In the last few months, I have struggled to speak with family openly about my UX job search, as well as the impact it has had on me both mentally and physically.
While I have pushed hard on the networking front — scheduling calls, sending cold emails, attending MeetUps, completing design challenges and also reaching out to additional professional connections — I am still pushing forward towards this unknown design future.
Living in New York City is a hustle — many folks whom I know personally work “side hustles”, which are additional freelance projects that help keep them afloat on top of their day-to-day career.
But what about the people looking to break into an industry that is budding, without a clearly-defined path to entry that will lead them to their first role?
How might we hustle without gaining the experience that we need to be qualified for that hustle? It relates to the conundrum many in the job search face: you need experience to get the additional experience.
As aspiring designers looking to solve for this problem, we need to first research the industry, avenues where we are able to take part in it and then continue efforts to grow our expertise in the field. All of this is to fulfill our goal of a better career experience and professional life.
Speaking for myself, I worked in New York for almost three years within the marketing space. Overtime, I came to feel that my role lacked additional creativity and I had taken multiple steps within the industry to move into the product space with limited success.
Speaking with a former coworker whom also debated the merits of a career in product, our conversation helped guide me towards researching design as a career, as well as the options that were available to educate myself towards a career in that space.
I spent the next six months silently researching product design, careers in UX and the cost-benefit analysis of exploring a career industry pivot at the age of 28.
Being based in the US, I looked to relevant tools that might help inform my decision. I consulted the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to find statistical data regarding those working in design and computer science. Looking at the numbers, it seemed that a career in design — if I pivoted successfully — could help me become more financially comfortable than where I was at the time. Additionally, the growth opportunity in this market was growing nationally, thus it made sense in my mind to hop in and explore it.
I now had to take this career market data — the interview insights, quantitative data, and educational options — to my primary stakeholders: my family. I could not personally embark on this journey financially and I also wanted their personal support in this experience towards a better career.
Before I continue, it is important that I clarify that I am writing this article because I wanted to provide those of you who have traveled this career-changing road with scenarios where you can engage with these personal stakeholders. These individuals whom you rely on for guidance want nothing more than to be involved in your life, to see you succeed within it and to help steer you towards new opportunities that can benefit your future.
Understanding Professional Upbringings & Career Timelines
First, my biggest advice to those on this adventure is to remember the following: We (Millennials, Gen-Xers) are growing up in a world of constant, ravenous change — more often than not, these economic changes have impacted us negatively compared to other generations.
We (again as a collective, career-wise) are not standing on a hardwood floor as much as we are at sea, staying afloat for the next island or lifeboat we find.
Those who have cheered for us and our growth into adulthood are now older (generally in their 40s, 50s, or later) and while they encountered a career environment that was changing quickly, the economic outlook that they grew up in was also much more vibrant than what we have experienced today, which has allowed this generation to continue to thrive compared to their younger counterparts.
Diving deeper in terms of the history of hiring practices, technological advances during these decades were less nuanced, the barrier to entry was lower and a lack of powerful e-tools limited the extreme fluctuation of qualified candidates looking for work or being recruited into positions.
As a result of this, the frustrations 21st century digital boys and girls might feel in terms of looking for design (and tech) work is now the new normal; the path towards these opportunities are simply not linear.
Going back to your personal stakeholders, this direct overview may be hard for them to understand (they’ve worked for your success, after all). Remember, in their career development, the path towards career success was more straightforward than it is today.
Let’s expand on the prospect of recruitment. Prior to the growth of computers, mobile phones and the launch of the world-wide-web from the late 80s to early 90s, job candidates would connect with recruiters via phone, fax, and even US mail.
Today, job seekers — the users in this case — are dealing with a behemoth of tools at their disposal. And it is not just them: recruiters and other hiring professionals have these tools at their disposal as well.
In searching for “UX Designer, candidate A”, individuals are able to surface candidates B, C, D, E, F — all the way to M+, as an example — by using tools like LinkedIn, AngelList, or Indeed.
The hiring game has changed and adapting to the advances of technology is not only a benefit but it can also be a deterrent in getting you hired immediately, as unfortunate as that might sound.
Looking back once more to your relationship with your stakeholders as you navigate this voyage, be sure to keep them in the loop of what you’re doing in order to enter this space. Reiterate to them that this is a field that is consistently changing — just as the economy is consistently changing.
As someone who has a passion for history apart from UX (as well as being a present-day job seeker), I often reflect on the progress that has been made in the last century regarding technology, innovation and automation.
In the early 1900s (and really before then, with the launch of the Industrial Revolution), skilled laborers started to be replaced by mass-production assembly lines and general workers. The hours these workers worked were excessive and it was not until the innovation of the eight hour workday that modern day office structures eventually took shape over the coming years.
Think about that progress which has overall remained the work standard in the 21st century (I say roughly, as many of us have worked above that 40 hours per week mark). To bring this overview “closer to home”, let us look at a more modern example from the last ten years.
Take the phone manufacturing company Blackberry. In 2009, BlackBerry and its smartphone OS held near 20% of the smartphone market and now, companies like Apple are eating their lunch. Apple and its iPhone hold 18% of that same phone market in 2019 based on their own innovation and technological advances to the handset.
The iPhone has seen radical hardware and software iteration changes in the 11 years since the phone has been on the market. I won’t even start on the software shift from skeuomorphism to flat design.
So what point am I trying to communicate with these examples? It is that industries throughout the world in the 21st century are changing at an exponential rate. Life as we experience it is changing very quickly.
This realization is critical for your supporting stakeholders to understand and accept as you begin navigating this career future and its possibilities.
Think Like a School Teacher: Show Your Work
As I talked about in my last Medium article about “UXing” your interview process, by showcasing your design work and UX process to the interviewer, you will demonstrate your value first-hand to the company considering you for an open position.
This same principle applies to those who are your advocates — and it can be difficult to address.
Considering the likelihood that you are living on your own (i.e. roommates, significant others, doggo), you want to be sure that those who are here for you outside of your immediate support system are clued-in to where you are in this process and what you have been doing to make an impact.
How are you working towards making a positive change in your life? You need to be your own advocate and champion in this process.
These conversations might be difficult to have (and they may not provide any immediate resolution in your relationship to your stakeholders) because this concept will feel foreign to those who grew up in the stabilized economy and career timeline of years lore.
Here are some sample questions that you might be asked by your stakeholders during your career journey:
- Why aren’t you applying everywhere (this might occur if you’re already predisposed to a particular location)?
- Why are you only looking at these types of [list role name here] jobs?
- Why don’t you go back to your old company or role?
- Why haven’t you found anything yet?
Unfortunately, when it comes to this, I cannot advocate for you. What I can suggest, in terms of your UX journey, is that you do everything in your power to make yourself known in the design community.
Go to MeetUps, schedule coffee dates, attend industry-led expert panels to learn from others who know more than you, write on Medium (if I can do it, why aren’t you?) — you are your own unique person in this universe, there is no other you, so make the world know who you are.
Any connection you make can lead to a conversation. A conversation can lead to an opportunity. An opportunity can help you land an interview for a role towards your own contributions in this field. So get out there and do it.
Whenever I have engaged in these opportunities, I try to highlight my process and do as my seventh grade math teacher told me: show your work.
Show the people who care about you the article you’ve written, tell them about how it was received by the community, show them the design challenge you just submitted (which you will ace, because you’re amazing) and explain to them about how you’re approaching this field by seeking opportunities to grow and be of value to others directly.
Sure, you want a UX job (same!) but the world does not cater to you. You must respond to the world and the signs you are receiving within it. If it feels “right” to speak with someone, do it. No one will fault you for putting your best foot forward but everyone will shun you for not taking the initiative that is required to grow.
This Is A Chapter In Your Life’s Book — It Will End.
While this might be hard for some to face during their search, it is important to remember that this experience is but a chapter in your own book of life. It will end. You will grow, advance and you will not be in “limbo” forever.
Recall that I am telling you this as someone who understands where you are. This is difficult advice for even myself to listen to but it is the truth — nothing lasts forever.
As I am also navigating this journey, I know how hard it can feel. You have invested the time to learn a new skill, you have practiced it, you have written about it, and you have made an effort to take part in the industry community. And still, you are putting your best self out there in search of that first role.
Sometimes, it is just hard to realize that however long you have been in this state — a week, a month, a year — that it is temporary but take solace in that. Reach out to your friends and schedule a night out.
Have a wine-and-dine move night with your significant other (or doggo — can you tell that I think that dogs are just the best?). Be sure to also schedule a good workout with a friend to improve yourself physically, as well as mentally.
Remember this: you’re human and this process can be exhausting, so please make sure to take time for yourself.
In a time like this, you need to know what your triggers are. Did you have a day where you found it challenging to network, connect with others, showcase your value, or send out applications galore?
That might be your body telling you to hit the “snooze” button and take a rest. That is not a bad thing — I repeat: that. is. not. a. bad. thing. What you’re working towards is a mental marathon versus a physical one and that can take a toll, so be sure to get plenty of rest when and if you can.
At the end of the day, this entire experience will have helped us (you, me, others) grow. It is a learning experience.
Unfortunately, not every adventure we encounter can mimic The Wizard of Oz. We might not get to be like Dorothy and simply “follow the yellow brick road” for our future professional success.
We have to remember that this experience is not linear. Not all roads are gold, not all roads are paved and not all roads have been traveled.
All we can do is put our best self forward — and share that with those looking for our skill set, as well as those who believe in us — to achieve the professional future that we studied and dreamed to call our own.
Your friend in UX, Diego