How to Take Your Career in UX to the Next Level

Paul Boag

Whether you are looking to begin a career as a user experience designer, or progress to the next level, there is one crucial component that will make it happen.

This post is sponsored by Vettery

People are always asking me about a career in UX. Students write to me asking how they can get their first job, and more experienced people want to know how I managed to progress my career to the point I am at today.

Previously, I have struggled to answer them. How I got into user experience design back in 1994 bears no relevance today, and my career progression felt like as much luck as it was good judgement.

However, more recently, I have begun to notice something that I do, which looking back was a significant component in whatever success I have today — I participate.

The Importance of Participation

In any professional setting, you will never see me just sitting on the sidelines. I am always there contributing ideas and amplifying the contributions of others.

I have learned that from a professional perspective, no person is an island. We need others to succeed and progress. If you want success in your UX career, you cannot be the lone wolf; you need to engage others.

We improve through participation. By getting stuck into challenges with others, we learn from them and have our working practices tested. We see problems from new perspectives and encounter different ways of working.

But participation also shows others what we can do and helps them appreciate that. Through participation, others get to see you in action. That increases your visibility and also helps people recognise your value.

In short, participation improves your abilities and helps you get noticed.

If you want to progress your career in UX, you will need to participate more, and that can happen both in and outside, of your workplace.

How to Participate at Work

I am often surprised by how passive many UX professionals are at work. Instead of actively promoting how they can bring value to the business or engaging with stakeholders and business units, they wait for people to approach them.

Even when stakeholders do engage them, they tend to limit their comments to areas they feel are directly related to their role, afraid to step on other people’s toes.

If you want to progress your career in UX, you need to learn to be brave, to express opinions and step you outside of your comfort zone. If you do so with sensitivity and coming from a place of collaboration rather than confrontation, people will appreciate your proactiveness.

In particular look for opportunities where your skills as a UX professional can help a colleague meet their business objectives. Perhaps you could help HR design a better timekeeping system so that people actually complete their timesheets, or maybe you could help marketing create more user-centric campaigns.

If your colleagues don’t take you up on these offers, that is okay. The act of offering increases your profile in the organisation and establishes you as a helpful, proactive person.

It is also an excellent opportunity to learn. It is a chance to understand better the roles of colleagues and how the business works in a broader sense. That will give you the knowledge and expertise that will be necessary to operate at a higher organisational level.

That all applies to those of you who work on the agency side too. Clients love suppliers who are proactive with suggestions as long as you present those ideas with sensitivity, rather than going for a hard sell. They feel they are getting added value from you.

Also, don’t feel confined by the brief you have received. Yes, respond to the brief, but don’t stop there. If you see other ways of approaching the project or identify other areas that need addressing, do not be shy to say so.

However, whether in-house or external, always listen intently to the feedback you get. When people reject your ideas, listen to why and don’t get discouraged. Often they have good reasons, and if you pay attention, you will learn so much that will make your future comments more informed.

The more informed you are, the more valuable your contribution will be and the more in demand you will become.

That said, sometimes you will find yourself at a company that doesn’t nurture proactiveness or even actively discourages it. If that is you, I encourage you to look elsewhere.

UX professionals are in way too much demand to stay in a company that doesn’t appreciate you. Heck, there are even services like our sponsor Vettery who have big names lining up to hire you.

Not that you need to limit your participation to your place of work. You can also improve your involvement further afield too.

How to Participate Outside of Work

If you want to take your career in UX to the next level, you will need to look outside of your immediate circle. That is where you learn new skills and potentially meet your future employer.

Make an effort to attend conferences and meetups. When you do, speak to people! It is easy to hide in the corner and sneak out unseen. However, the benefit of these events is in meeting people. Yes, listening to the talks is good, but you can learn that stuff online.

It is the casual conversations where the real value lies. The chance to hear about how others do your job and how they overcome the challenges you face. It is an opportunity to ask questions and get feedback.

What is more, participating in these events regularly often leads to job offers as you become known within the community.

With thousands of UX meetups around the globe, there is almost certainly one near you. A site like Meetup will almost certainly find one within easy travel distance. However, if not, there are no shortage of online communities too. You might even want to join the Boagworld Slack Channel. We would love to have you join us.

Progress your career in UX through Meetup Events
Attending and participating in local meetups is a great way to progress your career in UX.

If the idea of making small talk at a meetup fills you with terror, consider attending a hackathon or take part in an open-source project instead. By having a specific project you are working on together, you can avoid the small talk, but still start collaborating, learning and expanding your network. There is no excuse and no reason that you cannot growing your career in UX.

Finally, whether inside or outside of work, I would encourage you to share what you know.

Share What You Know

When you look at the people who have the most successful careers in UX, they share one thing in common, they share what they know. They write books, blog and speak at events. They don’t do this because they have a successful career in UX. Doing that made them successful in the first place.

Many people believe that they cannot do those things because they don’t have the expertise. They think that because they don’t have anything unique to say or because others know more, that what they have to say has no value. That is not true.

Nothing written on a blog or shared at a conference is new. This article isn’t original. All you can hope to do is share your perspective on a subject. That is what matters.

I don’t care how junior you are or how little you feel you know; I would encourage you to share it. It is by sharing it that you participate in the broader community, and that is what will build your reputation and advance your career.

A Scary Prospect

I realise that for many people, the idea of participation can feel intimidating. It means expressing an opinion and risking being wrong. It risks criticism.

It is okay to be wrong. I am still regularly incorrect even after 23 years in this industry. However, if you do not take that risk and keep your head down, you will never learn and never progress in your career.

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About Our Sponsor

Vettery is an online hiring marketplace that is changing the way people hire and get hired. We use machine learning and real-time data to match talented job-seekers with inspiring startups, Fortune 500 firms, and more. Working across 19 major cities in North America, the UK, and Ireland, we help top developers, designers, and data scientists make bold career moves every day.