Here we are: experienced, passionate, skilled, searching for work that feels meaningful. And yet the work we want to do is floating around somewhere in the distance, just out of sight. With seventy percent of us experiencing imposter syndrome at some point in our careers, we either don’t know what we want to do and so fall back on what’s comfortable, or we know what we want to do and don’t feel qualified to do it. We’ve got to get over this feeling that we’re not enough, starting with the notion that we must be a perfect match for a job on paper.
Let’s make a pact right now: we’re going to put less energy into finding the “appropriate” job match and more energy into selling ourselves creatively.
Staying open to possibilities
First thing for us to keep in mind: we’re qualified for far more types of jobs than we can even imagine. So many job roles exist now that didn’t exist five or ten years ago, such as UX writer and Chief Skills & Learning Officer, and more will continue to crop up.
On the website Flexjobs.com, you can search for on-site or remote jobs in over 50 categories, from Advertising & PR to Software Development to News & Journalism. There are even freelance opportunities in categories you’d never expect, such as Transcription and Retail.
Make a mental note to stay open-minded and track these types of jobs down.
On the other hand, sometimes the insecurity comes from realising you might need a bit of professional development (e.g. learning a new software program) before feeling comfortable in a new role. Don’t let that slow you down either.
If a job description sounds eighty percent like you, but lists a few preferred qualifications you don’t have, apply anyway. The keyword here is “preferred.” Employers often create idealistic lists of requirements to weed out less confident applicants. You can always research, supplement your work with an online course here and there, and learn on the job. Trust yourself to grow into the role and pick up the extra skills you need along the way.
Plus, you already have transferable and additive skills. Transferable skills are skills you picked up from a previous job which may have been in a different industry but still apply to a new job role. One example would be the management experience you’d take from a Social Media Manager role to a Product Manager role. Additive skills are special skills you can bring to the new role that others can’t. Maybe the network or following you grew as a Social Media Manager would help you stand out from other Product Management candidates who aren’t as well-connected.
Note, too, that informal experience counts for a lot. Even if you haven’t been paid to do something you spend a lot of time on, like travel blogging or coaching, you still know how to do it and probably should be paid for it. Take stock of all the skills you have developed that could be valuable to a company in ways they might not expect. Employers are increasingly looking for candidates with different backgrounds who can bring interdisciplinary chops to the table.
Finally, intention and passion are the most valuable skills you can cultivate.
Danielle LaPorte, CEO of a seven-figure lifestyle brand and a former Washington DC-based think tank director who consulted with the Pentagon (and who, incidentally, never went to uni), once said: “Your passion is your qualification. It’s your leading qualification.”
Hardly anyone has taken a predictable, linear path to the place they’re at now. Sometimes opportunities fall into our laps; other times we find creative ways to make things happen for ourselves. Below are the stories of four professionals who took interesting, unexpected routes to get to where they are now.
Surprising career pivots
Linguist to UX Writer
Kati Hoeschen, UX Writer at Nordstrom in Seattle, USA
“Like most UX writers, my background was a winding road of wordy interests—Italian language, linguistics, translation—until I found technical writing and help content. I loved the challenge and valued of good help content, but I was frustrated at the missed opportunities in the product itself. I was so happy to find out about product content strategy and UX writing because it’s the chance to help the user on the first go. I think my first product team got tired of hearing me ask, ‘What if we update the tool so the user doesn’t need this help content?’ And since I’ve had a seat at the table, it’s been my mission to be a part of the content strategy and UX writing communities.
For content writers transitioning into UX writing, I’d recommend that these writers consider context first and always. Content creators can get snagged by thinking that content is modular, but that’s not usually true. Instead, I understand the user flow first, and then identify the user and business needs in that context.
Credentials are helpful, but I don’t think they’re necessary. I never worked as a UX designer or copywriter. If you’re transitioning into UX writing, I’d recommend reading up on the fundamentals of UX and studying UX writing as deeply as possible. Torrey Podmajersky’s new book, Strategic Writing for UX, is a great read for that. You should also focus on assembling a portfolio that highlights your UX thought process.
UX writing portfolios generally live on a website or are shared with a PDF. Don’t spend tons of time or money on a sexy website—instead invest your time in laying out your process and ideas in a clear and logical way.”
Psychologist to UX Researcher
Ananda Nadya, UX Researcher at Tokopedia in Jakarta, Indonesia
“Near my end of study time in university, I had an identity crisis where I knew that I wouldn’t fit the popular jobs that were commonly available for a psychology graduate (i.e. HR, psychologist or statistician).
I originally wanted to become a psychologist, but it’s an occupation that takes time and resources, as psychologists in Indonesia need to have at least a master’s degree to practice. So I decided to do something more pragmatic, that could provide good ROI for me and my parents.
I still checked the popular opportunities for psychology students, such as HR. I tried it and found that I disliked it. I even tried another job in the Public Relations, but sadly, it didn’t fit me either.
My first encounter with UX happened thanks a random meeting with my friend, who was in the computer science faculty. They were looking for a psychology graduate to work on some IT problems that would need a human-centric approach.
I didn’t know what career to pursue, so I felt like I had nothing to lose. I gave it a try, without really knowing what the role was all about.
It turned out the IT company that my friend referred me into, was a venture company that was looking for UX research intern. The role wasn’t common in Indonesia in 2017. I got accepted because I had done a freelance project, helping my mentor on his thesis regarding the use of applications.
I had no formal skills in UX, but I had informal experience, due to the random work I’d done as a university student, helping out friends and mentors finding participants for their thesis.
When I got in the office, I didn’t know much at first. I didn’t understand what a UX researcher does. Fortunately, the workplace environment was very nice. They offered me a proper on-boarding, with a series of workshops and presentations from experts during the course of one week.
My supervisor also encouraged me to read several must-read books regarding product development and UX, such as Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, Hooked by Nir Eyal, and Inspired. Moreover, she always ask me and the rest of the interns to attend free startup events with her, to hear experts’ opinions.
From there, it became a habit for me to go to free events, as there are fortunately quite a lot here in Jakarta, Indonesia, to find inspiration from experts and to network.
From these new encounters, I received good recommendations for books, seminars and classes. I began taking classes, seminars or workshops to sharpen my skills in UX.
I then created a solid Linkedin profile and tried to befriend many UX experts through LinkedIn. Once they accepted me as their connections, my feed became filled with UX-related content, teaching me about the latest trends happening in Indonesia and around the world.
I started to repost articles on trending UX topics. I put down my thoughts and opinions, and waited to see if anybody responded. Which did happen! By publishing articles, I made more network connections and gained more recognition.
So I would say that after all, changing jobs was not so scary. You just have to know where to look for opportunities, where to learn, and more importantly, how to sell your profile – which is a mix of knowledge, eagerness to learn, and talking to the right people.”
Slam poet to voice user interface writer
Matthue Roth, UX & VUI Writer at Google in New York
“I think I was doing UX writing before I realised it was UX writing. I was a novelist who’d been asked to write for a video game. The game’s directors said they wanted a literary tone, and I realized about 5 steps in that what the game needed was to be tighter, not wordier.
After that, I worked on more games with the same team. I really learned to appreciate the sparseness of language, and how the fewer words we use, the greater the impact. Writing spoken language was even more powerful. When I wrote spoken strings for the Google Assistant, we were acutely aware of word density—every syllable was another fraction of a second that we had to hold our users’ attention, that they might lose their internet connection, or zone out, or change their minds.
Each UX writing job is reskilling, in a way—you’re creating a new connection between the technology and the user, and you have to start from scratch each time. So I don’t think I’ve ever consciously had to stop and reskill, but at the same time, I think I’m constantly reskilling.”
Musician to Service Designer
Richard Easton, Service Designer at Telstra in Melbourne, Australia
“Initially I was a musician, so my focus was sounds (and words). When I decided to get ‘a real job’ all I could see was middle management or manual labour (both of which I had done plenty of). Then a friend suggested I try a professional writing course to harness my talent, so I followed an online course in Melbourne. That led me to copywriting and it felt like a good fit.
I think it’s super important to stay as close to what interests you as possible, even if it feels like a wandering trajectory. I liked being a copywriter but I was always arriving at the end of the design process: “Hey mate, we need some words here that describe what the customer has to do next.” And I used to think, “They should have been told earlier, or they shouldn’t need to do all these steps.”
After a few years of that I became frustrated that people weren’t designing things properly, so I started asking more questions, questions many people don’t like hearing, like “Have you spoken to any customers about this?” and “Maybe you need to wait a few months before releasing this product.”
With some mentoring, I started running workshops so I could understand what was inhibiting good design and good customer experiences. I leveraged design tools from designers and read online articles about design thinking. Apparently, I had become a Service Designer.
Ironically, I sometimes use the working backwards method and write a future-state email or press release to understand how to best start the design process. So, the skills you pick up along the way always come back. My advice to anyone evaluating their career is to embrace a wandering trajectory but stay close to what makes you feel right.”
We don’t need more formal education; we need more self-reflection and creativity. Let’s stop pining after our dream positions and starting doing them now, before we feel completely ready. As the inspiring transformational coach Jazmin Medrano once said, “If an opportunity comes your way, you’re ready for it.”
Author: Saga Briggs.
Saga Briggs is a journalist covering trends in learning, creativity, intelligence, and educational technology. Follow her @SagaMilena