How to Outgrow Your Mid-Level Position
One of the hardest lessons to learn is that nobody is responsible for your career growth but you. If you feel stuck, bored, or are chafing at restrictions, it doesn’t mean someone needs to give you something else to do. It means you need to find what you want to be doing.
Are you ready for a new challenge? As a mid-level UXer, you should have solid research skills, client-facing experience, and at least some mobile experience. Missing one of those? I guess you know what to work on. If you have the trifecta, you’re probably recruiter catnip already.
It’s a buyer’s market for UX experts right now—tons of opportunities and not enough candidates. Make sure you’re the one leading your job hunt, not the one being led.
Research: yes, you really do need it.You’ve decided that you’re leaving. Have you figured out what you’re looking for next? You could just go on whichever interview a recruiter tries to send you, but humor me for a minute. Not every company uses recruiters.
A better approach is to come up with a list of criteria—”must-haves” and “nice to haves”, and a list of companies, and see who’s actively hiring.
Research companies that you’re interested in working for. Check out their respective Twitter feeds. This should provide some insight into company culture and priorities. Do they seem like the sort of people you’d like to work with?
- Retweeting useful information?
- Barely maintained?
Don’t underestimate the value of liking your coworkers.
Research comparable jobs. If you’re the type to take on more responsibilities as they become necessary, you may be working at a higher level than your title indicates. Apply those research skills to publicly available job descriptions and salary surveys. How does your experience compare? You may be surprised to find out you’re being underpaid. Check out the data on DesignSalaries.org for information to sink your teeth into.
Prioritize your needs and wants. Is money most crucial, or do you have some wiggle room? Is it more important to be part of a team, or to work on more diverse projects? Do you want to work more closely with developers? Are you focused on making new connections, so you can eventually go freelance? Do you want to be part of a growing team that can provide you with a future management position?
Be honest with yourself. What’s essential, and what’s just nice to have? What do you really want out of your future? Any indecision on your part will effect lackluster results. Try to articulate what you really want before you begin your job hunt.
UX Designers are made, not born.As a UX Designer looking for a new position, hiring managers will have expectations of you. Your job is to try to understand these expectations, and then communicate your requirements.
This is where all that research and thinking about what you want in your next position comes in handy. Now you have to prove yourself worthy.
What was your journey to becoming a UX designer?
Sell hiring managers your story. HCI and interaction design degrees are still a bit uncommon; it’s more likely that you’ll have some sort of convoluted explanation. Practice—this isn’t the sort of thing you should improvise. If you ramble on, it will reflect poorly. Working in the user experience field requires solid communication and organizational skills. Use them.
What is your process? Which part of the process do you enjoy the most?
This is a great opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Have you started learning more about content strategy to improve your work? Are you working on personal projects that involve more research than you have time for at your day job?Don’t try and contort yourself into their idea of what a UX Designer does; it will sound fake. If you do bring something more to the table, make sure that you say so.
Evaluate the company.
A good interview is as much vetting the employer as being vetted yourself. As a UXer, you should be well-versed in ferreting out information. Apply these skills to the interview process—if you can’t ask valuable questions now, why would you be any better when you’re on the job?
Ask about their business structure, their current processes, what their meeting culture is like, what they do for fun, if they have any pets… anything to help you flesh out your mental model of that company.
Ask how siloed everyone’s roles are, and see if that structure meshes with what you previously decided you wanted. Siloing usually increases relative to the size of the company. Why is this important? If you really enjoy the full range of research through iteration, it would be a huge red flag to hear, “We have a separate strategy department, so we don’t do any of that nitty-gritty stuff.” That would be your cue to run like hell.
By engaging your interviewers on a level beyond an ordinary conversation, you uncover a more realistic picture of what it would be like to work there.
Stick to your guns.
If you previously decided you wanted a role as part of a team, conducting user research and iterating through designs, why are you considering completely unsuitable jobs that don’t meet your criteria? Stop it right now. Don’t let the interviewing process wear down your resolve—you’ll regret it.
Don’t forget to research yourself!You’re in big trouble if all they find is some D-list actress of the same name, or some outdated high school sports statistics.
Until recently, the primary Jessica Greco who existed in Google’s eyes was a D-list actress whose claim to fame was a crappy TV show with the woman from Baywatch. It takes time to fix this kind of neglect.
Here are some ideas:
- Start a Twitter feed. Microblogging is a great way to get involved with the community and share information and opinions. Yes, I know this stuff is indexed out there forever, but try not to let that paralyze you.
- Start blogging. I’m sure you have thoughts on trending topics in UX. Your point of view can’t just live in your head, you have to share your vision and your passion.
- Get your profile online. The goal is to eventually outrank all your internet doppelgängers on the first page of search results. Are you underwhelmed by your portfolio? Consider transitioning over to writing-heavy case studies, and talk about your decision-making process.
- Build your skillset. When you read job descriptions, make note of any skills you lack. While you are the one looking for a new job, the skills and knowledge you offer potential employers is the real focal point. Maybe it’s time for a personal improvement campaign to address any deficiencies. Read some books, take a class, swap skills with your friends, or start a personal project. There’s a reason autodidacts thrive in this industry.
Ask yourself if you’ve done enough to position yourself as a desirable hire for your next job. Don’t guilt yourself if the answer is no. Start with something small, and just keep going.
Design is not a zero-sum game.
Taking responsibility for your career development is crucial to success. Expand your public persona, develop your skills, and focus on making the best work you can. Look for opportunities to contribute more—at work and to the UX community at large. Design is not a zero-sum game; you should always be growing. If you’re not learning, you’re falling behind.
Not all UX jobs are created equal, but the same is true of designers. This variety can make job hunting much more challenging without a clear idea of what you want out of your future career. Don’t wait until you’re desperate to move on to start looking elsewhere—it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You owe it to yourself to be patient and to find the best fit possible.
Editor’s Note: Are you ready to move your UX career forward? Check out our listings for UX Jobs, and connect with our experts today!