For the last 10 months I’ve been a part of an incredible journey of building a tech school. I was attracted to the mission of making tech industry more accessible and giving people the tools to design their own future. I have personally taught and graduated 34 students from UX programs and watched them embark on a journey of landing that dream job. The biggest lesson I teach my students— your design skills don’t matter.
It sounds horrible doesn’t it?
Let me paint a picture for you.
You have put years and years into developing yourself as a designer. You are up-to-date with all the recent tools and newest industry practices, you start your day with reading the latest design- and tech-related news, you look at the world as a designer, dissecting experiences and noticing imperfections. You might even be incredible at crafting user experiences and designing pixel-perfect interfaces.
But at the end of the day, you are one of many in this industry, who on paper look like a designer version of agents Smiths. So how do you differentiate yourself from so many other designers?
Through soft skills.
What are those exactly? Google identifies them as:
“personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.”
To me, those become most important when I’m interviewing somebody or recommending them for a job. But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at some stats.
In 2015, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) conducted a study where they surveyed 260 companies and asked them to rate the most important skills they look for when hiring for position. Here are the top 3:
1. Ability to work in a team structure
2. Ability to make decisions and solve problems (tie)
3. Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
Now, we all know that communication is key and working in a team environment is a must, but let’s look at that a bit more closely.
If I were to ask you what kind of person you enjoy talking to, chances are you won’t say “somebody who talks a lot about themselves” or “somebody who laughs if my work gets criticized” or “somebody who shuts down my ideas” or… Well, you get my point. It’s easy to recognize certain attributes in others, but it’s extremely hard to notice those in yourself.
For me, it boils down to these 5 personal properties that will make me hire/recommend you for a job:
1. Stay humble
There is nothing worse than meeting somebody who is good at what they do and hear them boast about it every 2 minutes. Some of the best and most talented people I have met are the most humble as well. They understand their professional value, they own their choices and actions, but they also understand that there are numerous people out there who are as good/better than them.
Humility should not be mistaken with meekness or weakness. It is simply an understanding that you are not the center of the universe. It’s the “I know that I don’t know approach”. It’s the desire to listen instead of speaking. It’s an ability to put your ego aside and take criticism without defending yourself.
There is a great article by Austin Knight on humility and how it’s baked in the design process. I couldn’t agree more. It’s especially true when it comes to UX design, the entire nature of which is based on iterations and testing.
This is a pretty big one. Term “team work” has been used left, right and center, but true collaboration is hard to achieve.
To me, collaboration is an ability to trust, to let go and to have an open mind at all times. It’s generally hard to trust people, let alone their professionalism. If you are a perfectionist like me, it’s nearly impossible. I’ve learned the hard way what it’s like to do a job of 4 people when you don’t trust others to do it well enough. You burn out. You get bitter. You don’t have a team to rely on. And you don’t progress neither professionally nor personally.
How often do you get to chose your own team? Practically never. So most of the times you are stuck with the hand you’ve been dealt and you have to make the best of it. My piece of advice: look for the best in people, look for their strengths, know what their comfort zone looks like and give them a chance to open up and be the best they can be.
3. Be open-minded
If you’ve been in this industry for a while, solutions to problems come naturally and way before the kickoff meeting is over. So it can be difficult to stop yourself from pursuing that creative idea you had and convince everybody else on the team that that’s THE solution. I encourage you to wait and get some research done first. When your mind is occupied by an already formed solution, it will fail to see other opportunities to innovate.
4. Have empathy
I want to believe that empathy is something that can be learned. Otherwise, we are doomed. Empathy is the beginning of all things great — without it you will never succeed whatever you do.
Especially as a UX designer. It’s buried in the name.
If you can’t jump into the shoes of your user, you can’t design for them. As simple as that. Otherwise your user ends up looking something like this:
5. Stay organized
If you call yourself a UX designer, you better be organized. And not just organized, but efficient about that organization as well. Because you should know your computer/Google Drive/Dropbox/Internet better than the palm of your hand and you’ve optimized your experienced of getting to those resources hundred times over.
Moreover, when it comes to project documentation/management/assets, you should have your own system for naming conventions, change logs, emails and to-do lists.
So here are my top five. There are, of course, other important traits and skills. My main point here is that technical skills only make up a portion of our employability score. We are starting to pay more attention to personalities, the character and culture fit. If you take your career goals seriously, then start investing in your personal development as much as you do in your technical skills.