How can I recession-proof my UX career? UX Question #19

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Bob from Philadelphia asks, how can I recession-proof my UX career?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Bob. This is UX Question number 19 and I am Ben Judy.

How can I recession-proof my UX career? Economic conditions will change, the job market will become hot or cold, hiring for UX people will spike and then come the layoffs. Thus has it ever been. You can’t control any of that. You can only influence what you can influence.

I have three quick pieces of advice.

These are tips that have served me well throughout my career. I started my career in web design right as the dot-com bubble was bursting, I worked through the recession after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, I joined a UX team at another company while the U.S. was engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I’ve seen all kinds of other macro-economic and social uncertainty since then. Here’s how I have stayed gainfully employed as a UX professional.

One: build a broad skill set. As I said in answering question 18, you don’t necessarily need to write code to be a UX designer. But the more skills you have, the more valuable you will be—especially when your employer needs to cut staff. They’re going to keep high performers who can do a lot of things well.

Two: learn the business. Employers will look very differently at a UX designer who knows nothing about the business and how it makes money, or what its real mission is, compared to a designer who gets the business, who knows how to help the business earn money, or what the goals and the strategy of the org are. Don’t just do great UX research and design work; position yourself in the center of the revenue stream and visibly contribute to what makes the organization successful.

Three: network, network, network. Build your professional network like that is your real job. I hear a lot of career advice along the lines of, “advocate for yourself.” Speak up for yourself because nobody else will. That’s terrible advice. Yes, advocate for yourself, but it is far, far better to have other people advocate for you. The way you get other people to recommend you and vouch for you is to earn their trust, demonstrate the qualities of a professional, and be helpful, friendly, and memorable.

Identify those key people who you admire as UX professionals and leaders, and stay in touch with them. I’m an introvert, but when I go to a design conference, I become an extrovert for a day or two, because those relationships are important.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: What are the most popular UX software tools?

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