Incremental Changes to Help You Become Forever Employable


Incremental Changes to Help You Become Forever Employable

UXDX Europe 2020

We all strive to become the best we can be in the workplace and now with a global pandemic and job shortages it is more important than ever to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
Author Jeff Gothelf will discuss the learnings from his career on how to build your profile and a step-by-step guide on how to stay forever employable in your industry.

Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf, Author,Jeff Gothelf

Rory Madden: Welcome, Jeff. Thank you for joining us today.
Jeff Gothelf: My pleasure. Very nice to see you. Thanks for having me.
Rory Madden: Great. I'll just give a very brief introduction for those who don't know Jeff, I guess, to our UX audience, the very well-known and the author of the book, Lean UX, which I think it's pretty much a staple for anybody in UX these days or it definitely getting into UX but actually, what we're going to talk about today is showing it off in the background as well. Well, we're going to talk today is your new book, Forever Employable because as Frank said, it is interesting times right now perfect on the brand name. It's interesting times because unfortunately what we're starting to see as the ramifications of the Coronavirus rippling through and OBS security isn't what it was a year or two ago. So, it's quite fortuitous but you have this book and willing to share your ideas with us. So, welcome.
Jeff Gothelf: Thank you. Thanks very much. And for what it's worth, I didn't plan on the virus while launching the book. It wasn't me. That's all I'll say.
Rory Madden: That's good to know. Good to know. I'm going to start with, I think of it as quite a controversial quote and in your book, you you're describing your early career and it sounds like everything's great. It sounds like you're in a very good place. And then you described yourself as saying your career wasn't future-proofed it was future screwed, can you explain that and where that came from?
Jeff Gothelf: Yeah. Look, the realization was this is at least that was my perception and it was really the motivating force for me to change what I was doing but look, 35 years old when I was 35. Everything was good. I'd been working professionally for a decade at that point. I was the Director of User Experience at a high growth startup in New York city but married, house two kids, cars, the American dreams they said and what I realized that day that I turned 35 and kind of the Genesis of that quote is that the further up the corporate ladder that I climbed the fewer opportunities they were. And this is particularly true in design and user experience. It's even more painful like that funnel gets super narrow as you go further up. And the likelihood of me continuing to win jobs that were slightly better pains, like more responsibility slight and higher and influence was going to be decreased significant, exponential impact that was my belief. And finally, what I was seeing as I was hiring designers, I was seeing designers coming in who were better than me, faster than me, new tools that I didn't know and they were cheaper than me by a lot. And so, I really didn't feel like despite having done a decade’s worth of what everyone tells you is the right thing to do in your career. I didn't feel like my future proofed my career. In fact, I'd done exactly what I was told to do and I climbed to a point you get to the director of UX. Where do you go from there? There aren't that many places there aren't that many places to go and most organizations, you could be VP of Design, maybe if you're lucky as a Chief Designer, Chief Experience Officer job but those are super rare and I felt like because I backed myself into a bit of a corner and I needed to figure out what to do because I could provide for my family. I wasn't done working for 10 years.
Rory Madden: Great. So, you have this epiphany, you have this or kind of a fear awakening. So, what happen?
Jeff Gothelf: Well, I realized that the dynamic that I've been working in is you needed it to change fundamentally, right? Like back then, I'll be honest with you. I wasn't thinking about it from a system thinking perspective. I've gotten into that more in the subsequent decade or so, but generally speaking, right? Its traditional career process, career growth is a push process. You push yourself into the marketplace, you push yourself into opportunities. You chose these opportunities in the hopes that other people will then accept you for interview, except you per position, agreed to talk to you that type of thing. So, you're placing all of that responsibility to all of the dependence on the success of your career on other people. For me, that was unacceptable. So, I hadn't turned out to be 180 degrees and created a poll system. A poll system is where I am continuously attracting opportunities towards me with the activities that I'm doing by my stuff. So, it puts me back in control of my career and by creating a content platform and sharing out what I know and what I do and what I've learned and that type of thing. I am creating these constant polls on the tech ecosystem and then opportunities are coming towards me. So, fundamentally changing the dynamic 180 degrees, right? Into one where I attract opportunities towards me and it puts me in control of it, which is where I want it to be. Then I realized that if I was going to leave myself in the hands of others that was going to be an increasingly losing game. That's what I thought I knew.
Rory Madden: Great. No, it's an interesting kind of mindset shift. I haven't thought about it that kind of perspective. So, just touching on that. So, you said you started blogging and putting stuff out there, and you mentioned the book that people should come up with a flag and find their flag. What do you mean by a flag and how do people find it?
Jeff Gothelf: The first step that I talk about in the book is planting your flag and that swag is the foundation for your thought leadership, for your recognized expertise, for the reputation that you're trying to build. So, the question is, what do you want to be known for? And it's a question that focuses on your experience, your expertise, your passions. And I would argue the current marketplace, the needs of the world, the needs of the marketplace or the industry, really thinking through what it is where do you want to state your claim, right? Jokingly, I was doing this earlier but I've expanded my flag on Lean UX. Right? I did that because it's the work that I was doing. It's a problem that I was solving that other people had. I had actual experience doing the work so I can share what we were doing on a regular basis. And lots of people were asking for this kind of content that no one and nobody else, but lots of people were asking, they are actually providing anything in the way of answers at least back in 2008, 2009. And so, it's where you want to kind of build that foundation on top of and what do you want to be known for.
Rory Madden: It's great or it's a challenge for a lot of people. So, I look at you for example, okay, you've got this wealth of knowledge in UX, but as a one of our attendees or a regular person, where do you find your flag? Where do you find what you want to be known as?
Jeff Gothelf: I didn't have that 20 years ago and I had significantly less of it 10, 12 years ago. So, that knowledge and that experience, that expertise comes with time and it comes with doing the work and it comes with practicing the craft and that's like a thing. I think that if you're just starting out and you're looking to decide where to plant your flag, I think you need to look at your unique situation and decide what element of it and you want to talk about. So, for example, you could talk about my first year as a UX designer. Just setting out, tell that story. A lot of people are having their first years in UX designer, there are even more people in UX schools and boot camps and programs that are going to be having their first year very soon. And you're going to tell me that story in the midst of a pandemic as well, which is the world they're going to get into as well. So, there's an opportunity there. You might want to say, "Look, I don't have a ton of experience. But I've spent the first-degree years of my career in financial services. So, I'm really going to focus on UX design for financial services, mobile apps, for example, whatever it is. I mean, I've thought about this the other day, which it feels kind of ridiculous but I'm sure you remember this. I think it was the first Rosenfeld media book 20 years ago, whatever it was. It was Luke Wroblewski book on Form Design. He wrote a whole book not just designing forms and then been granted, he's expanded his flag over the years since then but he planted his flag on designing forms. That's what he was good at what he knew and he had experienced. And the book was wildly successful too because basically the internet's a bunch of more so that worked well. So, really looking at like, what do you know right now, what experience have you had up until this point or what experiences you're about to have when you can talk through it, but if you just came out of a UX program, for example, whether it was a degree program or a career ship program or bootcamp or whatever it is. You can talk about that. My experience completing a 12-week UX boot camp, my experience in the two-year career school, whatever it is and talk about that experience and then how you're applying it day-to-day now in your first year and your extra time. So, I think there's a ton of opportunities. And what you'll find is, as you start to tell that story, you're going to see spikes, right? You're going to see spikes in reaction. Just certain types of content, and those are hints about where to focus next, where to take that pivot that next time.
Rory Madden: Great. So, kind of going down this path like, let's say you've planted your flag what recommendations do you have for people? I guess I'm coming at it from a time perspective and I'm going to look at my personal situation. I got UXDX. My daughter was born a few months ago. I don't have a hell of a lot of free time at the moment. So, what are your recommendations? Because this sounds like it's done your day job, but then also your night job.
Jeff Gothelf: Yeah. That's exactly what it is. So, I'm not going to share a good point, but like no, no, Rory not at all. That's what it is it's a hustle and it's time consuming. It is absolutely time consuming. So, when I started doing this so 2008, roughly situation was not too dissimilar from yours. I had two daughters one was five and the other was one and I was working full time in New York city, living in New Jersey, commuting 90 minutes each way, every day, I'm working 50, 60 hours a week. And then trying to maintain some kind of work life coexistence at some point and the work that I was doing to plant my flag and just start to really kind of build this content platform. It was done in the cracks. So, if I'm standing on a train platform waiting for the train to come and I have 10 minutes and that could fire off a couple of tweets or write down some ideas at 45 minutes on the train every day, headphones on laptop, open as many words as you can get done between my train station and Hoboken, where I had to stop and on the way home sometimes getting up early on the weekends before everybody wakes up. Infants are not bad. I mean, if you're kind of stuck walking around with the incident in the middle of the night and they fall asleep on you and you kind of don't want to put them down because you're going to wake them up, sit on the couch so you can get a laptop on while they're sleeping on your shoulder. But the point is that you've got to find a time in the motivation to do this. And this is why I think it's interesting. Sometimes I read the stuff in programs and it really strikes me as common sense. And a lot of folks who say this is really it's good stuff, but I feel like this is common sense and it is. The difference though is that many people lack the motivation to implement common sense. And so, this is a competitive advantage for you if you have that motivation. And yeah, it's going to be tough and it's going to be tiring. But the goal is that eventually, the mix of time is lucrative and generating enough income or opportunities or whatever it is from building the platform that you can actually dedicate more time away from other employment opportunities from it, for it as well. But it's a balance and it's a hustle for sure.
Rory Madden: Okay, great. Just making sure I need to figure it you so good tip on holding the baby and trying to write with one hand. And so, just going back to the writing, one thing that I've suffered from in the past as well, and I know it's a lot of other people kind of an imposter syndrome, it's not perfect. I need to do more research. I can't publish it just yet. Do you ever suffer from that or do you ever kind of look back on some of your previous writing and wonder what you were thinking?
Jeff Gothelf: Yeah. I mean, I suffered from it about once an hour, so it's fascinating. When we launched about three months, four months ago now in June 16th, and I remember the morning of the launch, I was terrified. I'd been working for a couple of years. Everything was edited and re-edited and confirmed and design ready to go and quality tested and checked. And I was terrified that no one's going to read this and they're going to hate it or they're just going to and it happens again and again and again. Here's the thing, the thing is I don't know how you get over that. I think you just keep publishing, just keep writing. You get better because the more that you do it, the better that you get at it, the better you get at storytelling, the better you get at conveying your ideas, the better you get at connecting with an audience and if you maintain some kind of a pace or a cadence over months or years, you will absolutely notice an improvement and you will absolutely notice an increase in the quality of the kind of connections and conversations that happen. I mean, I'll tell you a story that Lean UX first edition was written. The final manuscript was turned in December of 2012. That's when the final manuscript that we knew expert position that turned in. It was published in March of 13 and in 2016, we were given the opportunity to write the second edition. To do that we had to go back and read the first edition. It had been awhile. I'm not going to lie to you. Sit there reading the wrecks of the day and I went back to read the first edition after not having read it for a while. And I was mortified, mortified like really just embarrassing. I can't believe I published this thing.
Rory Madden: I think it holds up pretty well. I think you're being harsh.
Jeff Gothelf: But from my perspective, my writing has become so much better between 2012 and 2016, that I was like, "Oh my God, let's fix this and I kind of finish out the story. Josh saw that I just signed on with O'Reilly's to write the third edition of Lean UX. And in the last couple of months, we've had to do it again. We have to go back and read the second edition and figure it out. And I'll tell you, I didn't want to puke this time around. I was certainly those things to update and improve and to make the third edition valuable. But the writing was significantly better than what I was expecting based on my first experience, but what happens all the time and the only thing you do is practice and get better. That's it.
Rory Madden: Great. So, in addition to writing, you advocate teaching and getting out there and kind of teach, I guess, writing in a way is teaching but is everybody a teacher? Is this a viable path for everybody and can everybody become a teacher? What are your thoughts on that?
Jeff Gothelf: So, the saying is something like, if you want to get good at something then you should teach it. I think that every time they shared your expertise, you're teaching. Now, that may not be your explicit job title. It may not be the name of the activity that you take part in, but if you're coaching someone at work, if you're just looking over someone's shoulder and offering some advice, if you're writing something for the corporate blog or for your own blog, if you're putting together a video for a conference, if you're a guest on a podcast or you host your own podcast, any one of those activities is a teaching activity. Can everybody does it? Yeah, everybody can do it. Anybody can do it. Will everybody does it? No, not everybody will do it. But it is a fantastic way to exercise the ideas of from where you planted your flat. And so, to really get a sense of how to convey something meaningfully to an audience teaching it is a great way to do it. And again, a blog post is teaching and then really kind of getting a sense of how people are reacting to it. The questions are they asking, are they reacting to it? I've written things that I thought were pretty good and got zero reaction. And so, the question is the idea bad or did I just not teach it correctly? If there was a better angle on this? It's interesting like and it's about recognizing which aspects of the content resonate best and then adjusting your teaching tactics to highlight those bits that people actually think. For example, I teach a lot of Lean UX courses on, in fact, I just finished up an online course last night. One of the main reasons people come to the class is to talk about how to do dual track in Agile, how to do discovery and delivery together. I know that that's a big part of that conversation because over the years, there's every time I talk about that, the traffic spikes, the comments spike, the inbound communications spike. And so, for me, it's valuable for me to have those conversations and I focus a lot of my teaching. On that a lot of the different conversations that I'm having. And I think that you could do that too for your practice or whatever will the stories that you're telling you look for those signals, and then you amplify your activities around those signals. What the best channel or medium is for that, I don't know, that's kind of a test and learn sense and respond type of activity. But I do believe that everybody can do this, but again, I don't think everybody will.
Rory Madden: And it leaves opportunities for those who do, so that kind of touches onto one of the last big points in your book is that, so you planted your flag, you've become an expert in there your writing, you then say, give it all away. If you give it all the way, you're not getting anything back. So, so what do you mean by that and why do you advocate giving it all the way?
Jeff Gothelf: You are getting a ton back. It's just that it's not an immediate exchange, right? It's that's not a commercial exchange right away where you're saying, I will give you expertise and you will give them money and that's great. That's consulting just kind of full-time work. And that's fine. Right. But what I mean, when I say give it all away is. I mean, it's a generously and really share your expertise with the industry and with the domain and with your discipline and with the audience that we're trying to build, because that immediately makes you valuable to that community and immediately associates you with that context when people need to think about something related to that content, they find you. When they need to hire somebody to help them with that at work, they find you. And so, giving your articles away, your blog posts, your podcasts create that content marketing engine, and that drives inbound leads to you. That's exactly why you give this all away because eventually you might want to sell the content. It's tough to do initially if you don't have an audience. So, by giving it all away, you're building an audience. You're building a network; you're building a reputation. And then on top of that, you can start to sell products or services that that might be your freelance time or your consulting or coaching services. It might be a book. It might be speaking engagements it might be other kinds of coaching and training. It might be the actual content itself. At some point you might say, look okay, I've been giving away my content for four or five years. From this point forward, there's going to be a paywall for it. That's okay. So, but initially to build that audience, the network and their reputation, giving it, all away is the key. That's how people get to know you. That's how you build your audience.
Rory Madden: And do you have any tips? Because there's often a little bit of a fear as well with people when they start lighting that your kind of screaming into the void. So, you're putting all this effort in, you're putting all this kind of time and research and you're writing and you're preparing podcasts, et cetera. And you're just getting nothing and nobody's picking it up. So, how do you upside from just the creation, how'd you manage the marketing and trying to build that audience?
Jeff Gothelf: So, this is where being UX people is an advantage that many people don't have because we know how to do customer discovery. We know that launching a successful product or service or a piece of content. It means an audience. So, we're going to design that piece of content with an audience in mind. We're going to research with that audience. We're going to have a reader, a target reader persona for every one of my books there's been a target reader persona, and we have gone out and met those folks and talk to them in advance of writing anything. Same kind of thing here, if there is a specific you should have in target persona for your audience or a set of personas and go research those folks and you know how to do this, ask them where do you consume this kind of information? Which format do you prefer? Why when people used to commute, you'd be like, "Oh, podcast is my favorite because I could just listen to while I'm commuting." These days you might say, "Look, you know what I can stand?" Because I'm on zoom calls all day. I can stand them three-minute videos. So, give me a three-minute videos on YouTube or give me 500 words on Medium and I'll get it done so do that customer discovery work and get a sense of what your target audience likes, what they consume, how they consume it and then start testing with content in that format.
Rory Madden: Great. So, gone through how you're advocating it. When did you kind of make the leap then if away from a kind of your day job on your side hustle into this becoming your full-time career, and how do people know when to make that leap?
Jeff Gothelf: My story is interesting. So, I left my last full-time in-house job in January of 2012. Now, I left to start an agency with Josh Seiden and gift Constable the way that we were going to generate work for that agency was content marketing. And so, that ended up being the work that I was doing inside that agency. And I was building off of all the Lean UX stuff I had done already at that point, 2010. Josh and I were already talking about Lean UX, that point. And what ended up happening was that the content marketing became a business onto itself inside the confines of this agency. And so, over the course of the four-year life cycle of the agency, not only was I generating leads for the business with my little content and education business but I was actually generating revenue. And so, within, I had the comfort and the luxury of a paycheck from that business every two weeks while I was learning how to build and now really on a scale but in 2012, I've been doing it for a bunch of years. But now it was about how to scale and that to build a real business around it so that when that agency ended it was sold in November of 2015. I was just able to kind of pick up my little business unit and take it out and just change the logo on the outside. And from Neo to and continue building it for me at that point, I had had three solid years of proof that this was a viable business. I knew how to sell it. I knew how to deliver it and how much money it made. And I knew it was sustainable enough for me to become self-employed. And so, that's and then since then I've managed to maintain that. So, I spent five years now, since that happened plus the three years before. So, it's been eight years of proving this out. Remember like that's me transitioning eventually towards self-employment. You don't have to transition towards self-employment. You might just want to create this kind of platform that ensures that you get the next full-time job very easily. The next full-time job opportunity finds you as well. And you can do that while maintaining your full-time employment but continuing to be this kind of work that generates speaking opportunities and content opportunities eventually people like, "That guy Rory, I like what he's putting out there. Maybe we need him in our system."
Rory Madden: Thank you. I'm just going to take a question. That's coming from the audience in particular. So, you talked about that kind of content marketing engine. How has writing and book helps versus so the book format versus just the kind of online content?
Jeff Gothelf: Life-changing so that's been my experience now. Lean UX was a success. So, if we start with Lean UX which was my first book absolutely life changing because Lean UX succeeded and became a global conversation. The book continues to clearly continues to several writing a third edition and as a lead generation tool, I haven't had it's equal in my career. All the books I've done, all the books help with that, all the books do that. It's amazing that to this day, Books still have that kind of impact and influence. It's a ton of books out there and there's lots and lots of books being published every day. And so, simply writing the book is not enough. You've got to market the book; you've got to talk about it and let people know that it exists. You've got to keep reminding people that it's a thing. And as someone who knows, I run a publishing house, sends and respond press. Josh, (inaudible) and I have been running this for years now, we've got about a dozen books published over the last two or three years. And I can tell you that the authors that market, their books sell books and those books generate opportunities for them. The authors do not market their books. Generally speaking, do not sell books. And so, the book doesn't work as well. So, you have to create it if then you'd have to use it as a tool in your content marketing.
Rory Madden: Great. Sorry, I'm just looking at some of the questions coming in and I'm just going to ask you actually, just your personal experiences then of what has this enabled you in your life versus let's say you had continued down the track of the permanent employee and versus this kind of different career path. So, from your perspective, what has it enabled you?
Jeff Gothelf: So, I live in Barcelona and I have the option to live here. I chose to live here. I mean, we as a family decided to make this move and building this platform has enabled that because I'm self-employed. And because of that platform, the opportunities that I get are global. So, I didn't really need to be anywhere. It just needed to be somewhere near an airport, a decent airport and have good internet. And for me, that's the most important thing that buys me. It buys me there that's freedom of choice and it buys me time. And I think that that is the most important things in life, frankly, because it's hard being somebody's self-employed and mildly ambitious as I am because it's tough to draw a line about when to stop working and when did you find that time. But you do have the option like, for example, if after this, I just look I'm done for the day. Just want to go to the park or get on my bike or whatever it is, I can do that. And so, the benefits of that are there immeasurable. It's measurable in quality of life and that to me is worth everything. All the hustle, all the early mornings, all the late nights, all of its worth.
Rory Madden: Yeah. I'm very jealous when I see you posting your mountain biking, pics around in Barcelona, in the Hills of Barcelona. I'm just having a quick look at the questions. Is there anything else coming in from anybody? I don't think so at the moment, but is there any kind of final tips that you would recommend to people? So, obviously apart from go out and buy the book, Forever Employable, which you should do any tips for people who are, I guess now just given the time it is maybe there isn't as much job security as there used to be.
Jeff Gothelf: Look, the book is super tactical. There's a story. It's my story to some other stories in there, but the book is super practical and super tactical. And if there's any like immediate bit of advice that I would tell you is to figure out where to plant your flags and choose a topic and just start writing or start communicating in whatever way is most comfortable for you. You'll get better and you'll figure it out and feel awkward. There's the tyranny of the blank page. It's going to stare you in the space when you fire up that Google Doc or whatever it is and you're going to stare, but what am I going to write? Just put something down and you get something to react to and it starts shipping stuff. Eventually you're throwing us stuff against the wall. Some of it's going to stick and you're gonna figure it out. So, don't hesitate to do this and the sooner, the better, basically.
Rory Madden: Just on that, like the metaphor they're throwing us stuff against the wall, should people really just start introspecting and kind of going, "Okay. Well, as you were saying, I worked in finance or I have had an experience my first year." Just write about their personal experiences or should they start with doing some research first? Just simple things like keyword analysis or anything like that just to see, "Okay. What are people already searching for?"
Jeff Gothelf: I mean, I think it's important to pay attention to the trends, the trends in your discipline, the trends in the market, the trends in the world. If you want to start writing about how to host a great live event at the moment, I would argue its bad timing. You might argue that no one else is doing it and so this is a great time to do. But generally speaking, paying attention to where's the discipline headed. What are people worried about? What are the real problems we're facing? But the reason Lean UX resonates so much is because everybody was struggling with UX and Agile instead of still due to this day, sadly. Despite the ignorance and so what are people struggling with today? What are you hearing from your colleagues in the UX field? What's everybody saying? What are those trends? That's a great place to start and a great place to begin talking about from your experience.
Rory Madden: Great. And just got time for one last question. That's just come in and what forums do you think people should create content for? So, there's LinkedIn, Medium, Twitter, podcasts. Where would you recommend to start?
Jeff Gothelf: LinkedIn and Medium. I think LinkedIn has been kind of transformed with would Twitter being sort of the burning garbage fire that it's been for so long now. It's a little sad. The community is still there and you can still engage the community. But then like in between community engagements, it's like, "Oh, the world is ending. Democracy is dying." All of this kind of stuff is in between there. LinkedIn at the moment is free of a lot of that is really focused on work stuff, professional stuff. And I've had a lot of luck there lately with building and engaging an audience. So, I would definitely start there and I like Medium for distribution. I remember with medium and LinkedIn, you're renting an audience. You don't own that audience. LinkedIn does. So, it's a good place to start and then eventually you start transitioning them over to building up, transitioning them over to your blog or your content or wherever you're hosting it but that's me. I think podcasting requires a level of commitment and consistency that is tough to maintain. I haven't been able to pull it off consistently. That's what I do to that.
Rory Madden: Great, well, thanks very much for your time, Jeff.