We host a Twitter space every Wednesday called UX Research Watercooler, where we invite guest speakers from the UX community to discuss topics relating to design and research. For our 4th episode, Nick Finck joined us to discuss building inroads for juniors just starting their careers in UX.
Nick ran a DIS web magazine publication for about ten years as an all-volunteer-driven community magazine about web design and web development. Then, he segued into all sorts of other topics, including UX.
He has approximately 25 years of experience with UX, leading organizations as a manager. Nick headed up design for Amazon's web service (AWS) for a team of 33. He has also led the largest team of 24 directors in UX.
He recently started up his own consulting business and has been a freelancer in the past. To learn more about Nick Finck, head over to www.nickfinck.com.
Building inroads for junior talent is essential to help them thrive in the system, which eventually results in the team's success as a whole. So the first thing you need to do is believe in the junior talent's potential and ensure that there's scope for them to work with.
Understand the expertise of the junior talent and only assign projects that you're sure they can get through. If you want to deploy a more complex project, pairing them with senior talent might work. However, the issue with pairing is that the work ratio can get imbalanced quickly.
The best way to help juniors thrive is by giving them a safe space to fail. This is why it's essential to let them begin with smaller workloads or easier projects because you want to ensure that one failure doesn't bring down the entire system.
One of the most important things to do as a leader is to trust junior designers to complete basic projects with minimal support. If you underestimate a junior designer's potential after hiring them, it can easily cause imposter syndrome. As a result, they're constantly doubting themselves and not putting their best into their projects.
The demand for senior talent is evident that companies tend to focus on it less than junior talent. However, just because senior designers can take on more projects doesn't mean that there should be fewer of them on the team.
Plus, the requirements on job posting for senior UX talent can be pretty demanding, which scares off potential hires. However, since most senior talent has over five years of experience in the field, they are many more opportunities to look into.
"The bigger problem is, is the demand for senior talent outweighed the supply for senior talent about ten years ago."
Another reason senior designers aren't reaching their potential in businesses is the misallocation of resources. There are common instances in which junior designers work on more complicated tasks while senior designers are given projects that suit a junior better.
As a result, senior UX designers turn towards starting their own business, launching a product, or even freelancing. They're moving on; they no longer want to be in the talent pool for a company to hire and work on projects that don't challenge them.
One way to interest senior talent enough to want to apply is by creating a diverse job description. Restricting senior designers to specific projects and not challenging them is one of the easiest ways to put them off from potentially applying. Make sure you're looking for an employee with diverse UX or analytical skills, such as sampling, statistics, and data analysis backgrounds.
The supply shortage of senior talent results in disasters in every team aspect. Since there are so few senior designers available, mid-level designers are being promoted to fill their roles. But, there's no backfill for the mid-level talent since the junior talent isn't even hired in the first place.
Juniors in big tech are measured based on their impact, which results in a toxic amount of gatekeeping. You get a raise and a good review if you're exceeding expectations. The other avenue asks, "Are you actually operating at the next level?"
So, if you're a mid-level designer, you must be doing everything that the senior designers are already doing on the team end. Doing it for a sustained period might result in a couple of quarters of review cycles. Then, you might get promoted.
"The challenge that I see in gatekeeping is you see a lot of doubt." said Nick
In such cases, mentoring lets you verify whether you're putting in the effort you need to. In addition, a mentor will guide you on when to leave a job where you're not getting recognized for your efforts.
If you have approximately two to five years of experience with UX design, it should be no issue to find another workplace that values you for your work and not your title. However, as a minority, you might find it common to experience gatekeeping in the workplace.
In the case of promotions, companies must have processes that ensure the promotee has enough training to take on their new role. Otherwise, they'll again be victims of gatekeeping from their higher-ups when it comes to performance because they've taken on a job they have no experience with.
While mentoring, consider critical thinking, human centricity, high-level problem solving, and asking more critical questions. Some leading tech companies understand the value in these elements since they allow every team member to speak the same language.
Ensuring that the junior talent has enough experience to communicate with the senior talent is crucial too. There shouldn't be such a barrier that the junior designer can never transition into a mid-level designer and, someday, a senior designer.
Lastly, senior talent in the company may be scarce, but the only way for them to bring in more senior talent is by mentoring the junior talent.
To grow and scale a UX team, leaders must look at every team member for their potential. Unfortunately, junior designers are often disregarded and misunderstood by higher-ups. The first thing businesses need to ensure is a complete elimination of gatekeeping.
Besides that, junior talent needs to be given a safe space for failure and learning opportunities.
In terms of senior talent, mid-level designers are filling their spaces since senior designers are moving on from companies. That's mainly due to companies not offering the appropriate challenges and rewards that senior designers are looking for.
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