Panel: How to Start (and Grow!) Your Career in User Research
Amanda Stockwell (Stockwell Strategy), Kelly Price (Forrester), and Nikki Anderson-Stainer (User Research Academy) share advice for getting started and growing your career in UX.
Looking to break into the field of user experience (UX) research?
This panel discussion explores some of the foundational whys and hows of getting started, from what skills to prioritize to making a strong first impression with hiring managers. We walk through some of the most-frequently asked questions of folks transitioning to or starting in this exciting field of work.
Ben from People Nerds is joined by three experts in the user research industry. Amanda Stockwell, and Nikki Anderson-Stainer are each front-line practitioners who have worked as consultants and freelancers, educating companies on the value of user research while they conduct a wide-range of projects for them.
Kelly Price has spent many years conducting research with organizations and leaders about their views on user and design research, offering an inside look at how companies are preparing to hire for this burgeoning field.
Good afternoon wherever you might be. We're so excited that you're joining us. These are folks who are all luminaries in the field of user research. I selected them because they're kind to me. They giveth of their time widely, and they think a lot about how to advise folks, recommend for folks who are transitioning into or are new to either research broadly or user research specifically. Before we have them talk, I'd like for each of them to quickly introduce themselves. So, let's go ... Amanda, if you could kick us off, please.
Sure. Hi, everyone. My name's Amanda Stockwell. I've been in user experience for almost 15 years. I currently run a little UX practice that is called Stockwell Strategy. As stated, I am normally based in North Carolina, but, Delta variant notwithstanding, I often travel. Yeah. Nice to meet everyone.
Hi, everyone. My name's Kelly Price. I'm an analyst at a company called Forrester. We do research and advisory for organizations trying to help them create different practices, and I am the person at Forrester who helps our clients figure out how to build effective research practices. I spend a lot of time talking to research leaders in particular or folks who are CX practitioners looking to build UX research practices. So, excited to talk to everyone about what I'm hearing and hopefully some good advice to share. Thanks for having me.
Of course. And Nikki from the UK now. My apologies. No longer Germany.
No longer Berlin based. I just couldn't speak the language. Hi, everyone. I am Nikki. I've been a user researcher for about eight or nine years. I try not to count too much because it ages me a bit. I currently am a founder at User Research Academy which is my company where I try and help people get into the field of user research or advance in their career. Yeah. Super excited to be here today. You might all know my dog Poncho more than you know me. He's very popular. I apologize if you hear him barking in the background.
I'm wondering if we might start with you. Is there something that you can share with the folks on the call who are newer to the space, some trend that you're seeing at the business-wide level, understanding that it will vary industry to industry and maturity level, but what are some things that you're noticing?
Yeah. I think that the trends of what people are looking for as they're hiring folks does vary a lot by the kind of company and their maturity which is actually something important to keep in mind if you're looking to get into UX research. I talk to a lot of what we might think of as legacy enterprises who are still late to the game, a lot of customer experience teams who are just now starting a UX umbrella. For a lot of them, they're looking for people to come in and be an expert in learning how to apply new methodologies that they're not using right now. So, there's a lot of opportunity if you know anything at all. I think there's a whole world of companies that are still looking to learn a lot.
But, on the other hand, organizations that have more established practices that are growing ... I think, as we know, there are some organizations that are hiring, right now more than ever, tons of researchers. There are trends in terms of the types of skills and openings that I would say that they're looking for and things that sometimes were more of a specialization that are becoming more ... not requirements but things that are really important.
Two of the things that I hear more and more about are the ability to help with democratization, become a partner with the teams that you're supporting to not just do the research but to help coach others through doing it, so there's an education skill set. And I'd also say that accessibility and inclusion, for a long time, I think has been a specialization or not paid attention to at all. More and more, that's not something that is even happening over here by specialists. It's something that you need to understand how to do and how to approach in all of the work that you're doing. So, two things I'm hearing a lot about in what people need from the skills of the people that they want to bring onto their organizations.
That's great. Thank you so much. Amanda, Nikki, any thoughts on ... When you're engaging with customers or doing research yourselves, do you find yourselves working with more non-researchers or product or design? How do you see these trends that Kelly mentioned playing out in your day-to-day?
Yeah. I can say I'm a consultant which means that all kinds of different organizations hire me, and I will echo that the companies who are already UX mature suddenly now are all hiring a ton of researchers, and even the companies that were not UX mature are also seemingly needing lots and lots of UX research. What I'll just echo is that it really does feel like ... I keep saying, "This is going to be the year that things will slow down, right? This is going to happen," but every UX research consultant that I know is overbooked. We are all very busy. So, it is a good time to get in. It's a good time to grow your practice.
But I'll echo that the maturity certainly matters in what the specializations are, but I will also echo that accessibility and inclusion are no longer optional specialty skills. They're an integral part of all components of UX work. So, that's definitely something to pay attention to.
Yeah. I just recently moved from the in-house role back to consultancy, and I'm 100% overbooked. I totally know that feeling which is a great ... It's a great feeling but definitely one where you're like, "I hope this continues on."
In terms of democratizing user research, it is the constant debate of democratizing user research, but it's something that I have seen in every single role that I've been in whether it's an enterprise role, medium-size company, startup, 100%, people want to learn how to do this so that it's more efficient. It's just for our industry to make those decisions of, "Okay. How do we teach people the best way, and how far do we go with that education component so that we ..." because, as a researcher, I'm not sitting there running scrum ceremonies and coding, which I'm sure we'll get to later, so I also am not asking my product manager to teach me how to run all these ceremonies and how to help product teams, so it's like, "What's the balance there?" and definitely something to think about as we move forward.
What are the sorts of roles that folks maybe newer to the space should be looking for? Are they still in UX? Are they sometimes in insights or product? If we could kick that off.
Sure. I'll say I call myself a consultant, but you can consult in anything. I happen to specialize in experience research. Also, I will say I sort of am branded as a UX researcher, but very often I am just doing consumer insights or product strategy or product management, and I do user research, I do design research. I say that user experience is the overarching bucket that includes all of those things. The way that I think about UX is that a person's experience with something starts from their first interaction through their entire experience all the way down through calling support if you need it if something breaks, right? So, that's how I view user experience. I call myself a user experience consultant, one, because, A, it's marketable and, B, because I look at it as all encompassing.
But the consultant piece of it just means that I don't work inside of a company. I work with lots of different kinds of organizations, and I help them. Sometimes they have their own teams, and they just need an extra set of hands. Sometimes they have teams that are maybe not as familiar, and so I do some training and help them get up to speed or establish their research practices. And sometimes they don't have a research team at all, or the line of business that I'm working with doesn't have their own research team. So, the consultant part just means that I don't work at a particular company. I work for my own company, and then I work with lots of different organizations. That's how I categorize it. But, as I'm sure we'll talk about, one of the problems with this is that a lot of the names of the roles are inconsistent at best.
Yeah. To pick up Amanda, and this might be where the question is coming from, there are quite a few organizations that I talk to, again, that would maybe be those that are ... maybe we could say less mature, but they don't have huge UX organizations. They'll have a team of researchers who are called UX research consultants which oftentimes means that they are working in a centralized capacity as opposed to embedded within teams where they're acting as consultants internally but just within an organization. So, sometimes I think roles pop up like that where you're working for a company but as a consultant internally. We see that too.
Yeah. I would also say, if you're thinking about the different roles ... because there's design researchers, there's experience researchers, there's product researchers, there's user researchers, there's every kind of researcher that is available under the sun. We will put the word in front of it and research it. To be completely honest, when I was first applying for jobs as a user researcher, what I did on my resume was I just looked at the role that they had and changed all of the terms that were interchangeable to apply to that role.
The biggest difference that I have seen in the research space is physical products versus digital products, and that's where I at least have seen the biggest differentiation, in understanding how to do research on physical versus digital products. That's not saying that you can't flip-flop between the two of them, but people who have physical products are usually looking for people with that kind of experience, and digital software is looking for people with that kind of experience. But, in terms of all of the different things that we can be called, pick one.
If we want to really boil it down, it's, what is the scope of the questions that are being asked, what are the decisions that it's influencing? And then, there is some divergence in the methods that tend to apply there. Thinking about going from market research or more of a customer insights-type role into user research, that's something that I see happen a lot just from people that I know and within organizations.
I think that, going back to a lot of the things that Amanda and Nikki were saying, what are the strengths that you've learned from that that are going to differentiate you in moving into this new space? I think, a lot of times, depending upon what the scope of work is and what you mean by market research, a lot of the skills that come with that, you tend to have to have really great quant skills, good analysis skills, being able to link things oftentimes to business questions and the whole point of the market research, and those are all totally relevant and needed within user research as well, and I would say that those are not universally ... Those aren't skills that are held by everyone who is working within the user research space. So, you are bringing that, and then it's knowing, "Okay. I need maybe to skill-up on how to do a different method or how to think about a question in a little bit of a different way," but you're bringing a lot of strengths that people need. Those are my two cents on that. I'm sure others have things to add, though.
One of the most frustrating / "It's an opportunity" is that there is very little by way of shared language. So, if you're coming from an academic space wherein there is a core set of skills that, if you learned or could put those on a CV that was 30 pages long, you would probably get an in-house research job or, in my case, being a professor, you will likely not find that. Granted, design thinking, working quickly, reading critically, writing for broad audiences, these are the soft, if we can call them ... Those skills are broadly applicable.
I'll say that, from Veronica and ... or Susanna, and I think Brian asked, or Brianna, pardon me, asked about transitioning from academia. To Nikki's point, I revised my resume hundreds of ... not hundreds but dozens of times, shrinking it down, tailoring it to the job call. There was a moment where I was like, "I'm not going to put my PhD on there" because I was told, "You probably can't move fast enough" or, "We won't be able to train you" or, "We can't afford you."
What I pivoted to ... Again, this worked for me. Your mileage may vary. I tried to stress how much I was juggling at a single time. Reflect on your graduate careers. If you were a full-time graduate student, you might have been teaching classes, taking classes, working in a lab, doing your own research, if you were working while you were in graduate school. So, stress the fact that you can build the ship as you're flying it, comfortable in uncertainty.
As Kelly said, a lot of these organizations, they're still not sure what they're looking for with user researchers, so don't get too afraid by that job call. A lot of recruiting managers, by no fault of their own, aren't exactly sure what they're looking for. Nikki has a really good series that we'll drop in the chat here about how, "If you're a hiring manager, these are things that you need to know about research." And so, the space, although there's a lot of splash about it, to Amanda's point, it's still evolving.
So, if you're in academia, one of my pieces of advice would be, "Stress the multiplicity of your skill set and how you're comfortable working in uncertainty." If you're someone like me who's advisor said, "Okay. I'll check in with you in a year, and I look forward to seeing what you have," that's not how many organizations work. There's more check-ins. And so, for me, it's stressing comfort. Nikki, you have had some pieces on transitioning from academia. Anything to add to that?
Yeah. I think that's a wonderful point in terms of juggling because, as a researcher, we're jugglers. We like to do multiple things at once. I would also say any points on collaboration with others that you can touch upon is really important. Sometimes it's called a soft skill, but, to me, there's so many touchpoints that it feels like a hard skill to have.
Another thing that I see because I work with a lot of people who transition from academia to user research, something that happens is, if you're presenting your academic work, remember that the people on the other side, remember that your audience probably doesn't know what you're talking about. I have listened to a lot of people who have explained really, really cool, complex projects, but, as a hiring manager, I'm sitting there like, "Wow. This is super cool, but how is this applicable to a tech or a product company?" So, that's where I see a lot of people struggle.
That is not to say that you can't present your academic work. It's just present your academic work with the understanding of how tech and product teams work. So, it's okay if you say, "This project took me six months." That's fine to say as long as you acknowledge the fact that this project took you six months and you probably wouldn't have six months in the tech and product world to do a project. You can always say, at the end, reflections on how you might have done it faster or how you could've made it so that it would fit into a different timeline.
So, just keep in mind your audience and that kind of stuff that they're looking for and that academia does differ, but there are those transferable skills that you can absolutely use especially if you're coming from an ethnography, psychology, statistics, definitely, but, obviously, you can come from any background and it should not matter. Just try to remember your audience when you're presenting that case study.
A lot of job calls will say, "We want to see demonstration of research." If someone is out there like, "How do I know if I have that?" could you talk a little bit more about some of the suggestions you have for that?
Sure. Again, to Nikki's point, so much stuff that we do is transferable. I was a server at a bar for a long time. Customer service skills, thinking on your feet. I've been a fitness instructor. You've got to present. And so, there's a ton of. No matter what your background is, I think it's probably very likely that you have applicable experience. I think the key is to understand, to Nikki's point, how does that translate to whatever kind of company you're applying for? If you're applying for a tech company or a digital products company, the norms and what they're looking for are different. And so, making sure you present yourself in a way and ...
Also, a thing that I like to tell people is, "Just because you've done it before doesn't mean you need to put it on your resume. Please, in fact, do not, everything you have ever done before" because resumes are meant to tell a story about how you are good for the role that you're applying for. And so, the way that I like to frame this for people is, "Think of the person who's potentially hiring you like you would think of a user of a product. You are selling yourself, and so you need to understand what they're looking for."
I know that that's tricky when you're first getting started because you're like, "Well, what are you looking for?" but things that are universally helpful are, again, to earlier points, collaboration, communication and presentation, curiosity, exploration. And then, there's the technical skills that are hard skills. If you've got a stats background, that can be extremely useful for analyzing data. If you have an ethnography background, obviously that's transferable because you can use those research skills.
No matter what your context is beforehand, whatever it is that you're applying to, identifying what's important there and translating and highlighting only the things about you or about your experience that are relevant in the new place. So, for instance, I once worked on my brother's lobster boat. I don't put that on my resume because I don't want to do that anymore. I don't want to stuff big bags full of dead fish. That's no longer relevant in my life. That's obviously an extreme example, but the same thing is true ... I also have scrum master training. I don't want to do that so I leave it off, but there is some version of my resume floating around from 12 years ago that has "Scrum master training" on it, and I still get emails for scrum master roles. The point is to say that it's not only okay but you need to curate your resume. You need to curate what you present.
When it comes to projects or having work to show because I know one thing ... This is a slight sidebar, but it comes up all the time. It's like, "I'm a researcher. What do I put in my portfolio? I don't have any fancy designs. I didn't create anything." We can talk more about this, but what I'll say is that you probably also still have something concrete that you can show. You just have to be really clear about what you did and what your role was and what ultimately happened.
If you were, say, in customer service and you gathered a bunch of feedback that something was broken, and then you went to the team and tried to work with them to fix something, that is totally applicable experience, but don't put the wireframe or prototype in your portfolio and say, "I did this." Tell the story about what happened and what your role was and what ultimately ended up happening.
We can talk way more about that. I have lots of thoughts. Yeah. It's about telling a story about yourself and framing it in a way that the person can say, "Okay. I can see how that fits into what we're looking for. I can see how the story of this person fits into the work that we need to do here."
Kelly, I'm wondering if you have any anecdotes from, again, the executive side of things and/or there was a question in the chat about the difference between market research and user research. I know that we could have a series on that. Either if you'd like to weigh in on your perspective as to how organizations are thinking about market versus user research or any nuggets of truth from behind the scenes as you're talking with the folks who are trying to make the decisions on hiring their first user researchers.
Yeah. I'll just say one point on that, then we can transition to the market/user research topic. When I'm talking to leaders who are looking to hire for a specific skill, we'll see if this is changing at all, but I often have them ... instead of saying, "What have you done?" it's more showing what they can do within the scope of project, is the way of evaluating work. That might be something actually to look for as someone trying to enter into a new company. I think that says a lot, actually, about the leader and how they're thinking about growth versus ... Have you already done the job in order to be able to do it, or are we trying to help someone grow into something? That can be a good signal of a place where you're actually going to be enabled to grow.
What if you don't have project experience? Where might you go to get project experience? I've had some folks ask about doing pro bono work. Can you take us back to when you were starting out in user research? Were you passing out business cards? Take us back to those early days of user research. What did your formative projects look like, and what advice do you have for someone who's looking to do some work to then show off those skills?
Amanda, do you want to go first?
Sure. I will say a couple of things. One is that, as I was saying before, it doesn't have to be a user research project in order to have applicable user research skills. Again, if you were in customer service or if you were in marketing research or just market, whatever, there's probably something that you have done that you could reframe as applicable to UX.
The other thing that I will say is I really encourage people to look for ways where they can work with some real constraints of an actual project, not just, "Hey. I decided to redesign Twitter with no context and no technical limitation" and just, "Here's what I think." What I really recommend that people do when they're first getting started especially because everybody learns differently, but I think, a lot of the practical application of methods, you need to try them, you need to test it out. So, I encourage people to look for real-life scenarios where they can put some things into practice.
An example is I was mentoring someone who really loved animals. She was already volunteering at a local rescue, and their website was terrible. And so, I recommended they volunteer to do some usability testing of that website. So, there were still real-life constraints, right? It was a live website. She had to find people to ... She recruited. There were technical limitations because the team didn't have a full-time developer or designer. It was pro bono, but it was for something she already cared about.
I get a little bit prickly when people ask new people to do tons of work for free. That's just a thing that I don't love, but I understand ... You're right. You need experience sometimes to get your foot in the door. What I will say is that I think, if you can find a way to put some of these things into real-life practice in a real-life way, you don't have to be paid for something in order for it to count, but I would also caution people to not try to sign up to give a lot, a lot, a lot of their time away because it is not a guarantee that you will then end up with a job.
So, I like to tell people ... I do encourage that, but try to do something that maybe you already were giving your time to anyway or a cause you already care about, and try to find a situation where there's some real-life constraints because one of the big things that we haven't much touched on yet is that research skills ... and this actually goes back to the academia thing too. Research skills are really important, but I have never, ever, ever worked on a project where I had the ideal amount of time, the ideal amount of scope, the ideal amount of budget, right? There's always things to work around, to consider technical limitations, budget constraints, whatever, and so demonstrating that not only do you know how to do the thing, "I know how to run a usability test" or whatever, "I know how to do this thing, but also I recognize that it can't take me 12 months and five million dollars in real life."
So, I think also making note of the practical applications of what you've done before or what you're working on and to the point of what you could do. Even if what you've done before is in an academic study, saying, "This is what I had available to me, but I recognize that, in a software startup, it would look differently. Here's how I would shift things," something like that. Nikki, do you have more to say? I feel like I was all over the place.
No. That was great. For me, when I started out, I did two to three things because I came from psychology, and I was like, "Yeah. The things that I was going to present would ..." I have no idea how I would've tied them back to user research. And so, what I did is, one of my first projects, I took an app that I used to use all the time, that I had a lot of friends who also used to use, that was not ... it's not niche, but it was not Facebook or ... I don't know if Instagram ... I don't think Instagram was a thing when I started out in user research. Nope. It wasn't Facebook or Twitter. It was the World of Warcraft app, if I have any other WoW friends out there listening. I talked to my friends about how it didn't work for them, how it did work for them, and I put that together in a portfolio piece. It was very basic.
The second thing that I did is ... I also am a big animal advocate, and I went and I volunteered to do very similar work for an animal volunteer organization in New York City. So, that was wonderful. Something that I actually did with that is I did the guerrilla testing. I sat in a Starbucks, and I put a little sign out, and I was like, "Talk to me for 15 minutes and I'll buy you a coffee." I'm not sure you can do that now. But I demonstrated that constraint. I was like, "I know that I can't pay a lot of users. I don't have a huge budget for this. I want to do it quickly," so I demonstrated that through guerrilla testing which is controversial in and of itself, but, back then, it was a really cool thing.
And then, the third thing that I did is I asked around friends and family, and I was like, "Does anybody have a project, a website, a something that you need help with? Let me try and help you by doing some research on your users." It's still something that I recommend that people check around for if you have any friends who have started their own businesses or who are running a business, even if it's not your friend. It could be a friend of a friend. So, looking at those three lenses because, obviously, you don't want all of your things to be a passion project because you do, as Amanda said, you do lose that real life aspect to it. But the volunteer work was super fun, and then finding others close to me who I could do work for who could act as a stakeholder was really helpful as well.
I'm wondering if we might have our guests reflect on their career to date and mistakes that you have made or, said another way, things you wish, were you to be sitting in a panel like this, something you wish you would have heard or something you've learned in the time since. Kelly, I'm wondering if we might start with you at the executive ... You have both been doing research. Again, you're in this very interesting meta, discursive space where you're conducting research on research with researchers. I feel you there as someone who works at dscout. What is something that you either wish you would've known when you started or a piece or advice based on something you had to learn along the way that you can share?
Yeah. I feel like this is meta-advice that you could translate into any type of role, but I think that you've just got to start doing something and then figure out what you like. When I started at Forrester ... I've been here for six and a half years. I had no idea that this was where I was going to end up. I also came from a psychology background, was doing a lot of academic research, had learned core principles around what it means to have good questions and how to work with people, but I didn't think I would be the Forrester person who is helping organizations figure out how to build design research practices. It's just something that happened.
Also, through the process of doing this and working with clients, I've also figured out, "What do I like? What do I not like? I love doing workshops and training," and that's helped me figure out where my ... I go next. So, I guess the key takeaway there is that I feel like, when I was getting started, I felt like I needed to have this vision of what everything was going to be, and I think you learn by doing, so do something, and then you'll figure something out, and then you do something else and go from there. So, general advice but that I think is important.
Interviewing is a two-way street. Just because you are sitting in front of a company that you may want to work for and that you want to impress them does not mean that they should not be impressing you as well. This can often help. I do job interview preps a lot. People come in, and they're like, "Oh. This is really stressful." It is stressful. There's no doubt in my mind or anybody's mind that interviewing for a job is stressful, but what this does is keeping in mind you're also assessing them, and that helps ground you in that situation. So, instead of them being on this pedestal and you being there like, "Please. Please take me. I'm just trying so hard to impress you," the way that they're reacting to you, the way that they are regarding what you're saying ...
A lot of times, we get asked really difficult questions in the interview process. Somebody just was telling me about an interview that they were in where it was like, "Tell me about a stressful time recently." It's one of those questions where you sit there and you're like, "Have I ever been stressed in my life? Why can't I think about a stressful moment besides this one right now?" Suddenly, nothing is stressful besides this very moment, and you obviously can't tell them that. And so, when we get into those hard situations, it's saying, "Hey. Give me a minute. Give me a minute to think," and it's okay to say those things because you can also assess their reactions. If people are rolling their eyes, if they're scoffing, if they're like, "This person is taking too long," that's how they're going to react when you're in a meeting with them and you tell them to give you a minute or that you have to get back to them."
So, just keep in mind that interviewing is a two-way street and you should be assessing and asking questions to these companies to make sure that not only are you the right fit for them but they are the right fit for you. So, please, always keep that in mind. It's not just up to them. It's also up to you.
Cool. I will piggyback on what both Nikki and Kelly said. It's sort of a mistake that I had and sort of a piece of advice which is that you don't have to do things you don't ... It's a job, right? Work is work. There's always going to be elements of it that are worky.
But, for instance, when I first started out ... Now, to be fair, this is partially because there weren't that many research jobs, but I started as an engineer, and then I was a designer, and then, pretty quickly, I was like, "I actually really only like the part where I get to talk to people," but I felt a lot of pressure to be everything. I felt a lot of pressure to, "Oh. Make sure you're good at coding. Make sure you're good at visual design. Make sure you're good at this."
Maybe because I'm stubborn and maybe because of whatever, but I was like, "No. I want to be a researcher. I want that to be my thing." And it's easier now I think because there are so many more research roles, but I think it's important to remember that there is no one right way to make your career. Especially in UX, there is no one direct path in and then a ladder that you climb, and then you reach some pinnacle and you're done, right?
For instance, I work for myself. I love that. I have some other great friends who have tried it and hated it. And so, I think it's important just to remember, if you're applying for a job, you're exploring them too, and you have to try some things to see if you like them.
I also think it's important to be authentic to yourself and be really honest with yourself, "What do I like, what am I good at, and what are the opportunities in that space?? and to give yourself some grace that it might not look the same for you as it does for somebody else, right? Early on, when I was really focused on research, there were some people in my life who were like, "What are you doing?" I was like, "No. This is going to work. I promise. Mostly because I hate the other stuff." I was really stressed before, and it worked out really well, and I think that I am ... I can't know, but I think that I am much happier than I would have been if I had continued to try to do ... to be that UXicorn and do all things, right?
And so, whether that means you're picking one niche to focus on, like some people really love healthcare or whatever, or whether that means you're like, "Well, I'm only going to do qualitative research" or whatever it is, it's all pretty much okay, and there are paths, but you have to be willing to explore, you have to be willing to try stuff, and you have to be willing to be honest about what success looks like for you.
Also remembering, though, that ultimately every day is not like rainbows and unicorns and puppies and sprinkles and sparkles. It's still work. There's still going to be stuff, but it's just a pain in the butt. And that doesn't mean you're in the wrong job. It doesn't mean you're on the wrong path. It just means sometimes there's stuff to deal with. But being really honest with yourself about what you want I think makes for a much more satisfying career ultimately.
I'll just add a couple things. I took some notes about what I always look for especially in really junior or pivoting or new-to-the-field people, and I think you guys really hit the nail on the head with a lot of your points. Something I always looked for whether you had skills or not ... I want to echo what Amanda ... I think it was Amanda who was saying about telling your story really artfully. Make sure that you know that every experience that you had contributes to who you are at this moment in time and can bring so much value to an organization.
For example, I studied art history. That makes no sense at all, the face of it, right? But I have a really strong story about how ... I believe fully in my heart of how all the skills that I learned and what made me want to be an art historian really makes me a great user researcher and a great user research leader.
So, be unabashed and be unapologetic and unshameful about what your background is and what you bring to it. I was a bartender for many years. I use those skills every single day to this day. I can think of so many people who I interviewed over the years who didn't really have the experience on paper but told such a compelling story that I had to have them on the team. I just absolutely had to have them on the team.
And then, related to that, characteristics that I always look for, and this can carry a lot of weight when people don't have the experience, are things like independent thinking, courage, showing a strong desire to contribute to the organization and to the field, being a hard worker. You guys were talking about looking for pro bono work to do. For me, that signaled as much a person with initiative and desire and passion as it did actual skills that were applicable, necessarily, right? Somebody who's scrappy, somebody who's not precious especially if you're coming from an academic background. I always wanted to see, "Those are solid, solid skills, but I'm not going to be precious about that when I come into the organization."
A little bit of tactical advice. If you're here listening to this webinar, you're already doing this, but, when you're pivoting or coming to the field new, there are so many resources. Become really well versed in the field. You don't have to have the hands-on experience to know what the field is talking about, to really deeply understand what the trends are, what ... and to start establishing a point of view throughout the process even if you don't have that experience. So, those are just a few things that I would add to the conversation.