You’re looking for a new team to join …

… and it’s been some time since you’ve done that.

Maybe you aren’t sure where to begin or what team you should be looking for. You only know that where you currently are isn’t worth it anymore.

Maybe you’re angry about a few things. Maybe your boss doesn’t have enough time to talk to you. Maybe you haven’t been to a professional conference in years. Maybe you don’t learn enough. However valid these points may be, they hint at something deeper. At your unsatisfied needs. And there might be more than you can tell just from the top of your mind.

How much did you explore your needs? Can you clearly tell what is it — in your current context — that you do not have that makes you dissatisfied. There’s a great quote by Astro Teller that describes this situation. And the way you could be handling it. He said:

I believe everyone here is a moonshot thinker in your hearts. I believe most of us is not in a context where we can be as open minded, as honest, as dispassionate when appropriate as authentic as we want to be, as our natural selves would be. And I think you need to ask your context for that opportunity. And if it’s really not going to give it to you, be humble, try a few times. And if it doesn’t work, go find a new context. You all deserve to be able to let the best part of yourselves out.

Sometimes just realising what is going against your needs and being able to express it might improve the situation for you. Other times you do not want to try anymore. You decided to explore other opportunities. And you started looking for a new team to join.

Now the next question you'll likely come across is — What's the right team for you to join? And how to discover that as soon as possible? Possibly even before you join?

It’s good to mention that I’ve started my career as a software developer that transitioned quite early (after only three years) into design roles. So the teams I was looking for — since 2006 — were looking for a designer.

Described in this article is a framework that I put together and started using to help me choose a team to join that would match my needs and preferences. It’s called Work-Drag-Cash (práce-pruda-prachy in Czech). Let me introduce you to it and how to plug it into the usual job search process.

Work

One pillar of your happiness is how much you enjoy what you do. Will your duties be filling you with excitement? How challenging will your assignments be? Will you be able to choose them or will they be defined by circumstances beyond your control?

When preparing my search for a new team what helped me to focus on this area was to think about the jobs I liked. What projects excited me. Answering the questions similar to the ones below helped me better understand what kind of challenge I was looking for.

  • Were longer projects more enjoyable than shorter ones?
  • Working alone or working with a large team?
  • Working with a stable team or working for “clients” (internal or external)?
  • Doing a specific job or being able to try out many roles?
  • Having a clear path ahead or exploring as you go?
  • Improving a product or defining a new one?
  • Generating ideas or synthesizing them?
  • Drawing? Sketching? Prototyping? Testing? Interviewing?

If you’ve got more questions emerging in your head, that’s okay. Just take your time and write them down. All of them. It's important to get them out so you can see them. Seeing is easier than remembering.

Formulating these questions should make it easier to discover what is it that you want to learn next. The brain needs to learn. And I figured it out the hard way …

After almost 5 years in an interaction design job at HP Software, I went on a short business trip to Tel-Aviv. And coincidentally bought a Hebrew for beginners book at the airport on my way back. A nice one with an MP3 CD included. I copied the MP3s to my computer before I boarded the plane and started to learn.
One month later I stopped and asked myself: “Why are you devoting one hour per day learning Hebrew when the chance that you will go back is so slim?”. And I puzzled. I had no answer to that simple question. This made me extremely curious about why I behaved in this way.

The answer for me lay in Dan Pink’s book “Drive”. It explained the source for my intrinsic motivation. The first pillar of happiness at work — for me as well as for you — will be built on things you learn. On things that help you grow. On things you will get better at.

Drag

“It’s not just what you know (or do) but who you know.” — a wise person

And who you work with. Not only your success at your new place but also your happiness will depend on the people you surround yourself with. Saying “culture” and being done with it won’t help you understand what you’re looking for. You’ve got to get much more precise than saying there's no “culture fit”.

Also, this chapter is called “drag” because that’s exactly what you have to avoid. The original Czech “pruda” is a slang word that could be translated as unpleasant boredom with added minor inconveniences. Something that drags on but you have to endure.

In addition to your boss (who is supposedly the #1 factor influencing your happiness, engagement, and satisfaction at work) you should also consider your immediate team, peers, department and ultimately the whole company. So what should you be looking for, specifically? These are some of the things I was interested in when looking for a new team:

  • What’s the perceived level of acceptable risk?
  • How is feedback handled? How often is it given?
  • How often do your superiors ask for feedback?
  • How open can you be (radical candor, perhaps)?
  • How often will you meet your peers (UX team of one)?
  • How do people around you share what they know with each other?
  • What is the role of design in this company? Design led? Design last?
  • How happy are people around the company?

Be sure to capture any additional questions that popped up after reading this list. And yes, these questions aren't the ones you will be asking at the interview. They're representative of what you want to learn — also known as “research goals”.

Also at this point you will probably also have a list of roles that you would like to understand better. Who are the groups of people you will collaborate with? Work together on projects? Write them down as well. They'll come in handy in the interview phase. Or better said in the research execution phase.

Did I do that? Every single time. And a question I tend to ask is: “What are places nearby you go out to have lunch.”

Cash

Buck. Moonies. Moolah. Dough. Money has a lot of names. Some live for it. Some say we would be better off without it (my 9yo son recently asked if just exchanging goods wouldn't be better).

You need as much as you think you need. If you think you’re not getting enough then this thinking will be done instead of thinking about the job you’re supposed to do. And that’s never good.Also if you get a raise, you'll adapt. You'll just get used to it. In a few months there will be no residual happiness. It's called the Adaptation bias.

How much should you ask for?

If you describe your skill-set as a UX designer you can call yourself lucky. We're currently living through times with great demand for these kind of digital design skills.

In some geographic areas the demand is currently higher than the supply. And that means the amount you can ask goes up.

How much in absolute numbers you should ask is a really good question. Most advice I got is to ask about 5–10 % higher than I had. Or at least adjust for inflation rate. Right? It depends. Maybe your previous place was really paying below or above market prices. In that case you have to scout out to adjust your expectations and see what does the market look like. What's the going rate for a skillset and experience similar to yours.

Less money? You're kidding, right?

Sometimes you will come across an option to take a less paying job. This happened to me. Twice. The biggest difference in a salary I chose to accept was about -33 %. And it was not an easy decision. Nor was it only mine to make. We decided that together — my wife and me. And it took more than a week to reach that decision. So if I were you I'd plan some time to settle that.

The mindset that helped me was to treat it like a bargain. You get something and give something up in return. Is it worth it? For me it was. I got the possibility to learn usability testing by doing. On the other hand it required some adjustments in my living standards to make it sustainable in the long run. Nonetheless the relationship proved unsustainable after a year. And not just for financial reasons.

So how much?

Enough to live by. And also try to avoid raising the amount once you enter the negotiations. Get in with a number and be prepared to go down. Not up.


So you got a nice list of questions that you think matter to you? Good! Now, these define your research goal. You want to learn the answers to those. Unfortunately — as it is with most research goals — just asking the questions will not get you the answers.

If research is not your specialty you can use this list of question types to convert your goals to questions you want to ask.

The opportunities

So where do you go to learn about the jobs that are available? It depends. And I'm probably not the best person to ask. Unless you're a UX designer and live in the Czech Republic. Then your best bet would be to check the usual local design boards.

Your second best option is to ask around the community. Around here the community is pretty closely knit together. I'd wager you could reach everyone by going through 1.1 degrees of separation. It feels like that at least. So the more people know about what you can do the easier it is for you to actually find a new job should you want to do so. And that's one of the benefits you get by connecting yourself to the community. By becoming a part of some professional group or participating in our UX Design Professional development programme at UXWell [english version unavailable at the moment] where you'll personally meet some of the most experienced local professionals.

The interview

After you pick a few places that intrique you it's time to plan ahead for the interview. You have your list of questions to satisfy your research goals.

You send a few e-mails do one or two phone calls and you're invited to an interview. Most probably this will be group session where some of your new colleagues will meet you and you will have a chance to ask questions. However, this standard practice is ill suited for you to satisfy your research goals! The interview is usually not designed to give the candidate the opportunity to learn about the company. Even if the participants try. It is there to give the company a way to assess the candidate's viability for the job. Although, you can sometimes get a gut feeling about the people and culture just from an interview.

What doesn't work about the interview?

There's many reasons. The short version is … you don't marry a woman after meeting her along with her family. Or maybe you did? And the contract seems to me eerily similar to a marriage.

There's two main reasons why your research goals won't be satisfied:

  1. Having multiple people in a room makes them less likely to share some information you're interested in that they would not want other people to know (e.g. “What person is your boss?”).
  2. It gives you less time with each person. With you and 3 other people in a room for an hour that’s just 15 minutes per person!

What to do about it?

In addition to the standard job interview I advise you to meet one-on-one with a few (2–4) people from the team and company you intend to work for. Yes, it takes more time. Yes it's also non-standard and requires additional time investment. Scout out. Ask around.

  • Did someone work with someone at that company?
  • Is there a place where they meet so you could “accidentally” bump into them?
  • Do they do tours through the company? Open door Monday?
  • Do they hold meet-ups on-premises?

Your goal is quality time for in-depth interviews. An hour is great. Anything below 30 minutes will most probably be too shallow to learn a lot.

Did I do that? Yes. In my last job search at the end of last year I did about 10 in-depth interviews.

What job is that?

You interviewed a few people and learned about the workplace. You went through your notes (did I mention you should keep notes about the interviews?). Now you know more about the relationships. People and culture. But maybe you're still not entirely clear about the job itself.

What helped me with this was asking your potential boss to write you a thank-you letter after one year with the company. What do I mean by a thank-you letter? You can look at this. Written by a person from my current team few days before I joined.

Hi Petr,
let me thank you for your effort after the first year of our cooperation. I wanted to thank you specifically for your help in defining the design process that helps us better plan and execute projects. It’s great that you’re approaching challenges with calmness and thoughtfulness and that you’re an inspiration for other designers in our company.
Thanks to that we’re able to deliver better outcomes for our clients. Our contract work not only makes sense but is also profitable and handed over without delays.
Thank you also for your help with preparation, mentoring and generating buzz for the educational activities. That would definitely take much longer without your experience.
It makes me happy when I see how hungry you are for new knowledge and that hunger is never satiated. It’s great that you’re passing along what you’ve learned.

So go ahead and make that ask. And if you’re lucky you might get more than one of these!

Is this my future team?

You focused on the job itself — what you'll be doing, how often, on what kinds of projects, in what industry. Then you went through the social context — what people you will be working with, what do they believe in, what do they enjoy, how many of your peers you'll have close and how often. And you topped it off with thinking about how much resources do you need to sustain yourself.

Now you should have all the information to support the final decision in your hands. I have always used some structure to guide me to a point where I am comfortable leaving it to the unconscious brain.

After all the work you've done. Just sleep on it and trust your gut.


And that’s it. That’s all there is in my process of assessing three key aspects — the job, people and the money. I used the whole process in my last job search. And it paid off. I am extremely happy with the team I’ve chosen to join here at 2FRESH.

Give me a shout if you try any of this. I’d be happy to hear how this did or didn’t work for you.

Also this story would be far less readable, engaging and clear, if it wasn’t for these kind ladies and gentlemen that read through the draft and shared their feedback. Thank you, Milan Chvojka, Berka BerkaUX, Tom Kubina, Tereza Kosnarová Venerová, Miriam Donath, Veronika Jílková and Petr Kozlík.

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