During Hire Women Week, women interested in breaking into the creative aspects of tech had the opportunity to hear from a panel of UX and design experts who found their way there through non-traditional channels.
Houli (Jennifer Houlihan), an instructor at the Flatiron School, moderated the panel. She is a lifelong learner who went back to school at 54 to learn about design. She now teaches designers from all walks of life how to pivot into design roles, including a program for the U.S. Army.
The panelists were:
- Madison Berger is a design researcher who works at IDEO. IDEO Is a human-centered design company that develops both hardware and software. She started as a mechanical engineer but then went back to school for industrial design. She found herself in research through curiosity and determination.
- Alisha Moore Padolsky is a UX design lead at IBM, specifically the Red Hat Marketplace, which was acquired by IBM a few years ago. Her undergrad was in public relations and mass communications. She found that the field was not for her, so she went back to school to study graphic design. She pivoted to UX while at IBM and has found her passion there.
- Anastasia Munsell is a senior product designer at AMC network. She is also a “pivoter .”She has been laid off twice. She was a public relations undergrad and got into fashion after school. The work was fun, but it was too much travel and work. So after some time off, she went to design boot camp and transitioned to a UX/UI career. She started in education but then moved to the media sector.
Houli has seen in her classroom that all different kinds of people are finding a home in design. She feels there is a place for everyone in design, either in research, testing, wireframing, or market analysis.
She says, “We need you. We need your curiosity. We need your brain. We need your wisdom. We need your lived experience in this field.”
Where Would I Begin to Find a Job?
Houli asked the panel, for the women who want to enter this field, where would you suggest they look for the best jobs? What keywords should they look for in job postings?
Madison says there is a lot of nuance and overlap in job descriptions, especially when it comes to research roles. It’s essential to read a job posting carefully. For example, some jobs may need skills in quantitative research while others may need more qualitative research skills.
She suggests that job seekers identify their strengths first and look for those keywords when searching for a job. Knowing how you can contribute to a job and if your contribution fits the job description is important.
Anastasia suggests updating your Linkedin profile with proper keywords and a solid personal statement. You can review other portfolios for reference but she stresses that you should “use your own flavor” in yours.
She says to apply for as many jobs as possible, even make it a habit to apply for a couple every day. Teal is a great tool for tracking and improving your job applications.
Alisha adds that it is helpful to find a designer who works in a company you are interested in on LinkedIn or through your network and contact them to see if they will answer some questions. You want to make sure the company is the right environment and has a suitable job for you. Make sure to be specific in your request when reaching out. Don’t just ask to talk, have straightforward questions.
Also, write an elevator pitch about yourself and your skills to communicate your strengths quickly so you can have productive conversations when you are able to make design industry connections
Complementary Skills that Serve UX Designers
There are many skills that UX experts have learned outside of their work that have served them well at work. Houli offers an example of her writing skills, which have helped her successfully contribute to teams and content strategy. She calls this her “superpower.”
Other “superpowers” or skills mentioned by the panel are:
- Having active listening skills, both for the work and to support your team
- Being good at puzzles and patterns to help synthesize information
- Ability to analyze data
- Having problem-solving skills
- Ability to make design research actionable
- Having empathy for the team and yourself so that we are doing our best work
- Ability to prioritize tasks and projects
The panel agreed that our previous experiences, even when not in design, make up who we are today and can contribute to the job and craft of design
Where Should I Start Building a Network if I am New to Design?
This question came from the audience.
Houli said, “Crash the party. If you weren’t invited, just show up,”
She said it was valuable for her as an introvert to offer to help at in-person networking events, setting up chairs or checking people in. Getting to know people at a “human level” instead of a “business card level” was meaningful to her.
Alisha suggests joining design or creative organizations like AIGA or attending events like Hire Women Week. Look for like-minded people in the industry you want to be in, not just UX folks. She stresses that we shouldn’t limit ourselves because it will limit the job search.
Instead, she says, “Surround yourselves with other creatives. Attend those happy hours and meetups.” Houli adds Creative Mornings as an excellent place to meet people.
Also, Anastasia suggests reading articles and then posting some with hashtags and comments on LinkedIn to start conversations. It’s as simple as Googling “design groups near me.” She agrees to “think broad strokes at the beginning.” Try to meet as many people as you can.
Open Studios are less intimidating and more suitable for conversation for those who hate networking like Madison. She also suggests leveraging other people’s networks by asking for introductions from colleagues.
She says to do the things that “feel the most authentic. You’ll get better results.”
Interviews Tips - How to Distinguish Yourself
Houli points out that when interviewing, she wants to know, “Who is this human being sitting across the table from me?” The portfolio is important, but she also wants to understand what lived experiences the applicant brings to the table.
She asks the panel, what catches your eye when reviewing resumes and portfolios for design positions? What makes that human connection for you?
Alisha likes it when applicants look at her portfolio or LinkedIn, so they are familiar with who she is. However, she feels it is even more vital to see lessons learned and skills developed on an applicant’s portfolio. Those are the things that happen in the day-to-day life of a creative.
She would also rather see other aspects of an applicant’s personality than design in a portfolio or resume. She asks, “Are you into underwater basket weaving? These are the human aspects.”
“Be yourself in the most glorious, messy way you can,” adds Houli.
Madison concurs that seeing a designer’s process is important to her. Tell her why you made that decision and how you got there.
She also likes to see collaboration on a project and in a team. Show that you understand the value others bring to the project.
Lastly, she wants to see storytelling with a customer at the core of a portfolio. She will dive into any case study that offers a crisp summary of a story, including plot twists.
Houli’s Last Thought
At the close of the panel, Houli wanted to leave everyone with one last thought.
“There is a place for you.”
She goes on to say, “People are like popcorn. They are all going to go from being a kernel to being a big fluffy piece of popcorn whenever the time is right. If we all pop at the same time, popcorn would be boring. We can’t compare ourselves to other people.”