3 Things I’ve Learned by Failing
A reflective brain dump by Jamie Badgett, UX seedling
By the time of publishing this article I’ll have been searching for my first UX related position, post-bootcamp, for eight weeks, three days, and counting. To say that the interview process is daunting feels weird for me, sitting in my ergonomically designed, heated, racer style gaming chair. I’m a pandemic driven career changer. I spent the last seven years as a professional chef, chained to a stove somewhere in Chicago. I’m fighting to stand out from the countless other candidates just like me without much else to fall back on.
I’ve found myself, at times, questioning everything, spiraling through the entire spectrum of human emotion. Coming away from second round interviews feeling like I’ve totally crushed it only to never hear from those leads ever again was triggering a type of rejection I hadn’t felt since high school. My cage was sufficiently rattled and I was losing steam.
In these eight weeks, I’ve clung to a few mental tidbits to help myself feel emotionally grounded. The ironic part is that I would have never learned these lessons unless I had “failed” at something else. For someone who struggles with self denigration, I have to make a concerted effort to talk kindly to myself. Here are three things I try to contemplate when I feel that internal pressure gauge screeching.
3. It Happens
I was in the final round of interviewing with a really amazing FinTech company and I was riding the high of having my interview assignment be very well received by their head of UX Research. I spoke confidently about my process and walked through the steps of my research plan and the additional personas I had developed. They put the ball on the tee and I swung for the fences. We had gotten along great and the initial feedback I got was so overwhelmingly positive, I was cheesing for the rest of the day about it.
A week had passed and all had gone quiet. I decided as an act of good faith to reach out to the recruiter I had been in contact with to thank them for setting things up and for the opportunity to meet with him and the team. I was later met with the dreaded “Unfortunately, we will not be moving forward with your candidacy at this time…” I was gutted. With that one single email my entire career as a UX Designer had come crashing to a fiery end…PSYCH.
While I was incredibly disappointed and did fully allow myself a good cry out of frustration, I didn’t let it defeat me. Once I was done releasing the tiny, hot, droplets of emotion, I observed the feelings, thanked them, and started to dust myself off. “This is what disappointment feels like but I’m miraculously not dead. I’m Okay. I can do this.” To boil it down, you inevitably will get your hopes up during your job search and you will certainly be turned down multiple times, it happens. That is merely the reality.
Getting passed over is not fun and it doesn’t feel great but the more you get rejection reps under your belt, the less deeply it effects you. You never really know the circumstances of whats going on behind the scenes and you can’t control a majority of its variables. The part you have control over is what you do next.
2. Be Yourself
I know a lot of UX newbies can relate to the feeling of constantly searching for the “perfect” case study format or whatever you think is going to get you that first gig. My next big learning came from a secondary interview with a senior product designer and a lead UX designer from a well established software company. I had landed an hour long portfolio review and I was getting anxious about speaking flawlessly to every detail of every project I had worked on.
In doing some preliminary research on the company, I noticed they had case studies listed on their website and began reading through them. There was a tiny voice in the back of my head whispering to me that the work I had done wasn’t good enough and I needed to change to fit this company’s style. In a near manic state, I had whittled my writing down to an almost unrecognizable state. I had committed the worst interview sin of all, The “Hail Mary” pass.
This. Was. The. Worst. Even over the grainy zoom call I could see these designers eyes glaze over and increasingly grow convinced I wasn’t a good fit. It was too late to turn back and I managed to propel my body through the rest of the interview. I stunk. It stunk. Needless to say I didn’t get the position.
I failed in this instance because I completely second guessed myself. I foolishly tried to rush and throw together a presentation of my findings when all I needed to do was trust the thoughtful and meticulous effort I put into my work. They wanted to see me and my process and I failed to show them that. Instead I served a poorly rehearsed, completely dry parroting of my findings leaving them with no idea of what makes me valuable or unique as a designer.
1. Take Care of You
This is pretty basic but I want to break it down into two parts. Part one is taking care of the professional you while part two is more about taking care of yourself as a living, breathing, human person.
For digital you, keep your LinkedIn up to date, active and professional. Continuously reread that resume and think about what a hiring manager really wants to know about your past experience and what you did to add value. Be honest and motivated when applying to different companies and always thank people for their time. If you don’t have experience understand you’re not going to land a senior role off the bat. By being realistic about your short term goals you’re less likely to set yourself up for disappointment or settle for a job that may not be best aligned with what you need out of desperation and hopelessness.
For the human side, bring it back to the most simplest of needs if you have to. Get plenty of sleep and kept active mentally and physically. Don’t torment yourself by combing through your rejection letter folder. Slow and steady wins the race but never stop learning. If you continue to apply yourself and practice your skills you will eventually land something. Don’t forget that right now it’s all about getting practice and doing the reps. Every interview I do gets a little easier just like every disappointment hurts a little less. This is a tough time in the moment, but we’re in this together!