Changing careers is scary — it gets exponentially scarier if you are doing it after working years in another industry. One of the most common concerns from career changers is “how can I compete with someone with a 4-year degree in a new field?”
The daunting prospect of completing another 4-year degree has deterred many would-be career changers from taking that first step. With the advent of alternative education, which is called “bootcamps” in many instances, career changers now have more options than their peers several decades ago.
But that gnawing feeling that you are not good enough because you are fast-tracking your learning is not foreign to many would-be career changers.
How can bootcamp graduates compete with 4-year degree holders? Let’s look at some strategies that would help you turn your “disadvantages” into your advantages.
Bootcamp Graduates Have More Work Experience Than Fresh Graduates From 4-Year Degree Programs
Many bootcamp students are adult learners who have worked in other industries, some with quite impressive resumes in their previous fields. Even though now that they are changing careers, they supposedly would be starting from the bottom, but in reality, they are really not.
In the hiring process, companies look at both hard skills and soft skills. People with previous work experience in another field are inherently more adept at managing workflow and workplace interpersonal relationships. These are soft skills that are invaluable in any role — demonstrating that you have this advantage will give you points.
For example, in the interview process, you can demonstrate that you know how to speak to design clients by transferring your client-facing skills from your previous industry if you have any. You can also show that you are adept at project management and meeting deadlines by showing how you’ve done it before in your previous roles.
Many Skillsets From Other Industries Are Transferrable — The Questions Is, How Do You Position Them?
There is a common misconception that your previous experience in another field goes to waste when you attempt to start over again in a new field. Although many of the hard skills may not directly apply to your new field anymore, some will remain relevant.
For example, let’s say you did marketing in your previous role and now you want to be a designer. You probably did a lot of marketing research before — emphasize your research skills in your resume and portfolio because guess what, it applies to design research as well!
Let’s look at another example where the gap between the two different industries is even wider.
Let’s say you were a healthcare worker before and now you want to become a designer. Your attention to detail and empathy towards patients will be transferrable to design because as a designer, you are expected to have impeccable attention to detail and also be able to empathize with your users. Make sure you show that in your resume, and portfolio and bring it up in your interviews as well.
The list goes on — before you start your career transition, take a day or two to write down your transferrable skills and amplify them in how you present yourself.
Hone In On Your Visual Design Skills, Even If You Are In UX. Your Portfolio Will Be Indistinguishable From Graduates of 4-Year Programs.
One of the most debated topics is — how important is it to be really good at “making things look pretty” as a designer. Ironically, this is probably how most outsiders see designers.
Once we know a little bit more about design, we understand that design is more than making pretty pictures — it is certainly one discipline and aspect of it, but more often than not, design is a creative problem-solving process.
However, one of the biggest telltale signs of bootcamp graduates is their lack of visual design skills. Many bootcamps rush through this part of the design and it shows on the portfolios of their graduates.
Four-year program graduates, on the other hand, often have a lot more time to hone their design craft built on solid foundations.
Even for designers who want to focus on UX, the reality is, if your portfolio is hard on the eyes, it is rarely viewed favorably. One can argue that UX has nothing to do with visuals, which isn’t entirely true, but this argument negates the reality that presentation and scannability is crucial in getting your portfolio reviewed with positive feedback.
No matter how good your case studies might be, if you make it hard to read, or rather, to scan, busy hiring managers and recruiters will lose interest and skip on to the next one.
If you put in extra effort to improve on your visual skills no matter your intended design discipline, you will find that it immediately puts you back to equal footing, or even better, a higher footing than someone who has that solid skillset from a 4-year degree program.
We chatted with Jiyoung An who successfully transitioned her career to product design recently and was happy to hear that she had the same advice for folks who want to become a designer.
The last thing a bootcamp graduate needs to hear is “Oh, this is a bootcamp grad. The typography is all messed up.”
Amp Up Your Confidence Level and Presentation Skills — You Will Beat 4-Year Degree Holders By Miles
Confidence is a scary word for some, but perhaps a “necessary evil” in many areas of our lives, particularly in the competitive job market.
One advantage that career changers who attended bootcamps is the fact they have had more practice in the workplace. It may still be a challenge to some people who suffer from imposter syndromes, which could very well exponentially increase during a career transition because entering into unknown territory is scary to most people. But, if you are able to see past that and develop or maintain your high level of confidence, it shows up very prominently in an interview.
Time and time again, we witness candidates who are more confident getting hired.
If we are able to exude that confidence even when there are questions we do not know the answer to, we will develop a big advantage over someone who may not have had that time to practice that confidence — let’s say a fresh graduate from a 4-year degree program.
We still remember what former UX designer at Apple, Anna Istomina said during her interview with us: “(I’m not familiar with the Human Interface Guidelines), but give me 3 days, I will.” What a powerful way to demonstrate that you know you can do the job!
Have A Strong, Eye-Catching Personal Brand — 4-Year Degree Will Pale In Comparison
As attractive as a 4-year degree may look on paper, it is no guarantee that someone has put in the effort to not only develop their craft but also build a strong personal brand. This is where bootcamp graduates could win.
Instead of stopping at putting a couple of your projects up to a templated website and calling it a day, really work on building a more unique look and feel to your portfolio website. You don’t need anything fancy — extremely elaborate graphics and animation are not necessary unless you are gearing up to win an award for your site, which is a story for another day.
Focus on storytelling and be bold when you tell your story — whether it is the story of why you are making your career change now or fun anecdotes from childhood — people want to see real human emotions and experiences rather than bland, soulless statements that sound familiar, such as “I am a human-centered designer creating user-centric products.” While there is nothing wrong with this statement, it certainly doesn’t sound very unique and interesting. Instead, try something like “I got tired of using difficult products so I decided to design better ones.” That’s, of course, just one of the many possibilities of how you can capture someone’s attention with slightly out-of-the-box thinking.
When career changers put in extra effort to build a personal brand and custom website, instead of templated ones, they put themselves on a higher footing than someone who graduated from a 4-year program and didn’t attempt to do this. Their profiles will blend in with the rest of the rejected candidates while yours may stand out.
We hope after reading this article, you feel more empowered to beat that imposter syndrome and start to craft your own strategies to beat the competition, even the scary competitors who have more experience and fancier degrees than you.
Path Unbound is a design school founded by designers with an affordable and customizable curriculum for career transitioners looking to break into design. We provide an end-to-end design certificate program “School of Design” with university-level design professors as instructors with a flexible completion timeline in a guided approach.
Our built-in portfolio training program “Portfolio School” that is included for free for “School of Design” students provides intensive, hands-on portfolio building instructions so that students graduate with outstanding projects, custom portfolio sites, and a strong personal brand, ready to stand out in the competitive job market.
Our courses within the certificate program can be taken standalone, as can Portfolio School be taken individually as a program for students who desire to test out the water or are at a different stage in their design learning journey.