To designers looking for meaningful work.

Written by Erin Huizenga, originally posted on LinkedIn on April 11, 2017.

Young emerging leaders are a driven bunch. I’ve seen it first hand in our work building Till School and in my teaching at Northwestern and Institute of Design. 79% of young leaders believe the best days are ahead based on this Telefonica global study. They value entrepreneurship, want economic progress that aligns with their values, and they believe they can make a difference locally.

I love to mentor young designers. It’s one of my absolute favorite things to do because they want to see things happen and don't want to waste time. Lately there are several points I seem to share again and again that feel worth documenting:

All interviews are conversations. 

It’s a dialogue, an exchange of stories and information. Ask questions. It’s should sort of be like a first date! Recently I attended a lunch where Valerie Jarrett was speaking, the former Senior Advisor to Obama. She talked about getting to know Michelle Obama and interviewing her for a job in Chicago. Valerie shared that by the end of the interview, she felt that Michelle was interviewing her. I love this. Michelle wanted to know what she was signing up for and wanted to make sure Valerie would be a great partner with shared values.

Talk about the work that you’re passionate about. 

If you don’t have enough work experience you’re passionate about, make some! Give yourself a client and call them to pitch your idea. Or, build the work first and share it with them when your done. Another idea: find a program that will give you immediate feedback, an opportunity to build your expertise, and build your portfolio. That way, you can have a body of work that’s truly a reflection of your passion when you talk to potential employers and partners.

If you plan to take a job, make sure it aligns with the work you want to be known for. 

Don’t take a job just to take a job. Ask those big questions so you can know that your passion for specific topics will be matched with a need the organization has to build that capacity for knowledge and thought leadership. I’ve personally had many successes and many failures on this one. Often it’s difficult to tell how aligned you are to values and goals in the interview phase. So, if a few months of consulting work is possible to "date" before moving into a full-time role, go for that.

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, own that. If you don’t, that’s ok too. 

Entrepreneurs like to take risks and big leaps. They like to play with fire and typically love talking with people. They are usually big dreamers and need implementors as partners. Are you an entrepreneur or an implementor? Do you like to come up with the next big idea or would you rather make sure things get on track and stay on track? Do you enjoy the stage or writing the perfect script? Do you like to prototype or produce the final product? We need both kinds of people. I’m an entrepreneur and my many ideas over the years have only been sustained with amazing implementing partners who I’ve been lucky enough to call partners.

Build into the experiences that feed your life. 

Ironically, when you talk about the fact that you just spent an entire year documenting the stories of people in hostels, or took time to road trip across the U.S. with your family, or took three months off from your last job to learn about primate behavior, or you took care of your mom for a year and made the sacrifices you needed to, or you took six months to volunteer and find your new path… this is all really interesting. This is what makes you human and deeply curious. Build those stories in your life and boldly share them. They will inspire everyone around you.

Find authentic people you actually like being with. 

We spend so much time on our work. We are meant to do work we believe in. And, if you’re not working with people who have similar values, find a new tribe. Never apologize for your passion to yourself or your colleagues. There are always people who share in your beliefs. It’s just a matter of finding them.

We need more driven, sold out people in the world. Do you have a bold, crazy idea that will make life better for people that you’re terrified to share out loud? There’s definitely something there worth exploring. Drop me a note and let’s have coffee. I’d love to talk it through with you.

Erin Huizenga