Hello from Ladies that UX Vancouver!
At our last meetup, we were excited to have Theresa Putkey, principle of Keypointe Usability Consulting, talk to us about career development for women in UX – and she told us that, usually, it’s all about asking for what you want.
Here are some of the themes that came out of our discussions.
Ask for it
Whatever you want, don’t waste time waiting for someone to notice.
People aren’t mind-readers, and they won’t know what you want unless you communicate it. If you want a specific job, tell people; if you want an opportunity at work, tell people. Tell people before the opportunities even come up. And when opportunities do arise, raise your hand immediately.
Always advocate for yourself, your goals, and your career. Assume no one else will do it for you. Other people are wonderful and caring, but your goals may not always be at the front of their mind. Put yourself out there, take a risk, and be open to learning!
There’s a range of careers that fall under the umbrella of UX design: user research, information architecture, interface design, and visual design.
When you’re just starting in UX, it’s a good idea to shop around and try different things. It’s like dating – you don’t really know what you want until you’ve dated a few people and figured out what you like best.
But once you have figured out what you like, being specific allows you to ask for what you want.
Theresa says you should have a response to the question “What kind of projects do you like to work on most?” Your answer to this question can make you stand out when potential bosses or colleagues are looking for help with a project that’s a good fit for your interests and skill set.
When it comes to being specific:
- Do what you like: make sure you focus on what you enjoy doing.
- Pick a vertical and focus within it: identify where your strengths lie, what you like to do, and use it to help you sell yourself in a specific core skill set. Tools like a UX skills matrix can help you identify your strengths and how to sell yourself.
(As an IA, Theresa also recommends Proficiencies for IA practitioners or core competencies for IA and UX practitioners).
- Sell your ability to collaborate with other disciplines: lots of UX firms focus on acquiring T-shaped practitioners, who possess a vertical in a specific skill but the empathy, aptitude, and interest to collaborate actively with other disciplines.Remember: if you’re interested in many areas, that’s great! As a junior or intermediate practitioner, it’s good to focus on one or two competencies to get into the field, and develop other competencies as you gain more experience.
Developing your career
So what about once you’ve gotten that first gig? How do you go about continuing to develop your career?
Theresa discussed some of the tools she’s found useful for developing her career, and the group had lots of suggestions to add to the mix:
- Informational interviews: are your best friend. Find people that have roles you’re interested in and ask them out for coffee. It’ll give you a chance to ask what they like most about their role, challenges, and advice on landing a role like theirs. These interviews can also be great to get past the fortress of HR and connect directly to the people who might someday be a manager or colleague.
- Get a mentor: having someone who knows the ropes and is willing to grab a coffee occasionally can be extremely helpful when you’re feeling stuck. Go to these meetings with your questions prepared in order to get the most out of your time together.
- Go to conferences: you’ll learn lots. Seriously.
- Develop your soft skills: courses in facilitation, for instance, can help you develop skills like active listening, effective communication, and running workshops – all invaluable in UX roles.
- Write articles: start writing down the stuff you learn right away, and publish it online. You’ll be engaging with the UX community, and people will see how much of a go-getter you are.
- Go to meetups: Many members jumped in to talk about how invaluable meetups had been for their job search – stating that getting out and talking to other members of the UX community often uncovered opportunities that never hit the online job boards.
As with anything in life, you can expect to run up against some obstacles in your career. In tech, these might range from finding yourself without room to grow in a company to (let’s face it) the challenges of some male-dominated workplaces.
- When a company doesn’t seem to have opportunities for you, make sure you’ve made your goals clear to your manager and others in the company. Don’t be afraid to look around every so often at what opportunities are available, as well as salary ranges for your role.
- If you’re dealing with challenges in a male-dominated workplace, such as feeling you’re not being heard – again: don’t be afraid to speak up. It can be valuable to raise these hard conversations. Look for allies and advocates among bosses, both females and male colleagues, and those that can offer support in HR.
- It’s easy to feel outnumbered when you’re a woman working in tech, too. Find a network of other women in your field (hello!). A solid network can reduce any sense of isolation you might be feeling, provide female leaders and role-models that you may not encounter at your day job, and offer support in any challenges you encounter.
- And finally: meditation can really help!
Thanks again to Theresa for all the invaluable advice and discussion, and to the LTUXers that came out and made the evening such a success.