500 Words, Day 26 / by dan turner

Yesterday I listed some of my own failures of this year, and why I was sharing them: to encourage others to help counter the social-media atmosphere that selects for bragging and pseudo-bragging, which can make your own failures seem rare and shameful, rather than learning experiences. Today I'll talk about some of the specific things the delineated fails taught me about the UX job search process.

1. It's an uncomfortable thing to realize and to say, but the job search process is like dating, in so many sad and awkward ways. (Note: Do NOT share this observation in an actual job interview. It just ramps up the awkward.) Dating sites can run any number of sophisticated algorithms and, as Jaron Lanier points out, we can try to believe them, but as dating comes down to the person and interactions, so is the job search about them wanting or not wanting to hire the person. Of course the person has to meet some minimal requirements in skills and competence, but that's not the closer. Work on being a mensch, and on listening, and on enthusiasm. If you can't be genuine, learn to fake it.

2. This "person, not skills/resume/+3 Intelligence" fact puts all of us into double bind situations. Double binds are horribly distressing scenarios where someone is being given conflicting or contradictory demands: a lover saying "hold me, but don't touch me", or a cat showing both its fuzzy belly and claws. We see little but listings for unicorn designers who have MOMA-level graphic design, a mastery of all UX research methods, and have built our own microkernels from scratch (see github). The same about expressing the willingness to learn. The portfolio and resume are all; they are nothing. There's no way I know to avoid this sword of Damocles, but you can try to ignore it: Have the best work to show, but don't think it speaks for you as a person.

3. So many jobs come from stupid networking. I resisted this for so long because I had this idea (from my years of journalism) that The Work is All, and I still suck at it. The other night I spoke with a twentysomething who has only an internship under her belt, but she's received twice as many job offers in the last six months than I've had interviews. And she told me she never applies to jobs she sees listed online: "I don't have the work to show". Her secret? She goes to conferences and is wicked charming. I don't have tips for how to do this well, and how not to be blatant. I'd love to hear some.

4. If your interviewer starts saying how he or she doesn't like something of yours, don't let the jolt of adrenalin shake you. One interview went pear-shaped because of this. I've since realized that if an interviewer is "disliking", they need to learn critique language from Chuck Jones.

And that's 500 words.