On Career Transitions
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Next week marks the start of my journey to UX design two years ago. Throughout the last two years I have had numerous informational interviews, iterated on Designing My Life, read countless articles, been constantly vigilant in order to seize the opportunity to work on projects to gain more "experience", and experienced a variety of interview methods and feedback methods from various companies etc. It has not been the smoothest ride and anyone trying to change careers now would tell the same story.
I have collected some thoughts about the current state of job searching and insights (particularly since I started working at a startup dedicated to improving diversity hiring in tech, Hirekind), to help give other career-transitioning peers some perspective for uncertain and disheartening times in the application and interviewing process. And yes, I will be quoting myself, and a few other people.
"Don’t seek to fit in anywhere, seek to make anyplace you go a better one than when you arrived." ~me
I would also encourage talent to feel free to be themselves as long as you have the intention of making a positive impact with your presence. And it is a two way street, rather than being caught up with "culture fit" I would encourage hiring managers to consider "culture enhancement" as the crucial criteria for deciding if someone is a good hire for the company. Mark Young, the CTO of Climate Corp opened my eyes to this concept during our conversation after Hirekind co-hosted a career pitching event at their San Francisco HQ. Somewhere in this imperfect framework of hiring processes, perfectly wonderful and talented people are being ignored, lost in the shuffle. People are not puzzle pieces we try to fit together, they are living, growing, changing, with the potential to improve the environment around them.
Hiring managers, please give those people a chance.
Also, "To affect change inside an organization we must remember why people resist change. People don't fear change, people like comfort. The status quo is more comfortable than the unknown."~Simon Sinek, Leadership Expert
And, "...just because something is changing does not necessarily mean it is improving...Change is neither good nor bad." ~Mark Young, Climate Corp
Change is just inevitable.
"You are not suddenly doing a job or qualified to do it just because someone has labeled it, or gives you permission. You have been doing it all along, you can simply give yourself the credit." ~me
Job titles are somewhat arbitrary to begin with. If in a job search, our skills are applicable to Product Designer, Interaction Designer, UX/UI Designer, User Experience Designer, User Interface Designer, Experience Designer, Service Designer, not to mention Human Centered Design, I think we can call ourselves whatever we want whenever we feel ready, in fact, it may actually help you feel more ready. Also the criteria companies use to determine a candidate's suitability are also potentially arbitrary and open to interpretation. I have interviewed hiring managers who copied and pasted the job description: Help them interpret that you are a good team member to join them on the road they plan on taking.
"Don't let someone else make up the stories about you for you to believe. Believe the true story about yourself, what you have witnessed yourself doing, and live your life by your truth. Fill that space where your story belongs before someone else fills it for you." ~ me
Take initiative, (I am not saying self advocacy is the only answer, there are issues with the default emphasis on self advocacy I can revisit in another post) take initiative in conversations with people you are just meeting or who you have not interacted with in a while. Be aware of and one step ahead of the professional stereotypes associated with your perceived demographic. Tell them what you stand for, that things have changed for you, that you are looking for a job, and be very clear about what you want. Sometimes people will ask if you are currently looking for a job just because you are transitioning your career. And it makes me wonder because those two states are not mutually exclusive. When would anyone not want a job prospect that would improve their situation unless they are actually retired? Change is inevitable, right?
And last but not least, look for opportunities right under your nose. Did a friend offer to submit your portfolio but you did not feel ready to start your job search? Circle back to them. And never underestimate the power of sheer numbers. Apply to a bunch of jobs and not be too precious about each application. As much as I would like to say passion and persistence to work for a specific company can pay off, it really comes down to timing and luck (which also means the company's budget and values). Did you meet someone with a startup that has revenue or was recently funded? Ask them if they need design help on an hourly basis. Go to meetups, and not just design meetups, tech industry meetups. When you are just starting out, you will have a higher chance of finding work from founders and engineers than you will likely have from other UX designers, let's face it, they are probably the only designer "necessary" on their team or in the company.
Go to mentorship meetups, you will meet people who are inclined to connect you with opportunities to contribute, give you some perspective, or critique your portfolio. And talk with designers who are maybe 6 months or 1 year ahead of your design journey, not just those designers with 3-10 years of experience under their belt. It is a very different world out there for us, there is no such thing as, "I would like to try a different career, oh great someone needs a web designer and they will pay me to learn on the job..." That does not exist anymore. What we do have now is a lot of resources, a better industry understanding of the value of experience design, and improvements in the hiring process slowly permeating the industry.
The last thing is to not isolate yourself. Connect with people in a similar career transition, try co-working, take some online courses together, give each other feedback, collaborate on a project, volunteer at design jams and hackathons, help each other out.
Truly together, we can do it!
P.S. I have been working on a design collective called Trellis, based on the concept of pair designing to help designers (and startups) feel supported and grow.
More in a later post...