The things I wish I knew 15 years ago! Well, to save any new entrant into the job market, or a wannabe UX designer needing to find some practical steps on how to engage with the community and expose their next opportunity, I’ve shared my 15 tips that I initially shared three years ago with a group at Solent University, but brought a bit up to date. Here’s my 15 ways to find what you love to do:
1. Businesses and humans
Ever hear of someone describe a company and what they’re doing? Maybe it’s about a piece of bad news you hear in the press. Well, it’s not the business at fault: It’s the people within the business. Multiple people with different views and biases and motivators. Businesses are made up of people, so when you’re engaging with that first email, or there’s a problem you encounter during a project, it’s best to take the human approach and talk. Call them up and say “I thought we would have a chat.” For a better approach, have a consistent rhythm of checking in with each other. That way, there’s a vehicle for problems to present themselves early.
2. Don’t be afraid to talk to people in the industry
When I wanted to understand more about design sprints, I needed a way to talk to experts. Knowing that podcasts were getting more popular, I used the lure of an interview to get in front of people like Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Laïla von Alvensleben, Lex Roman, Richard Banfield and Tin Kadoic. Remarkably, they all said yes. Since recording our conversations, I’ve been referred work and gotten to know them even more. I’ve even made friends through it.
The first step, is to ask. I understand this method to be called Laddering — offering something valuable to someone else. It can be a very useful tool.
3. Attitude over ability
Starting out, your abilities are still forming, but your attitude can be controlled. Having a good attitude is key. The design thinking technique of “Yes, and…” can be a useful principle here in adjusting your attitude to be one of interest and intrigue. Don’t take yourself too seriously and be friendly first and foremost. This becomes easier as you identify people that share your positive attitude, but sometimes you’ll have no control over who you’ll interact with. Try and approach every situation or task as a problem to solve and give it the same rigour and effort as you would with a more interesting activity. Hard work pays, but smart work slays!
4. High quality in problem solving, not just aesthetic is incredibly important
I once was tasked with making a video for a client. We had the idea of sending a video pitch (this was about 10 years ago — not as popular as it is today). I was tasked in making the video. We wanted it to be similar to how Steve Jobs would command a keynote and inspire. I pressed record, made the video and sent it out. I used a nice DSLR camera and had a mic. It looked professional.
Big mistake! My colleagues weren’t in agreement that I’d made a convincing video. It wasn’t how the video looked, but the content and how I communicated our value. I had a good telling off (yes, 10 years ago work culture) and learnt an important lesson: The team had to be bought into what we were doing, the risk was too great to get it wrong.
Now, I work with people rather than on my own. Doing things together brings in alignment and we get to challenge each other on what we’re creating. It’s also nicer to work with someone — and more fun!
5. Leave ego at the door
TL:DR the solution to this is collaboration or pair design. Working with others helps remove the ego out of your work.
You will absolutely make mistakes. You will also spend extra hours and stress over a design only to find that it doesn’t solve the problem. You’ll be too subjective when you need to be objective. Rather than asking “is this a good design” ask “does this start solving the problem?” Incremental improvements trump big bang launches any day.
When you make a mistake or you find that people aren’t liking your idea, invite criticism and listen to it. Ask why? Ask it 5 times. Don’t take people not liking your design to people not liking your work. Be objective and design together.
In my work, I try and not set homework. The reason? People will either do it, or people won’t. People could do lots and go in the wrong direction too. The problem here is that your group is not playing as a team and going in multiple directions. It shouldn’t be a game of who knows the most. It should be a game of learning as a collective.
6. Find your passion
Easy right? Wrong. It took until I was 32 to really find out what I enjoyed. Early on I couldn’t decide between video production and web design. Now, those two worlds have converged further and I actually get to do both. Hint: Listen to The Multi-Hyphen Method — you don’t have to pick just one career!
Instead, learn through doing and find out the aspects of what you like doing. Me? I enjoy running a workshop, but not necessarily being a knowledge expert. That tells me that I can take the role of running a workshop and use the knowledge of the team. I also enjoy creating content (bred from consuming Gary Vaynerchuk’s content for the past 7 years!). The other thing that I’ve learnt is that I have less of an employee mindset and more of an entrepreneur mindset. That’s only been realised in the past 2 years, but it informs me what I need when it comes to work. Enough autonomy to lead and acceptance that I might break the rules.
Once you have some of the decisions made, it’s much easier to find where you flow and it enables you to make further decisions on who you should surround yourself with and what you should do.
7. Reverse engineer outcomes: Start at the end
I can’t remember who I learnt this tip from, but I find it can really help in what to do after you’ve discovered where you want to go with your career. Look at the CVs of people that are where you want to be. Few are born to be a UX designer or strategy director or anything from day 1. They’ve had a journey to get there. Recognise that and get inspired. How did that Chief Digital Officer get there? How could you become the Head of User Experience? Take a look and learn.
8. Get relevant experience in your job
This is linked to the previous tip. When you’ve worked out what you want to become, you need to align every effort to get there, including what you’re working on. Want to be a design sprint facilitator? Start running design sprints in your role, or in your spare time. Want to become a remote work coach? Start coaching today. Seek out opportunities to help develop your skillset. If you want to build a personal brand, start contributing to your businesses’s brand. Use the situation you’re in to your advantage — you’ll become more valuable to your employer as a consequence!
9. Be persistent: Chase up
Don’t receive a reply? Don’t give up. As we say in sales “it’s a go or a no.” Be persistent. There are free CRMs that can help you systemise your job applications (Streak is a nice light CRM), to help you follow up and keep on track.
10. Get to know people and attend events
People deal with people. That means that your cold email asking for a job isn’t going to work. Sending CVs to info@ email addresses won’t either. You need to get to know people and they need to get to know you. Personal branding is key here — what makes you special and what value can you add to a team?
You can do this through running a podcast, writing an article, but also by being a participant in a wider community. Every day there are webinars occurring all over the world. Go to where your future hiring manager is. If you want to work for Uber, seek out events where they are talking at. Listen to podcasts or watch videos that they are featured in. Learn the language that they use and what interests them. Then, when it comes to a conversation, you all prepared enough to communicate in a way that may be more familiar than going in cold.
11. Adapt to the job first
This is for the rogues. Don’t try and change everything on day 1. Do the job you were set first. Bite your tongue. Challenge where you can, but ultimately this organisation needs to warm to you and the first way to make a good impression is to show that you can complete basic tasks first. Once you’re winning there, then extend. Remember the saying “it took me years to be an overnight success?”
Also, use that probation period to work out whether this is the role for you. People really need to take more control of their careers! Within that probation period, the employer is measuring you and you should be measuring that employer. Not feeling like it’s a good fit 1 month in? Talk to your new employer about it.
I’m fed up with employees being at the mercy of their employers. Flip it! Employers should be lucky to have you! Become hot property within your profession and just see what happens.
12. Process documentation
Sounds boring right? Make it more fun by using a tool like Notion or Mural to map out how you do your job. Systemising what might feel like directionless activity can help expose opportunities to improve, speed up and enable you to work on bigger, more strategic initiatives. Map out your design process, and with most organisations measuring time as an output, look at what tasks your spending the most time on.
This idea has multiple benefits. If you become a leader, you can delegate your documented process. If you onboard further team members, you have a playbook that they can follow. If you’re involved in sales and marketing, you can use your process as something to talk about. Document to learn.
13. Take on internships
Try lots of things to discover what you love. Don’t love it? Finish it and learn not to take that on again, then search for the next opportunity. Internships and work experience during education can be a great validation step of whether the route you’ve chosen is right for your personality and ambition. Some internships lead to full-time roles too, so certainly investigate if you’re searching for your first UX role. Do make sure that you’re interning at a great company, superb at what they do, otherwise you’ll learn outdated practices and you’ll be lumbered with running their social media account because you know most about the internet!
14. Keep on sharpening your skills
I don’t stop learning. I do notice some people do. Keep learning by trying new things, seeking inspirational articles, videos and podcasts and adapt some of your full time work to explore new avenues. At a certain stage, you won’t be the student, but the teacher — so it will become your responsibility to teach and ensure you’re sharing the best knowledge for the next wave of talent to enter the market. No pressure!
15. Don’t give up
Your first UX design job may not be well paid, but maybe you don’t need much early on. I started my career in London living in hotels (some sub 1-star) through my probation period — waiting for that regular pay-check to then search for a flat and somewhere to call home.