This job does exist: Persist to find your way in your UX career

This job does exist: Persist to find your way in your UX career

Summary:

When you’re starting out in your UX career, it’s hard to know where to begin. Specialist or generalist? Design or research? Or maybe you want to try a bit of everything. We collected some of the most inspiring advice from the UX Mastery community to help guide you through the confusion.

During August, we started a conversation about making meaningful work. It kicked off with a thought-provoking ATU session with Dan Szuc, and continued throughout the month on our blog (catch up here, here and here).

Then, a post popped up in the UX Mastery forums that caught our attention.

Forum member Inca431 posed the question: “Does this job exist?” Almost at the end of an intensive online course, she was feeling upset and frustrated at not being able to find a job she felt she was qualified for:

“Now that I’m starting to look at a ‘real’ career, I’m worried that it might not exist? I’m not an expert at anything, I was never a graphic artist (my background is broadcast video editor), I am a ‘generalist’, I love working together with a group to come up with ideas.”

As a newcomer to the field, she wanted to do a bit of everything – research, wireframing, interviews, graphic design and problem solving. But she wasn’t sure whether this was what she was supposed to do, or whether she needed to focus on just one area.  

The issues that Inca raises are common struggles for many new UXers. Particularly while there’s a debate currently raging about UX education. Are students being promised too much from relatively short training courses? It’s tough when you’ve been told you have the right skills, yet when you go out into the world to look for a job, you’re not as prepared as you thought.

As always, the ever-supportive UX Mastery community rallied behind her. In doing so, they raised some of the major themes we talked about in August.

So, we’ve collected some of the most helpful responses for everyone’s benefit. The thread is still open if you want to join the conversation.

The strongest theme of all was the importance of perseverance and persistence. Keep trying and you will find your way.

Here are a few more helpful tips from our community.

UX Unicorns are few and far between

The role of the UX designer is famously undefined. This becomes very clear when you start searching for jobs. As in Inca’s case, you’ll find some recruiters advertise for an extensive list of UX skillsets – everything from research through to design and coding.

And while there are few so-called ‘unicorns’ who have the skills to do it all, they are few and far between. These job ads are a result of a poor understanding of the industry.

Most recruiters don’t understand what user experience designers do.

Amanda Stockwell explains that most UXers “a big, driven, smart group of kick ass people”, aren’t experts in everything. It’s much more about knowing a little about a lot of things, and learning as you go.

That’s one of the best parts of being in UX – there is ALWAYS new stuff to learn, new technologies to adapt to, new methods to try. And, people come into UX from all kinds of areas – library science, engineering, journalism, graphic design – heck last year at UX Australia there was a story about someone who came to UX from truck driving!”

maxflyer adds that most people get frustrated at some point, but that “if you love UX don’t give up, ever. Use this time to develop the fighter inside you.”

Everyone can learn concepts and everyone can practice. Those two things, in my experience, make all the difference…. Once you start understanding those solid concepts, it will show in everything you do; your interviews, your designs, your advice, blogs, etc. You WILL get there if you fight.”

It’s fine to be a generalist, just keep learning

Although new UXers tend to feel stressed about a lack of specific expertise, it’s not necessarily unusual or unwarranted. A sufficiently developed general skillset can make you a more valuable designer than someone who only knows a very narrow specialist skillset.

Keep learning to keep growing.

Did you know that Joe Natoli, with more than 25 years’ experience in the field, considers himself a generalist? It’s kind of the deal, he says, because you need broad knowledge across so many subjects. From product design to development, psychology, communication, and more. He adds:

“Forget the fact that you’re not an “expert” at anything — focus instead on what you DO have to offer in a problem-solving situation, because that’s what design of any kind (including UX) is. It’s not what you do with your hands — it’s how you think and why you do those things. Your mind and diversity is what’s most valuable, both to you and any employer or client.

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Hang in there and keep putting one front of the other.

Steve Crow also considers himself a generalist. His goal, he says, “has always been to be proficient, to add value when and where I can.”

“There’s a famous quote from someone I can’t remember advising folks in our position to just ‘jump off the cliff and build our wings on the way down in order to eventually soar’ or something like that. Now I assume they were talking about jumping off a symbolic cliff of indecision and self-doubtt, not a literal one.”

Look after yourself

Take care of yourself and connect with your community. Whether that’s meditation, yoga, or just making sure you take regular breaks – not looking after yourself is a recipe for disaster.

Leo Vogel points out that UX Meetups happen all over the world – there’s bound to be one near you. If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, Leo recommends the guided meditation app Headspace, or When Panic Attacks.

And lastly: “Go for a walk, get some sunlight, get some exercise.”

We love to see the UX Mastery community help each other out with a pep talk and practical advice. There’s always someone there to help, and nudge you in the right direction when you need it.

I’ll leave you with these parting words from Amanda Stockwell:

“Keep practicing the things you’re already good at. Be honest about your weaknesses and work on those too. And keep relying on the support of this awesome community!”

What are you waiting for? Head over to the forums and start a conversation. 

Just starting out in UX? Launch your career with UX Mastery’s Get Started in UX guide.

Natassja Hoogstad Hay
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Natassja Hoogstad Hay
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