Cloudflare's Creative Corner: Design mentorship during the time of COVID
The Creative Corner explores the experiences of creative professionals working within the tech industry. From challenges faced to lessons learned, we will join them on their journey as they share their wisdom as creatives in tech.
Hi everyone. Thanks for tuning in to Cloudflare TV. I'm your host Jess Rosenberg and I'm joined by my co-host Dylan Welter.
We're also joined by a wonderful group of design leaders today.
We'll be discussing the mentorship and portfolio review initiative that we partook in in the week of COVID-19 this past spring.
We'll also be sharing our advice and guidance for those designers who are currently on the job hunt from portfolios to interviews, career switches and much more.
So I'd love to begin with some intros and then I'd love for Austin Knight to kick things off with how the mentorship and portfolio review initiative started back in March.
So Austin, if you want to go ahead and start with the intros.
Yeah, so hey everybody, I'm Austin. I'm a product designer at Google right now.
Previously, I helped lead UX and establish it at HubSpot, which is a software as a service company based out of Boston.
During that time, we grew a lot and I ended up working remote around the world, primarily being based out of Rio de Janeiro.
So I got to meet tons of awesome designers and software people around the world.
I mentor students, startup founders, etc. at institutions like Columbia and Stanford and also less household name places.
I advise startups at Sequoia Capital.
It's a VC firm here in Silicon Valley. Do some international speaking when we're not dealing with global pandemics.
And then I also co-host a couple podcasts.
One is called the UX and Growth Podcast and that's all about the sort of fundamentals of user experience and how that merges with product strategy and growing a product.
And then also a podcast called Decrypting Crypto, which is about sort of breaking through the minutiae of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies and stuff like that.
I also have a blog and newsletter at austinknight.com if you're curious to check that out.
Really happy to be here today.
Okay, Anshu, you want to go next?
Yes. Hi, I'm Anshu and I'm a UX designer. I mainly design for voice experiences because that's what I've been doing for the past four or five years.
And that's when, you know, because voice is such a small community right now amongst designers, I started answering questions and that's how it started, the whole mentorship started.
And I mostly deal with students because I see that's where the most requests come from and, you know, it's helped me grow.
And right now I am at Deutsche Telekom in Germany and I moved from India in the last six months and it's been crazy, but here I am and happy to be here.
Thanks, we're happy to have you.
Arielle? Hi everybody, my name is Arielle Strakhov. I'm originally from San Francisco, California, currently based in Washington DC.
I am a digital marketer, so I'm a little bit different but still connected with everybody else in the group.
I have over 10 years of professional work experience. Originally was working in the fashion design industry in New York City, but now I've sort of switched paths into digital marketing and I've been working with a non -profit called Parents Together here in DC as their content lead and special projects manager.
This has been a really rewarding experience, having seen Austin's message initially, you know, spearheading this initiative, it was just amazing.
So I have been very humbled by the experience and just am very grateful that I've been able to help other marketers as well who are seeking help with their resumes in terms of layout, in terms of wording, in terms of cover letters, how to prepare for interviews.
It's been a very rewarding experience being able to help folks out with that.
Katherine. Hi, I'm Katherine Hicks and I am both a UX designer and a UX design educator.
I have been in the design field for about 25 years and I've been teaching for, in some capacity or another, or mentoring for about half of that.
I'm currently in mentoring on two online programs through a company called Springboard and a company called RookieUp and RookieUp is very focused on portfolio building and portfolio presentation and so this really did feel like a really natural extension of what I've been doing already.
I've helped about 500 students through learning and preparing, so when I saw Austin's ask, this was already something I do as part of my teaching, so it really felt like I definitely could help.
I run a design agency here, so I'm always looking for people.
I'm also a hiring manager. I also bring designers into teams for our company, clients.
After we finish as the consultants, we bring on designers for the companies we work with, so it really felt like I could give a really concrete hands -on, feet-on-the-ground kind of response to people who really needed it.
It was really amazing at a time when I felt the world was spinning out so out of control to be of service and that was really, really great.
Thank you. Garen?
Yeah, hi. My name is Garen Engstrom. I'm a product design manager at Facebook on the social impact team.
Some of the products that we create on the team include fundraising tools for non-profits, tools to help folks register to vote and to get out and vote on election days, tools around volunteering and helping your local community, so really just anything that has a real-world social impact.
When I'm not working, I enjoy hanging out with my two dogs.
They keep me pretty busy. I also do quite a bit of writing on Medium.
A lot of it actually geared towards early career designers and developing in their careers, so this was a natural extension.
I was really happy to help out when I saw Austin's post and in the months after that, ended up having over 100 career conversations and portfolio reviews with folks, so yeah, really happy to be here and talk about some of the learnings from that.
Awesome. Hamza? Hey, everyone. I'm Hamza. I'm a product designer at a company called TVON.
What we do is we do interactive video compression and encoding using AI to just enhance and support the way we experience video information.
I've been in the design and technology field for a little over six and a half, seven years now, and before that, I was doing a lot of retail sales jobs while I was going through school and university, so that was fun.
I've been working at a few different agencies in the past, a few different in -house companies, and work for a lot of top-tier clients who naturally I can't name, but I was reached out.
Actually, I reached out to Austin back in March when he started the initiative to have my own portfolio review, so from there, just the conversation progressed naturally.
He asked me to see if I could help and volunteer some of my time to do the same for others, and since then, I've been a part of his campaign and other campaign called Amazing Design People List, and I've been doing mentoring with them for quite a few people, so it's been a lot of fun, and it's been a lot of interesting conversations back and forth, and I think I've learned just as much from the people I've mentored as they, I hope, have learned from me, but I hope to continue doing that, and thank you, Cloudflare, for having me on.
Thanks for being here. James.
Hey, I'm James McCary. I'm part of the design leadership team at VUDU, so we are an online streaming platform.
Yeah, so I kind of got into this a while back, actually.
I've also been a mentor for Springboard and a couple others, and then just a part of just various design communities trying to take things that I've learned and share it around, but as many of others have mentioned, I feel like I'm learning more than I'm giving out a lot of times, but I kind of got into wanting to share specifically with the hiring and the ins and outs of building portfolios and reviews and whiteboarding exercises.
Actually, when I started building the onboarding and hiring process for Dell, I realized that there was a gap between hiring manager expectations and what people think they're going into, and so I actually started kind of collaborating with various people around helping to level set that a little bit more, and then I carried that through with Facebook and now at VUDU trying to bring this idea that we should all come to the table with a similar mindset of what we're talking about just to kind of make it a little bit more equal, so when I saw Austin's call to say, hey, you know, there's obviously a lot of shift in the world.
How can we give back? I was excited to be able to be a part of this group, so thanks for having me, and I'm excited to hear what you guys learned as well.
Awesome, thanks. Josh, take it away. Hey, thanks for having me on.
I'm Josh Cusick. I work as a UX designer at Microsoft. Specifically, I specialize in design systems, so I work on the public-facing design system, Fluent, and I also work on internal design systems for Microsoft products.
Yeah, so when I saw Austin's post, I thought it was a really cool opportunity to give back to the community that gave so much to me.
You know, I think all of us here have shared experiences with how it's, you know, it's really difficult and challenging to find a job, and it's difficult for folks that are, you know, shifting, either shifting from a different career or students, junior designers that don't have a lot of experience.
We all were once junior designers, and yeah, I just feel so grateful to the dozens of men and women that have helped me in my early career and got me to where I am now, and so I really just felt like it was a natural opportunity to give back to all the people that have given so much to me, and yeah, just such a beautiful experience to give back and sit down with designers that are just really eager to learn and want feedback, and I think it's a growth opportunity for me, too, to be able to learn about myself.
Yeah, and since then, I'm now also on the amazing design people list as well, and that's been such an awesome opportunity.
It's really cool because the design systems community is also kind of a smaller niche in UX design, and so I get to talk to some really cool folks that may not have a lot of experience in design systems, but really are eager to learn, and so it's just an opportunity for me to kind of just give back what I am learning at Microsoft and what I get to do at Microsoft, and yeah, it's just been an awesome opportunity.
I just feel really grateful to be here.
Thanks so much for joining us. Dylan, I realized I skipped over D in the alphabet.
My apologies. No, no worries. My name is Dylan Welter.
Really excited to meet you all and be able to chat with you all today.
I work, you know, obviously here at Cloudflare with Jess. I'm the creative operations manager on her team, and I originally got my start in design as a digital designer from the agency standpoint before ultimately, over the years, gravitating more towards process and program management for design orgs and made the shift to internal teams.
Awesome, and I'll introduce myself.
My name is Jess. As you all know, I lead the creative and brand design team at Cloudflare.
My history spans working for advertising agencies for the first half of my career, second half of my career.
I've been in tech for the past, let's say, eight or so years.
I've been at Cloudflare for almost four years.
I've been building and growing a wonderful creative team. I learned of Austin's initiative back in March.
I was actually fresh off of mat leave, and so I was home with my newborn and my kids, and I wasn't working, and I was like, I need something to do, and this is the thing, and I'm going to connect with designers, and I did, and I spoke to a lot of designers and also a few non -designers alike.
Who were either laid off due to COVID or had internships or jobs, and they were looking for their next thing, and like many of you said, I probably learned more about myself during these conversations than I initially realized, and it was eye-opening.
It was inspiring. It was humbling, and I'm super grateful to have participated in it, and I'm really excited to be having this conversation with you all today, so thank you again, everyone, for joining, and I would love next, oh, I think we have one more person.
I'm so sorry. Who has not introduced themselves.
A couple of people. Sorry, so sorry. All loaded on the front end of the alphabet for the best four R's here, so I'm Rose Airolo.
I'm a UX researcher at Acquia, so I think I'm alone here, and mentoring has always been very important to me.
I was in education for a little bit, and then actually met a mentor from my alma mater who was in UX design, and he brought me into the UX community in Boston where I met a lot of really cool people and was able to get this job at Acquia through that, and ever since I started, I've been trying to give back and really kind of foster the community here in Boston, and it was awesome to see the post from Austin on LinkedIn where I was able to expand my reach and help people across the world, so that's what I've been doing ever since.
I've been seeking out even more opportunities to do that kind of mentorship wherever I can, so excited to talk about that.
Cool, thanks. One more intro.
Okay, I think that's finally me.
That's my pose for being R. Hi, everyone. I'm Ruben, and I am a UX strategist.
I work in the UK, and I've been working in UX for, I'd say, at least 10 years directly and another bunch of years indirectly, and I'm working in a marketing consultancy and doing most of the strategic piece connecting the work of marketing work with the UX work, and as well as I do doctoral research.
I'm currently researching methods, more precisely interaction patterns to help UX designers to use machine learning in the context of consumer IoT, and when I came across Austin's initiative, actually I connected with him just to congratulate him for the great work, and he invited me and said, well, would you like to help out?
I said, well, yeah, why not? Of course, it resonates.
Back in the previous crisis, the financial crisis, I found myself in the same shoes.
Things were a bit hard, and would be extremely grateful if someone reached out at that time doing the same job, so I thought, well, why not?
Let's do it, and yeah, that's me.
Great. Thanks, everyone, again for those intros. I'd like to segue to Austin, and maybe, Austin, you can give us a little bit, and the audience as well, some, well, we obviously know what it is, but for those watching, what this initiative was exactly, how you started it, how it kind of took shape and went viral, and what your initial experiences were?
Yeah, well, I just first want to say, you know, that I'm truly humbled to have been a part of this, and I say a part of this intentionally, because despite the very flattering things that everybody said in their intros, which I appreciate so much around my role in this, this really was absolutely something that all of us took equal part in, and we grew this thing organically together.
Almost everybody that is in this call, and many people that are not in this call, all reached out to me by their own doing, right?
There wasn't like some type of formal thing that we set up to say, hey, you know, sign up for this, and you can get these like social credits, or something like that.
This is all, all of these people that are on this call wanted to do this just as much as I did on their own, and it was just so humbling to see the level of support, and what we were all able to create together, so thank you all, everybody that is here, and also many people who are not here for everything that you did to make me look so good, because it was certainly not something that I did on my own.
With that said, just to tell our story of how this happened, so COVID-19 is rolling around in February, March, and I think all of us started to notice that there were a lot of people in our communities, in the design community, that had been affected by layoffs and hiring freezes, and one of the things that was so shocking to me is that I was seeing people that I knew, and that I worked with, and that I deeply respected as designers, and as design professionals being impacted by this.
Like it wasn't like, oh, you know, just the people that are like junior in their career, or maybe, you know, we're slacking at work, or something like that, or losing their jobs.
The absolute rock stars were being affected by this, and so it hit me pretty hard, because I realized just the broad sweeping nature, and how quickly this was affecting so many people.
Personally, I'm self-taught. I have no formal education, didn't graduate college, and I got into design purely out of passion, and during that whole process of building my career, I never really had like much of a structure, or a mentor, or very much help, and so I felt a lot of empathy through this process, because although I hadn't been in the COVID-19 situation directly, I knew what it kind of felt like to not really have much of a support network, and not really know where things were going to go, and to be sort of struck with this unknown.
So I posted a quick message on LinkedIn offering to help, and to help by giving like portfolio reviews, maybe interview prep, maybe just a chance to vent to me about what you were dealing with, and we would do that through a 30 -minute one-on-one video chat, completely free.
I never like would charge for anything like this, and I think that, well, it gained a lot of attention.
People started showing up, many of them offering to help, which was quite interesting to me right off the bat.
In the end, the post got like over 2,700 likes, over 500 comments, 200,000, 250,000 views, something like that, but interestingly, dozens of other people started making posts as well, so it was like this huge network effect where within an hour or so of my post being out there, other people were saying, hey, inspired by this post, I want to do the same thing, and so like beyond just this sort of weird juggernaut of a post that I happened to create, there were so many others that also went viral as well.
It was quite a unique moment, and because of this, we were able to put together a sort of makeshift network of mentors and mentees.
Over 30 people from companies like Google, Facebook, Spotify, Cloudflare, Microsoft, Apple, and more signed up to be mentors as part of this, which I really didn't expect.
I expected people to say, hey, you know, could I take one of those slots to meet with you, but it was really cool to see how many people were like, actually, could I like be one of the people that is meeting with these folks, and so we ended up getting people from all over the world, all different types of backgrounds.
As Rose mentioned, she's a UXR. As Arielle mentioned, she's in marketing, and that allowed us to sort of broaden the reach that we had in terms of like what expertise we could deliver and thus who we could serve through this, and one of the things that struck me the most was that some of the people that were signing up to help were actually unemployed themselves, so total acts of selflessness, people saying, you know, I've been given a bad hand in this whole process, and I want to help other people who have been given a bad hand, and instead of just saying I need to totally focus on fixing my situation, they still took it upon themselves to help other people fix their situations, which I thought was incredible, and obviously, this caught a lot of attention, so soon, like I want to say within a day or so, a guy called Felix Lee reached out to me, and he said, hey, I really like what's happening here.
I want to sort of formalize this as a directory that we could create, and so he and a developer called James Badour, if I'm pronouncing his name correctly, built in a weekend this thing called the awesome amazing design people list, ADP list is how it's referred to for short, and they got hundreds of mentors on this platform.
It got sponsored by Envision, and then all of a sudden, we started seeing other non -profits, universities, companies like Zendesk and PayPal launching their own initiatives around stuff like this, and because of this, hundreds and hundreds of people were reaching out to us looking for mentorship, obviously way more people than I would have ever been able to support by myself, so it was fantastic that because so many people stepped up, we managed to match everybody with a mentor, and to this day, if you go to the LinkedIn post, you can go into all 500 comments and see we've matched everybody that has replied to the thread, which I think is fantastic.
Over 50 countries around the world were represented by mentors and mentees, and we've gotten over 85 reports of jobs landed in the months since.
We've literally been doing this for months now, and one of the things that stood out to me through this is that many people told us that we were really the first folks to acknowledge them, which was quite shocking to me because I think that the design industry sort of really prides itself upon its values of like empathy and caring for other people and empowering people, and to see that so many of the people that reached out to us were actually shocked that we got back to them and that we were going to help them, to me, shows that sort of like the antithesis of what we preach is happening a lot in the design community.
I think there's a lot of hypocrisy that we need to address.
You don't get to claim that empathy is a core value of your industry if you're not willing to care and help people that are more junior than you because you're afraid of them competing with you or something like that, which is the most common excuse that I get.
So I really was just so taken aback by this because I think that we perhaps unintentionally actually made a pretty big impact in changing that, and that's really my biggest hope with this is that it can continue to motivate other people in our position to do the same thing, and I know that many of us, as we were meeting with folks and we were mentoring them, said, hey, the one condition that I have for us to meet is that once you take this advice and all of the other hard work that you're doing and you build your career, that you do the same for other people, junior people, people that have been laid off, people that are career transitioning, when you're in the position to mentor and to give back, and interestingly, that comes a lot earlier than people think.
Students that have just graduated from school have a lot that they can give back to students that have just started design school, for example, so it doesn't mean that you have to have 10 years of experience and some amazing logos on your resume in order to be a huge force of change and inspiration and information for people that are trying to get their footing in this industry.
So, happily, this has continued today amongst almost all of us through our own efforts.
In my case, I'm continuing it through my personal email list, which can be joined at austinknight.com slash updates.
Happy to meet with people that are watching right now.
We've also got a podcast episode that addresses this. If you're interested in that, you can check out the UX and Growth podcast.
I'm personally developing a portfolio guide.
I think many of us realize that we were answering a lot of very, very similar questions over and over and over again, so I'm trying to productize this into something that I can deliver to folks before the mentoring session, and then we can get into the more sort of deeper and niche questions that they may have for their specific situation.
I'll be sharing that via my email list whenever that's ready, but I think the big thing that I learned from this is really that leadership extends far beyond the walls of the office, and that's really what was happening here is we had people stepping up into true positions of leadership.
Everybody that's on this call, and as I mentioned, many people that aren't, and so, again, I'm very humbled to have been a part of this, and, you know, starting out my career, I never thought that I would get to hang out with people like the folks that are on this call and get to do anything with a company and a brand as incredible as Cloudflare, much less be acknowledged in this way, so I really appreciate everything that everybody did here, and I'm so excited to talk to you all watching about, you know, if you are in a leadership position, what you might be able to learn from this, and if you are, you know, recently laid off, if you're career transitioning, if you're a junior designer, what advice we have for you as people who have been through this ourselves, and in the case of almost everybody here who are, you know, hiring designers on a fairly regular basis.
Yeah, I think that's a great segue into our first question that we just got from our audience, and that is really to the group, which is, what are you looking for in a designer's portfolio?
I'm sure this question came up during a lot of our mentorship sessions.
What are some of the answers that you all found yourselves giving when asked?
One that I gave a lot, especially as a user experience designer, is I want to see your process.
It's great that you know how to wireframe and show me a wireframe, but if you're not telling me this story of how you got there, it's pointless.
It's useless to me as a hiring manager, and when I work with, that was probably the biggest thing when looking at portfolios, and when looking at resumes, I would say hard skills are great, but soft skills are just as important.
Great, you know software, but I want to see just as much of those interpersonal skills laid out on your resume.
Those were the two things I said to almost every person I talked to, whether I talked to them through this, or I'm very blessed working at Springboard that they allowed us to donate our mentor hours to scholarship funds, so I'm still doing that kind of work for students who are doing the career change.
So I'm mentoring 20 students right now who are in various stages of their career, and I always have them explain to me their process, because if you walk into an interview and you can't tell me why you did something and how you went about it, it's not going to work for me.
So those are the two big things I noticed in almost every resume and portfolio that I looked at.
Just to add on to what Catherine said there, if you're going to mention something like I conducted for user tests, for example, don't just give us the details about the results of them, but tell us about the challenges that you faced while you were doing those tests.
So like how did you recruit your participants?
You know, what were your interview questions?
How did you come about making those interview questions? You know, did you notice any patterns between your participants' tests?
Were you successful in achieving any of your test goals?
If not, then why? And what do you think the reasons were?
What format was the test conducted? Was it remote? Was it in person?
There's always so much to talk about with each and every point. You can always elaborate on everything.
Another big thing, failure is okay as long as you learn from it.
It's not failure. If something went wrong and you learned something from it, that is just as valuable to talk about to me when I'm looking at something as your successes are.
Because we all fail and I failed yesterday and I failed heinously in this interview and it was awful and I was doing a user test and I totally fell off the reservation.
It was just all over the place.
It was gone and I still fail and I still learn from that. So I always tell students failure as long as you learn from it and you know what you would do differently is just as important to show me because it shows that you're humble.
It shows that you're eager to learn and you know you don't know everything.
I think those are just as important to tell in that because you're learning.
I don't expect to hire a junior designer who has my skill set or a career change designer.
I go into it with a realistic expectation that you're not perfect and it's my job to guide you to learning and growing.
So if you have a way, if you have something that went wrong and you go I'll never do that again, I'll do it differently next time.
That's just as important to show.
Yeah, actually I had an interesting experience where I found it really valuable to actually share my screen and pull up their portfolio and actually just show them like how a recruiter or a hiring manager looks at your portfolio because I think that has a lot of implications for like how to lay it out and how to how to express all of the main points because I find that a lot of portfolios are incredibly verbose and while all that information is super important to Catherine's point like we want to know how you identify the problems and your process for approaching solving them but a lot of that gets buried and lost and so I actually did a survey to find out to sort of like validate my opinions and found that most recruiters spend like three to five minutes on a portfolio and so like with that in mind that's where I would go in and say like look you need to really hone in on like what was the problem you were solving, state that in like one sentence, what did you design to solve that problem, state that again in like one or two sentences and then what was the outcome like you know you identified this problem, you designed something to solve it, did you actually solve it and to Catherine's point like maybe you didn't but what did you learn from that?
There's a great platform called UX Folio that I pointed a lot of students to, it's uxfol.io which is a great platform, it's built by I don't know where they are, they're Europe somewhere but it's a great platform built by UX designers to build portfolios and I use it with my students in teaching as well that gives you these just very quick, very succinct guided questions that get to that level, that get to that level of just answer these questions.
I tell my students in my regular teaching if you just answered these questions that they're asking for each type of work that's all you need and put some nice visuals up and so I pointed a lot of people to that because I think a lot of times it's just they don't know where to get started so they just give you paragraphs.
Yeah another thing with that you know of course adding to the to the learnings of course and you know one thing goes wrong you know and address it and what we learn with it but also something that I noticed that there are the gaps and on the process and we know that there's sometimes especially you know when you work in agencies for example budgets constraints and time constraints or client's preferences or whatever it is or business or politics whatever it is you might not be able to do the process as it's meant to be done and if that happens today you know sometimes we cannot actually validate bring evidence to back your design etc so there are you know you should address that of course in a most diplomatic way but you know things like you know business decisions were to not carry on research at this stage or business decision was to you know postpone that stage but basically it's just to avoid the hiring manager to think that you missed that point that was your omission and rather than you was a constraint and you know we all know that there is a big game of you know compromise when we're designing we're planning so one of the advice I gave also was to address that diplomatically of course don't cite names or anything but don't hide that point.
Yeah also another point that I really you know pointed out in these reviews is that when you're present desk desktop research or you know you spoke to some people you have your observations and then how do you derive these insights out of them and what do you do with those insights are you sticking to just one solution are you showing me a range of solutions so that you know you yourself are then able to figure out whether you know what is it that you are willing to go ahead with so answering these questions and helping the mentees understand how to answer these questions has been a great process and I see I've seen a lot of improvement in their portfolios after we you know actually sat down and tried to link say okay these were insights and based on that we are going to go ahead with this solution because this solution seems to really really cater to whatever we have discovered about our users so I think having that connect along with the process is very important like it gives you the entire story so yeah my advice would be that please stick to your story and make it as soundproof as you can.
Yeah all great advice I look at dozens of portfolios being a hiring manager as well as the managers on my team and my contribution to this conversation and is that I highly recommend that folks consider like the table stakes of design like your work needs to demonstrate a strong sense of typography, color, knowledge of layout, grid, all of the design fundamentals like baseline before I even start looking at the process or what the problems or the KPIs are.
If that baseline of design know-how and skill set are not there then I'll quickly just move on to the next portfolio so that's super important and I think table stakes and I think it's different for I think a lot of people think that their UX portfolio has to be this visual masterpiece and I think I had a lot of those conversations about yes you need to have visually appealing deliverables and it has to look nice but unless you're trying to get a job where that's what you want to do I'm a holistic product designer I came from visual design in the UX and so for me I have both skill sets so when they look at when I want they inevitably want to see my portfolio I say okay you're looking at someone who had 10 years of visual design experience before you went into this so what I look for as a UX designer hiring manager is more process -based where when you're hiring visual designers you're more about those fundamentals so it really is and I'm going to say this again and again and again to people it is two different disciplines we look for two different things and so it's not that you have to decide one or the other I have both projects in my both types of projects in my portfolio because I do both types of work but how I present the work is definitely different as a UX focused designer than a visually design focused design yeah that's a great point I think the other thing too that sometimes gets lost is that you know as a hiring manager I'm actually less interested in what you shipped and I'm more interested in what you did on that team and how you got there I think that was the kind of the piece that kept coming up for me was I want to see kind of who you are and how you work through this more than I want to see output because output is constrained by all the things we've mentioned you know there's technical constraints and there's stakeholders and various things so it's not it's not inherently your idea that you're putting on paper and shipping it's more of how did you contribute to the team to build this thing that went out and how did that thing that you built answer for the problem that you're trying to solve and I think that's kind of what I continually tried to bring back up is like think of it almost like a startup what's the what's the problem why is this problem special how are you solving it why is this solution special to the way it's being solved okay how did you validate that how did you get to that answer and that way like it helps it to kind of take it to that 30,000 foot view the other kind of piece to that is if you kind of back yourself up and give your like a starting point of a couple bullet points and start and start filling in the picture we get really technical as designers we get really into the things that we did and as a hiring manager or recruiter I'm you know I'm three minutes is it's actually a pretty long amount of time to spend on a page in a portfolio from the people I've spoken to so how do I communicate this story of why this was important and what my role is was that um or what my role in that was in like 90 seconds is what I tell people like try and get like a hook and then once they're hooked in that 90 seconds then dig in a little bit more here's my technical craft and know-how of the things I did but it's kind of about that initial pitch of hey here's who I am and why this piece of my portfolio matters so like picking the right project and sometimes that includes failure I'm showing you this because I learned so much from this thing that never shipped that is just as important as I ship something on big name company so that was kind of a kind of a recurring theme that came up with me yeah the hook is such a great point I almost think of the portfolio your portfolio website as the hook itself and once you land the interview is really when you can like drill into all the details on what you accomplished how you got there what the challenges were how you failed who you worked with um so you just need to get them to reach out after seeing your work and then go into all those details yeah and I think for and I think for me as a UX hiring manager I do need to see some of that because our jobs are more process -based you can look at a visual design and say this is on the mark or off the mark but I think for someone like me who's hiring UX focused eight times out of ten when I look at it I have to understand you at least understand how to get to that not at that huge level so what I tell students is their portfolio their first pages of their case their case studies or their portfolio pieces are a table of contents that's how I kind of present that where it's like here's just kind of the general summaries and then if you want to click more and you want to see something else give give more detail on a secondary page is normally what I will tell people so for example the example I give my students a lot is I hire for UX designers if you did the whole process end to end I don't care what you did in research I don't care what you did in strategy I'm hiring you to do wireframes that's what I'm going to go to and that's what I'm going to look at I don't need to see 40 things so that's kind of the analogy I use with my students is that it is definitely kind of just that high level summary but then I also tell them you don't want to lose out if you gain someone's attention in something you don't want to lose out on it there's definitely ways to to have that summary very succinct view and also have links to more complicated deliverables or more complicated processes and and so it's kind of a balance for me and and just seeing yes you know how to wireframe and you know what a persona is versus how you got there I think is more important in a user experience focused role than it is in a visual designer role so it's always it's always finding that balance of your narrative yeah I agree with like pretty much everything that people are saying I think Jessica called out something really important which was you know one of the things that you know we look at too is you know before I even go into portfolio I want to see that you know the layout looks nice that it makes sense that it's responsive that the typography scales and all that type of stuff I always go back to intention and so I like I kind of look at it take it back from like that 30,000 foot view and I ask them you know we have to ask ourselves when we put a we put an image up and we put a paragraph up we put a heading up you know in this case study why is it that I'm I'm showing this right and if I don't have a good enough reason to back that up and to validate my the reason then take it away too many times I'm seeing you know I see photos of people whiteboarding or I see photos of wireframing and all that stuff and I'm gonna assume that you know how to do that and it's totally okay to call that stuff out like as a part of your process like I got to this conclusion or this result as a result of you know whiteboarding and this is what I did in the whiteboarding session I don't really need to see a photo of you whiteboarding I'm just going to assume that you know how to do that and then another thing that a previous mentor actually at Facebook told me when I was looking for a job was really to take the case studies and make them like a movie trailer right I'm hearing today people talk about 90 seconds and three minutes and five minutes the the number that I was given was 60 seconds and so what I tell the the mentees that I work with is how are we going to ask them or how are you going to ask your users the hiring managers that your potential peers and the recruiter for something when you don't give them something first right we need to be look at our portfolios as a as a user experience and I think oftentimes that's neglected so how can we hook them in and so I scale it all the way back to like if if I am you know I see oftentimes I see a paragraph where they talk about the problem and it's four or five sentences and I say okay can we take this four or five sentences and can we put it down to one sentence and if in that one sentence there's two words that someone is going to read what two words are they are they going to be so really kind of just winding it back to intention oftentimes what I like to see is when there's one sentence that describes a problem and there's two words that are bolded so if I'm quickly scanning your portfolio I can connect the dots and the other thing too is the the people that are on your site time manager aren't going to always scroll to the very bottom they may miss a couple things along the way so if they read the first sentence and they see one image are they going to be able to get on a phone call with you and be able to just have that as a point of reference and say you know hey josh I saw this project that you did on design systems and like immediately be able to just reference that and then need to jump into it and kind of cue them off the thing for me that was a game changer was when I cut my portfolios down to a movie trailer I kind of talked about one or two features on the project I didn't try to just dump a bunch of information on the user where I was able to get really granular and I've heard this talked about today is I highly recommend either having a keynote or having a powerpoint and that's a whole nother conversation that I offer to have with people because that's really just the portfolio is in those case studies are really just those movie trailers try to hook them and get your foot in the door and then then you have that opportunity to come on site and talk for 45 minutes about what you want to talk about so that was it yeah that kind of goes into the whole process of like resume hiring manager reviews resume then portfolio you know looks at the portfolio website then they reach out when the person comes in does the interviews the portfolio presentation so it really is like a whole process and the portfolio website is obviously very important it's interesting you put it in that order we look at portfolios before we look at resumes oh really I actually I use the resume as my first litmus test and if it's not well designed then I keep going so we get most of our resumes through a an applicant tracking system so they're all pretty uniform so I'm nine times out of ten gonna go to the portfolio because I think what we do is somewhat I try to make it as much of a meritocracy as I can and and looking at a portfolio and then looking at the work experience I think gives me a little more opportunity to be a little more a little less bias in what I look at and like I said if I if I was getting individual resumes but our resumes and our ATS are very formatted very similar so that kind of takes that that piece of it away from us and again we we are definitely on different sides of the same coin and what we look forward to is you're you're definitely looking at that aesthetic and I'm that's definitely it's it's part of what I look at but not it's it's probably a little lower on my list than it is on yours.
Rose from a research perspective what are some of your thoughts regarding this question?
So this is actually something that I struggle with as a researcher and a lot of people ask me is do researchers even need portfolios because I don't have a design sense I don't I'm not a designer I don't do design and my answer would be you're competing with people who are going to have portfolios and so at the end of the day you need to have something even if it's only a word document it doesn't need to be over designed but going back to everything that people have said today about what needs to go into portfolios what was the problem you were solving what were the steps you took what was the intention behind it all that is important as a researcher as well and at the end of the day if you can speak to it eloquently that's going to mean a lot but you also have something to send into that recruiter that's going to get you that much step farther and put you that much more ahead of the pack and there's a lot of research out there that shows that those sorts of check boxes matter when recruiters are looking at 75 or 750 applicants.
Awesome well I really really love all the enthusiasm everybody had I do want to pivot a little bit to our next question here we're going to shift gears from portfolios and talk a little bit more around how somebody you know who may be just starting out in the industry can really help stand out with their interview process what would be some of your recommendations for an individual in the interview process to showcase their design talents when the only thing they may have behind them is school work or school-based school-based projects.
Well I would just say overall what I find really helpful with my students is practice we practice inevitably on every stage of our projects our program that I teach in traditionally are our six months and 12 month programs and so I make them practice articulating their stuff at every point of the way another get someone get a mentor or someone to interview you and listen to how you talk is a big thing because you'll notice all your catches and all your little things that you can pick up on and stuff but I would say the biggest thing for me is someone confident in what they say and you're only I feel you're only going to get that with practice like I I've been doing this for 20 almost 25 years now and I can walk in and feel confident that I know what I'm talking about I know my process I know my spiel my spiel I know how to say it and that came from hundreds of interviews and showing the same projects multiple times and so I think practicing your practicing your presentations is where I see a lot of my students make those pivots from I'm looking for work till I do I get work I think Catherine mentioned something really important earlier when you talked about hard skills and soft skills so being able to communicate your affinity for both I think is really important both in the portfolio and in the interview process usually actually it's a bit unintuitive but the soft skill will be the area where you can differentiate yourself the most and also up level yourself the most and usually by the time that you get to interviews it's going to be more focused on soft skills we've already verified that you have the hard skills so this is the thing where like a big question I think very many of us got was how do I approach whiteboarding exercises and the trap is that people think it's about hard skills it's actually more about soft skills so that's one piece another that I would say in terms of differentiation that I think is quite interesting especially for junior designers but this really plays out throughout your whole career is a strong presence of self-initiative so for example in that case where you say like all I've got is student projects it's really interesting to me to see when designers still say okay all I have is student projects but I'm also going to volunteer for a non-profit organization and do some pro bono work for them or I'm going to do some work for a small business that's been impacted by this pandemic there's no shortage of them or I'm going to start a side project or do an unsolicited redesign or some spec work of something the folks that decide to go out there and create the opportunities for themselves I think uh set themselves apart because they have this this sort of self-driven uh learner's mindset right and what that tells me is that when I'm working with you that pattern is going to continue and so you're always constantly looking to see okay what is the extra thing that I can be doing and this can manifest itself outside of your work as well right what's the stuff that you're doing outside of the nine to five that's like related to your passion for design I think it's really important if you get into design to be genuinely passionate about it because the folks that are most passionate about it you'll see they end up like writing many of the people here they're writing essays and articles some folks write books other people are teaching workshops and classes and stuff like that and this shows a a serious passion for design but also a thought leadership aspect that you can bring to the table which is one of the greatest values that designers ultimately bring is their approach and their thought when they're dealing with problems and solutions and team dynamics yeah I definitely tell my students go to meetups go to go to seminars show your face to people as much and and be in those situations be in those situations where you can learn but also be in those situations where you're you're out there I think that's networking is the key to getting your big thing you know and and and that shows me I've seen you at two meetups who is that person over there I'm gonna go talk to that person because they're showing initiative and I can tell they're kind of nervous so they're probably new so um my my students in my program get an externship and they get an actual program to actually an actual outside project and I tell them this is the first of many but there's got to be some initiative I will if all things are equal and I see that you've taken that initiative to do non-profit work or you've done that and you're up against a candidate who just isn't like you said I'm gonna hire that person every time um even if it's something small don't think you have to like build the next google you know it's it's not about that it's about showing your love for something and taking it beyond what you've learned it's really what that is I I agree with what Catherine saying especially about being very mindful about how you're networking with folks and really just taking that initiative to show even if you don't have all the experience in the world and you are just coming fresh out of school or you're trying to transition even in the marketing digital marketing world there's a lot of different things that you can do to fill in the gaps on your resume something for me personally that really helped out was getting into apprenticeships with different businesses just to sort of continue getting my feet wet even if I already had experience being humble and putting down your guard and thinking that you're too good for putting yourself out there to help others you know sometimes working for free is not necessarily a weakness it's really showing initiative and you know it shows that you're able to create quality work for others despite the circumstances so I think you know things like apprenticeships can really be helpful for folks within the design aspect but also marketing there's a lot of different programs out there that offer either free or just very like low barrier cost for for getting education and getting the ability to apprentice with businesses something that personally helped me was a company called Acadium they have a free platform of education and you're actually able to get connected with different companies to apprentice with them so that's something I also offer a lot of people that as as a good opportunity to network but get that learn by doing experience I've actually used an Acadium marketer oh nice yeah yeah and and you know there are definitely those opportunities as a UX designer they're a little more challenging to find but I think if you I think that goes back to the networking thing if you're there and you ask I've I have I run an internship program for a client every summer and inevitably one or two people out of this group of 20 to 30 people every summer will come up to me and just say hey I'm interested in working with you after this and nine times out of ten if if they're asked and I have something that I feel I can contribute just the fact that they took initiative I'm like great I'll get you there so um you know I'll get you know because you've shown the initiative I'm willing to work with you you know I don't always get a chance to but you know sometimes if it's just as simple as it you have to learn to put yourself out there as a designer anyway you know a design focused career is constantly putting your heart onto a screen and then putting it out there um you know it's definitely one of those things where your our job is to be vulnerable because we're putting a creation we created out there so start doing that in your job search it's going to do you well overall I think another thing to remember too is I I saw more folks coming from mid and early career pivots than I did directly out of school and so I think that the key to remember too is like transferable skills everything you've done isn't just immediately gone and so if you come from sales or you come from marketing or engineering or you know another aspect you bring advantages that I don't um and so it's like I think think about it that way it's like people aren't looking for I want another UX designer that fits x mold they're looking for someone that complements their team with the gaps that they currently have and so the extra skills that you have beyond kind of the base level those are those things that will fill that space um so I come from an unconventional background and that was actually how I kind of got into this is um transferring from doing psychological operations in the army which is significantly different than user experience design but there was a significant amount of overlap in transferable skills and so actually a very easy transition in that context and it was just kind of taking a step back to say hey I don't know everything but I can contribute in these ways while I learn these other things I think it's identifying what are the things that you can really contribute and hone in on whilst you're learning the other skills you need to be kind of up level to that next step really quickly with the time that we have left I do want to tee off one final question for Josh around design systems we had a viewer ask specifically when entering an interview where you're trying to kind of up level to a company that might be a bit more mature from an org functionality how can you speak to design systems effectively when you may only have experience using you know at best a mixed bag of components here and there oh this is such a good question yeah and I get this question a lot actually okay so and I'll try to answer this question in the next 60 seconds um you know when we look at design systems and how they're becoming wildly more popular just in the last five years um there's really in my mind in my opinion there's really two types of consumers or types of people or designers that interact with design systems right there's the consumers of design system and then there's the contributors or the creators and they're also going to be consuming the design system I think really it's about showing that um you don't have to show that you've worked with an enterprise level design system but it does help to show that you do know how to work with components um and more times than not it's going to be working with uh within like figma working within sketch um and just showing intentionality and showing that you're reusing those what I like to see is if you're showing me a case study and in that case study you're talking about one specific feature let's say of a music app um just start to break that um screen down into individual components and then maybe talk about those so like things that I like to call out is accessibility um I like to call out are these components are they modular flexible and reusable components um things like that um are really important so just uh breaking out them into little pieces think about them like legos and then just document them and especially accessibility uh too many times I ask the question to ask the designer that I'm interviewing or working with you know can you define accessibility and they don't know what I'm talking about um which is totally okay um but reference the WCAG guidelines when you're uh you know talking about a button a touch base contrast ratio all that stuff um so I think that just just breaking it down and referencing those components awesome thank you everyone this has been such an incredible conversation I think we need to do a follow-up episode just because there we can just keep going for hours I think so absolutely and I will get that going again thanks everyone for joining and we'll do this again soon