It doesn’t really matter where you worked before. If you worked at an amazingly successful company, congratulations! You managed to get yourself hired at a successful company. This tells me something about you, but not enough. (In some companies, all this tells me is that you got really good grades at a top college.) Most people are coming from companies I’ve never heard of, or that I only have superficial TechCrunch-esque knowledge of.
It doesn’t really matter what products you worked on before. If you got stuck on a crappy product that failed or never launched, that was probably your manager’s fault, not yours. Or maybe you worked on a product that I use every single day and love — but I have no way of knowing whether you were the brains behind my favorite micro-interaction or someone who followed orders.
It doesn’t really matter how many years’ experience you have. Does anyone think that 1 year working in a mature, stable company as part of a large design team is equivalent to spending 1 year as the lone designer in a startup where you’re forced to figure out everything on your own? (The meanest — but true — back-channel feedback I ever gave about someone was to say ‘some people have 10 years of experience, and some people have the same 2 years of experience, repeated 5 times’.)
It doesn’t matter what your degree was in (or if you have one). My design and research teams currently include a college dropout, a landscape architecture degree, a business degree, a folklore and mythology degree, and a couple of literature degrees, as well as the expected psychology and design ones.
It doesn’t really matter what your bullet points say you accomplished in your past jobs. How well you promote yourself on your resume has more to do with your resume-writing skills (or ability to hire a resume consultant) than it does about you. It doesn’t even have much in common with your everyday communication and presentation skills — I’ve hired plenty of people with mediocre resumes who can own a packed meeting. I’ve had to prompt interviewees to “stop being modest and take credit for your contributions” — and then had them totally wow me.
What matters is the public persona that you have full control over. No disappointing job or office politics or bad manager is preventing you from contributing out in the world.
Maybe you maintain a public portfolio on Dribbble or Cargo Collective; maybe you keep a personal blog. You can answer questions on Quora or curate content on Twitter. You can upload presentations to Slideshare or join meetups in your area of expertise. You can contribute to open source projects or share code on Git. At the very least, you can write a knowledgeable and personalized cover letter — yes! if they’re not form letters, people read those — to show your energy.