There’s no flattering way to get into this, but I complained my way into a job at Fastspot this past summer.
Growing up with five siblings, I practiced a lot of pointless whining until as a six year old, I broke my collarbone with an ungainly bellyflop onto our basement floor from a rolling office chair. In my defense, Newton’s Laws of Motion aren’t taught to Kindergarteners and I thought jumping from the chair would be cool. It took a good day of complaining before my parents realized something was actually wrong. We all learned lessons that day.
That’s not how complaining got me a job, though. This past July, I was definitely not looking for work. My job was suitable and stable. My wife was due with our daughter at the beginning of August and we were planning on moving in October with a two month old. I had just reached my year anniversary at my company and was content with how sensibly everything was proceeding. I finally had my desk set up just right.
One fateful Thursday, I saw a Slack message from Roz Duffy in the #local_baltimore channel of the User Experience Design Slack asking if any UXers were looking for work. I had been somewhat obsessively checking Fastspot’s job openings for years, and there was never anything open, and I had just damn decided that I wasn’t changing damn jobs, damnit. Here was my brilliant strategy to bridge that gap, whining paraphrased: “Ugh, why is Fastspot only hiring when I’m not looking?” (Sad emoji.)
Roz is smart, so she immediately seized on the inherent silliness of that complaint. We direct messaged for a solid hour about the work that Fastspot did and the work that I did. I outlined what I’ve admired from a distance and the values that I hold dear in my work. She painted a glowing picture of a place that let me put those values into practice. I figured we were star-crossed co-workers. At the end of our conversation, she asked “Would you want to interview with us?” and after agonizing for a while, I answered “Of course, as long as you realize I’m not looking to change jobs right now.” Three weeks later, I signed a contract.
So culminated a two-year process in which I repeatedly interviewed, shot down jobs I was offered, was rejected from jobs that I thought would be right, and accepted jobs that I knew I couldn’t sustain. I came away from it with a few things that made a difference to me:
My portfolio mattered less than me as a person.
I gave a talk to some design students a year ago in which I espoused a point I believed deeply, despite knowing it was somewhat unhinged: Portfolios and resumes are a hack—a quick way to get to know someone. A conversation does more for me than either one of those documents. Some might think the takeaway is “Don’t bother with a portfolio or resume,” but my argument is the opposite: “Make them obsessively yours.” Practice telling your story repeatedly. Refine it endlessly. Resumes and portfolios should be a shining encapsulation of you as an employee, a practitioner, and a person. Only you know when it’s right.
Personal connection still matters.
I’m bad at engaging with the design community. I’m introverted and have an endless list of things I want to work on, which leads me to not attend many local events. I get a gross feeling in my stomach when I do the saccharine-y networking patter and business card exchange. Whatever your network is though, even if it's only your workplace or the internet, you need to show up, be helpful, and be attentive.
A friend who was a former coworker of mine sent a recommendation to the president of Fastspot on the day that I interviewed. I firmly credit a part of my hiring to her intervention. Even in a day of modern hiring platforms and endless designers you can find on the internet, people still tend to hire their friends and the people they feel they can trust.
The good work still happens in private.
One of my core attributes is a burning, all-consuming curiosity. This curiosity goes unsatiated frequently because not everything is published on the internet, shockingly. The productive conversations that led me to my workplace happened in private, in a direct message, one-to-one. The public stuff was only a preamble to the real work.
Look for the truth in social networking.
Slack’s success as a social platform (especially the UX Slack) came from being genuine. We were ‘real’ people to each other within our little enclave. It sounds silly to say in a network of 8,000, but it feels intimate and trustworthy. I would love to hire all of my friends from that group.
I recently read this fantastic article from Dan Birkin that compares giving people advice for success to giving them tips for winning the lottery. I don’t want to stray into pretending that my experience applies to everyone, but it isn’t a secret that social media has been drastically evolving from broadcasting publicly to individual communication and personal curation. It lets those human emotions and connections return as the focus. It helps us find our people, wherever they are.
Even though we began with a complaint, that individual connection started the broader conversation. Truthfulness, intentionality, and sincerity bubbled up through the Internet and made something great. It's what we create on the Internet when we focus on the people.