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Career change: Word vomit edition

I gathered up some messages I have sent in response to questions people have sent me about how I made the transition from academic libraries to UX content strategy. Here are some of them.

Oh boy, I’m not sure where to start! There are so many moving parts, but one thing I did was watch as many tutorials and webinars as possible to get a sense of how people in the field talk about the work they’re doing. Another thing I did was just 1 million informational interviews, so I was getting my face and name out there a lot. And then when I was applying for jobs I could see who I knew at those places, or who knew people who knew people, etc. A big component was working on my portfolio, which was such an alien thing to do for me. Because I don’t have any flashy visual design skills I decided to do the portfolio as Google slides, which I embedded into my website, and I looked up a little piece of code I could use to make them look nicer on the page. 

The important thing with the portfolio was to talk about the process as much as the product, if not more so. It’s also just something handy to have in your pocket when you’re interviewing because it gives them a sense of what you have done already and how you approach your work. The nice thing about doing Google slides is that I could embed them into my site, I could present with them since they were already a slideshow, and I could download them as a PDF for prospective employers that asked for an off-line version. Super versatile!

I also did a six week workshop with a coach that helps people with their confidence in the workplace. She happens to also be a content strategist, so she was fantastic and giving me connections with others. The job I ended up taking didn’t come from any of that, but it did happen to turn out that [personal info redacted], but I think it probably helped just having a shared connection. If I hadn’t done all of those informational interviews, I would never have known that this person had that connection.

I really played up my experience translating the needs of "subject matter experts" (they call them SMEs) to "engineers," where librarians and faculty are the former category and academic technologists and programmers are the latter. That's language they understand. I also foregrounded the soft skills involved in these relationships. Multiple people I have talked to who used to work in higher ed remarked on how faculty are probably the most challenging "stakeholders" you could ever work with. UX people will appreciate that you have experience working with difficult partners.
In the meantime, my best advice is to do some linkedin learning or coursera classes on UX/UI, read UX design blogs/listen to podcasts/sign up for newsletters, join the UX+Content Slack, and join or at least follow your local UXPA chapter (mine has monthly events and recruiters show up to those!). And ask literally everyone you know if they know people in UX and start setting up informational interviews. Those are some of the best connections I have made and I've found those folks to be very willing to schedule a 30-minute zoom or phone call. 

The simplest answer is that it's awkward af but then the people are mostly kind of great! Having some specific questions you think the person you are talking to is in a unique position to answer is really great. I do need to think through this more, but if I could do it over, I might have kind of scaffolded my networking to start with newer professionals with lower salary ranks to get the lay of the land from the beginner's perspective, then gone on to more senior people like hiring managers. I talked to a senior person at one point because she was a friend of a friend and she asked me some really direct questions about what lens I am bringing to UX writing and content and I didn't have a good answer at all and was mortified. But ultimately, it pushed me to get more clarity on my POV.
As for fields, I knew I wanted to think a lot about language and textual clarity. I have ADHD, and I get very frustrated when apps and websites are overly wordy, try to be too clever, or have very back end engineer-y error messages in the client interface. I want to be able to scan the text and know what to do ASAP. I think UX writing and CS are good places for that. UX research seems really cool, too, and a lot of places have hybrid roles from what I have seen. 

I didn't take any formal courses, but I did make use of my free access to LinkedIn Learning and Coursera to dabble in some short tutorials. My best advice is to start following a lot of UX people on LinkedIn and Twitter, listen to UX podcasts, read blogs and sign up for newsletters. Just really submerge yourself in the way folks talk about their work and approach a design problem. And read up on design thinking if you're not already familiar with the concept. It's what underpins a lot of UX design.

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