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E028 Hiring Design with Madhuri Maram – Part 1

In Part 1 of this episode, Madhuri Maram – Designer and Host of the Hireworthy Podcast – talks about her role as an enabler in design-in-tech recruitment.

Listen here:

She brings out the various gaps in the process and tells us how D+P and Xperian were created to support the design community. 

She gives valuable insight into what designers at different levels should do to set the right expectations for their growth and employability.

She tips us off about the non-obvious skills when presenting portfolios while applying for a job, and we talk about the importance of storytelling through one’s work. 

Madhuri introduces us to the concept of having a Point A, and consistently working towards it with self awareness and external feedback. 

We discuss about baffling job titles and finding our unique spaces in the spectrum of design skills. 

References

Madhuri on Twitter

The Hireworthy podcast

Karthi Subbaraman – Madhuri’s mentor

D+P – Curated design and product jobs

Xperian

Madhuri mentions these companies: Unacademy, Byju’s, Google, Facebook, Uber, Microsoft

Johny Vino

Transcript

Sushi: Hi, this is Design Lota about life as Indian designers. 

Angie: I’m Angie 

Sushi: And I’m Sushi. We’re halfway through 2020. 

Angie: What a year!

Sushi:  It should  be obvious now, if it wasn’t before, that it’s impossible to escape the realm of digital design, no matter which discipline you’re work in.

A: But there are some struggles and questions that are unique to design in tech, especially when it comes to the job search journey.

S: It helps that there are so many online resources now for designers, especially to ramp up your skills in UX and digital product design. It’s great that so many Indian designers are creating content about various aspects of the design and tech career.

A: I spoke to Madhuri who has been a tremendous support to design and product folks.

I had the pleasure of meeting her a couple of times and her patient listening and practical pointers have always been really helpful. Not just to me, but to many designers. She cofounded D plus P, which curates jobs on a monthly basis. She also works with Xperian on finding the right fit between designers and companies and her latest project is the Hireworthy podcast, where she has real conversations about design, careers, and hiring.

A: You’ve been an illustrator. You worked as a designer and now you’re doing both D plus P and Hireworthy as well as Xperian. I think it’s so many things which are useful for the design community. So tell us a little bit about your journey.

Madhuri:  First things first. Thank you so much. And this is really intimidating for me. I mean, I’ve been on the other side, trying to get people to talk to me, but now I understand a little more about how are people feeling when they are actually trying to talk to me. So this is a very interesting insight for me as well. And my journey, yes it was an illustrator purely because I had a very enthusiastic teacher who taught us illustration in Photoshop.

I think that’s what  triggers  a lot of people right, where they keep inspiring you to do better. And then when you do better, you keep going in your own pace. And that’s where it got started. And we were like, okay, fine. Here’s where I am. And I just went on. And after my fourth year, I kind of, uh, went into design, UI design, thanks to Karthi majorly because she was the one who found me.

And she said that, you know what? Illustration will keep you happy, but you will not be very happy. So trust me, just come and do UI and that’s good because now mentorship is like air for me and wifi. So I can just get connected and ask her any time and believe me, it was a very good decision to make, and I’m very happy even after the seven, seven years, eight years of experience.

And that’s been a very interesting journey. And now I’m looking at how to get into more product-centric roles. And that’s where I am looking at UI, UX and then product.. And now I’m, I think I’m going to move more deeply to product management and design and create products for the design community because that’s a very strong area of which I think we all need to focus on because what ends up happening is there is nobody to support us.

Yeah, we have LinkedIn but LinkedIn is  just a social media platform. It’s not going to support you – like if you wake up one day and you say – I don’t know how to solve this problem. There will be people to help you solve a problem, but there’s nobody coming to support you., train you, educate you. I’m a self-taught designer. so I know how it feels like to go through all this process, so I was like, let’s do our best to support our own community.

That’s where Xperian started two years back. It’s exactly two years since Xperian started. And from there, we’ve kind of figured out various methods and approaches on how to go to, you know, a community and connect with them. And, you know, help them in different ways. So we ran a lot of experiments.

One of the experiments was, uh, you know, hiring the right designers, helping organizations get the right designers, right? So we spent time on that. And then we were like, okay,  there are certain things that make sense. there are certain things that don’t make sense. So we went for the things that makes sense. Obviously you have to pick and choose what makes sense.

And one of them was definitely educating designers on both sides, which is Hireworthy podcast with got kickstarted. And the other thing that we are still working on it’s coming soon and probably just in two weeks, you will see some more new updates on that. And in all of this, my journey is to ensure that whoever is.

Being a part of the design and product community. We are there for them. Like you can reach out to me anytime and I would still be available for all of that. And in this, D plus P is a very pivotal  part because end of the day, everything cannot be justified with a dollar value. You cannot say that you know,  this will give me returns in terms of dollar value, right?

Hundreds of job portals, and what happens is, they’re all trying to make money out of this. I don’t collect your profiles, even though I collect it, somebody else is going to hire you. I’m not going to sit and make money off the data . That is not going to happen. So we just wanted to flip it and say that, you know what, jobs should be provided for free. At least the communication should be free. It should not be like, hey, you come to my place, create your profile, pay some money. None of that. If you feel free to donate, you can donate some $5 or something. So we could keep efforts  going, but that’s about it. We don’t want to make it like a very strict process, data oriented thing.

No, you come, just get your information. Move on. Design is a ll about that, right? You enable the person, you move on. You should not hold them up. You know, there’s no customer acquisition and all of that. So that’s been the premise of my journey along with the work. And for me, there was one important quote that always keeps standing out to me.

And especially these days it’s very important is –  you should measure your life in projects. The more number of projects that you have is more, you can see your own progress that is happening. Now. I don’t have a need for a job. I have work for the next 20 years. And now I’m looking into just working on my best things, making sure many projects are pushed out.

Everything else is a side effect. So that’s a mushy answer of, Xperian, me and everything. 

A: I think it’s amazing. I mean, since we’re talking about this whole journey of looking for a job, like actually at the back of it, it’s more of what you’re talking about, which is finding your purpose and your life’s work.

And that’s kind of mixed into that, right? Like salary and all of that comes with it. And there’s a time and place for that in your whole journey. But like you said, if you’re at that point where you feel like, Hey, whatever I’m doing on a daily basis is already fulfilling me so much. You know, why do I need to look for a job?

M: I was just thinking that you should not get retired from something, because I mean, one day you wake up, your job doesn’t exist. That means the whole eight hours of your day doesn’t exist. That means you will go crazy. So we had to do a lot of backward work to, you know, come here and that’s a very big differentiator, I think. Yeah. 

A: I definitely think you’re part of the solution in a big way.

Can you define this whole gap, right? What is this problem? Like, if you can define the problem that can make it easier for even people from both sides to understand it because there are jobs and there are candidates, but how do you play the matchmaker? 

M: If I can be very clear, right? The clear thing that I have seen in terms of how both sides are, is they need to be clear on what is it that they’re hiring for, right?

That is where a lot of information gets messed up because the input that comes in that says that, Hey, you require an information architect, you require this, you require that. In one of my recent interviews with Dharmesh, uh, the user research interviews that I did with him, he basically said that you don’t need to hire a user researcher if you do not know what’s the work that you are giving. It makes no sense if you’re hiring somebody and then expecting an output out of them. if you are not clear. Just be honest and say up front that I just need a visual designer with these UI skills. Or you would need a strong recession time to basically come and say that this is not going to work out. We are going to optimize. So one person will do X to Y job. Because now they’re clear. They cannot spend on a lot of in-between roles. They’re just going to spend on one person who will do this one job. So you need to have this thought process even when you’re not in recession time, it cannot be like, I’m only when there is a recession I need to think about that. So you will need to look at that gap and say that. If I am going to hire somebody, let them do this work fully. Then let me not step in the way and say that you’re not delivering, or this is not the person that I’m looking for. So that is where a lot of people get confused. And so education needs to be on both sides, right?

It’s not just the business side that I’m questioning. I’m also questioning the design side, which basically is like, I can give you this,  I can give you this. I can give you this. Yes. You have too many skills. I appreciate the fact that you have put on a lot of skills, but if you get it like a little higher level, you can actually see that you are the same old vanilla flavor as the other person.

Like, what is it that you are bringing to the table that makes you forever hireable , forever employable. Employment means, somebody is willing to take your skills and give you something in return, whether it is mentorship, advisory, exchange of value in any form. It could be monetary, it could be anything. Yeah. And that is something that if you can distinguish yourself, you will stay forever  employable.

So this gap of understanding needs to be from both sides and they need to say that, okay, you need to understand what the side goes through. You need to understand what side goes through, when you are trying to hire somebody. So in my opinion, that’s the biggest gap that I see. 

A: Hmm. So let’s start off thinking about this whole process of looking for a job, right?

How do you see, uh, designers navigating their careers and how do they set a roadmap? So like we have designers who are, like you said, self-taught designers, we have designers from design school. They probably did an internship or two. And then you also have designers who are maybe eight years, 10 years. 14 years in the profession with some experience in this changing landscape as well.

What’s your experience with designers? What are they looking for and how do they chart their roadmap? 

M: So what I see in terms of expectations from somebody who has just come out is they expect the company to function as a company that is promoting itself to be a design centric company. Say a Facebook or Intercom or something like that.

And that is not real because we all know. As somebody who’s been in the industry for some time, we know how messy the whole process is inside, right. And for somebody who’s coming out of graduation, they kind of read these things and they expect everything to be structured, ordered and all of that. And I think that it’s kind of going to be hard to tell them that that’s not going to happen, but you have to kind of, uh, you know, go through this ambiguity.

And that is where the biggest factor of learning, right? Where they have to break this gap by themselves and then they have to come to the other side, nobody’s sitting and breaking this gap for them. So the realistic education is missing very high. So, if you can’t train for the right inputs, then how will they expect the better outputs?

So I find that as a biggest drawback and I hope it is resolved soon because realistic conversations are missing. It’s more like we did this, we launched this, we did XYZ. We got this XYZ funding. Yes. You enabled all of that. that’s a big deal. But who is coming and talking about the number of rifts we have between our own colleagues. Who is talking about how do we deal with collaboration, giving the right feedback, ensuring that when you are transitioning from IC to design manager, who is going to come and say that, uh, is this working, is this not working? There is no bar for these things, especially for design. Everything is either self-taught or you actually go back to the design school where it’s like a, something is set in stone in design school. I would say nothing is set in stone.

A:  Yeah. And you are in for a rude shock. And suddenly you’re like what happened to that ideal world in my head.

M: Exactly. But that is missing big time where you’re learning in fragmented ways. That’s the expectation that needs to be broken from there. And for us who’ve been experienced, we need to keep upskilling and being  and staying relevant because it’s not going to be the same old world anymore.  So, we need to know our context very well. We can get buried down in our own work and be like, okay, today I am not going to engage with my boss because X, Y, Z reasons. That is our small picture. They are not zooming out and seeing, okay, how is the industry progressing? Can I connect with somebody? Can I move forward? Okay. I’ve been here for three, four years and nothing wrong with being there for three, four years.

Can we move the existing system forward? Our own work? Can we move it much forward? So the context is everything and we are missing context big time, no matter how many years of experience that you have. And that is the biggest gap that I see. And it’s a mindset thing also. If you don’t want to pursue the context. You wouldn’t know that there is no context, but rather you should a case be enlightened by it, be aware of it.

Otherwise you be like, I don’t know what, what is working, what is not working. That would be a very big gap to address. Yeah. 

A: Yeah. I especially like what you said about realistic conversations, because like my very crude analogy of this matchmaking thing, right? So this whole process seems like everyone’s trying to bring their best selves.

So the designer who is looking for a job saying, I’m this I’m that of showcasing what I can do. And same with, you know, what a company is doing. We’re design centric, we’re doing this. And then no one’s saying what a day with me feels like, you know, and what formats would those kind of conversations take would really help both sides to make better decisions I think. 

I also wanted to focus a bit on when it comes to this whole interview process and when you’re showcasing your skills. So I’ll come to all of those, but what are those non-obvious skills that you think are missing in terms of focus when designers are looking for jobs?

M: I think one of the most non obvious skills that people don’t show in the portfolios, the number of people they have collaborated with.

I want to take one step back and I want to explain this part. If you are applying for a company, you are basically trying to sell the fact that, hey, I’m here. I exist and take a look at my profile because I think I am relevant to your company. One, I am taking this scenario where all is good in your life, and you are like  just applying because you feel that you are a good part of the company. There’s another scenario where you’ve lost your job and you’re trying to apply to all companies possible. I’m not covering that because the answer that I will say will probably answer that as well. So when all is good in your life, you approach it a certain way. You’re like, okay, I will try to show the best version of myself. I will show the best work. I’ll try to communicate my best and get back on time. I will show who all I worked with. I’ll give everybody credit and I will tell exactly what I did. All these things come out when all is good. When all is bad, want to show yourself as the hero and everything else is like not working.

That’s a very typical human thing. There’s nothing to do with the designer or recruiter here. It’s a very human thing. So when you actually look at a scenario when this person is not communicating something obvious, it basically means that they have something that they’re not able to say what they have done.

That is one part. The other part is maybe they know it, but they do not want to highlight. Then the onus falls on the person who’s hiring/recruiting to figure out what happened. Then as a neutral party who doesn’t understand his context or her context, I will assume that  it’s something bad that this person did.

Imagine. LinkedIn is there. Glassdoor is there. You cannot hide anymore because we have all kinds of profiles. And then that is the situation. Imagine I call one of your colleagues. Somehow I get in touch with your colleagues. And I figure out that you have tried to steal somebody’s work or take credit for somebody’s work.

Imagine what will happen. Your points will reduce throughout the whole thing. Right? So the most non-obvious thing that people do not highlight is the people that they have worked with. It’s okay. I’ll ask people, can I put your name in my portfolio? They will be absolutely happy. And who doesn’t want credit? Please tell me. They’ll be very happy. They will be like, okay. Put them, I will talk to them if in case they call me. It’s okay. Because what’s there  to hide? End of the day, the product has been shipped. Something has  been done, it has made money on not made money and sometimes the product doesn’t exist, but it’s okay. Ask them to call. Unless the situation is so bad that you and your colleagues or your boss are not in great talking terms. That is something that you need to consider delicately. But if you can put it out, put it out. Showcase your work and tell people that I  have done this work. 

And another side, right? If you’re applying for say a FinTech company, they will expect you to come from a similar domain, say a FinTech domain or a banking domain or some e-commerce domain. Because the time you take to absorb the knowledge, the terminology is longer if you come from another completely different domain, and that is why people ask, have you done my kind of work? Have you done my kind of work in such a way that I can understand my work through your work. Like that is how it is. End of the day. it’s like, what are you doing for me? That is all people look at. And then that is a situation. All you have to do is, uh, you know, tell people that I have worked with 20 developers. I have worked with 4 product managers.  Then what does that inform me as a recruiter? Hey, we also have 20 developers. That means he knows how to he, or she knows how to work with developers.  Oh she’s worked with product management. That means she knows how to do this work with product management. Maybe she knows how to deal with a PRD. Maybe if I give her a PRD, will she be able to understand? That is the reason why people say that, put these non obvious things also. Because we don’t know what’s happening in your life. We have no clue. So that is how we need to enable people and tell them that we’ll give you credit. But at the same time, I also need to show my work.

So this is the only field that actually asks for proof of work. When we are actually applying for jobs. When you’re looking at other fields, they are like, okay, you’re a mechanical engineer. Probably they will just do some background checks, verification and all of these things. I’m not so aware so I could be completely wrong on that, but that’s what I’ve seen. There could be some examination tests because they’re all scientific, very structured programs.Designers is too. But a lot of times we fall into the folly that, hey, I can also judge design. It’s basically boxes and buttons. I can also, you just don’t get the fact that it’s not really a judgment based thing.

There is a lot of science behind design and that’s missing from the recruiter side where they need to be trained with a designer, the very few recruiters that are trained with a designer. And that’s why, open up your portfolio in such a way that a five year old can also understand what you are.

It takes 30 seconds for somebody to go through a portfolio because they get almost 60 applications. If you can’t write, please do a video. I will watch a YouTube video. I don’t mind. 

A: That’s a great idea. When you’re writing a case study, we talk about the design process and we just say, then I did this, then I did this.

Then I did this. And finally here look at this, but between those steps, what happened? How did you collaborate? So we need to think of ways to bring out that aspect, because that’s where I’m saying, this is who I am, and this is how I handled this whole situation. 

M: Yeah. And it’s also how we solve this problem. You should show, it’s never the scenario that I have. One problem statement. I have one solution. You have one problem statement. You have 10 to 20 solutions that you can solve. Why did you choose that one solution to solve? Okay. You don’t have the reasoning. That’s fair. Can you please get the reasoning for somebody who has chosen that reasoning and tell them that you have gotten this direction from the product management or your senior UX designer, and then say that this is the approach we took.

These are the options we came up with, and this is what we did. Right. So that is something that is very important or what ends up happening is people will tend to assume that you do not think through the whole problem statement because they don’t know you. They’re only seeing what is presented.So obviously I will assume that. So you need to change that way of communication.

That’s why I said video is faster because you’re seeing me, you’re seeing my body expression. You’re seeing my non-communicative aspects. How do you communicate with certain points that are not comfortable for you. If everything comes through in a video. And a lot of the interview process can be reduced by just doing this part alone. Right? So when we launched last year, one of the experiments was this, and  it could bring down the whole hiring process of, you know, the phone interview. All of it was completely cut down and only came down to two rounds. One round is by me. The second round is where the hiring manager that’s it. Anything more than that is a lot of time wasted for a lot of people.

And when you give this video to the people who are interviewing, they can go ahead and upload it in wherever they want. 

A: And it also becomes like you’re also in the room, like everyone got the same idea of who this person is because after a certain point it becomes hearsay, right? Like. You were in this room, then there were like five rounds of five different people talking to them.

I was thinking about this whole aspect of basically my looking for a job, right. You’re thinking of one is who I am, and this is what I want to showcase about who I am. What can I handle right now, which is related to your priorities at the moment, also, in terms of, like you said, if I have just lost my job, then my priorities are quite different. And also what I want to do. So I may have a dream company in my mind and all of that. Can you talk a little bit about this whole self awareness aspect? 

M: I actually did quite a bit of work on this. So we call this, in Xperian as a simple process called Point A. What’s your Point A? That’s the self awareness that we have.

So we actually ran this as an assessment for every person that took it as a job seeker. So if you, if you come to us, we do it right. Now. I have not started that as a product because I I’ve been tweaking it a bit, but that’s something that we want to bring it out for everybody. When you come get your portfolio assessed, get your work assessed.

You will know that, okay, Hey, this is what is going to happen. And this is where you are. Right. So a lot of times, a lot of times somebody wants to go to Google, always. It’s G-MAFIA, it’s exciting. Everybody wants to go there. Everybody does the best work. Yeah, it is good work because your impact that you have is in millions.If not in billions. It’s not even like, Hey, this thousand people are impacted. No, no, no. You want 10 million impact. Okay, cool. Right. So when that is a situation, you need to know where you are. When you are probably an average .Indian designer working in a services industry, it’s because almost 80% of them are in the service industry if you look at the numbers. And if it’s services industry for you to cross services industry and go into consulting? Big deal. Or some by perchance, you have moved from consulting and then into product, your product now needs to be in one of those,  Unacademy,  Byju’s, Ola levels, then only you will be able to be recognized by say a Microsoft or a Uber or something like that.

Right. So that is the trajectory that usually you need to take. Yeah, you can skip all of this  rajectory by going to a good university. But at the end of the day, you’re going to go through the same process that a normal designer has also gone through, right. So you need to know where you are and from here, Can we improve and go, right?

That’s what we need to look at. So how can you improve? There are a lot of ways to do it. And that’s when we will go into the problem. You have found the exact problem you want to focus on. And there are some excellent standout people who have done such great work to be where they are. Like, for example, Johnny Vino, he started out from Zoho and now is at Apple. How did he go there? So we reviewed the portfolio to show how he actually went through the process and that is by consistent work. When you show proof of work outside, people will come to you. You will only know that I exist as hireworthy podcast  because I have put my proof of work outside there consistently every single week. You see one episode out there. And people will be like, hey, this person is doing something about it. You have at least access. Because you have that proof of work out there.  So proof of work is very important and it doesn’t matter what stage you are in. You can keep going as long as you have proof of work consistently putting out there. So if you are sitting silently and assuming that job offers will come to you, it’s not going to happen.  Do not confuse proof of work. with the number of Dribbble shots. It’s not going to get…it’ll probably get our foot in the door, nothing wrong with that. But you will not be able to sustain if you do not have the core principles taken care. Those are the aspects in which I think we need to know where we are so we can work on them and keep going. It’s actually a very mind draining process because when you know where you are, you feel depressed.

A: But I think at the same time, it’s quite liberating as well. Right. It’s like getting a diagnosis and saying, this is exactly what your problem is. So I know what I’m working with at that point. I just wanted to mention like one interview that I gave the person who interviewed me. She took the time to tell me exactly what was going wrong in the way I was…it’s like a blind spot. I can’t see it myself. Someone has to tell me that I’m doing this, which is not working out for me. Right. And, uh, like I said, it was really liberating. 

M: It made sense because somebody from the other side giving you critical feedback on what’s happening

A: Absolutely. And it kind of gives you a drive as well, because it’s like, I have a goal. Now, once you give me feedback, you go through that cycle. You’re discouraged. You’re thinking of what have I been doing all these years? Why didn’t I work on this earlier? How did I get here you go through all of that, then you come to, okay, let’s get real.

This is the problem. Let’s start working on it. How do we improve? So it kind of challenges you and gives you a goal to, you know, next target and move ahead. So, so yeah, I think it’s incredibly helpful. And if feedback can be official in the job process, that would be amazing. 

M: Yeah would be great, but I’m not sure how much can be accommodated because ultimately feedback is also driven by a set of rules, right?

If I have a company that is not very upfront about feedback, it’s going to be very hard for the interviewer to actually give you feedback. If there are no rules set in saying that we will give feedback a certain way, there will be a retrospective. That’d be a very clear way of doing it. So that’s what, I’m not sure if feedback can be…probably an outsider can give you feedback by doing mock interviews. That is something that makes sense, but how many outsiders will do it again? That’s also a problem. So I don’t know, there’s a lot of grey areas in that. I think we will figure it out soon. 

A: So we were talking about companies knowing exactly what they want. Right? Like paying attention to why have you opened up this role? Why now? What do we want? What was not there? So if you can say about titles and descriptions and how they come up with these things, I’m sure you have a lot to say, because for a job seeker, that kind of becomes like the thing that they look at, and then they start measuring up. They’re saying six years, I have eight years, you know? So that description kind of becomes like a guiding star for, should I apply or not?

M: Yeah, it’s very interesting. Right. We curated around 600 plus jobs in D plus P. Every month I remove them because a lot of dead weight, right. You’re going to go through the old jobs which is of no use. So when we did all of that, we noticed a very interesting pattern. Senior designers are being called at four or five years. That is not a senior design role. In my opinion, senior designers at least have a much more maturity to come there. Right? It’s not going to be about you or somebody who’s going to deal with the end-to-end product so you’re a senior designer. That makes no sense because we have not standardized any of these. And it doesn’t help in understanding, what is it you’re going to do? So we have that colonial hangover where it basically we have the banking mindset where, Oh, you’re a manager. You’re assistant manager. Don’t get me wrong because in all banks, they have the structure, which is so predictable. You’re a peon, you’re a clerk, then you’re going into an officer, become a manager or assistant manager, then you’ve been branch manager and then assistant… It’s so predictable.

A: Yeah, the roadmap is already set for you, you know where you’re headed. 

M: Exactly, in banking there is not much. It’s lot of compliance control rather than actual banking processes. And they’re all wrappers. All the new banks are basically wrappers of just making it much more delightable or whatever is obvious is coming out now and they’re doing good work. But in design and in product and wherever where there is problem solving, you cannot attach a seniority title in terms of name, because somebody who has probably two years experience can challenge somebody who is at seven to eight years experience because of thought process. That is where titles don’t  make sense to us because we cannot put other industry’s title and thought process. Come on. Our parents, most of us, our parents have worked in banks for some kind of traditional sector where the roadmap is very clear. The management style is very hierarchical. Doesn’t work for us 

A: And they weren’t going through so many jobs as well, because like you said, the path is obvious where you’re headed.

M: And my mom worked in a bank for almost 40, 50 years. I can’t imagine myself in that position at all. Many people shift companies into two, three years. So when you jump and grow, you have senior positions, but. Does your maturity define seniority or does your years of experience define seniority? There are a lot of these gray area questions.

And for me, end of the day, seniority is the responsibility that you carry, especially in Xperian where we are like, okay, you carry this responsibility. That is the reason why you are at this position. We don’t have titles that say senior designer, product designer, all of this, I call myself as a product designer because I know I’m a product designer. I have to define my title because I know this is what I bring to the table. But I’m sure every company cannot be that way because there are certain aspects that is involved. Certain established companies like Microsoft and all of them. They have level one,  level two procedures because the responsibilities are defined because a product is already defined. They can now tell people that level, two people do such kind of work say X amount of responsibility is given. And as always. Never let your title define you, because if you can do something better, why can’t you pick it up? Remember, we were just discussing that life is measured in projects. When life is measured in projects, where do you want to stay away from more projects?

Right. It makes no sense to be that way. And it kind of ends up being like, okay, this is out of my responsibility out of my comfort zone. Then when will we grow? Right. So that’s the reason why I am unsure why we have so many titles. And that too, we are bringing our traditional structures in and you are converting our Google’s and Facebook’s thought process with our thing.

It’s become a huge mess. So we need to see how to define them. Probably it will settle down. Like for example, product managers  have a very clear title. Saying that if you’re training or an associate product manager, if you are still figuring out, then you are an intern or junior. And when you have done something, you become a product manager, senior product manager, a manager, product manager managing product managers that is formed as a structure because product management started way ahead of us.

And now design is getting there. So that’s why there is a lot of confusion, but end of this, put this confusion aside. Focus on what you can do best. If you can do your responsibilities, you can structure responsibilities, stretch it. If your company’s not allowing you to and you want to, please figure out another organization that would allow you. Don’t allow your title to define you.

A: I think in one of our earlier conversations, you had mentioned that you work on custom job descriptions, kind of try to understand what exactly this role is asking for.

M: Yeah, I ran this recruitment thing, where I did it for Xperian itself. And only until the client says it’s a senior product designer,  until then we will not even touch it. But everything else is opened up, we open up what is the responsibility that they’re going to do? What does a typical day looking like? Things like that opened up.

Otherwise, what tends to happen is, they will ask us a lot of questions and we will not have answers. So rather get the questions, prepare it as a deliverable and give it to them and say that this is your job description. Have a look at it. If you have any questions, let us know. 

A: You know, I remember Jared Spool had shared something about job descriptions. Was it like…write a thank you letter to the person, you know, maybe after six months of joining hypothetically, they’ve joined, and then what do you thank them for? And then compare it with rest of your team. So it’s really funny because you may say, Hey, thank you for, you know, building up the new design system. And someone is like, Oh, that person’s going to build a design system because you don’t agree on why we need this person. So we can have that conversation more and more because one person is saying, Oh great, I’m going to have one more guy in my team. And then it’s going to help me with my workload. And then we’re all going to share this and work on it.

Some other person is like great, our visual design is going to go to the next level because of this person. 

M: And at the end of the day, you are going to be frustrated. They’re going to be frustrated. What’s the point? Yeah. It’s not because of your behavior. It’s because of fun, clear priorities. So most bad management happens with unclear priorities

A:  And it’s great and so useful because it’s kind of like the first line, right?

Like if you can get that off, the next process is still going to be a little more closer to what you want. Then it’s just a thing of whether you’re cut out for this or not. 

M: Yeah, because they also will guage themselves against what you have put out. It’s an ad for your company, you’re calling somebody suitable. So call the right person at least. 

A: Yeah, definitely. I think as a designer also, when I see a job description, I know whether they know what they’re talking about or not. Like the way you write what you’re writing. Right. Uh, it tells you a lot about the company. 

Let’s go a little more into this aspect of skills. Currently in product design, UX design, we see a whole spectrum of design activities that a designer does. So there’s research, there’s prototyping, UI design. Now we have motion design, UX writing, uh, there are a whole bunch of skills. And coming back to that self awareness part, we kind of have to place ourselves somewhere within this whole tag cloud of what all you’re possibly going to work on.

And also we hear this term – be a T-shaped designer. So any thoughts on that? Like, Again, how are you aware of what your strengths are? 

M: These titles have definitely confused us. The skill cloud has confused us. The tags have confused us. What I would say is this, like, if I can give you a glimpse of how my day looks like, if, if I’m just running the hireworthy podcast, you would say, I’m not a designer. Because the way you do things for the podcast is required because you need to do these things. Then will you tell me that I am not a designer,? But I know, I’m a designer. I have worked on these things. I am building an experience now with this podcast and building an info product with this thing. So that is going to happen. And when that is going to happen, will you call me and tell me that I’m not a designer because I’m running a podcast? So that’s why I disregard all these titles because it makes no sense in terms of telling me what I should do.

So now say you’re doing a UI. Won’t you write some UI copy and say that this is suitable for this context. If it’s not working, will you not brainstorm and make this copy better?  There are people whose full time job is to do that. There’s nothing wrong, but will you provide your inputs or not? So we’ll use, certainly go to your LinkedIn and put a thing that – I write. UI copy. I’m great at UX writing also. You need to collaborately come out with that copy with your team, but you have put your first step. So no matter what the situation is, we need to be aware that we are doing end to end work. Especially if they’re unable to communicate our insights or I hate the word insights because many people don’t know what insights are. When we are trying to go from research. Even if you do desk research to basically doing UI, you need to do that because somebody cannot visualize what this desk research is coming across as UI. And you as a designer, have to stand in that center and say that I have taken points from here and this output that your customer will see. In fact, this is the power we as designers have.

If you cannot do that much, then we can’t call ourselves designers. And that is what I call as a T-shaped designer, because you are standing there rooted in your strength. Your strength could be UI. Your strength could be user experience research. Your strength, that part of the T. But you should be aware of the other parts.

How does your developer work with design. Hey, you give a fancy Dribbble shot. Now how will your developer develop it? Does he have a time constraint ?To sit and do all of this work. Okay. Now my developer cannot develop it. Now you’ll scale it back to the previous …like a simple design which follows into your pattern and interaction design. Do you call yourself an interaction designer at that point?

There is a spectrum. You have a depth. Approach from your depth and ensure that all the sides of your collaborators, all kinds of people understand who is where and who is what.  Otherwise, there’s no point in working in design. It’s not a solo game. Yeah. Sometimes I do get into the rabbit hole of me delivering on my own, you know, without involving anybody.

But I see my output. It’s not so great. So I have to involve somebody and make sure that this is better.

A:  I think also knowing when to approach whom is also part of the horizontal part of it. Right. Uh, maybe I’m really good at UI. And I know this copy is supposed to say this, but my words are not good enough to say it.

So at least I know I’m trying to say this. Can you help me say this? 

M: Yes. the T aspect is knowing that you can collaborate. You’re not a small T sticking there. I don’t know. I’m just making this analogy on the spot. Like you have these so many teeth in your mouth. And only if all the teeth work together is when you will chew your food or talk something when you have certain syllables. If you even miss one single tooth, it is going to work entirely differently. It cannot work the same way. And that is where, you know, you have to understand that you are not a shining star, so you will have to be aware of that before you move into much more deeper levels. 

Sushi: Wow, Madhuri sure is a powerhouse of support for the design community. This is also useful for design teams wanting to recruit and grow. And it’s important to evaluate your requirements before launching into the hiring process.

A: For job seeking  designers, it’s encouraging to know that with self-awareness one can greatly improve their prospects while filtering out the opportunities which may not be for them.

S:  That way, some rejections can even feel good. Like it wasn’t meant to be. 

A: It’s always beneficial to know your point A. 

S: I found her theory about measuring yourself in projects quite fascinating. It makes me wonder about all the incomplete work I have lying around. 

A: Well, incomplete work need not equal unpresentable work, right?Especially in tech where everything evolves so fast. You need to put on the recruiter’s hat when you’re putting your work together, uh, before applying to the position. But also remember to put it aside when you’re working or creating. 

S: That’s a good tip. Don’t lose your authenticity in the quest for employability.

A: Ooh, that’s a T shirt quote. 

S: Hey listeners. What have you learned from your job search journey ?

A: Tweet to us @designlota and tell us one thing that helped you in your job search as a designer. You can find the references and the transcript for this episode on our blog designlota.com

S: We’ll be back with  part 2 of our talk with Madhuri on face to face interviews, the emotional aspect of the job search journey and more.

 Until then. Bye.

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