If you have zero interest in moving up, getting more responsibility or making more money, save the energy and skip this post. This information is also pretty useless if you’re career path is in the startup world.
But if you’re working in a large company or agency and have ambitions of moving up, let’s talk about how you can … without sleeping with your boss, backstabbing colleagues, lying or blackmailing anybody.
Wherever your are in your career right now, we’re moving up one step at a time. If you’re a UX Designer, focus on becoming a Senior UX Designer. If you’re already in a senior role, you’re looking to become a UX Lead or UX Principal… and so on. Jumping 5 levels would be nice but it’s rather unlikely. So you’re focus should be on preparing for your next role.
Preparing for your next role
I want to preface this discussion by saying you should be good at your current job before you really start preparing for the next gig. Once you’ve met a level of competence, you can start dedicating 25-50% of your personal development time to the future. If you’re not up to par with your peers… don’t try to get your bosses job. You’re wasting your time.
You should be competent in your own job before you try to go after your bosses.”
Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, how do you prepare for the next level? In a lot of ways, you can only do so much. If you’ve never been a UX Architect, it’s hard to become world class at it. You can however get as prepared as possible.
1. Review job descriptions
First, I would get my hands on job descriptions for the position you want. It’s amazing… companies tell you exactly what they’re looking for. Yet most people hardly read them. Comb through those things. Print them out and highlight skills, experiences or topics you’re the weakest at. If you don’t even know what something means… that’s a sign you need to spend some time with it.
2. Chat with people that are where you want to be
After I had a basic understanding of what the role is, I would talk with people currently in that role (or even their bosses) to learn as much as you can. Don’t limit yourself to your current company. Go to meetups, conferences, reach out to people on Twitter or LinkedIn, and offer to take them to lunch or coffee. Consider it an investment in your development.
When you do get to sit down with these people, ask a lot of questions (within reason) and listen. Take notes if they’re ok with it. People love talking about themselves and what they do. Take advantage of this and heck you might even make a friend.
3. Assess your current skills vs. needed skills
You need to be ruthlessly honest with what you need to work on. If you don’t have something in your skill set, start with getting a basic text book knowledge of the subject (i.e., google it and read everything you can), and then get some hands on experience with it. This may not always be possible but you definitely need to try.
Establishing goals with milestones for developing new skills is a great step to ensure it actually happens.
For example, you’re a Senior UX Designer and are looking to become a UX Lead. A big part of the position might be something like project management (PM). If you don’t have PM experience, look for opportunities at work or in side projects to manage a project.
Asking to take on additional responsibility at work is a great way to get on your bosses radar for potential promotion. Heck you might even get to a point where you’re doing the next level job before you officially get the title.
Your goal with this is to be prepared for the role and the interview process for it. Ideally, you’d have both a deep knowledge of what it takes to do the job and real world experience doing it. Lying or exaggerating about your experience or knowledge to get a job is just asking for trouble. So be prepared. Really.
You may not feel (or actually be) ready for the next role yet, but the interview experience will only make you better. It’s good to think of these stretch interviews as practice tests for future reference. Take notes immediately afterwards when things are fresh in your memory. Review any questions that really threw you. Follow up with the interviewer(s) and ask for feedback… you may want to do this only after you’ve been dispositioned for the role. You should use every interview as a learning experience.
Once you do get a bite, you’ll be in a great position to evaluate the opportunity and prosper in the role. Then you’re in a position to rinse and repeat…
This process works for almost every job on the planet. You may notice I didn’t discuss timeframes. Most experienced people will try to not be in the exact same role for more than 2 years. You need to be growing your skills and responsibility level. But that’s just a guideline and some people get more opportunities than others.
There’s certainly some serendipity needed as well, especially at the higher levels. Don’t get impatient. Enjoy the process. You do this for a living because you love the field.
Ready for more?
I’m writing a book with everything I’ve learned from over a decade of working at the intersection of technology and design. It’s going to be packed with practical and actionable tips for getting into UX Design, getting your first job (or your dream job), and managing your career going forward. Learn More >>