Hiring good talent in this gig economy has changed the way that candidates are approaching their job search, and that means our tactics as employers for finding candidates has to change as well. In a previous post, I mentioned that at Dupla we like to see how user experience candidates do their work as much as what they produce. Visual deliverables are all well and good, but knowing how a professional manages all the moving pieces it takes to ship a project is just as important for understanding what role they will play in your team. We like to classify this collection of practices as “experience maturity.” 

 

What is Experience Maturity?

We define skills as those activities’ professionals do to create their deliverables. Skills are necessary, but they can always be learned and improved with training. Experience maturity, on the other hand, is a set of behaviors acquired via engagement in widely varied work experiences. These cannot be learned and are not always a guaranteed byproduct of time in the industry; some professionals can go through their entire careers and never mature in their experiences while others gain maturity quickly because the right opportunities happen to appear in their path. More than sheer time in the industry, experience maturity is about how you do your work and how that has gotten you to your current user experience role. The first step is knowing what level of maturity the organization needs. Then, asking candidates how they do their work helps us as employers classify their experience and ensures that both parties will be happy at the end of a project. 

 

Junior Professionals 

There are too few organizations looking for junior professionals, and if you are one of the people skipping these resumes, you are doing your organization a disservice. These are usually the most hungry and ambitious professionals out there. They can be a positive influence on the organization and grow into valuable assets when managed correctly. Most hiring managers think they want a more senior professional, but in reality, their need is really for a more moldable candidate. 

 

Hiring a professional with limited experience maturity is ideal if you’re looking for someone who will: 

  • Execute on a well-defined plan and do so with enthusiasm and optimism.
  • Seek new learning opportunities and look at the newest tools and methods, keeping themselves on the cutting-edge of upcoming trends.
  • Enthusiastically attack every project and seek ideal outcomes because they are yet unaffected by poor processes, negativity, and past failures. 
  • Willingly listen to criticism and grow because they understand they don’t know much relative to their senior team members.. 
  • Want to build great products.
  • Be eager to please, and happy to deliver almost anything that the organization needs to ensure product success.
  • Not be bogged down by previously formed bad habits or attitudes. 

 

A new professional might not be the right choice for every position. They struggle in some environments because they:

  • Operate based on rules rather than experience. 
  • Need mentoring because they are not very adept at looking at their own work critically.
  • Rely on process to produce outcomes, so they are challenged by simultaneous workstreams occurring at different phases.
  • View ambiguity as negative and something to fear.
  • Are easily influenced by other opinions in the organization and they cannot defend design decisions by themselves. 
  • May be territorial due to their ambition. (e.g. They will listen to everyone’s opinion about the user experience, but they will want to incorporate it all, themselves).
  • Will take more time to reach the same design as more experienced UX professionals and tend to over-complicate project challenges.
  • Present multiple design solutions to product problems but struggle to offer a definitive position with reason.
  • Find it challenging to make the right trade-offs between the user experience needs and the product technology needs.
  • Have limited skills in organizational politics, so large initiatives are out of scope for them.

 

Mid-level Professionals 

These people focus on their careers and are experts in their craft. In terms of skill, they are on par with senior-level professionals, but there are key differences in their experience maturity which are important to consider when hiring. Organizations frequently seek senior UX candidates for which mid-level UX professionals would work out better.

 

Hiring a professional with mid-level experience maturity is ideal if you’re looking for someone who is able to: 

  • Create a plan to deliver the necessary user experience pieces at the right times.
  • Continue developing a diverse tool kit to bring to bear on a product/service, so they are right on top of design trends.
  • Own the user experience for an entire feature.
  • Hit short timelines for a well-defined space with acceptable designs.
  • Understand the trade-off between UX needs and technology needs.
  • Be more discerning in their evaluation of the design trends they follow. They have already seen UX trends come and go and have probably followed one or more to failure at least once. 
  • Manage their timelines and directives with little oversight. Be a “fire and forget” resource.

 

A mid-level professional might not be the right choice for every position. They struggle in some environments because they:

  • Are still “failure adverse”, so ambiguity is a risk and believed to be negative.
  • Have a tendency to avoid self-criticism. Frequently it is because they worry that showing their design trade-offs says that their designs are weak, when in truth all designs have pros and cons.
  • Are a strong advocate for design decisions, but still do not know how to effectively argue their position with the proper respect for the business and technology needs, which can create tension with other disciplines.
  • Rely on process to define what work they should do and when.
  • Concentrate on honing their craft meaning that they do not yet incorporate business needs into their plans in the most efficient manner and are unsure or unaware of how the business needs to interact with UX and technology needs.
  • Maintain a rigid process, and they struggle to respond to a sudden change in priorities.
  • Struggle with the balancing of user experience and organization politics.
  • May have become jaded and negative if they feel like they have compromised too much from the UX side of product development.

 

Senior Professionals

As user experience “owners”, the senior professional will work across disciplines to align the business, technology, and experience goals into a cohesive, compelling story. They can take on initiatives that are fraught with ambiguity and create a path to success across releases. They think about systems and processes that remove barriers to success.  Organizations should only hire senior-level professionals when they have a real need. By hiring someone with too much experience the team or project goals unknowingly hand-cuff a candidate with more experience maturity, keeping them from providing the goodness that they could bring to bear.

 

These senior professionals are at the pinnacle of experience maturity and can be great for some positions because they:

  • Own the user experience for an entire product.
  • Create and manage a multi-release UX plan that encompasses over-arching themes and carefully considered improvements, one release to another, constantly moving towards a “north star”
  • Contribute to the overall product vision/position in situations where user experience is the differentiator.
  • Have more versatility with the tools they use and when they use them.
  • Advocate for good design without creating tension with other disciplines.
  • Articulate the flex points in their UX process clearly and can weigh the consequences of those compromises objectively.
  • See ambiguity as an opportunity.
  • Think deeply about an issue and can see more of its facets.
  • Deliver great designs on tight timelines.
  • Think about and develop systems that can flex and change scope with a project to ensure consistency from one release to another.
  • Understand the trade-off between user experience, technology, and business needs and can advocate for the optimal balance for all three.
  • Are self-critical, which means their deliverables are more likely to be on-point sooner.

 

This top-tier experience maturity isn’t always a good fit for some positions because they:

  • Become dissatisfied doing low-level, basic user experience tasks for long periods of time.
  • Spend too much of their thinking to a level that does not have direct impact on the challenges other disciplines are facing at the moment.
  • Expect to have a say on product-wide decisions and want to be reporting to a higher organizational manager. 
  • Have developed a set style of working and have settled on specific tools which makes them less flexible.
  • Become overloaded and try to take on too much because there are typically so few senior-level professionals in organizations. 
  • Become jaded and lose their enthusiasm.
  • Can become dissatisfied with the limited growth potential of a senior role. 
  • Want to impact the larger discipline, create and share their experiences at conferences and talks.
  • May have a nonchalant attitude towards single issues faced by the product.
  • May struggle to balance the tactical and strategic work that the product needs at the moment.

 

Hire who you need, not who you THINK you need  

Time and time again I have seen projects that need junior-level work but have a senior-level professional on staff. I know of one engineering-focused organization that has hired and fired three different senior designers in a single year due to miss-matched expectations. It’s important to keep in mind that some roles may not require senior-level thinking, just as others might not require the boundless enthusiasm of a young professional. Thinking of experience maturity instead of “time in the discipline” will help you better target your hiring practices. I hope this information can prevent your organization from using the wrong criteria and ending up with poorly matched candidates. 

 

Of course, the behaviors above are not set in stone. Individuals grow through fits and spurts, not a smooth linear path of experience and skill. Let me know if you disagree with any of my classifications and feel free to share the criteria you use to find your rock stars!