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Ep11. The State of UX Industry, Job Seeking Insights and UX Portfolios with Hang Xu

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Hang Xu⁠ is a UX leader turned recruiter and one of the most prominent design industry figures on Linkedin. In this session, we discuss the current state of the UX industry and what’s to come. We also will delve into job-seeking aspects and what designers need to showcase in their portfolio to land the job in probably the most difficult time in history. Hang will also share his philosophy on what makes and breaks UX portfolios and much more.

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The following notes are automated with AI; thus, they contain incorrections

Vy: Hey, what is up? Welcome back to experience 

Vy: design podcast. I’m your host V and today I have a special guest Hang Zhou. And Hang is a UX leader turned UX hiring recruiter. So his perspectives are extremely unique and it’s, you know, it’s quite rare actually to talk to a person like that. You might have seen his satirical post on LinkedIn where he’s kind of 

Vy: making fun in a way of the industry of the hiring practices in UX.

He’s calling out design maturity elements. He’s calling out those things which people don’t really talk about on social media. And in a way, he’s my favorite person on LinkedIn. We kind of touched on that too in the conversation, but Mostly we’re going to discuss all of that. We’re going to discuss no design existential themes.

We’re going to discuss about why is it so hard to get into UX? We are going to discuss UX portfolios. We’re going to discuss how hiring managers or recruiters are assessing your case studies. We’re also going to discuss where is the industry heading, but this is a long conversation [00:01:00] and I’m sure you’re going to get out a lot.out of that. So buckle up and I hope you enjoy this. If so, do share with a friend cause it does help this podcast grow and continue. And without further ado, here’s Hangzhou. How did you end up in UX and why? 

Hang: Sure. Yeah. I, so I did a lot of stuff. If I move into UX, I used to be a photographer. I did sculpting for a while and I worked as an assistant, worked at museums as an artist assistant.

So like a lot of different things. Um, I was always. pretty creative or like really liked the arts and design. And the problem was that all the stuff I did did not pay very well. So I, some students that, you know, I went to college for like a single for a year. I never graduated, but I accrued enough that in the U S private educational institutions to make my life fairly difficult in terms of just having a credit card debt.

Student loans and I was making maybe like twenty five thirty thousand dollars per year So it’s like very small amount of money for someone living in New York City and I had a good friend named Wayne [00:02:00] Who went to high school with me and he at the time had gotten an internship as an Android developer and all of a sudden He was making 70, 000 and at the time like wow, that’s so much money if I could make 70, 000 I’d be really happy and he Basically say, you know, if I could do it, you could do it too.

And I, so I try to be a developer. I try to learn objective C and halfway through it. I realized, you know, one is really difficult. It’s kind of not really how my brain thinks, but looking back, I realized that it’s not just how I thought, but just because of the lack of materials back then, like now, if you want to learn how to code, if you want to learn UX, you can, you know.

Find you on YouTube, you know, all this free information is available and that wasn’t available back then. You kind of had to read these documentations that Apple had put out or Android or Google would put out. Um, as I’m, you know, trying to learn how to code, one thing they do is one of the things that you do to learn is to build something of your own.

And the first thing of building it is to create wireframes and design stuff. So I started to design the app that I wanted to create, which was a [00:03:00] camera app. Uh, to improve the way somebody can take photos on the iPhone. And I took it to this meetup in New York City called UX Labs, I think. And it was run by this person, this designer named Pierre.

He looked at my designs and he said, This is the best thing I’ve seen all year. Are you a UX designer? And I was like, No, I’m not. I’m trying to be a developer and I was very chuffed to hear that. I was very, very flattered. And looking back, I think it was just being very generous to me. Just being very encouraging as someone, you know, someone who’s very nice, very, very good person.

And, you know, designs are probably mediocre. It was like, maybe, maybe a little bit above average, but that kind of gave me this idea that maybe I should be a UX designer instead. And, you know, I do have a. Arts and design background of some sort. So I kind of pivoted a little bit, started to read a lot of materials online, but mostly blog articles.

I think at the time it was like Smashing Magazine, that was like really big to learn about UX. And I spent about a year just [00:04:00] networking, going to meetups, hackathons. Uh, it was pretty tough. It’s probably like the lowest point of my life because I wasn’t really taking care of my mental health or my financial health.

So I would. Wake up in the morning and, you know, consume reading material and work on my portfolio. And around like 5 or 6 o’clock came around, I would go to a meetup. You know, there was a meetup every single day. And I would like, you know, grab their free food there and like, you know, meet people. And then on the weekends, I would do hackathons to meet other people.

And this is very different from now. Because back then, hackathons and meetups were like 90 percent senior people, 10 percent junior people like me. Nowadays, it’s very much flipped. If you go to meetup, because I think because of how bootcamps have pushed their students to go to meetups as a requirement, as like homework almost, now it’s like 80, 20, 80 percent of meetups are probably junior people looking for jobs.

So the networking opportunities is very different now, but back then it was great. And I met a lot of people and, you know, I had a portfolio at one point. Finally, after a year of working and went through a lot of job [00:05:00] interviews, got shot down, did a lot of free design exercises, just horrible use of my time.

Uh, there were times when I was, I felt so bummed out, so dejected. I wanted to like scream into the void. Like you get this horrible rejection after like two design exercises and somehow landed a job eventually through somebody I had met at a meetup. So he had, uh, met me at a meetup, then he did his own, he like, he operated his own hackathon or hosted it.

I met him again and, you know, we kept chatting, kept chatting. And he’s like, yeah, this is at one point he reached out to me. He’s like, Hey, I’m hiring for a role at my agency. And if you’re interested, I’d love to see your portfolio. And I, you know, waited like three weeks, like polished my portfolio. And by the time I sent it to him, the job was filled.

And he said, you know, next time. So a few months later, he’s like, Oh, we have another opening this time. I was ready. So I went through the whole process, finally landed a job, took about a year of just, uh, seven days a week, probably work 10, 12 hours a week on this. So it was really tough. [00:06:00] And. I think it’s even tougher now.

So I can only, I’m very empathetic to just how difficult it might be in the current market. And it’s 

Vy: very interesting because you’re highlighting, I guess, that social route. I don’t want to downplay your technical, you know, all those hours you spend learning and crafting stuff and working on the projects, which is to me is probably more essential, but.

Interesting to see that you put weight, or at least what I’m hearing, you put weight on connecting with 

Hang: people. If you were to talk about the amount of time I spent on each component of my education, obviously I spent way more time on the technical skills, perfecting my portfolio, working on personal projects, and making sure that I was job ready.

I could do the work once I landed the job. Uh, but that doesn’t make good storytelling, right? Like, I’m not going to tell you how many hours I sat in front of the computer to like, But I think you should. I should, but it’s not fun, right? Like, I think people are always looking for this magical moment where you meet someone and that person’s like your savior who, who gives you this amazing job [00:07:00] opportunity.

And It’s, it’s not really like that. Like I can say that’s, that’s the case. And I’m forever grateful to this person, Lawrence, who gave me my first shot. I’m always forever grateful to Pierre for being so encouraging to me. But that’s just one component of it. And that’s kind of the opportunity that’s presents itself.

If you are ready, if you put in all the work ahead of time. Um, I think right now we’re kind of in this weird situation where people have productized the advice of how to get into UX. As an industry, right? You have bootcamps, you have mentors, you have ADP list, and everyone is telling you kind of this formulaic almost advice of how you would break into UX.

And you do it by networking and do it by, you know, learning the tools. And the reality is that breaking into UX is such a breaking into it. Breaking is actually kind of a shitty term, but getting your first job in a very different industry. [00:08:00] That is not accredited or has a rigorous process like being a doctor or a lawyer or even an engineer or an architect.

It’s so wide ranging and so different for every single person that you can’t really shrink it down into a single piece of advice and expect that to work. So right now, everyone is being told you have to network. You have to go to meetups and to be honest, meetups are kind of a done thing. It’s not the same as it was 5 or 10 years ago.

There’s a big difference between getting a job. In UX and as a developer, as a PM pre COVID and post COVID the process is different. And if you were to ask 10 people who recently broke into UX design, their processes, like their story points or journey map would be. Either slightly different to very, very different.

And there is no formulaic way to get there. It’s, it’s kind of, it’s a bunch of different things you have to do, right? You have to figure out your own unique strengths, your own unique value propositions, your unique situation, your scenario, and plan around [00:09:00] that. You don’t know what’s gonna happen for you.

You don’t know if it’s meeting someone, or getting a job application done right. Or something else. But generally speaking, yeah, it is true. Like networking does help a lot. And that’s something you should commit time to. But the advice that people give for networking doesn’t tend to work because it’s not catered to the individual.

Right. It’s product ties. It’s turned into a service. Like you do X, Y, and Z, and you’d be good at networking. And it’s not how that works. You don’t go to a meetup and just like, do you have a job for me? Which is what the vast majority of junior people are doing right now are people who are trying to get their first job in something.

So. People are different, you know, some people are great at, I don’t want to say networking, but like great at talking with people, great at forming relationships, great at, you know, building that really important first or second relationship, and some people aren’t, doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be good at UX, they could be very good at it, but it’s kind of, it’s kind of formed all of those people are different.

Through like a natural by product or natural [00:10:00] filter that I would say most people who get their first jobs in UX or product or engineering even tend to be more outgoing, even if that’s not necessarily strongly correlated with their ability to do the job. Yeah. 

Vy: I definitely agree with you. In my career, I made a decision that I’m going to go.

to a meetup, just at least once a week, join a meetup, even if I was in a good place. And I don’t know why I was doing it even, but I knew that it’s going to contribute to kind of like a very long term, I guess, opportunities to be like, I knew that the meetups are not going to result in immediate works.

And granted, some of them were run by. Um, companies who are sponsoring both sessions. So they had openings that they would openly say, Hey, come to talk to us after this talk, I’m going to give you, and we can discuss about this opportunity. I have, it’s just one opening, just like you would see on LinkedIn one out of many.

And, and chances are like your skills have to [00:11:00] be good enough for what they seek in a way, because there is so many variables which need to be aligned. And I was never counting on it. I guess to me, meetups always have been. To gauge, like, where am I with my skills against off what people are presenting, let’s say, or talking about, or, you know, discussing and just realizing, okay, am I ready to be a lead now?

Let’s say as a senior, or am I ready to be a senior as a midweight and things of that nature? Kind of just gauging the industry ultimately, is it like what they do is good enough, but I never placed all the eggs into that basket. I feel like not working or, or. Maybe connecting is a better word with people is super important and it’s becoming harder and harder as well as we go, because, you know, I just literally posted a tweet today that every designer to me going forward and even now, or maybe even past five years have been a self taught designer because.

Apprenticeship model has been disappearing. So the social interaction of a more senior folk is all [00:12:00] social media. Um, and if you join a remote workforce, you might not be, or you, you are maybe a UX team of one. You might not have a senior colleague to show you the ropes or correct your wrongdoings. Like that, that’s my kind of observation of that, but, um, kind of to, to pivot slightly, I guess.

You post on LinkedIn. these satirical things, which I think LinkedIn to me always leaves like a bad taste. And I don’t know, maybe it’s my feet, but once in a while, um, the feed kind of highlights and pushes your content up the design of a fictitious workday UI, let’s say, and things of that nature. How did that came to be?

Like, why did you start it to, you know, sheepishly address, I guess, um, UX industry as a whole? Yeah, 

Hang: I think the layoffs. It’s really pushed me over the edge in many ways, you know, for the longest time, I think tech industry workers will count themselves as extremely fortunate or lucky as employees, right?

Compared to other [00:13:00] sectors, like my wife works, used to working fashion and fashion can be an extremely abusive and exploitative industry. There are times when she would come home at like two or 3 a. m because they have a kind of runway show the next day. And that’s the norm. You know, and it’s pretty terrible.

And, you know, when I used to work as an artist assistant, if we had a gallery show the next day, it’s, you know, you pull all nighters and you don’t get paid very much either. You get paid like 15, 20 bucks an hour if you’re lucky. And among the tech industry folks, you get paid way more, right? You can make six figures easily make 100k.

200 K. If you work in Fang, it’s 300, 400, 500 K, depending on your level. And for the longest time, we, we always thought, you know, we’re very fortunate, very grateful, and nothing’s going to change, right? Because we’ve gone through such a long, prosperous period ever since 2008 of our, the dot com crashes of just so much prosperity, so much money, so much, um, good treatment because companies needed us.

And all of a sudden with layoffs, you realize just how expendable we [00:14:00] are and how Badly, we needed unions, really. So when you talk about layoffs, when you talk about, you know, people having their offers withdrawn, you start to think about if we’re looking at the bottom line to determine who to lay off, surely there must be some kind of a calculation that’s being done at the C level of deciding who do we lay off, which functions do we lay off more than others?

And who among the function do we lay off, right? So a lot of the premise is basically what if we’re, what if we were to give a user interface. as a designer to something that’s already happening within the industry. What would that look like? The second you mock it off, you realize just how absurd and offensive and fucked up it is, but also hilarious because it is actually happening.

And you can’t deny that you cannot say, you know, there must be some formula they’re using to, to determine that this person is okay to lay off without creating additional legal risks. And that’s kind of how it started. And people reacted pretty well to it. All things considered, I thought people would be like, no, this is.

super [00:15:00] offensive. It is reality, and I guess satire is funny in many ways. And it’s always fun, always fun to find people who take it really seriously, and they get really, really upset because they think it’s serious. Like, that I’m okay with. Um, I think if people were really angry knowing that it’s satire, it then, that changes the equation a little bit.

But overall, it’s also a lot of fun mocking it up. You know, I hadn’t done any hands on pixel work for many, many months at that point, ever since I burned out from design about a year ago. So this was kind of a welcome change. And also, you can do it really poorly because it’s workday. You pixel perfect.

Things are supposed to be a little bit misaligned. Yeah. One 

Vy: of the things which if I could kind of double click, you started, I guess, a hiring agency as well, a pro bono one or two, which, which is super interesting, but why did you change that? Like, why did you go from a designer who’s, you know, actually in the trenches to someone who’s really trying to support and help other designers?

Hang: Yeah. I [00:16:00] just burned out really badly about a year ago. And it was pretty tough because I, you know, always viewed myself as somebody who overperforms who, you know, does more than he or she is being asked. And it’s tough, like, we don’t talk enough about mental health in design. And I think once you get to a certain level as a designer, like when you’re junior or mid level, or even some senior levels, you’re in a production zone.

Where you’re being told exactly what to do. And as you level up, the scope of the problem becomes bigger and bigger. And you also learn more skills in terms of understanding what’s working, what’s not working, what’s creating value, and what’s not. And eventually you get to a point, depending on what kind of environment you’re in, of course, you get to a point where you realize some things might not be working, some things need to improve.

So that you can maximize the value, the efficiency, the productivity, right? You realize also that it’s very, very hard to change that because you’re now in the realm of change management as a designer, and most designers are poorly equipped for this, right? You’re, you [00:17:00] learn how to design, you learn how to think in terms of product, in terms of business, even, but no one really teaches you how do you convince broad groups of people on changing how they do.

Their jobs, even though they’ve been doing it for a decade or two decades or longer design is now taking more of a driver’s seat in certain aspects of creating products when you do that, I’m one of my bosses tie had this wonderful analogy. It’s like you’re going into. a bakery and you’re telling these bakers that they’ve been baking bread incorrectly all these years it’s just not going to work you’re not going to get very far because the bread they’re making is still edible and people don’t really have that frame of reference or understanding that you’re trying to insert or trying to evangelize you’re kind of stuck in this catch 22 where You believe there’s something better yet.

You can’t prove it. You can’t really show it until things change, but until you can show it, they’re not going to change. And at the end of the day, when you talk about change management, [00:18:00] it’s very much emotional labor in many ways, right? Like you’re, you’re trying to manage your own emotions as you’re part of a system that you deem to be maybe not super optimal or functioning in a way that showcases your value, your worth as a designer, and you’re trying to help people change and improve without.

offending them easily. And, and there are all these unconscious biases, right? Like people might not like to be told this by somebody who’s more junior or somebody who looks different from them or acts differently than they do. And you’re managing all these things and it definitely takes a toll. And I think there’s a, you know, there’s a wonderful article.

Written by, I’m not even going to try pronouncing her last name because I’m going to butcher it. Um, Sarah, you know, 

Vy: we can add Vinod 

Hang: Sifnidhi and it’s the article is called designers. They’re gaslighting you. And yeah, I think, yeah, everyone knows that it’s, it’s a very, very good article. And it, it pinpoints exactly how difficult it is to be a designer in certain environments.

And I think that’s the [00:19:00] majority. Like when people think about designers, they’re thinking about designers working in fan companies like Airbnb or Apple, where things are very different, where design takes a front seat, a driver’s seat. But in most environments, it’s not like that. So how do you navigate that?

And if you’re not prepared to deal with this, Tsunami really of interpersonal challenges. And if you don’t have that skill set ahead of time, then it can be extremely challenging because there’s this gap between your technical skills, your understanding of product and your ability to work with other people, right?

Cause if you’re working with people and there aren’t. These gaps are, are differences in opinions, and it’s very easy to work with them. It’s easy to get along. But when there are these discrepancies or differences of understanding of frames or references, then they magnifies any deficiencies you have in your ability to work cross functionally.

And. My thesis is that I think most designers are poorly equipped, me included, and that can create a lot of, uh, dissonance [00:20:00] and pain. I would like to 

Vy: challenge you on that, Phil. Like, do you feel like it’s purely skills? Because to me, it has always been, I guess, the fundamental positioning or nature of the actual UX.

Is it really just the skills? Because to me, it sounds like when you are coping, you’re not really Making any breakthroughs. You’re literally just, you’re adapting, I guess. 

Hang: That’s a great question. And I think that’s, uh, there’s many philosophical stances that you can take. And I, I tend to oscillate between all these different stances.

There are days when I feel like, well, if you adapt to this, are you just developing a taste for shit sandwiches? Like you just realized this is, this is all you’re going to eat and you’re, you better like it now. Or is there something better? Right? Like what is the nature of design? What is the job at the end of the day?

Like there’s a, there’s a discrepancy or there’s a dissonance between the job that we were told of what it would be versus what it is in [00:21:00] actuality. And I think that’s different for everyone, right? People all come into the industry, um, either through reading the experiences of others. And a lot of it is very polished, right?

Like you, you read Steve Jobs biography and it’s, it makes us sound very different than what it must’ve been. day to day as an Apple designer, right? And there are times when I think about why am I putting myself through so much pain? And there are other days when I’m thinking about, you know, this is important.

You have to do this right. I don’t know if there is a single right answer. And as you talk to more people, you realize. Everyone has a very different stance on it. And there are days when I read, you know, read enough articles written by one individual, I start to think, you know, this is true. This is super important.

We have to keep fighting. And there are other days when I realize this is just a job. And. How much of this is my ego versus something that’s more important than that. Like the analogy I often use is I think every designer thinks that they are this sports car engine, like you’re a Porsche [00:22:00] engine, right?

If in the right environment, you are going to like, just, you know, just smash every record, make something really amazing. Just be, you know, be top of the line. And I think most companies aren’t Porsche’s and not race cars. They’re, they’re kind of like a Volkswagen Jetta. And you may not fit in very well.

And if you try to turn this Volkswagen Jetta into a race car, you’re not going to get very far. Instead, what’s going to happen is you’re going to be brought down to that level. And you have to operate that way, or it’s going to be extremely tough. And, you know, even talking about this, I Still, I question myself, like, is that accurate though?

Like, are we, how much of that is our ego saying we are a sports car engine and treating everybody else as like a subpar car? Even like maybe in terms of reality, you know, we’re all just different organisms and we need to figure out how we can cooperate and work together to create the best possible outcome.

The ego is 

Vy: a [00:23:00] massive factor. It’s not an issue to me as well, because I think majority of the people who want to grow in something, it’s really their egos running it because otherwise they wouldn’t make those choices to pursue anything. I think when people join the design, they might not realize that they’re joining.

Other egos and that’s where probably a lot of clashes or less ideal scenarios in the workplace 

Hang: happen. Do you think other functions and industries have the same kind of self introspection? Is this the right thing to do? Are we doing it? And am I pushing too hard? Am I pushing hard enough? Do you think?

Doctors do that? Lawyers? Architects? Do they talk about, is this good or bad? Am I doing good work or not good work? Or am I being limited? Like, to me, 

Vy: it’s how far away is your specialty from the actual bottom line or the money. Or the impact, because I feel like design is it’s by, by, by [00:24:00] definition is way too attached from the actual impact.

It’s like, we kind of need to like, as designers force ourselves to go, okay, this is the outputs we produce. This is the outcomes we contribute to for making a user’s lives better. And then maybe we are adding something to the impact. Of the business, but it’s, it’s such a lengthy journey for us to kind of directly link.

And I think that’s kind of like, to me, the root cause or like first principle of why we have these existential reflections. That’s just how I view it. Like, if you take, um. Product management still live in tech. I feel like they, they still have the same kind of challenges, maybe slightly better or less elevated at that because different companies have different expectations of what a good product manager looks like in some, it could be.

Pure delivery in others, it’s mastery of how you handle stakeholders and how well do you say no to your CEO requests. And in others, how you manage the actual product team and engineering capability, how well you [00:25:00] establish your three amigos. In others, it’s value definition, but it’s still like more spread out.

The skillsets are the more like you’re unsure if you’re doing well or like what your impact is and. I think there is also danger to over engineer that, where let’s say you become super data directed or, or, you know, less of a data informed, but data driven in your design. And then it’s, it’s just becomes like a factory machine producing output still, but I feel like it’s way too detached.

And because we don’t have the direct impact, that’s how it falls apart. And, you know, I can share one of the. Direct life examples where I’ve been doing a lot of DIY work and I learned, you know, I’m, I’m renovating the house, basically myself learning stuff for YouTube videos and learning to do interior design and things like tiling, like say, and, you know, learned really quickly by doing on the job, but it was such a simplistic task.

driven thing, which still takes a lot of practice, but I saw immediate impact. If let’s say I would do that [00:26:00] professionally, I feel like it would be equivalent of doing it in engineering where you have a very specific, you know, output you could make granted, you could architect it and choose different tiles, but you could immediately get paid for it, or you could kind of launch a website and get immediately some sort of results.

It’s the specificity, which to me is missing. And that’s why we kind of get lost in that fuzziness. But what 

Hang: are your thoughts? I think this, you know, goes back to the ROI or return on investment of design and all the different steps we have to take to get to that. And then it gets into a philosophical question of should we be trying to figure out the business speak or the business language of design and attaching the impact and the ROI?

Or should we try to circumvent that conversation by pointing out how other functions don’t have to do that? You don’t, you certainly don’t have to justify your ROI as an engineer, even though you’re pretty close to the work, right? Pretty close to the output. You’re touching the code. You’re, you’re creating the product, right?

And for product managers, it’s the same thing. How do [00:27:00] you justify the ROI of a product manager if they’re not the ones who are writing the code or pushing the pixels? They’re making decisions, right? And these decisions need to be actioned on by other functions. So how do you divide that up even? How do we talk about opportunity costs?

And it’s, it’s super difficult, right? So, most other functions don’t have to talk about ROI or justify anything. Just understood intrinsically by senior leadership and other functions as well. But for design, for whatever reason, and I think partially it’s because of the layoffs and how design probably was over impacted compared to other functions.

And. A lot of content creators or thought leaders would just say, well, we’ve, you know, we fucked up. We didn’t do this. We didn’t do that. And we need to improve it. So you have a prevalence or a higher prevalence now are more common courses online and more content around this. I think people tend to feel very strongly about it.

They engage with it. They react with it. And on one hand, I [00:28:00] think it’s good because we are talking about it. On the other hand, I feel like, you know, we’re kind of feeding into this in the wrong way. So like the way McKinsey came out with this report saying, yes, you can calculate the efficiency of engineers are, you know, efficiency.

It’s a stone skip away from productivity and stone skip away from return on investment and impact and whatever. Right. And pretty much every engineer. Who’s worth anything immediately came out. It’s like, this is bullshit. Like you guys don’t know what the fuck it is you’re talking about. You’re a management consultancy that does terrible things at times, and you don’t know anything about engineering.

Why are you writing this shit? You’re just trying to sell some make money. All the engineers like pragmatic engineer. And I think some other folks were just saying, this is horrible. And I think the opposite happened with design. Pretty much all designers like to, no, okay, I’m overly generalizing, but many designers would reference the 2016 report by Forrester, saying design has a 100x ROI or 10 to 100x.

And [00:29:00] the more I look into this, Into these reports, you know, they, they cite other reports and then you dig deeper and deeper. They keep citing further back and further back. And all of a sudden you realize that it’s from a study that’s more than 20 years old. Back when the internet was very different design was very different, right?

So how much of that is still relevant to today? And how impactful that is that when you. Bring it up to stakeholders to tell them we should be investing more in design and research. Like that’s questionable. The more we lean into that at times, I wonder if it’s actually almost a Trojan horse that we’re kind of letting into, you know, undermine our abilities to push for more research or more design.

And our abilities to create value. 

Vy: I totally agree with you. I feel like it’s also, I mean, in, in a very simplistic ways, it’s also touches that I guess the language issue that we kind of like in design are forced to talk the language of the business [00:30:00] or, or our user, and it could be a stakeholder that say, or a product manager, whoever it is, it’s kind of like we always have to double translate.

So we know that we understand the value we’re going to deliver. With our UX interventions and changing something, redesigning something. And we know that there’s going to be a Delta, but then we almost need to flip it. Um, and I was literally replying today to one tweet and it was along the lines of about design systems specifically where, like I’m paraphrasing, but it said, if, if you want to lose trust or get no investment.

For design systems, you should just keep mentioning design systems because that’s exactly what people don’t care. And it’s literally that to me, because when I think about that, yes, the only way I sold design systems in the past was by relabeling it as reusable code and design so that you get savings first, basically, and which is okay.

Right? Like you sometimes have to do, but I think it reflects on the nature of how we communicate to businesses and like what [00:31:00] businesses really care about. I’m generalizing, obviously, but. They do care about the bottom line. That’s ultimately it. And it’s, if you can link up directly of what design brings into that bottom line, it’s, it’s an uphill battle.

Ultimately it’s, there is no shortcuts. It doesn’t matter what report you’re going to surface or reference. 

Hang: Yeah. I’m, you know. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m against talking about the business language or, you know, speaking the same language that other stakeholders are speaking because you do need to be able to, you know, empathize to a degree where you’re communicating on the same level as other people, right?

I think all that makes sense. I think the challenge though is oftentimes as a designer, talking about the bottom line isn’t enough. Because there is this gap of understanding between what the business wants to do in terms of their strategy or in terms of the narrative and I’m paraphrasing poorly again from what Peter Merkel said to me at one [00:32:00] point about how certain designers at large businesses could be sitting on many, many millions of dollars of opportunity and the business will not action on it because what the designer wants to do is not in line with the narrative or the story that the business is telling itself.

I realized when I heard that I was like, wow, that’s painfully accurate. And the challenge that I’ve often faced as a designer was, are I know enough about product management to understand what’s going to move the bottom line? And when we introduce these ideas to the business, it misses the mark, not because the dollar amount wasn’t high enough, but because we didn’t understand what the business wanted to do.

And I think that’s the fault lies in both sides, right? One is the business is not doing a good enough job in disseminating what it is they want to do. There was no roadmap. There was no communication to the design team because they view the design team as more of a pair of hands to do the work as opposed to a strategic thought partner who can help them, you know, really hone a strategy or to create a [00:33:00] lot more value through a multiplier process as opposed to additive.

And as. You know, designers, we didn’t do a good enough job to build that trust so that they felt comfortable telling us or helping them understand design enough that they would want to bring us in. And as I’m saying that, I’m also thinking, you know, is it our job to do that? We have all these other things to do, and then you’re adding this very complex interpersonal challenge on top of it, where, you know, how much time do you get with the CEO or chief product officer or anybody at the VP level when you’re a senior level designer?

Very little, right? You need to somehow, you know, build that trust with the 30 minutes you get per year. Maybe at that, and it’s it’s tough, right? Challenge for anyone. But at times you can see the problem clearly, but there is also not a clear or easy solution in front of you. 

Vy: I’m with you on that. I want to kind of like, pivot slightly into, I guess.

The existing UX market [00:34:00] and your learnings, you know, from actual recruitment, what do you’ve seen so far? Cause I’m sure you’ve have been receiving so many applications, reach outs from actual UXers of all different levels. And you do share on, you know, social media, a lot of those learnings are like exactly what works, what doesn’t work.

But I wonder like, where do most of the applicants fall short? 

Hang: One thing that. I know I was failing. Early on was I had a poor understanding of where the market was going. If you were to ask me five years ago, which skill set should you concentrate on to level up as a designer, create more job opportunities, etc.

I would have said you need to understand business strategy, you need to understand product strategy and, and research, talking to users and connecting the dots and everything. And that’s not true. I was wrong. And right now for the past year or two, I think, and maybe I’m just saying this because I went into recruiting in the past year, but it certainly feels like there is more of an emphasis on visual [00:35:00] design and hands on design skillset.

I think a lot of this also has to do with the market in the U. S. where once the layoffs happened more than a year ago, All the large companies, all the fan companies had mass layoffs, right? And they closed most of their positions. So they’re not hiring a whole lot. And then midsize companies that are like series A to series D in funding also saw their funding dry up and they had to do mass layoffs.

They aren’t really hiring anymore. And the only companies that were hiring for the longest time for the past year or so were Seed stage or series a companies that had just gotten their funding. So they were flush with cash. They’re hiring the first designer. So in terms of UX maturity, it’s going to be fairly low in terms of just how much the founders understand design.

They’re, they’re kind of, they have this massive design debt in terms of visual stuff, branding, et cetera. So they’re trying to plug someone into, you know, act as a dam to, you know, Stop this massive need for design and they’re very visually focused, right? So the [00:36:00] most important thing for them is, you know, you need to have taste, you need to have an eye for design.

You need to be able to create really beautiful visual design in your portfolio. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not just beautiful visual design in terms of User experience or user interfaces is also marketing and branding design as well in many cases. And if you have animation skills on top of it, even better.

And beyond that, I also want to know that you can work with stakeholders and you need to be able to understand product management to a certain degree. Because there is no time and space to, to teach you that, like you need to have that prior experience already. And you have to be able to understand complexity, ambiguity, because this is a, you know, early stage startup, there’s going to be so much crap thrown at you and you need to manage all that and to, you know, leverage whatever interpersonal skills you have.

So, it’s basically asking for everything under the sun, but with a heavy emphasis on visual design. And the thing is, when you evaluate people’s skill set, Certain evaluations take longer than others. So seeing, understanding their problem solving skills, their [00:37:00] ability to navigate ambiguity, that’s hard to grok, right?

You could assume certain things by seeing that they worked in other environments that have complex products, or internal tooling, whatever. But you still need to ask them a lot of questions. Whereas for visual design, you can rock it immediately. You look at the portfolio in first five seconds. You can see, is this a visually inclined designer or not?

So vast majority of rejections early on is going to be based on visual design skills and therefore people will overreact and say, oh, that’s the thing that everyone’s looking for. But that’s certainly the case. I think there’s a shift to our visual design based on that. And the biggest. Point that most designers are missing is they’re thinking about their portfolio and their candidacy in the way of wind percentages.

They want to send out a hundred applications and get a hundred replies. Like that’s the goal of every designer, right? They don’t care what company it is. They just want to be told, Hey, we really like you. Let’s move you to the first, second, third round. And that’s okay. In 2021, when, when the market was wonderful [00:38:00] for us, right, companies wanted to hire designers really badly.

And they’re making them, they’re willing to make concessions. Like maybe you don’t have the best B2B experiences. We’re willing to take a chance on you because you know, you talked your way into it. But right now it’s so tough that they’re looking for an apples to apple comparison. So there’s no way you can get a hundred percent win rate.

As a designer right now, you have to be very clear about what it is you’re looking for, right? So it’s taking account of what the market is like, which companies are hiring, what kind of roles they’re hiring for. And then thinking about your own unique experiences and skill set, and making sure that you are maximizing your unique value proposition.

So when designers show me their portfolio, the first thing I typically ask is, what roles are you looking for, realistically speaking? And they can’t just tell me, Oh, I’m looking for a senior designer role. That’s, you know, remote, blah, blah, blah. No, it has to be, I want to ideally work in, you know, like a SAS [00:39:00] software tool company, or I want to work in a consumer or someone, some kind of a mental health.

Company, you know, social media company, right? So the more specific you are, the better your chances of getting a call back moving forward, because then you are very targeted in your portfolio creation. To me, there are certain archetypes. So if you’re going for a first early stage startup, you should. Think about what they care about, because that could be very different from a larger company.

That is more of a legacy company. That’s not super tech forward. They would be looking for something differently as well. So you need to be able to speak to that so that they immediately understand your value proposition within the first few seconds or first few minutes. because they’re just inundated with so many candidates and applicants.

So knowing what it is you are looking for, knowing your own unique skill set, knowing what the market is like, and then catering to that will be very helpful versus trying to design something or make your candidacy attractive across the board because [00:40:00] you’re going to lose out to somebody who is more targeted.

A lot of the juniors 

Vy: maybe in particular, but also seniors who haven’t. Done hiring themselves, they don’t really understand of what the hiring managers care for or what we’re actually looking for in portfolios or even in the entries and things of that nature. But like, what’s your perspective 

Hang: on that?

I’ve worked as an external recruiter, which is still very different from a hiring manager. That’s internal. So I can my, my perspective is a little bit more focused on the. The former versus the latter, but I would say nowadays when a role is available, they’re going to get many times more candidates organically than in the past.

Whereas in the past, they might have a hard time sourcing candidates. They will have to use external agencies to get the best kind of days nowadays. It’s very easy for them to just say, Hey, I’m hiring on LinkedIn and people will just flood the gates, right? So you might see a mark increased in the number of applicants.

But you still have the same number of hours to try to figure out who is [00:41:00] the best candidate. And the biggest issue that I’m seeing, I keep saying the biggest issue, and everything’s like biggest issue, but this is one of the bigger ones is candidates tend to apply for jobs thinking that The best candidate will get the job out of the pool of candidates, the best one.

And it is the job of the hiring manager and the recruitment team to figure out who is the number one. What they’re not thinking about is how much effort and work it is to figure out who is truly the number one. Who is going to be the best at doing the day to day work? Of course, that’s highly subjective, but, but let’s just say that it is some way objective, right?

You, you have some kind of a alternative reality machine to like, see all the alternatives of who gets hired and what the outcome is going to be like for the company in, in the one, three, five year mark. But the reality right now is that companies. Are trying to find an above average candidate within a pool within a set amount of time.

They’re not trying to find the best candidate. They’re just trying to [00:42:00] find someone who is the best within a small pool, right? Because you look at the funnel of hiring, it’s kind of like a sales funnel where you have maybe a thousand applicants and you need to get them to the next stage. of intake calls for like, you know, 30 minutes max.

And I remember one recruiter telling me key important skills as a recruiter is knowing how to get off the phone once you realize they are not the right candidate. And that could be in the first five minutes because you can get that remaining time back so you can move on to the second candidate. Right?

So time is like one of the most important elements for a recruiter and initial filter for the funnel, right? With applicants, you need to Minimize that to maybe a few seconds or a few minutes per candidate. Then you move on to the next round and you might only have 30 intake calls before you send the top five to 10 to the hiring manager to interview.

So each stage of the funnel, the amount of effort and investment in time, energy, whatever goes up exponentially. So you cannot go across the board and [00:43:00] ask all these questions. So when candidates think about, you know, they just kind of bump me out immediately without even asking me some basic questions to see just how relevant my skill set is to the company.

And they’re offended by it. They’re dejected, et cetera. What they might not be realizing is. Just how much of numbers game it is early on in terms of the filtering. I don’t say filtering in terms of like there’s an ATS or applicant tracking system that people are using filtering candidates out and like now I’m looking at job applications.

I’m saying a human being is looking at it, but they’re not spending as much time and effort on it as you would like as a candidate, right? Because you’re thinking about it from your kind of a selfish or egotistical point of view. I don’t mean like they’re selfish or egotistical, just that they’re looking at from their purely their own point of view, which is Time and energy on me, right?

But really, you might only have a minute per candidate because you have a thousand to go through. So, you’re, they’re just trying to find, you know, a good amount within the batch, and then move on to the next one. So, the analogy I use is, if you only have one hour to [00:44:00] find the best restaurant in your neighborhood, how would you go about it?

You obviously cannot dine at every single restaurant. That’s no way you can do that in one hour or even 10 hours. What you do is you filter it really quickly early on. You might look in the app. You might ask some people before you invest like 20 minutes each at the top three restaurants before you decide which one is the top one, right?

So you might not find a truly top restaurant. In the neighborhood by whatever objective measures or subjective measures you have, but you’re getting somewhere pretty close hiring is like that. There’s a time component to it and candidates don’t think about that. Right? So if you were to think about that, how would you move forward?

And that’s about making sure you’re communicating the message within the time allotment at each. Funnel stage, how do you get across your unique value proposition within a minute early on? And then once you get 30 minutes, how do you then do that within 30 minutes? That’s a lot of to you. And then next would be maybe an hour long conversation with the hiring manager.

How do you do that within an hour? So on and so [00:45:00] forth. So if you think about it that way, you can then design it in such a way. And again, we’re designers. We have all the tools to do this, but for whatever reason, designers don’t apply this same skill set to their own career, to their own, you know, job hunting process, 

Vy: fascinating, um, themes.

I think you’re sharing as well, which is I think invisible to a lot of candidates, but it shouldn’t be. But even from hiring manager, you know, I hired. I don’t know, I probably reviewed thousands of portfolios to date and hired so many countless of superstar designers ultimately, or I think I hired the best I could get from, from the pool.

I, you know, received or got, you know, my hands on, but it’s exactly the same. Maybe the minutes actually increased slightly, but if I get to review a portfolio, like the first impressions count a lot. You know, the actual UX of a portfolio matters a lot. Of course, the projects in it, it’s the meat. It’s the most important part, but it has to communicate very fast.

It doesn’t matter how much time you spend on it. It’s still very quick assessment, basically. I’m kind of deciding, okay, is this good enough to [00:46:00] proceed? Like there shouldn’t be any second thoughts that may, it’s an if. I should be able to hire you with the amount of information I know so far. And if I, if I don’t know, I can, I cannot proceed in a way.

And it’s very brutal as well in that regard, because people think that they’re books and. They are like everybody has rich experience, but you have to consider who’s reviewing you because they have very limited amount of time to, to read into things or dig for it or 

Hang: research you. That’s the part I struggle with a lot as a recruiter, right?

Because there’s an ethical component to it as well. And. There are parts of it where you’re, you can point at it and clearly say that is super biased, right? You are discriminating against people based on how they look oftentimes how they speak about certain things and you’re Overvaluing certain skill set like communication when that might not be the most important thing for a designer at times Depending on what they’re working on and that is true and there is almost this [00:47:00] choice you’re making Between thinking about how fucked up it is, versus what the reality is, and how do you proceed.

And, my advice typically is, if you’re in the process of a job hunt, then you kind of have to err on the side of reality. Like, this is what it is, and just kind of deal with it. And then once you get a job, you kind of move back into, this is terrible, let’s try to fix these things. 

Vy: I also maybe think that there is a good medium because from the hiring manager perspective, again, you are trying to fill in the boots, which are super specific.

So let’s say in one company, um, I worked in, and it may be kind of going to resonate with your background too, in like robotics and more like a service design level challenges or physical experiences or like hybrid experiences. Like you have a very specific, I guess, skill set you’re seeking and. I know specifically that I need to see in their portfolios, something to do with hardware, let’s say, or something to do with a very holistic service design.

So it, it, it almost like to me, there [00:48:00] is very little ethical consideration to that because that’s the experience I need. For someone to have, for them to do a good enough job because the stakes are quite high in a way. But of course it could vary. Let’s say if it’s, I don’t want to say that it’s simpler, but let’s say more common experiences.

You know, it could be web design. It could be commerce design. It could be quite, I guess, common interactive bits, which you just need to cover, then, you know, you kind of have a bigger pool to choose from. You kind of need to be a bit wary of how you approach it and how you, but still it’s minutes, it’s never.

You know, it’s never extensive and maybe just to kind of pick your brain specifically one bit, which I think you wrote to me that we were discussing to have this chat, it was to do with UX portfolios and specifically junior UX portfolios, where portfolios you’ve seen from, I guess, juniors or from people coming from bootcamps had the specific recipe to them or specific quality to them.

Could you talk about that a bit? 

Hang: There’s at one point, if you were to show me a [00:49:00] portfolio. From a designer, I can almost guess which bootcamp they went to. Because it’s productized again, right? If you were to think about what UX design would have been like if there weren’t boot camps, then, theoretically, every single designer’s portfolio would be very, very different.

Because they would be talking about their skill set, their experiences, from their own perspective. But instead, we are almost taught to use a formula, or almost a linear, in terms of time, process, of documenting our work and what we’ve done. And what’s interesting is that bootcamps originally figure out this formula by, well, you know, senior designers designed the bootcamp.

So they figure out the formula and they taught this and it became so prevalent that nowadays I’m seeing a lot of senior level designers who follow the same formula. Because that is the accepted formula of what a portfolio should be like. And in many ways. When you see this formula, you [00:50:00] would kind of assume this is probably a junior level designer, it’s kind of like a debt giveaway.

And some of them would be, you know, linear process, the way they highlight what they did, what they didn’t do. And also, debt giveaway is, is this a real product or not? Because if it’s theoretical one, or it’s a redesign of something, most likely it’s kind of a personal project, so probably more junior versus somebody who has the working experience of something like that.

To me, it’s almost like AI, where you’re kind of like feeding into You’re feeding into the data set with his own output and becomes a very cyclical thing where it just becomes more of something more and more of something. So what is a portfolio? I think there is a way to communicate it so that your own personal experiences that are quite unique.

Comes through, but at the same time, you’re adhering to Jacob’s law, where people who have seen portfolios before can see yours and kind of understand what’s happening, what’s being communicated as quickly as possible. And that’s a hard balance to strike, but more often than not, I think people tend to [00:51:00] be very focused on creating portfolio that looks like everybody else’s, because that’s what a portfolio should be like.

And when they seek advice, oftentimes the advice people are giving is, oh, you know, you’re missing this thing that I’ve seen somebody else’s portfolio that’s helpful to me. And it’s challenging. So who do you listen to and is their advice really relevant to your unique skill set? And that’s just a hard question to answer.

A lot of the people 

Vy: probably took that bootcamp and they made those portfolios based off, I guess, what we learned there. Like, what should they do really? Should they just embrace, I guess, themselves and just do what feels right in a way, or? Like, I guess, like to me, it’s also, I’m, I’m very strong believer that the perfect portfolio doesn’t exist.

Yeah. Just like perfect design doesn’t exist. It’s just, it has to be right or good enough for opportunity X or job opening X. But I wonder what’s your kind of take, like what should actually people do with their portfolios and maybe even regardless 

Hang: of their seniority. I don’t [00:52:00] think there’s good generalized advice for this because there’s, there’s the contradiction where you.

Take everyone’s advice, you apply it, and your portfolio becomes very, very average. It kind of runs into the same issues I’m talking about earlier. So, it’s about figuring out who to listen to, and one thing that people should really think about is, what kind of roles are you trying to go for? Who are the hiring managers for these roles?

What are they looking for? What is their opinion on your portfolio? I think these are the most important folks. Right. You’re listening to your customers, your actual users versus everyone else out there. And you know, that older Dodge, if you’re designing for everyone, you’re really designing for no one, right?

It’s the same thing here. If you just listen to every single person’s opinion about your portfolio, and there are some obviously golden nuggets in there that you should take in. But at the end of the day, you only have so much time and energy to apply everything that people are saying. So again, What roles are you looking for?

You’re looking for a FANG role, a first designer at a company role, um, you know, at a [00:53:00] large series C SaaS company, like what do you, what kind of roles do you want? And what are these hiring managers looking for? Because if you’re very specific about it, you’re going to see more of a concrete pattern.

Across the hiring managers and recruiters. And even then it’s like, you really need to think about who to listen to and what advice to kick out. What’s going 

Vy: from my head right now is my portfolio, which, um, I kind of made peace with myself back in the day because I realized like through a lot of years of reviewing portfolios, I guess, but also applying for the jobs.

I realized that whatever I come up with is likely going to work for some cases, but not the others. And I’m also conflicted in a way where I could just take the generic portfolio of God, and it’s probably has 50 case studies. I would maybe trim it down to a few. And I know exactly what type of hiring manager it would resonate with.

You know, if I would just take my generic portfolio, it’s likely going to resonate with someone who’s maybe less about visual design, but more about [00:54:00] UX strategy and research and architecture of information and all the different technical bits. But I have to be okay with that basically. And I have to be okay that that’s the only jobs which I might land.

Which is going to require those bits or it’s going to resonate or I’m going to hear back. And I even posted the Sankey diagram, you know, the flow of like, okay, you applied for 50 applications and then 20 rejections, 30 ghostings and stuff like that. And then one offer. And I feel like that 

Hang: persists 

Vy: unless you also super tailor your portfolio.

It’s almost like you have to be okay to then knowing what the company is about or what sort of design they’re working. If you’re Privy to that information, you have to then highlight those skills and tailor it basically. And I think Seniors have all the freedom in the world to do that because they have so many case studies, but they have very little time to do, you know, you have to be very self aware of like, who is going to resonate with your work and, and what, you know, who is not [00:55:00] going to resonate if your work at all, because if you’re going to make all your portfolio about UI or product design, like a very, very visually focused or interaction design focused only the people who are into that or who are managing that.

Or who need that in their business are likely to pick up the phone and talk to you 

Hang: ultimately. It’s so tough because it’s so personal and every rejection stinks no matter what level you are, you know, where you are in your career. And I think people tend to also have a recency bias to it as well. And there’s, of course, it’s things more when it’s a job or company that you really want to work at and work for.

We don’t really have the right components, mentally speaking, as an average human to figure out what to listen to and what not to. Because it’s just so painful or aggravating at times, but if we are able to figure that out and try to look at it more objectively or maybe get a second pair of eyes on it, it can be very helpful to make sure that we’re targeted.

It’s just so open ended. You [00:56:00] don’t know how much more time you should be spending on it, where you should go, which direction it should be in, and that kind of confusion or open endedness or complexity and ambiguity really throws people for a loop. And at the end of the day, it’s, it’s again, so deeply personal, you know, you’re being rejected.

But you have to be able to take yourself out of that somehow so that, you know, you can balance your mental health and you’re making sure that you’re moving forward objectively and creating more value for yourself. Yeah, 

Vy: it’s also never personal as well. People don’t, hopefully, don’t reject others because of whoever people are, as 

Hang: they should.

Yeah, but I think designers take it upon our Identity, like we call ourselves designers, right? I question just how easy it is to not make it personal. 

Vy: Yeah. Do you have any, any advice of how to maybe dissociate from that? 

Hang: Dissociate? One thing that helped me early on, I don’t know if this is still applicable, was fairly early [00:57:00] on my career, I realized that it wasn’t about the name of the company or the products I’d be working on.

It’s really about the people. And the hard part about figuring it out. If the people at the company you want to work for are the ones you like, it’s that you couldn’t see that early on in the job application process. You had to actually talk to them to figure out if you jive, if you were able to, you know, get along, if you’re able to communicate in a way that is healthy and, you know, good for you and your career.

So it requires a lot of time investment, but also you just really had no way of knowing. If that company had good people or not, besides if you knew someone there, and I just apply to every single company with the minimum amount of time spent per application. So I basically figure out a way to get an application in for like 30 seconds or a minute each.

And so I would apply to like hundreds. And I would, you know, get quite a few responses, but still at a fairly low response rate, and I was okay with that because I just wanted to get to the first and second round of interviews so I [00:58:00] can talk to the people. Spend that 30 minutes, get to know them, see if it’s, you know, a good opportunity or not.

And I think by going through that process, it, it showed me how low the The rate was, the response rate, the success rate was very, very low. But at the end of the process, I still have five or more job offers. So it helped me see that it wasn’t about the rejection rate, but it’s about how much time you’re spending per offer received.

And also how happy you are once you land at that company. So it’s more about the, the ending more so than the process itself. And I think that helped me get over a lot of. You know, hang ups when it comes to getting rejected because at this point is more of um, you almost Lean too hard into the numbers game aspect.

Now, of course, certain rejections still hurt because there were companies I talked to where people were really wonderful and I really wanted to work with them and I just didn’t get the job. So that still hurts. That’s still personal, but it [00:59:00] felt personal in a different way versus personal in terms of you apply somewhere and they send you a formulaic rejection letter, like that stuff phases me much less than it did years ago.

But getting rejected helps. I think if you just go through a lot of rejections, that helps. Yeah. You just learn 

Vy: that it’s part of part of the game. And one of the things they recently advised a lot, a lot of people, I think I even advised one of the product managers was to not to be too picky outright.

Cause some of the best companies, I guess I interacted with or even kind of regretted not joining later on have been the ones I kind of had the, I applied basically, but I was thinking, Oh, I shouldn’t even have applied because I wouldn’t want to work for it. But then you have a chat with the actual people and you realize that, Hey, this is exactly what I’m after.

Or at least from the outlook, it feels like that people may be aim sometimes for way too high fan companies and things of that nature, you know, they receive. Hundreds, thousands of applicants for each role. So [01:00:00] it’s very unlikely, but the average person, even if the best of the skills are going to get into it, but for everything else, it’s like you shouldn’t be too choosy in a way.

Cause that’s why you have a hiring process to kind of find out. It’s just an hour here and there, but you can tell a lot of what the culture is like with. People care about things of that nature just to keep a bit of the open mind, I guess, which, which I’m trying to kind of say, because it could increase also like all those conversations and learning too.

I wanted to ask something of you, which is maybe a bit of a rapid fire question, but what would you go for or what specialty would you go for? If you would, you know, stop design altogether. I know design recruitment, things of that nature, you tried on, but. Yeah. What, what would be that path or different 

Hang: path you would take?

Are you talking about like outside of design or like an industry within design? Um, 

Vy: could be both, I guess, but interested more so on like, besides 

Hang: design. Man, if I were not in design, you know, there’s so many things I really love. [01:01:00] But just from a procrastination nature of it, I keep it as a hobby because if I were to make it my main thing, it becomes much harder for me to do it.

Um, I used to be a photographer. I love photography. I love, like, old cameras. Before it was, like, in the last 10 years, or last 3 to 5 years, really. So, maybe I would, you know, do camera repairs, like the old vintage cameras. I have an old, I have one on my desk right now I’m trying to fix. And I think that’s really fun.

I also love restaurants. I love eating. You know, I think about opening a restaurant sometimes, even though I probably would suck at it. But I just want to eat there. I want to eat at my own restaurant. It’s just kind of weird. I think if I were to pick something in design to do, Whenever people ask me this kind of question, I think there are two parts in me.

There’s a part that kind of goes with the current meta or the current, you know, thoughts. When it comes to where design is going, and the other part of me is like, that’s not really important. You should think about something else. And I think both [01:02:00] can be right. It’s really hard to choose between that.

Right now, it’s very easy to say you should get into AI stuff, right? And I’m sure if you asked me three, four years ago what to get into, I would have said, Oh, you know, you should get into blockchain or VR stuff. And whatever else that was really big at the time. Some of it is right. Some of it is off. I think we as designers are pretty bad at predicting what’s going to be big in the future, even though it’s kind of our job to do so in many ways.

But I think AI is such an easy choice for everyone and people are getting into it, right? I have realized that working at my dream companies or my dream industry, dream types of products. haven’t always been the healthiest choice for me because what you’re really attracted to really were not the most important things on a mental health level or just at a deeper level.

Generally, and when you talk about being picky earlier, I was thinking about this. Like, I think it’s very, it’s actually very, very important that you should be picky, but you have to be really smart about what to be picky about [01:03:00] and what not to be picky about. So one thing I typically advise people is to think about before you accept an offer, before you even get to the final stage of the interview, you really need to think about what’s important to you at a job, what makes you happy, what gives you energy, what takes it away from you.

Right. And. Try to figure out these two or three or four things that are important to you and kind of like level them to say, okay, what’s at the top? What does that look like? What’s at the bottom? What does the middles look like? And write them down so that when you do have the choices of say, multiple offers, or if you have an offer, do you want to take it or not?

Do you want to move from your current company? You’re not pulled into the emotional aspects of it because when you get an offer, it’s so exciting. The recruiter is like pressuring you to accept, accept, accept there. And the hiring manager. Could be getting everyone on the team to send you a really nice welcoming email calling you to say, Hey, we’re so excited to have you and so hard to say no to them, but you have to be true to what is important to you.

So, for me personally, the 3 things that I always [01:04:00] evaluate things are, who’s my manager? Are they a good person? That’s non negotiable. It’s not just like, are they a good manager? Are they a good person? Are they an asshole or not? And it’s. That’s an issue that is automatic. No, unless I’m just so desperate for a job or for money.

The second thing is does this manager have the clout to make changes at the organization? Like we have great ideas. Is my manager going to be able to push it in front of the people that matter? They’re the decision makers so that we can make things happen. I’ve had great managers who are really nice, really awesome managers, but they had no clout within the organization.

We couldn’t get very far. Because I didn’t have to see at a table that they did as an executive. And the third thing is, do they have skills that I want to learn from, right? It doesn’t have to be design. It could just be, are they great at working cross functionally? Are they charismatic? Are they great at sales?

And if they have these skills, they can teach me that I want to work under them. So these three things really matter to me when I try to figure out, do I want to work at a company? It’s, it’s the manager. Because to me, having a good manager is so important, more so than what the company is like. [01:05:00] And. The times when I’ve adhered to it, I’ve been pretty happy at the times where I’ve ignored it because the company was just so awesome.

So the product was so exciting that I just threw that out the window, have been more detrimental to my mental health, my burnout and my career in many ways. So I think that’s important. Now the flip side is, you know, when people say, I want to work at a fang, you know, that’s not, I think you and I would agree.

That’s not super important to you. Right? No. But right now, if you have fang, if you have fang experience or tier one tech experience, like tier one, I would say it’s like Spotify, Airbnb, right? None, not fangs, but are known for a really good design that our companies, everybody wants to work at. Having that experience on your resume is such a door opener right now when the market is crappy.

So we want to say, we want to adhere to our values and whatnot and say, you know, certain things aren’t important, but they actually are when the time gets rough. So it’s, and I’m often pulled between that. Like I oscillate. There are times when I’m like, this is so important. This is not important. And then you see how it could actually be important.

I kind of [01:06:00] wish it weren’t, but reality is it is. It’s so hard 

Vy: to actually talk to a potential manager because you have maybe an hour or two. What is your, I guess, approach to it? Or is it the gut feel ultimately, which I think most of the people 

Hang: are going to rely on? Yeah. I mean, that’s such a great question and it’s so difficult.

I don’t think there is an easy answer to that as you can, if you’re able to generalize and have applied to most individuals, because I think we all approach conversations in very different ways and the manager is different as well, right? Some ways work with others. Some don’t, but generally speaking, I think my approach is the first few minutes.

You’re trying to demonstrate value. You’re trying to showcase your unique value proposition. Now, of course, there are certain managers who are wonderful interviewers, and they don’t say. They don’t waste time on that stuff. They’re just kind of get into the weeds or they try to make you very, very comfortable because you’re trying to get to that point.

I think both parties are trying to get to that point where you can [01:07:00] speak freely. When you can just kind of move aside, all the bullshit, all the, all the acting and the dance, whatever that happens in interviews, because interviews are so artificial compared to real conversations that you would have with someone.

And you’re trying to get to that point. And that point is reached. differently depending on the individuals and the amount of time it takes, right? Sometimes you never get to that point and sometimes it’s okay that you never get to that point because you are trying to get to the next stage and maybe you reach that point eventually, but I still feel it’s a gut feeling at the end of the day.

Now my goal is always to get to that point as soon as possible. I want to hear the brutal truth about what is good and what is horrible about this place and when I can get to that point it’s just It’s so much easier, right? You have the information you need to make a decision. And it’s not just a take, take, take.

It’s more give and take. It’s like, okay, here are the issues that you might see in working with me. Here are the challenges I come across that other people might come across too. Are you okay with that? I think as human [01:08:00] beings, we’re all flawed in some way. And if we can get to a point where we can openly discuss that without judgment, then it’s wonderful.

So that’s always my goal in every interview, and sometimes it works out really well. We build that rapport, we see each other for who we are, and we make a calculated risk or a decision that helps us move forward. And sometimes it backfires. Sometimes you realize that you showed a red flag to them, and you have to be okay with that.

You kind of have to take that risk. It’s kind of like dating, and I hate using that now. It is, yeah. It’s kind of gross, but, you know, it’s 

Vy: just Yeah, it is exactly that. Like, um I mean, not exactly that, but it is that in just a different scenario or different context, but I’m with you 100 percent that like, you’re going to do only as well as your boss, your, I guess, career development within that company is gonna.

Match the ambitions of your boss, and probably not more still the same organization. You’re still in that kind of limited environment. So picking the boss is paramount. 

Hang: Yeah, there’s a [01:09:00] framework that Tim Kysnik came up with. And I think he talked about it in a podcast episode, Peter Merholz and Jesse James Garrett called the leadership ceiling.

I’ll send you the link later. It’s such a great way to talk about what you should do when you. We’re heading environment that might not be up to your expectations in terms of design maturity or in terms of limitations as to what design can and can’t do. So it’s, it was pretty eyeopening for me. One, 

Vy: I guess, last question before I wrap up, I just wonder, I’m not going to ask you the question about AI or future of UX.

Maybe we need to have another catch up with that, but in terms of immediate future, what’s your, I guess, sense for what’s to come in 2024? What do you think is going to happen to UX industry? 

Hang: We know what has been happening, right? So I think if you’re a middle manager, things are really tough right now. I think there’s more of an emphasis on hands on design work.

And then [01:10:00] if you’re seen as kind of like an ancillary part of UX, like your content or user research, which are very, very important functions, you’re at a disadvantage in terms of getting promotions or getting, you know, getting a job, really, so. I don’t know if that’s going to improve necessarily what hiring is going to be like in 2024.

I think people were saying there’s going to be a hiring surge in Q4. There wasn’t. People were saying things were getting better, slightly better, but not great. I think there’s kind of a big queue right now of designers who are looking to move or trying to find a job after being laid off or let go. And I think 2024, I would guess, is going to be pretty tough.

Like it’s, I don’t, it hasn’t seemed like things were getting considerably better. I think things are slightly better than the deer that we were in at one point. If I were to talk about skill set, visual design stays very important. Heavy emphasis on that. More technical skills. Maybe we move into coding [01:11:00] requirements.

I don’t know if prompt engineering is going to be a big thing. I certainly feel that AI. Has the potential to affect our workflow, but so far everything I’ve seen so far is theoretically it’s there Right, like you can use this to do something for design But it seems fairly far away from being consistently useful As tools to affect our process, so therefore, in the next 1 to 2 years, I would guess things stay relatively the same, although I think we typically overreact a bit so that there’s going to be a lot of talk about it, but there might not be actual jobs or changes in job requirements.

The layoffs have certainly done a number, and I think there’s this rise of like the lead principle. Designer or staff principal level like super senior designers who are who are capable of doing many many different things And I think [01:12:00] there are a lot of people who will say you can’t possibly do everything well, you’re going to, there are certain aspects that you’re just going to struggle quite a bit in like user experience or research, et cetera.

But it doesn’t seem like a lot of businesses want that even I feel like also 

Vy: it kind of varies, you know, from talking about UK and Europe, because that’s, I guess, closer to, you know, my awareness and maybe it’s because again, Europe hasn’t been touched as heavily on. Tech layoffs, you know, the tech is smaller.

The roles are actually much cheaper to the reward systems are much lesser too. So I see a lot of roles in management and senior design and staff and principal levels, but it’s just fewer of the actual openings. I think they’re still mixed and it’s maybe regional specific. I hope it’s just gonna, you know, climb up next 

Hang: year.

You feel like there are more general roles in Europe versus specialist roles. It 

Vy: highly depends, but I think so. And, and it’s, uh, the UX generalist, I guess, [01:13:00] has been bread and butter, at least in UK, I would say it kind of varies, I think, um, depending on a type of a company, let’s say, if you were to join something like purely tech startup or SaaS company, we are likely going to have product designers and research capability, but general market is kind of has that demand for UX designer.

Um, as a generalist, and that doesn’t matter if it’s government sector or like a private sector employers, it’s quite interesting. 

Hang: I would say the US, if you were to ask certain people, we would say that we overstaffed at a certain point. We overhired and as you overhire, you get to be more specialized, right?

Because you can afford to hire somebody who does something very specifically as the team gets bigger. So when you’re downsizing, when you’re doing layoffs, I think These overly specialized roles are overly affected and when you’re hiring with fewer head counts, because originally they might have like five head counts for next year.

And once layoffs happen, there’s like, oh, you only get two head counts. So the next year you [01:14:00] tend to make decisions based on the fewer number of head counts. So you would say I’m going to hire two generalists. So two product designers who can do everything at a good enough level versus hiring, you know, a designer and a researcher, you might run the risk of having nine of research work to do and too much hands on design work.

So generally, I think if you are a product designer, who’s visually focused, you’re going to have a pretty good year next year. Where can, 

Vy: I guess, 

Hang: people find more about you? Yeah, LinkedIn is the primary social media app that I use. I do have a YouTube channel that is pretty much dead. Because all I do on it is I put up pronunciation videos of UX terminology.

Are they satirical 

Vy: or, um, 

Hang: You can be the judge of that. Okay. What 

Vy: is the channel? 

Hang: Let’s call it out. I don’t know. See, that’s how not updated it is. Oh, it’s um, same username as my LinkedIn. So H A X U C O. 

Vy: Awesome. Well, thank you so [01:15:00] much, Hang. Really good to chat with you. 

Hang: Thank you so much as well.


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