Tom McCormack - Career coach's guide to breaking into product design


Tom McCormack shares his advice on breaking into product design from the perspective of a Career Coach! Tom covers advice on so many topics during his chat with Seth. From how to make your own luck to jumpstart your career to the pitfalls to avoid on your job search, this episode includes many tips to help you find your way to a career path in product design! Read the article below and listen to more of Tom’s great advice in the full episode!

🔥 Avoid the common pitfalls of an unsuccessful job search!

Take action during your career search. A passive job search where you are just applying for jobs and not focused on other growth areas will not result in landing the job you want. Spend time building your network and strengthening your skills.

🎯 Don’t underestimate the strength of your personal network.

It only takes one connection to get you to the role you want, but it has to be the RIGHT connection. Tapping into your larger network of family, friends, and former colleagues will give you so many more opportunities to connect with the right person. Ask your personal network to get you in touch with people they may know that can help lead you to your dream job!

👏 Steer clear of fear and negativity.

Being in an active job search can be demoralizing, and it is easy to let our fears hold us back. Continuously face your fear or your feelings of imposter syndrome, even in the event of multiple rejections. Find your motivation to maintain a positive outlook and keep learning and getting better during your job search!

Career coach's guide to breaking into product design

In episode 23 of The Product Design Podcast, Seth Coelen interviews Tom McCormack, a Career Coach specializing in product design and product owners. During Tom’s career, he has worked primarily with product designers but has experience in other fields like data science, data analytics, web development, and product management, to name a few.

As a career coach in the product space, Tom has a different perspective on how to break into UX. From the length of time it can take to find a new job to the pitfalls he has seen job seekers fall into, Tom shares loads of advice in this podcast episode that can help give you a fresh perspective during your job search.

What led Tom into career coaching

Tom attributes becoming a career coach to his focus on writing. As an undergrad, he worked as a writing tutor in the writing center at his University. He worked with people by proofreading their work and helping them think through their writing. This experience enabled him to learn how to construct an argument and present it in a persuasive manner in writing.  

He transferred his writing skillset into reviewing resumes to ensure that they had the intended impact and communicated the correct information for the job description. He was doing this for friends and family until he realized that he had uncovered a new career path for himself.

Once he came across this path, he became more and more interested in career coaching. Eventually, he became more focused on career coaching in product because it was the most area that he had come across in his experience. During his time as a career coach, Tom has collected a lot of valuable advice and several things to avoid on the job search, which is the focus of this article.

Pitfalls to avoid on your job search

During our chat, Seth asked about the common pitfalls that Tom has noticed as a career coach helping product designers to find work. Having been on the coaching side, Tom has observed the actions that work and those that do not work. Here are a few of the pitfalls that he shared, and you can listen to more in the full podcast episode!

Do not be passive in your job search!

If you ask someone to be your mentor, chances are they will say yes, but are they the right mentor for you?

💡Pro tip:

Start networking, strengthen your portfolio, build content and share it. Work on side projects, learn new skills, and practice your interview approach!

🚧 Stepping away from building your skills while applying aimlessly to hundreds of jobs.

Tom has seen many people so concerned with applying to hundreds of jobs but not taking the time to keep building on their existing skills to prepare them for the interview process. Think of an athlete who is always training, even in the off-season. The same applies to the job search. If you are not building your skills and working on new projects to stay ready, chances are you won't do very well in the interview process.

💡Pro tip:

Stay the course of getting better at your design skills and your interview approach. The consistent approach to improvement takes dedication and motivation. Find your motivation from friends, family, your network, and your career coach.

“If you're going to transform your career, you're going to have to transform yourself along the way. And if you are unable or unwilling to transform yourself, it's going to be very difficult to transform your career.”

⚠️ Don’t become bitter about the job search

Being on a job search can be a demoralizing process. Between recruiters not following up, constant rejection, imposter syndrome, and the emotional roller coaster of an interview process that does not turn into a job offer, it is easy to have a negative experience.

💡Pro tip:

Keep your head up, don't play a victim, and get back to your job search. Be willing to keep doing free work until you don't have to because the free work now will lead to future job opportunities.

Actions to take to make your own luck on your job search 🍀

Taking control of the right areas during your job search will speed up the process. It is important not to rely entirely on a recruiter or a small handful of connections to find the job you want quickly. Here are some ways to make your own luck during your job search.

📢 Tap into your personal network

An untapped area for networking tends to be family, friends, and acquaintances. Your personal network could also include people you went to school with or worked with in the past. When you are ready to make a run on the job search, deploy these personal resources to help you find the right opportunity faster! Ask them to make intros to people they know in design or tech, provide them with a menu of the types of work you do for them to forward along, or ask them other ways they may help you.

🤯 Don’t be afraid of rejection

Reach out to your network or other people who may give you an opportunity. Typically, people will be delighted to chat with you to provide feedback and advice. Stop asking "what if" and holding yourself back by listening to your fears. The same goes for pitching your business. Don't be afraid of the reaction of someone else. Be yourself and be authentic, and you will attract the right people.

“Use the pitch that's authentic to you and that you're able to articulate well. Then find the people that it resonates with, and those are the people that you’ll want to work with.”

🔥 Create something of value and give it away for free

What you create can be in the form of design work or content. You don't even have to create original content. During your job search discussions and research, you can curate what you have learned and use it to provide value to others. Collect the information and resources to help others through the valuable content you develop.

Thank you so much, Tom!

It was great to gain a different perspective from Tom, who brought us some excellent advice based on his time working with product designers as a Career Coach! Hearing Tom's perspective on the pitfalls to avoid during a job search and his tips on setting yourself up to find the perfect role for you will provide value for so many people in this industry. We are so thankful that he shared so much valuable advice on how to find success in product design.

Listen to the complete episode on The Product Design Podcast, which includes a deeper dive into Tom’s take on the product industry at this time, as well as how long it can take to find the right role for you! Don't forget to follow Tom on LinkedIn and keep an eye out for ways he may be able to help you as well!

Where to find Tom

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