Let me start with a question: What do you think is the most sought-after skill by a hiring manager looking to onboard a Product Designer? You are probably thinking about impeccable UI skills, ravaging animations, or the ability to come up with the most incredible idea, no matter the context or the deadline. And while you are not totally wrong about this (as the skills that pertain to the craft are necessary), they are not the ones that make the difference. Some of you might have been thinking differently and arrived at soft skills like communication, teamwork, and leadership.
When looking for the best candidates, hiring managers want a good mix of skills from both buckets, but is there a perfect mix out there? What’s the recipe?
Here’s what I propose today: let’s consider three skills to be the most sought-after ones, not because they can guarantee a job in isolation, but because they shape other skills or make them more visible.
I’ve always been the type who would try new things in a restaurant before deciding what she likes to order again. Or that person who would start writing an article and publishing it immediately, not thinking about the number of claps, likes, or comments from the start. I always wanted to see where things would take me. Combined with a healthy dose of risk assessment, I was always ready to put my toe in the water and decide afterward the style of swimming I should adopt.
In a career transition, when all bets and eyes are on you, being the person with the raised hand can undoubtedly give you opportunities and trust. One of the most underrated skills is the willingness and ability to move the needle without waiting for permission. To have the courage to move things forward, to do the right thing, without hiding behind the wall of approvals, permissions, or specific asks and KPIs. This shows passion for the field, courage, accountability, and energy, traits a lot of Design managers or clients are looking for.
If you’ve never been told by a mentor or boss to “ask for forgiveness, not permission,” then you’ve been done a disservice. I was lucky enough to hear this, which aligned perfectly with my understanding of life and work.
Putting yourself there, trying something, anything, left me surprised to see that most of the time, all my worries were for nothing. Sending a letter to the company I wanted to work for resulted in a friendly reply and me landing in their database; putting my work out there was met with great feedback, and asking for time and taking the time to focus on something specifically actually paid off.
How to practice this?
- Is there any concept you would like to master and think you are not doing enough? Start doing it, whether it’s in the program or not. Do you feel you would benefit more from working on your presentation skills? Start doing that and present in front of people as often as possible.
- Do you know how to build a better flow or functionality? Lay down the idea, test it and discuss it with others. It might be a great one. If not, nothing in Design is thrown away, just improved.
- Do you feel ready to do more than what’s expected from you? Start doing things, set them in motion, and show them to others.
Not waiting for the “perfect moment”
Never underestimate the power of iteration. Whether it helps you unleash your creativity or shows you the way to the best solution, the ability to avoid being stuck with your first idea is crucial. Designers should shift away from the “one big launch mentality” and focus on improving their daily work.
Sharing your work in stages and as much as possible allows you to adjust the strategy in a more helpful way, receive valuable feedback and insights and overall deliver a better final product. It can also help identify potential issues or gaps in understanding early in the process instead of sitting on them.
How to practice this?
- Seek input from others as often as possible to help you judge and edit your ideas. It’s challenging to create and edit simultaneously, so sometimes, it’s better to invest your energy in creating and look to others to help with the editing.
- Put your work out there even if it is not perfect (spoiler: it might never be anyway). Showing your work only when you think it is perfect is like hiding money for years under the mattress: at some point, you realize they’ve lost its value.
You just learned something or finished a project, and all you want to do is to move on. Close the laptop and embrace what’s next. But it would do a significant disservice to move on from something without taking inventory of what went wrong, what went right, and what you would change in the future.
“Those who don’t learn from history tend to repeat it” is a well-known saying which can also be applied to design. So how can we remain connected to our thoughts, learn from our mistakes and make better decisions?
How to practice self-awareness?
- The main instrument I use is writing. I created a habit of posting an article each Monday, allowing me to reflect on the past week during the weekend and make mental notes for what comes ahead.
- When you want to react defensively, work doesn’t go as well as yesterday, or you feel off, take a couple of moments to think about why things are happening. You will often learn that you did nothing wrong, and a defensive or sudden reaction might do more harm than good.
- Ask for feedback. Others can see us more objectively than we can see ourselves, and getting insights from them can help us know more about ourselves.
We all hear the UX industry is saturated. The first months of learning are dominated by insecurities, imposter syndrome, and an insatiable habit of applying to dozens of jobs, saying yes to everything, and hoping that one day, you’ll be lucky enough to get that job. This path is different for everyone; priorities and needs will vary, as well as the roles or industries tackled. But from my experience, as long as you put yourself out there, keep your curiosity alive and use self-awareness to keep yourself grounded and make better decisions, you will find yourself designing for an actual project sooner than you think.