Shot by #<User:0x00005613be56ddd0>

Art by studiokat

How to reverse engineer your dream design career (3 simple steps)

What’s your dream design job? Is it to be a graphic designer at a major corporation? A web designer working for an agency? Or maybe your real dream is to start your own freelance logo design business?

Whatever it is, figuring out how to get there can be perplexing. Creative careers don’t always have a clearcut path. That’s where reverse engineering your career comes into play. By looking at where you want to go and working backward, you can figure out the exact steps you need to take to land the graphic design jobs you’ve always dreamed of.

Build your creative career by Raúl Gil

Step 1: Analyze the careers of others

The first step to reverse engineering your dream job is to look at the career paths of other graphic design professionals who have already achieved what you want to achieve.

Which graphic designers do you admire? Make a list.

Once you have a handful of creative professionals who have the same kind of graphic design career you’d like to pursue, it’s time to look into their backgrounds:

  • Where did they get started?
  • Do they have a bunch of certifications or advanced education?
  • What were their first jobs?
  • Did they do internships, start out as junior designers, or have a less traditional career path?

You can find much of the information you need for this part of the process on sites like Dribbble and LinkedIn or by looking at graphic design portfolio websites.

Look for commonalities in the backgrounds of the creatives you admire to get a good idea of where you should start. At the same time, this may give you insight that you’re closer to your dream career than you might think.


Consider reaching out to some of the creative professionals you identify in this step to ask if they have any career advice. They may have tips for how to streamline the process, jobs to avoid, or insight into which skills that are more or less important than others. This can be an excellent way to get insider information on the career you’re dreaming of.

Design Research by Khrystyna

Step 2: Analyze job postings

Once you have an idea of the kinds of design jobs that are stepping stones to your dream career, it’s time to start looking at what those jobs require in terms of skills, education, and experience.

Search for these types of job listings at the kinds of companies you’d ideally want to work for. Specifically, you want to pay attention to:

  • Years of experience the employers are looking for
  • Minimum education requirements
  • Any certifications necessary
  • Skills required for the position

Again, you’re looking for overlap between the job posting requirements. Remember: “requirements” are more like wish lists for most employers. It’s rare that they’ll find an applicant who matches 100% of the requirements they list. Instead, they’re looking for the most qualified candidates, even if they only possess 60-70% of the so-called requirements.

Consider your current qualifications in comparison to what these positions require. You may find that you can start partway through the career path of the graphic designers you admire, rather than starting at the beginning.

You may even find that you only need to shore up your skills or education in a few areas to be qualified enough to start applying for your dream jobs!

RELATED — 5 Different Paths to Becoming a Designer

Styleboard by Leslie Soto Valenzuela

Step 3: Create a plan

Where are the gaps in your skills, experience, or education? Are you missing key certifications or educational requirements? Are there online graphic design courses or programs you could complete to fill in those gaps? Are there certain skills you aren’t proficient in that seem to be necessary?

Go through the job requirements and make a list of all of the gaps in your resume. You’ll need to come up with a plan for how to bridge those gaps.

You may be able to complete side-projects to improve and showcase particular skills that are necessary for your dream job, rather than having to take on full-time positions for years to move along your career path.

In other cases, though, you may need to apply for low- or mid-level positions to gain the necessary experience and background. Once you figure out the appropriate jobs you’re likely already qualified for, it’s time to start applying.

Make sure that you craft your resume to reflect the skills design managers are actually looking for, and use the terminology they use. Since resumes are often sorted digitally before a person ever looks at them, using the correct terms can help your resume reach the desk of an actual human.

You’ll also want to make sure your design portfolio is updated to reflect the appropriate skills and experience you’ll need for your dream career. Tailor not only which projects you include, but also how you talk about them. Your portfolio is one of the most important things a potential employer or client will review when considering whether to hire you. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward with it!

RELATED — How to target your design portfolio to get the client you want

Set up- work desk by Bulma illustrates

Land your dream graphic design job

Consider each step along the way to landing your dream graphic design job and be sure to keep up your momentum. Don’t be afraid to change positions or even companies if it gets you closer to your goal (but be sure not to burn bridges along the way, since good references are also important!).

Cameron Chapman About the Author — Cameron Chapman: Editor. Blogger. Author. Designer. Copywriter. Marketer. Entrepreneur. Speaker. Consultant. Coach. I wear a lot of hats. What most of them have in common, though, is storytelling.

Find more Community stories on our blog Courtside. Have a suggestion? Contact