Whether you're applying for a job or hoping to get a new client for your own business, you're going to have to be able to talk about your work and present yourself. Talking about yourself is something a lot of people shy away from, but you need to be an ambassador for the work you do. "Self-promotion" may feel like a dirty word to some, but by becoming an advocate for yourself, you can stand out from the crowd. There may be a lot of competition out there, but how you present yourself is what can make a company or organization want to work with YOU rather than someone else.
Now is the time you get to put your storytelling skills to use!
Show your work
Austin Kleon is an artist and author. His book Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered was written for people who hate the idea of self-promotion. It examines how to get noticed in less traditional ways than submitting your job application through an automated job service. Sharing your work (sometimes creatively) is one good way to make sure it gets seen by other people and doesn't get lost in the computer system. (Catch the theme of connecting with humans? ;) ).
In Show Your Work!, there is lots of great advice that is broken down into 10 chapters:
You don't have to be a genius.
Think process, not product.
Share something small every day.
Open up your cabinet of curiosities.
Tell good stories.
Teach what you know.
Don't turn into human spam.
Learn to take a punch.
He points out that you can't find your voice if you don't share your voice. The more you share your work, the easier it will become to talk about it. You'll also find what resonates with listeners, and which parts of the story you may need to tweak to really get your point across. Consider what spin do you bring to the work you do?
While Kleon is speaking to an audience wider than designers, it's still a good reminder to consider the power of taking people behind the scenes. This goes hand in hand with sharing your process and not only the final product. Going behind the scenes doesn't always have to be involved and time- consuming. Think about it as sharing one small thing a day. It all adds up over time.
Create your own project
Personal or self-initiated projects are an interesting way to get your work in front of people who wouldn't otherwise see it. Great work often gets shared between friends, or can even go viral. There's not one way to approach these projects, so use the opportunity to get creative and do something different.
Illustrator Jessica Hische created a daily challenge for herself called Daily Drop Cap where she'd illustrate illuminated manuscript style and different types of ornate letter forms she drew herself. She posted a new letter every day of the year (and went through the entire alphabet 12 times). She did this project in 2009 when she was transitioning between a full-time job and full-time freelance. It gave her a project to work on and a way to stay inspired. It also helped her build her skills—and become more efficient—using Adobe Illustrator. Practice makes perfect. The project became an alternative to a traditional business card and was shared widely, as it was quite different from anything on the internet at the time.
Projects such as Daily Drop Cap are not only a great way to build and improve your skills, they also are a reflection of your work ethic (you get things done!). You'll likely discover benefits that you never imagined when starting out.
We can break Daily Drop Cap down into a few narratives that made it stand out. It was a) a daily project, b) involved drawing different letters, and c) together formed an alphabet. Over time the website was developed to make the letters searchable by letter, alphabet, and style. It's easy to look back and see a robust, impressive site, but keep in mind it was developed over time. It was not this fancy and did not have all this functionality when starting out!
Consider what you can do to simplify any project you create. Think MVP (minimum viable product). It's more important you're doing something rather than stressing and losing time over what it could be. You can always make updates over time.
Imagine your own UX or UI challenge
There are no limits or firm guidelines for how to approach a project of your own. However, working within some constraints can make the end result richer. Otherwise, you may find it spiraling in so many directions that no one really understands what you're working on, including you.
Consider writing your own rules or guidelines. These don't always have to be super serious. It's your own project, so have fun with it! You may even want to post the rules if it makes sense in the context of what you're doing.
Frame a UX challenge
You no doubt encounter frustrating experiences regularly, from buying a subway ticket in a new city or trying to figure out how to get the water to turn on in a fancy new sink. Mundane experiences aren't always so straightforward.
Your project could be anything from documenting (and sharing) these experiences, to proposing alternatives, or redesigning an existing product or service. Who says you have to wait for a client to assign you work? Start your own challenge! You could share sketches, wireframes, or even take it as far as the UI of a new prototype.
Frame a UI challenge
If you're looking to build your UI skills, you may want to check out the Daily UI challenge where you're emailed daily user interface design prompts for 100 days and get to interpret them and be creative.
Often it can be helpful when someone else provides the prompt or challenge for you, so it's one less thing to think of. Daily UI is a good way to build your visual design skills, typography, use of color, etc. for designing digital interfaces.
Another approach is to take an existing website, product, or app and redesign it. You could start with a really horrible website and make it look great, or redesign an existing site that everyone already knows.
Many of these kinds of projects are shared on Medium as case studies. Just be clear that it was a self-initiated project, and the mega client didn't hire you for this job. (For instance, at the beginning or end of the post, have a short line in italics that says something like, "This project is something I did for fun; [company name] was a hypothetical client for this endeavor."] That's not to say that you can't still impress the mega client; you just want to be transparent.
Share your work through words
You may find you can make your biggest contributions by sharing ideas through writing, either through your own blog (on your website, or separate), or on Medium. Blog posts are a great way to explore ideas. They also can help increase the chances that people will land on your website when they're looking for an expert in that particular topic.
You may want to write about your own work, approach, or process. You can also feature or mention the work of others—just be certain to credit and link to their work.
A lot of topics have been written about online. That doesn't mean there's no room for more ideas. Figure out how to put your own spin on what you share. It will help make people want to work with you if they like your perspective and approach.
Industries are constantly growing and developing, so share your experiences, highlight what you've learned, or be open regarding your failures. There's no one way to do it. Do what excites you. Chances are it will touch others too.
Practice your elevator pitch
In addition to talking about your work in a written and digital capacity, you also want to consider how to present yourself in person when you meet someone new. Getting this right can take some practice, so start now.
Pretend you're in an elevator with someone you really admire. You let them know you're a fan of their work, and they ask you what you do. You have 30 seconds to make an impression where they'll want to hear more. What would you say?
Tips for considering your elevator pitch:
Make it a story
Connect it to something the listener can relate to
Talk about the kind of work you want to be doing rather than what you've done in the past
Talk about the past if it has an interesting link to the work you do or your approach
Consider which key words you use which may resonate with the listener
Define terms you think the other person may not know (for instance, you may need to say, "UX, or user experience designer")
Make it something that any age can understand, whether it's a child or a grandparent (use plain language)—keeping them in mind can be a good way to help formulate what you do
Keep it simple and to the point
Think of it as an opportunity any time anyone asks you what you do—you never know where it may lead...
When you're working through your "elevator pitch" realize it is probably going to always be a work in progress as your work and interests continue to grow and develop. You also can adapt it to different audiences. Every time you meet someone new, consider it an opportunity to practice. You want to make sure you're saying it out loud too. Sometimes something can look great on paper (or screen) but is more awkward in person. Keep recalibrating as needed. Attending networking events is another great way to practice and help prepare you for any official interviews.
You've no doubt been asked by friends or family to explain what you do or the industry you're in. How do you respond? Write it down, then make a mental note next time you find someone asking you the same question. Don't worry, there's no one right answer. But you should consider how you can break down your explanation to something they can understand.
Check out this video from the Nielsen Norman Group where they ask the question, "What do UX people do?" There's a wide variety of responses.
UX Elevator Speech: Describing UX to Family and Friends. [3:22 min]
Get comfortable talking about yourself and your work in a professional capacity.
Sharing your work online can lead to different opportunities.
Don't undersell your talents, practice your "elevator pitch."