People often associate the term “user experience design” with visual design or the design of a digital interface, like a website or mobile app. But the truth is, user experience (UX) design is bigger than that, and it’s used across every industry, from software, to business, to schools, and beyond.
Successful UX design is why shopping on Amazon is addictive, ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft took off, and binge watching TV shows from any number of services has become the best way to spend a weekend indoors — skillful UX design has made it insanely easy to do. Even physical spaces—from retail stores to the checkout line at Trader Joe’s to office spaces—are impacted by UX design. And during COVID-19, UX has played a pivotal role in how we envision safe return-to-work and school policies.
How to narrow your focus, get a leg up on the competition, and look like the most prepared person in the room.
A job-search thesis is a great tool to tell people what you’re looking for in a job.
The following is an adapted excerpt from How to Get a Job at a Startup, an exclusive General Assembly eBook by startup founder and former GA leader Matt Cynamon.
Working for a startup company can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But wanting in and breaking into this competitive industry are two different things. Landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. There are terms to learn, steps to take, and a skill set to grow from to make you a candidate who stands out from an established crowd.
Whether you’re a recent college graduate, someone with 10 years of executive-level experience, recently completed a career accelerator program, or are just making a jump from a more traditional work background, there is a pathway to a dream job at a startup for everyone. While there’s no foolproof method for landing a job, we’ve compiled six proven tips that can help you narrow your focus, get a leg up on the competition, and look like the most prepared person in the room.
1. People can get you further than job boards.
One of the nice surprises about the startup businesses is how supportive and helpful some of the people are. In every city, leaders in grassroots startup communities host events, give educational talks, make introductions, and offer advice. These individuals can serve as your early guides as you start out on your journey.
If you’re just breaking into the startup world, you may not have a strong network to draw upon. That’s OK. Go to events, meet people, and listen. As a new entrant into the community you might feel like you have little to offer in return, but one of the biggest favors you can do for someone is just ask them questions about their work. Don’t be too forceful, but where appropriate, invite people for a coffee. It may seem intuitive, but being generally interested in others and what they do will help you foster relationships that aren’t only valuable, but fulfilling.
When it comes time for you to start applying, warm introductions from someone within the community will go much further than a resume submitted on a job board. Founders often cite hiring as the biggest obstacle to successfully growing their company. It’s a timely and difficult process that they love to circumvent with a nice, warm introduction to top talent (aka you).
One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to get introductions is assuming that if people don’t get back to you, hope is lost. Be prepared for repeated failure. Ninety percent of people will say they want to help you. Ten percent actually will. Why most people don’t follow through is due to a variety of factors, but just know it’s rarely about you. If you go into every conversation with this attitude, you will more easily be able to sustain your energy when your inbox sounds like crickets.
2. Polish your elevator pitch with a job-search thesis.
We’re living in an age of self-driving cars, private spaceships, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, on-demand everything — and startups often lie at the center of these innovations. It’s completely normal for someone starting on their journey to want to be a part of all of it. While you will encounter many people who are willing to help you in your job hunt, you need to make it easy for them to do so. To that end, nothing will get you further than clarity and focus.
When you tell people what you are looking for, you want them to think, “I know who you should talk to.” The easiest way to get there is to distill what you’re looking for into three distinct points. We call this a job-search thesis.
The best job-search thesis will contain:
Your desired company size.
Your preferred industry.
Your desired role.
For example, if you can tell someone at a cocktail party, “I want to work as a product manager at post-Series A company in the fashion industry,” there’s a good chance they’ll remember you the next time they hear about a PM role at a company that makes smart athletic gear. Speaking about yourself with that level of specificity will instantly make connections in the mind of whomever you find yourself talking to.
3. Got experience? Great. Not so much? Then make it.
If you are moving into the startup world from a career in a different industry or type of role, make sure to play up your relevant experience. If you feel like your job title really doesn’t translate to the position for which you’re applying, break apart the components of your current role into the factors that would be relevant at a startup. For example, if you were a lawyer then you likely have strong attention to detail, analytical problem-solving skills, an ability to explain complex problems to many stakeholders, a strong work ethic, and a history of achievement. These are all things startup founders would want out of product management. This exercise is especially important for more senior individuals trying to move into the startup world.
Of course, you don’t have to rely only on your previous experience — the best candidates never do. Fortunately, the rules around experience have shifted and there are ways for you to start developing skills within a given field even if you’ve never worked in that field before.
Even opening an account on Medium.com and writing commentary on the industry you’re interested in can go a long way. Coupling this level of initiative with your previous (or nonexistent) work experience is the best way to demonstrate your talents and potential. In addition to gaining relevant skills that will assist you in a new role, you’ll appear to be both passionate about the subject matter and a knowledgeable self-starter who practices it in your spare time.
Let’s say you’re really interested in doing digital marketing for a fashion tech company. For less than $50 you can start running Facebook advertisements for a friend’s T-shirt website, cultivating skills in running paid social media campaigns. If you want to do UX design for an eCommerce startup, you can publish a series of UX critiques about popular eCommerce sites on a blog. Engineers rarely depend on resumes alone anymore; they demonstrate their experience by publishing their code to GitHub.
4. Do your homework. Then, do some more.
With a solid network, clear thesis, and foundation of experience, it’s only a matter of time before you start landing interviews. Most recruiters will tell you at this point to spend 12 hours preparing for an interview. We think that’s child’s play. You aren’t interviewing to be a cog in a massive corporate machine. You are being assessed on whether the founder or manager would bet the future of their budding company on you. Make them comfortable — and confident in you — by being the most prepared person in the room.
Find founders on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the blogosphere and consume every bit of content you can find. The information you’ll find there is priceless because you will gain a deep understanding of how founders think and feel about the world. You can even head to Facebook and see if you have any mutual friends. Does all of this seem a little overboard? Perhaps, but startups expect a different level of commitment than many traditional careers. So if this sounds like a lot, you’ll be in for a big surprise once the job begins.
5. Play the numbers game. Ask metrics-driven questions.
In an interview with a startup, you really have three goal goals: 1) Clearly communicate why you’re capable of doing the job, 2) be the most passionate person in the room, and 3) ask the best questions. You certainly should ask standard interview questions, like “What makes someone successful in this role?” or “What will the first 90 days look like?” But what you really want to do in the interview is discover the metrics the company cares most about.
Sure, a company’s public brand may be all about changing the world, but we can guarantee that every night before they go to bed and every morning after they wake up, the person interviewing you is checking a dashboard with a handful of key metrics, such as cost to acquire a customer, lifetime value of a customer, net promoter score, or churn. When they leave your interview, they’ll probably check it again.
Metrics dictate performance, and in the uncertain conditions in which startups live, having insight into how well the business is doing is essential for a small team that has a lot of impact.
When you go into your interview, don’t be afraid to ask:
What metrics are you checking daily?
What metrics are you checking weekly?
What metrics are you checking monthly?
What do you see as the biggest levers for improving those metrics?
How are you doing against your goals?
How can this role help you get there faster?
The answer to those questions will give you everything you need to know to position yourself as the best fit for the job. For example, if you’re applying for a marketing job and learn in the interview that high product churn is keeping the founder up at night, you can follow up with an email with three ideas on how the company can immediately improve retention.
6. Pay attention to startup funding cycles.
Fundraising impacts everything about a startup, and understanding it can also serve as a huge advantage for you in your job hunt. When you read that a startup raised $15 million, it’s safe to assume it isn’t looking for a safe, high-yielding savings account to put it in. The company is going to put almost every cent to work by increasing marketing, improving the product, and, most importantly building the team it needs to take the business to the next level. There is literally no time when the ground is more fertile for you to land a job than immediately after a startup raises money. So it’s on you to stay on top of the news.
TechCrunch is an excellent resource for keeping up with fundraising news. The site will report on just about every dollar raised in the startup world. If you’re interested in a particular company, set up Google Alerts so you can be the first to know whenever a new round of funding comes in. If you want to be ahead of the curve, AngelList has a directory of all startups looking to raise their first round of funding. It’s also an excellent job board.
These tips are just a start — for more expert insight, download our free guide, How to Get a Job at a Startup. Discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey. Good luck!
My favorite product managers are quietly powerful. Every day they take small steps that move their teams and business forward in a meaningful way. But they do it without a lot of hoopla, taking a confident yet unassuming approach.
After all, product managers have a lot on their plate every day. They are responsible for the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition for their product. It is a big responsibility that requires facilitating and collaborating with many different teams — both internal and external — without the formal authority to manage those teams. It requires a unique mix of humility and strength.
However, that quiet power does not mean leading product is easy. I realized early on that the daily life of a product manager is unpredictable, hectic, and sometimes very tough.
Taking a class can be a step toward that promotion you’ve been angling for, or lay the foundation for a full-on career change. But for many adults, committing to weeks, months, or even a day of lessons can be nerve-wracking.
It’s true: The back-to-school jitters are real at any age. Learning new skills often involves rearranging your schedule, planning for additional expenses, or combating the nerves that come with venturing out of your comfort zone. But if you can overcome these barriers, your potential will skyrocket.
Skilling up has innumerable benefits: It can give you a competitive edge in the job market; increase your value within your company; and, of course, keep you ahead of the curve in a rapidly changing tech environment. On a personal level, it can boost morale and give you creative inspiration. There’s truly nothing to lose.
Every industry — from tech, to finance, to retail — needs user experience (UX) designers. These master problem-solvers work to create on- and offline experiences that put users’ wants and needs first.
Harnessing skills like user research, wireframes, and prototyping, UX designers have a unique perspective when it comes to understanding the interactions between users, business goals, and visual and technology elements. For companies, their work fosters brand loyalty and repeat business. For consumers, it means frustration-free online experiences, intuitive mobile apps, efficient store layouts, and more.
When you have the perspective of a UX designer, “you start to see design gone wrong everywhere,” says Beth Koloski, who teaches the full-time User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) course at General Assembly’s Denver campus. “You stop blaming yourself for not understanding badly designed software.” She says she admires when someone gets design right because she knows “how incredibly hard it is to make something easy and seamless and actually get it out into the real world.”
All aboard! It’s never been a better time to embark on your digital marketing journey.
We all seek experience. Personally and professionally, experience captures what we’ve done and what we have the potential to do. In hiring, prior experience is used as a shortcut to qualify job-seekers for interviews, job offers, and higher compensation. This shortcut works well in steady fields where the practices of the industry rarely change. If someone has done it before, they can probably do it again.
But does this shortcut work in a field that is dramatically changing? Marketing is an occupation undergoing rapid change. Adults now spend six hours a day with digital media, compared to three hours a day in 2009. As consumers move social, professional, and personal interactions online, advertising has followed. 2016 was the first year that digital media overtook TV as the largest channel for ad spending. Successful digital campaigns now require proficiencies across a host of new platforms, and the question for veterans and aspiring marketers is: Does general experience in marketing still matter?
Michael Dermer, founder of The Lonely Entrepreneur.
There’s a crushing, isolating pressure that engulfs many entrepreneurs as they try to transform a passion into a profession. Long days extend into exhausting late nights as they wrangle talent, negotiate funds, and wonder just how far away success (or failure) lies.
In the world of business, anything can happen and nothing is promised. No one knows this better than Michael Dermer, a lawyer, author, and life and career coach, who painstakingly built a company over 10 years only to see it collapse in 10 days during the financial crisis. Undaunted, Dermer turned the hard lessons he learned into an opportunity, launching a platform to help people start businesses with the support and knowledge they need.
The Lonely Entrepreneur — a book, website, and global community — is Dermer’s salve for the heartaches of entrepreneurship. Packed with learning modules, community connections, and expert advice, The Lonely Entrepreneur helps budding businesspeople get on their feet and take strides toward success.
Committing to a major life change can be scary, especially when it comes to your career — but inspiration from those who have made their way to the top can go a long way in overcoming obstacles and leveling up. Through his bestselling self-help book The 4-Hour Workweek, massively popular podcastThe Tim Ferriss Show, and more, entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss has helped thousands of people design lives and careers they love.
Coding knowledge is power — whether you’re an independent business owner, creative professional, or simply someone with an interest in the web. When you know how to code, you can build your own website and have full control over your web presence. If you work regularly with your company’s web team, you’ll be able to speak their language and improve communication — and you’ll be able to make some changes yourself instead of calling on them to do it.
For years, Chelsea Nicholson and Vanessa Stofenmacher felt that the fine jewelry on the market just wasn’t for them. They wanted to make a statement with pieces that were classic yet attainable, and had an inkling other women felt the same. After graduating from General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive program in Los Angeles, they decided to do something about it.
The pair, who were friends before they were classmates, teamed up to launch Vrai and Oro — a Warby Parker-style fine jewelry startup that embodies UX principles its core. Vrai and Oro means truth (in French) and gold (in Spanish), and the name is reflected in the company’s values: quality, simplicity, and transparency. Chelsea and Vanessa produce their jewelry with ethically sourced materials in downtown Los Angeles — without designer markups. And, true to their UX-driven brand, their website and eCommerce platform is minimalistic and image-driven for easy use.
We caught up with Chelsea to learn more about Vrai & Oro, the site’s user experience, and how GA helped the co-founders achieve their goals.