How to Get Hired in Conversation Design Part 2
More Conversation Designers share their experience!
In the first installment in the “How to Get Hired” series, we heard the stories of 4 conversation designers who had been in their current or first role for less than a year. In this segment, we will learn about 4 more conversation design professionals with different backgrounds and varied levels of experience in the field. To catch up on part 1 of the series, click here!
Everyone has their unique story on how they transitioned into conversation design. If you’re familiar with some of the origin stories in this industry, there’s clearly more than one way to get started as a conversation designer and all journeys are valid! I was incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to interview these four amazing professionals to learn a little bit more about their background and their advice on how to get into the field. I’m excited. I hope you’re excited too. Let’s meet them!
The Cast of Part 2 🎬
Conversation Designer at Master of Code Global
Connect with her here: LinkedIn
Senior Conversation Designer at Heyday by Hootsuite
Connect with her here: LinkedIn
Alright then, let’s get to the interviews!
What is your current job title and company?
Emily: I am a content designer at WillowTree. I’m also a co-moderator of the Ethical Use Task Force at the Open Voice Network and one of the hosts of Voice Spark Live.
Olivera: I’m a conversation designer at Master of Code. I’m also a member of the Conversational Collective.
Anna: I’m the senior conversation designer at Heyday by Hootsuite.
Denise: Right now I’m working as a Conversation Design Senior at Salesforce.
What does your career journey look like? What jobs have you done in the past?
Emily: Before I started working in tech, I was a professional violinist. I actually started playing violin when I was four and a half, so I’ve been playing for a long time. After I finished school, I freelanced, performing all over the place with various groups. When I made the transition into tech, I did some freelance UX design work on a really cool interactive virtual concert stage, UX writing work for a counseling and therapy practice, and voice design work for Mobiquity before I got my first full-time job as a conversation designer at Strategic Education. After a few months at Strategic Education, I ended up taking a content design position at WillowTree. Although I’m not specifically working in conversation design on a daily basis, I’ll be able to help grow Voice at my company and work on Voice projects, which I’m very excited about.
Olivera: I studied communication design at Ontario College of Art and Design. I was predominantly an Art Director, Graphic Designer, including doing bilingual copywriting as well. In 2020, I went back to school to study User Experience Design and felt a strong connection to user and research centered design. After completing my program a recruiter found me and told me that I had the perfect skill set for Conversation Design, so I got hired as a bilingual freelancer by Bell Telecommunications to optimize their chatbot. During my time at Bell I was fortunate to have worked with a mentor, Joseph Suskin, who encouraged me to take the Conversation Design course with CDI. With my new knowledge and first conversation design experience I really focused my next job search on getting a full-time gig as a Conversation Designer, and I ended up with an offer with Master of Code. Ever since I started with this new company, I’ve had the chance to work with great people such as Amanda Stevens, Meredith Schulz, and Soma Aliakbari who all contribute to my KPI-driven conversation design.
Anna: After I finished my degree (CEGEP/College: Psychology concentration; University: Philosophy), I was looking for jobs in writing or in editing. Writing has always been something I’m passionate about, so I was trying to find something in that field. I ended up getting a transcription job after university. I worked there for about 2 years transcribing, editing subtitles for feature films, TV shows, stuff like that. It taught me a lot about being super meticulous and really detail-oriented about different localizations, like Canadian English spelling versus UK spelling. After that, I decided to move to Toronto to pursue a postgraduate certificate in copywriting and advertising, so I stayed in that field for a bit, working both in-house at a tech company and agency-side as well. After about 4 years in Toronto, my boyfriend and I decided to move back home to Montreal. I was looking for a new job, maybe something a little different, and I stumbled across a listing for a conversation designer at Heyday. That was a little over 3 years ago and I’ve been here ever since! It’s been great to get in on the ground floor of a growing specialization.
Denise: While on maternity leave in 2019 I decided to study Data Visualization with d3.js and UX Design. I was looking for linguistic data to visualize and that’s when I discovered Conversation Design and the world of Voice. My background is in education, I have a Bachelor’s Degree with a major in English and a Master’s Degree in teaching English language. My undergraduate thesis is about analyzing conversations of strangers — self-disclosure among freshmen students of the university. My thesis partners and I recorded conversations, transcribed it using the Jefferson transcription symbols, and analyzed it by identifying adjacency pairs, turn-taking, studying the topics of conversations, and understanding how the relationships of the participants moved from superficial to more intimate topics based on their interpersonal communication. After university, I pursued a career path in education; teaching in an International School in Brazil and Manila. Then I moved to Spain in 2013 to teach English and learn Spanish. After 4 years in Spain, I decided to start a subscription box business. It’s a children’s book box with arts and crafts. I built everything on my own by understanding the subscription business model and learning how to code and build an e-commerce website using Wordpress. Conversation Design brings technology, linguistics, and product together — things that I’m interested in. Now, breaking into Conversation Design here at Salesforce; I love the product and the people — they’re so great to work with.
Bonus Q! To Emily: You’ve mentioned online before you’ve taken a couple of [VUI] courses. Could you tell me which courses you took?
Emily: I took a bunch of courses. I did the CareerFoundry UX design bootcamp program with the specialty voice design program, because it was included. That’s actually how I got into voice. Through the UX Content Collective, I took the UX Writing Fundamentals course and Hillary Black’s Chatbot Writing and Design course. I took the Conversation Design Institute course after that, and then I did the advanced conversation design course at Voice Tech Global. Oh! I also did a course with Cheryl Platz. It was a one-off thing through Rosenfeld Media.
How different was interviewing for a conversation design role compared to other roles you applied for? What was the experience like for you?
Emily: Compared to music, it’s completely different. With music, we have auditions instead of interviews, so it’s only based on how well you play. In tech, so far I’ve interviewed for Content Design and Conversation Design positions, and those are pretty similar in terms of how I prepared for them. I usually spend a couple of hours preparing for each interview, making sure I do research on the company, the people that are interviewing me, and the role. I also read through what the qualifications are, and come up with a list of questions to ask to make sure the roles are the right fit for me. For the interviews themselves, there were 2–3 rounds for each. The first round was speaking to a few team members. The second round was either a portfolio presentation, a design challenge, or speaking to more team members. For the portfolio presentation and design challenge, there was another hour blocked out for me to present my work.
Olivera: In comparison to Art Direction or Graphic Design, interviewing for a Conversation Design role was quite different. The key was demonstrating my user-centric approach and conversational copywriting skills. Conversational copywriting is quite different from writing newsletters which I was used to doing. I was really up for the challenge and conversational copywriting really resonated with me. The other thing that was different was interviewing remotely via video instead of in-person.
Anna: When I was in Toronto, one of the conditions of my post-grad program was landing an internship, and let me tell you, trying to get my first copywriting job was probably the toughest moment in my career. The interviews were pretty extensive and the competition was quite high. Everyone was trying to get the same job as you. I’ve only ever had one experience interviewing in Conversation Design, so I don’t have too much to compare. For my interview at Heyday, I met with two of the founders. The first who ended up being my manager really wanted to know more about my writing experience and my creativity. It was a pretty casual and easy-going conversation, to be honest, which I am grateful for! At the time I think, given that it was hard to find someone with strict conversation design experience, it was important to see potential, and culture-fit. Each meeting was maybe an hour long.
Denise: I had two or three interviews with my manager. I was a bit nervous, yet excited; because I was very new in the field. But my manager is great, we talked about my background and experience. I also sent him my portfolio.
How did you find your current job?
Emily: I saw my job at WillowTree through a few of the normal job board sites and ended up applying directly through their website. For Strategic Education, it was all through networking. Julia Anderson connected me to the recruiter, and then I ended up interviewing and getting the job through that. But yeah, all my previous work has come through networking, honestly. I was doing a bunch of contract work before this job, and that all came through other people that I had talked to.
Olivera: My job with Bell ended mid-May of 2021, and shortly after I started with Master of Code full time. During my job search between those roles I did a lot of networking by immersing myself in the Conversational AI community, attending different festivals and staying in touch with key contacts. During the interview process with various companies I got to benefit from doing design exercises. Those assignments continued to build up my new skills and told me a lot about the company that I would potentially work for. Once I got through those, and while I was waiting to see what was going to happen, I got feedback on some of those design exercises from my network on LinkedIn. We had a couple of meetings on ClubHouse where they gave me a critique, telling me what was working well and what could be improved. I also reached out to a few people in my LinkedIn network for coaching. All of that together helped me build up my knowledge base and my confidence. To really be like, “Okay I’m owning this,” so that when the job offer did come through, I would feel like I could completely move forward with it. In the end, I narrowed it down to 3 jobs, 2 offers came through, but I felt like Master of Code was the best one.
Anna: I ended up coming across Heyday’s job listing on AngelList, a resource for startups. To be honest, I had signed up for it in my internship-hunting days, and just never unsubscribed. I remember it was a summer day in one of my favourite cafés when I got a notification in my email about some job openings, and Conversation Designer was among them. It sounded super interesting, and something I’d never really heard about before. I applied and scheduled an interview for about a week later.
Denise: My manager actually sent me a message, then we started talking.
Do you have a portfolio? If yes, did you present it during an interview?
Emily: Yes, I do have a portfolio, and I collected a bunch of portfolio pieces from all the courses I took. I did have to present two of my portfolio pieces for one interview. Basically, I took them through both portfolio pieces from beginning to end, explaining the design thinking process. Other places looked at my portfolio and asked me questions about specific works I did, but I didn’t have to present anything for those.
Olivera: Yes they looked at my online portfolio that has 3 UX case studies. One of them, actually, was from before I knew anything about Conversation Design. I had created a website with a chatbot on it. I didn’t write any scripts other than the welcome message, but the idea was to get bullying victims immediate help. Showing that thought process was helpful because even though I didn’t have the full dialogue, it showed how the conversational interface was integral to the solution. Apart from that, I did talk about my experience at Bell, but I wasn’t able to share anything concrete because I was under NDA. I gave examples of what I did and what I achieved in terms of optimization in English and French. It also really helped that I had seniority in the past since I had client-facing roles.
Anna: I do have a website, and I think it’s the best and most crucial way to display your creative work, even more important than your resumé I think. Honestly if you’re in a creative field, your portfolio is your resume and it’s way more effective than just listing your past employers, because prospective employers can be like, “Okay, I get you have experience, but show me what you can do.” I have to admit though mine doesn’t have much of my CD work, but it does showcase some of my copywriting, SEO writing, and personal work. I sent that portfolio over in the initial part of the application process. Throughout the interview phase, I think I sent over some more specific links, more long form copy like blog posts and other sample pieces. I believe that it played a pretty big role in me getting hired and getting that interview.
Denise: Yes, I have a portfolio in Figma. I have 2 projects — the first project on my portfolio is an app with conversational features. It’s mainly focused on voice, with some chat as well. I created that to practice my Conversation Design process and combine what I know and learned about the field. The second one is focused on chat. To be honest, right after my manager sent me a message, I spent the weekend creating the 2nd project because I want to show him my design process for both voice and chat. Also, I integrated Salesforce products in my design. I’m very new in the field; I only discovered Conversation Design in October 2020, but even though everything is new to me, I believe my background in education, linguistics, creating a product, and willingness to learn helped me present to my manager. So, I sent those to my manager before the interview. He didn’t really ask for it, but personally, I think that it’s important for your manager to know that you have a strong growth mindset, and value the company you’re applying to by showing a design that integrates some of the company features.
Did you have to complete assessments for your interviews? If so, how were they like?
Emily: Yeah, I had to complete and present a design challenge. They said I should spend around 5 hours on it, but I spent more like 10 (laughs). I wanted to make it good if I was presenting it and I just needed more time to make it good! I also felt since I was still really new at this, I needed a bit more time just to get my thoughts in order and figure out how I was gonna present it.
Olivera: I was tasked to do an SMS chatbot and produce two artifacts that go along with that user experience. I ended up doing a user persona and a customer journey map, but basically iI had to answer a bunch of questions relating to the specific SMS flow and the type of business it was. They didn’t give me the name of a company, so I felt like that was interesting because being a UX Designer, I didn’t know who the specific user was. They didn’t provide me with any research. But I went about doing some research and choosing a company was a big part. So I would say, for future candidates, if the company doesn’t provide you with an actual company for the exercise, make sure you choose one! Don’t just leave it undefined. That’s one of the key things, really. In your interviews, on your website — wherever you find to promote yourself you have to showcase your decision making.
Anna: After the initial casual interview, I was given a quick test, kind of more related to conversation design and UX design which I completed at home. Mostly, it was designing a few small chat flows, creating a persona, sample dialogs, that type of stuff. So they gave me a brief, a brand, what they wanted the experience to accomplish, etc.
Denise: No, I didn’t do any assessments, but like what I mentioned earlier, the second project that I did already integrated some Salesforce products. Actually, that’s my personality — I feel like if I’m going to interview with this company, it’s important for me to show them that I know something about them. That’s just me, I think it’s different per person. But my advice is, when you interview for a company, it would be great to show some knowledge about the product.
[I]f the company doesn’t provide you with an actual company for the [interview] exercise, make sure you choose one! Don’t just leave it undefined.
Let’s talk compensation. Could you give us examples of how much compensation some roles were offering?
Emily: In terms of what I’ve seen through interviews, regular conversation design roles tend to go from like 50 to 90 [in thousands per year, USD], depending. It’s a big range, but it depends on if you’re contract or if you’re full-time. That makes a difference. For senior positions, some of the highest ones I’ve seen so far go up to 150 [thousand per year, USD]. So for senior conversation designers, probably around 100 to 150 for base salary.
Olivera: I’ve seen salaries like 80 thousand to 130 thousand (CAD) for full time roles which is quite a large range. One was more like a lead position, the other wasn’t. So it’s different seniority, but also different companies with different budgets. When negotiating for a salary, always count not just your transferable skill, but ultimately the value that you would bring. Be clear on what your value proposition statement is (qualitative and/or quantitative) and promote it at every opportunity you have before/during the interview and continue to do so after being hired.
Anna: As far as salaries go, I think the range can be quite vast, depending on what type of Conversation Designer you are/the company needs. The range for Conversation Designers that code for example would be higher I imagine. In general though, I’ve seen salaries range between $50,000 (CAD) to over $100,000 (CAD) depending on the role. Some general advice though: don’t be shy. Ask for what you’re worth. All of your experience is relevant. Your work experience is experience. I will die on that hill, haha. You may not be a conversation designer but if you have 10 years of copywriting or coding or UX design experience, that counts!
Denise: I hadn’t really been looking that deep into compensation, since this is my first Conversation Design role. I think good places to look for compensation are on LinkedIn or Glassdoor. It also varies depending on your role if you’re junior, senior, lead or not.
What advice would you give to your past self in your first few months on the job?
Emily: Just be confident in the skills that you’ve built, and that you can do the job. If you don’t know something, you can always learn it! I think that’s probably the biggest piece of advice I would give to myself.
Olivera: #1 would be to absorb as much knowledge as possible. You were hired because your skills were great for the job, so you don’t have to worry about selling yourself at the beginning of the role. Those first few months are all about absorbing the knowledge. In due time there will be opportunities to demonstrate your new knowledge. In terms of communication and presentation skills those are key as you build relationships with clients and the internal team.
Anna: I consider myself kind of lucky to have joined Heyday by Hootsuite when I did, because we were still quite small. We were in this super tiny office and we had maybe six employees. At the time, we had one or two clients and were in serious startup mode (how far we’ve come!), so I had the opportunity to kind of ease into things and learn a lot about different parts of the company and Conversation Design at a great pace. I don’t think I would change much. Maybe just having a bit more confidence in meetings and in front of clients. I do think those things also come with time though.
Denise: I’ve only been with Salesforce for less than a year, but it feels like I’ve been working there for years. My advice though for the first few months on the job: just continue learning. Learn about the company and the products; nurture your relationships with your stakeholders. Definitely, develop those relationships with your stakeholders like PM, UX, other writers, and accessibility — Salesforce is really big in accessibility and inclusiveness, and I love that. Also, think of the customer — their needs and pain points.
My advice though for the first few months on the job: just continue learning. Learn about the company and the products; nurture your relationships with your stakeholders.
What’s the most challenging part of your day to day as a conversation designer?
Emily: Honestly, just balancing the business requirements with the needs of the users. At Strategic Education, I was working with 2 student service chatbots and a marketing bot for two different universities. The marketing bot in particular was hard because there were 3 different departments involved in creating and managing it and every department had different goals for it, so it was challenging to try to get everyone what they wanted and still be able to accomplish our goal together.
Olivera: While juggling different priorities is the most challenging part of my day, it is also the most enjoyable. Time management, reprioritizing tasks, communicating proactively and delivering user-centric solutions is the key in any job including as a conversation designer. Apart from that the most challenging part is interpreting data analytics. Knowing how to understand the data is key to know how to optimize a conversational solution.
Anna: Here, we are interacting with a lot of different teams day in and day out and in our case, we are client-facing as well, so there’s something to be said for making sure you’re communicating everything in the right way to different types of people. Like the way we explain AI to our clients is not the same as how we communicate something to developers. Maybe this isn’t so much a challenge, but just something to be mindful of in our day to day, just knowing how to explain, request, and translate things for different types of people.
Denise: Maybe developing good communication with your stakeholders, making sure that you regularly talk to your PM, your UX, and you all have the same vision — to have that alignment. It’s not an everyday challenge, but it’s something that could be challenging at a big company.
Bonus Q! To Anna: I ask this because I know you’ve helped hire more designers at Heyday: would you say knowing how to present yourself or sell yourself in a conversation design interview is a good indicator of how you’d be able to communicate effectively in the role?
Anna: That’s a big thing that we look for when we’re hiring. It’s also a good indicator of culture fit. Like, “Okay if this is how you present yourself to me, then you’ll probably present yourself well to clients.” If you can articulate your thoughts well and your answers to questions well, then I know you’re a good communicator and that you can explain things clearly to different stakeholders.
What learning resources do you recommend? (Can be anything: books, articles, videos, etc.)
Emily: All of the recent books that just came out like Conversations with Things and, of course, Cathy Pearl’s book. How can I not mention her? I would also recommend Cheryl’s book, Design Beyond Devices. For podcasts, I listen to VUX World and the Voicebot Podcast. Usually Medium has a bunch of articles too or I’d simply go to voicebot.ai. The most important thing, I would say, is getting involved as much as you can with the community. It’s a really welcoming community! It’s so friendly and people are genuinely willing to help you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and just connect. Even if you don’t know them. That’s something I learned from being a freelance musician that has really helped me here. Be confident and go for what you want, and reach out to everyone that you can. Good stuff will come from that.
Olivera: I’ve taken an active volunteer role with the Conversational Collective which has helped to further immerse me in the field. I love our community and I hope more people join us. We host industry events and provide resources such as articles and job postings. In terms of books Conversations with Things was a very useful, practical guide along with Conversational Design. Another book I recommend is Articulating Your Design Decisions. That’s a good read in terms of understanding stakeholders, remembering they’re human beings, just like the rest of us. Essentially, treat everyone with empathy, not just your users, but your colleagues and clients as well. I also took CDI’s Conversation Design course which was a great foundation. Anyone coming into Conversation Design should take a UX course, to understand research, validating data, and iterating on an idea. It’s something you have to practice; it’s not something you read and then put it away. Here are some resources:
- Master of Code Blog
- Conversational Collective
Join the community: https://bit.ly/ConvoCollectiveCommunity
Follow us on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12333917/
Check out our previous events: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOttQYS6UH5bc7hkHDaPMWA
- Conversation Design Academy
- VUI Challenge
- Conversation Designer Jobs
Anna: We’ve actually recently started a book club with the other Conversation Designers for Diana Diebel and Rebecca Evanhoe’s Conversations with Things. When I started, I read a lot of stuff on Medium, looking for anything about chatbots or AI. Sometimes the best resources aren’t necessarily CD-specific. For example, the New York Times recently posted an article on how people from different countries use and interpret emojis differently (which was hilarious personally because I realized that I’m a millennial and I’m not cool anymore). LinkedIn is also a great resource. To be honest, that’s how I found out about different conversation designers, different companies that are hiring, or webinars. It’s also a great way to see what other Conversation Designers are working on, or questions they’re asking. VUX World by Kane Simms is also a great resource, and I had a chance to take part in an episode. I’m also a member of the Conversation Designers Internet Club, Hillary Black’s Facebook group.
Denise: For work we have our own guidelines and components libraries. But for people who are just starting out, I always refer to the Handbook of Conversation Analysis. Ve — very textbook, it’s for university settings, but there are so many great linguistics concepts that could help you in designing human-system interactions. And I enjoyed the book called, Conversations with Things by Rebecca Evanhoe and Diana Deibel. When I was starting, I loved listening to the podcast VUX World by Kane Simms as well.
Here’s a list of resources for anyone interested in Conversation Design:
1. The Handbook of Conversation Analysis https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/book/10.1002/9781118325001
2. Context, Cultures, and World Englishes by Yamuna Kachru and Larry E. Smith
Part 3 of this book talks about Conversational and Writing Styles — Spoken vs. Written language, Conversational interaction, and Interaction in Writing. I believe it’s valuable to know about the concept of World Englishes and also understand that culture is an important part of communication.
3. Conversation Design Trailhead by Salesforce https://trailhead.salesforce.com/content/learn/modules/conversation-design
4. Relationship Design Trailhead by Salesforce https://trailhead.salesforce.com/en/content/learn/modules/relationship-design
About the author
Elaine Anzaldo is a conversation designer, product designer, content creator, & public speaker. She first entered the voice scene as a speech consultant for SRI International in 2019 and has since worked many different contract jobs at large tech companies, including a role as a metadata curator for the Siri team at Apple. Elaine’s work now focuses on designing conversational journeys for across voice and chat, with an emphasis on multimodal conversational solutions. She often writes and shares about the realities of being a conversation designer and publishes resources to help junior conversation designers get started in the field. When she’s not thinking about bots, you can find her watching Tollywood movies and taking pictures of her cat, Caesar.
*This post features OwnTrail but is not sponsored. If you want to sign up and draw out your own career journey, it’s totally up to you! Here’s an invite link if you’re curious: https://owntrail.com/invite/9CF3A815. 🎉