workshops to product designers from organizations like Google, Stanford, Amazon, and Salesforce.

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