How I Became a UX Person, or Why You Don’t Need a Perfect CV to Be Successful – Part 5

How I became a UX person part 5 or why you don't need a perfect cv to be successful - plus illustration of Mimi in her mid fourties

How I Became a UX Person, or Why You Don’t Need a Perfect CV to Be Successful – Part 5

Shortly after graduating from high school, when I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life, my mother once said to me, “work isn’t supposed to be fun.” I had quit another temporary job – I think it was the one where you had to stand in front of a gift shop for hours in winter to make sure no one stole anything. Even though I am aware that there are situations in which work is really about earning money, and there are undoubtedly many people in this world to whom this applies, I thought at the time: I see it differently. Work must also be fun for me, and this positively reframed belief is still one of my biggest drivers today.

The UX Job Search

So the last part ended up not being fun anymore but, on the contrary, very depressing. I was apprehensive about the future. Because here I was again at the very beginning of a new role, without any training and with minimal experience. My boss had pushed for my first pay rise in my time at this company shortly after my transfer. But she was not happy with what she could bargain for me. So she told me I should get more when negotiating a new job.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of the application process. Prepare the documents with an individual touch for each job, wait for the answers, and then do the awful interviews. They always felt like interrogations, and I was afraid the whole time of doing something wrong because I hadn’t prepared for all the psycho test questions.

And so I tortured myself through various job interviews and swallowed different bitter pills of what I now consider rude behaviour towards me. One person – a man, to be precise – actually laughed at me for my salary expectations and said I could get back to him when I had come to my senses.

A very dear colleague and friend from the team, who had found something new straight away, said to me from the beginning that I could try freelancing, which would surely be something for me. At the time, I didn’t understand how she got the idea that self-employment could be the right thing for me. I didn’t think so at all. I was far too chaotic and such an undertaking far too strenuous and risky. But my case worker at the employment office also asked me this question right away in our first conversation. Sometimes other people see good opportunities much earlier than we do 

The Awakening

Then I had an interview with a large company here in Hamburg. The HR employee who conducted the interview with me and my potential boss was fresh out of university and full of energy. I don’t know if the interview guide she used came from a textbook or was given to her by the department. In any case, from my point of view, it was just awful. The only thing missing was her shining a lamp in my face like in a bad detective story so that I couldn’t see her face during this interrogation. I felt terribly stupid for not having rehearsed answers to her rehearsed questions – and I also felt like I had missed out or no one had told me what the rules were in these conversations because I was obviously just out of place. 

Ultimately, I didn’t know the answers to the most straightforward questions anymore because I was trying to figure out what she was actually getting at. And when I started to row around terribly in response to her question about how I would typically convince other people of something, she finally said: “Perhaps I may help you. Other candidates say at this point: with arguments.” I blushed for my stupidity in not coming up with this simple answer. And when I think of her reaction today, I ask myself how it can be possible that so many empathy- and respect-less people end up in areas that involve working with humans.

I then actively broke off the conversation, and it was the first moment I felt strong and regained control. And at the big crossroads with the corporate skyscraper behind me, I decided I would never have to do another job interview. I usually do not say never, but I was firmly convinced at that moment. And right at home, I called my advisor at the employment office and told her I wanted to start my own business after all.

Being a Freelancer

Well, and then came a phase of preparation. I got coaching, wrote a business plan and applied for the start-up grant at the employment office. And, of course, I told all my contacts that I was now a UX freelancer. And just six months later, I had my first two assignments. Both came from the network, and both times, former colleagues recommended me. That’s why a good network is so important. 

From then on, my business flourished, and a significant side effect was that I never learned so much as quickly as I did at that point. Learning by doing and simply tackling an issue, even if you are not yet sure that you can really do it. Those were my credos back then, and that’s how you grow brilliantly. Because then you have to make an effort and stretch yourself to reach a goal.

Evolving as a Mentor

I’m sure you want to know why I’m a UX & Discovery Coach today and no longer a design freelancer. Well, I’m not the youngest anymore 😅 … and a few years ago, I noticed that I had difficulties keeping my finger on the pulse and actively absorbing and implementing all the trends. And I saw all these training courses and degree programmes popping up and got scared that the market would soon be flooded with competent, young and well-trained UX people, and then nobody would need an old autodidact anymore. 

I had always received feedback from colleagues that I was such a good mentor and was appreciated for my calm manner. And so, the desire to use my knowledge less actively and instead pass it on to others grew stronger and stronger in me.

I also had role models in other areas, first and foremost a very valued friend from the product sector, who repeatedly encouraged me in these thoughts. But it took me a long time to get up off my ass, and I had enough excuses. The market was certainly not ready yet, and once again, I lacked the basic training. So I was already coaching colleagues in my freelance work, but it was not yet my focus or USP.

Finally, I got the chance to substitute for a UX team lead for several weeks, and the fire in me was finally lit. The interaction I had with the team and the individuals was just incredible. The way they virtually called up the knowledge from me and absorbed it was a great and enriching feeling. And that was the moment when I realised that this was my new path. 

Closing words

I have learned a lot in my sometimes confused and branching professional and private life. Even though I don’t have a degree, no “certificate” that proves my knowledge, no one can take away from me my abilities and my expertise: I have skills that could only have come about in this way, and I am proud of my path and what I have become. And believe me, there were many more naysayers and doubters along the way. I just haven’t mentioned them all here. But there were, and there are. But I continue to go my way and follow my heart, even today. And again and again, I am rewarded with small successes that show me that I am on the right path.

I hope I could inspire at least some of you with my story. And maybe I could also bring some of you to finally stand up for what you are burning for inside. If you need support, please feel free to contact me. I’m also happy to share my knowledge and experience in this area with you ❤️

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