Introducing UX Watercooler

We initiated a new series at Notably called UX Watercooler, where every Wednesday at 10am PST/1pm EST we host a live Twitter space and invite a guest speaker from the UX community to join us and discuss a topic of their choice relating to UX research. 

Within a few hours of announcing the new space, the generosity of the UX community was on full display, and volunteers poured in. We booked 6 weeks worth of guests that day.

We are excited to kick off the series with our very first guest, Sarah Doody. Sarah is a keynote speaker and founder of Career Strategy Lab, a UX career accelerator. You may have seen some of her videos giving advice on how to get hired as a UX professional.

In this post, we’ll share the highlights from our space, where we discussed how to treat your career like a product and what to think about as a career launcher, switcher, or climber. To listen to the full conversation you can replay the recording here.

Sarah Doody’s background: How she got started in UX and how her entrepreneurial path got started with Career Strategy Lab.

Sarah: “My name is Sarah, and I classify myself more as a researcher and experience designer. To put it very simply, I do research and experience design. I do not do visual design. I do it for my own stuff. I wouldn't let anyone pay me to do their visual design.”

Sarah: “In 2017, people were asking me how to make a portfolio. The volume of these requests was debilitating my inbox. And so, the researcher in me thought like maybe I'm onto something. So long story short, I did a workshop about portfolios that took off, people started to get hired and they said, ‘Can this 45 minute workshop be 4 weeks long?’ And I thought, ‘yes, it can and that will cost more’ and that the rest is kind of history.”

Sarah: “Nowadays, all I really do is focus in the space of helping UX people really learn how to articulate their skills and experience through their portfolio, resume interviews, etc.”

Sarah: “I was not looking for [entrepreneurship]. I was just praying I would never have my own company because I didn't want all the stuff that comes with that. I think a lot of founders try to invent problems so they can say they’re a founder and raise money and be cool or whatever. And I was the total opposite. I resisted it and it got to the point where I thought to myself, this is such a massive problem, and I could really do this well.”

Sarah: “Last week, I got a testimonial from someone that they nearly tripled their salary. It was a 178% salary increase and stuff like that happens all the time where people are getting into roles that are fulfilling that totally changed the trajectory of their career and, you know, frankly, their life in some cases too. So it's a happy entrepreneurial accident, I guess you could say.”

What exactly does it mean to design your UX career and treat your UX career like a product roadmap?

Sarah: “I had a really strange career path. And even though I wasn't consciously, intentionally designing my career 10-15 years ago, looking back, I see how I was. And so what does it mean to design your career?”

Sarah: “Since a lot of us are product people here, think of the products you work on every day. Those products have roadmaps (or hopefully they have roadmaps.) And if they don't, your teams are probably spending a lot of time and energy and money fighting over what should be in the product or launching stuff and then having no one use it and go back and relaunch it or try and fix stuff or do research retroactively. 

Sarah: “And so this whole idea of ‘treating your career like a product’ really hinges on, ‘How can we take a lot of principles and strategies from product development and apply them to your career?’

Sarah: “You have to zoom out a little bit from our product bubble. When I say design your career and treat your career like a product. I think products really need three things: so if you have a pen and paper, the product is in one of the circles, and another circle is marketing. Because you can have the best product in the world but if there's no marketing to let people know about it, then it may not be that successful. And then you need another circle with the word sales inside of it because it's great if you have the product and you have the marketing but if you don't have the tools or the people in place to actually close the sales then you don't really have a business. So thinking about those three things.”

Sarah: “I think there's elements of product design, there's elements of marketing, and there's elements of sales that are so important to you creating a career that's super fulfilling, and if you learn these things they will be influential for many years of your career to come.”

What is ‘the product’ as it relates to your UX career?

Sarah: “When I think of product, that is your actual features. What can you do with your skills, the tools, and what you know? Experience you have from a previous career because you're switching into UX.”

What is ‘marketing’ as it relates to your UX career?

Sarah: “Marketing at a super high level, that's kind of the collection of what I refer to as your career assets. Meaning your resume, your portfolio, your LinkedIn, cold emails you send. Anything that is of touch point, or potential touch point that's contributing to that first impression or  building upon the impression that people are getting about you.” 

What is ‘sales’ as it relates to your UX career?

Sarah: “Sales is really about knowing your value that you bring to a team and being able to talk about that and have those kinds of conversations and exchanges in interviews, so that those interviews lead to job offers.”

Sarah: “If you just drew those three circles with Product, Sales, and Marketing, you can probably think to yourself, ‘oh man, I need to work on that sales aspect or some of my career materials over in that marketing circle are super weak and I need to fix them up.’

How do you create a UX career roadmap?

Sarah: “I can see how that's really intimidating, right? It's like a blank slate for people and that freaks a lot of people out. And so, in designing this Career Strategy Lab, one of the first things we have people do is a miniature research project on themselves and their career so far. And what that looks like is some self assessment type activities, where you're given prompts to reflect on what you have done previously.

Sarah: “We really encourage you to go interview people that you've worked with in the past, like former bosses that you have a good relationship with or maybe people that were in your UX Boot Camp. To my surprise, some people have said that’s the most valuable part of this whole Career Strategy Lab was creating this roadmap. 

Sarah: “Sometimes you have these skills and superpowers that are a blind spot for you. But other people might say you are amazing at XY and Z and you think, either ‘no I'm not’ or ‘oh, that's just like breathing’ it just comes natural to me. 

Sarah: “So for people who are trying to figure out ‘what should I do? what am I good at?’ The first thing to do is ask the people around you that you trust and then reflect on your career so far, and think to yourself, where have they said that was a shining star on a project or they really valued my contributions? What types of companies, industries, and projects have I been really excited to work on?”

Using ‘Likes & Loathes’ to feed your UX Career Roadmap

Sarah: “We have this phrase at Career Strategy Lab called ‘Likes and loathes.’ What did you really love about those past jobs and what did you really loathe? Once you rapid fire do that, you're going to quickly develop this profile of traits about companies, traits about people, about projects, etc. And all of that definitely needs to feed into that roadmap.”

Thinking at least one job ahead when creating a UX Career Roadmap

Sarah: “It doesn't need to be like, ‘In 10 years, I'm going to be ___”.  If you have that type of vision, great. But don't stress yourself out if you don't have that runway of vision because if someone had told me I'm doing what I do now in 2017 I just would have thought it was a job. So you never know where that curiosity will lead you. But I do think one mistake people often make is only thinking about the next job. And I think it's really important these days to be thinking one job ahead of where you want to be next. So let's say two, three years, maybe maybe less.”

Sarah: “That's really important because if you want to be a research manager in 2024, there are probably skills and experience you could benefit from developing and acquiring in the next job. And so you can more easily decide ‘should I take this job offer?’ If you're thinking about it, ‘is this job going to set me up with the skills, experience, the relationships that might be valuable for that next job I want in two years?’ whatever it is.”

What are career launchers, switchers, and climbers?

Sarah: “These three really distinct groups of people emerged, and I did this for my own, focus of content creation, but working with collaborators it's really crucial. So Launchers are people that are coming into the professional world and their first job happens to be user experience. So they went to college and they're jumping right into user experience. 

Sarah: “Switchers are people who are coming into user experience from a previous career. So I've had architects come into Career Strategy Lab and get hired. Occupational therapists, quality assurance people, teachers.”

Sarah: “And then Climbers are people who have been working in user experience for, you know, 8,10, 15+ years. And part of their challenge is they have so much experience, creating a resume and creating a portfolio feels so overwhelming because how do you choose the right things? They're at a fork in the road, and some of them are thinking, ‘what do they want that last quarter of their career to look like?’”

Sarah: “And it was really surprising when I created Career Strategy Lab because I had been receiving so many questions from people on the earlier stage about getting hired, etc. And then I switched how I talked about the program and some of the marketing, and out of the woods all of these Career Climbers came into my sphere. At least 40% of the people inside of Career Strategy Lab have been working in user experience for 8+ years, which was surprising.”

What's the difference for a portfolio or resume for a switcher versus a Launcher versus a Climber?

Sarah: “Now everyone asks, like, is this Career Strategy Lab thing right for me if I'm a ___, and my answer is, yes, because no matter what stage you're at in your career and no matter what you do with in the world of UX, the process to create a portfolio, create a resume, create a LinkedIn that really creates a strong first impression. The steps you need to take to do that are all the same regardless. The difference is what's in those bullet points, what are the projects in your portfolio, but the transformation of writing a good, better, best resume bullet point, that's the same no matter who you are, what you do, and I think that is the kind of beauty of this whole thing.”

For the full conversation and Sarah’s advice on how you should think about your UX portfolio, you can listen to the 1-hour recording here. Are you a UX launcher, switcher, or climber? Check out Sarah’s Career Strategy Lab and see if the accelerator is a good fit for you.

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