Career Advice
April 8, 2024

You're Overlooking These Career Growth Secrets

You're Overlooking These Career Growth Secrets

In my almost decade-long career in UX Research, I have spent a lot of time thinking about career growth and what that means at companies like Uber, Twitter, DoorDash and Samsung. As I reflected on it, I came upon a few things that don’t get explicitly stated anywhere but are pretty crucial as one “climbs the ladder”. They become even more critical as one looks to grow into more senior roles. These do come up in growth conversations and performance reviews but are still very nuanced and in some ways implicit. So, while every company will have a career growth spreadsheet outlining what’s expected at each level, I wanted to take a moment to think about some of those attributes that don’t live in those spreadsheets but play a significant role in paving one’s way towards the next level. Navigating career growth isn’t the easiest, and my hope is that these might help put together the missing pieces for some of you dealing with that ambiguity.

1. Have a strong point-of-view (POV)

This was one of the biggest growth areas for me. When I started in research, I used to think that the job of a researcher is to surface to their stakeholders what they learned from customers in an unbiased manner. But I learned later that while that was the case, it was also my job to form a point of view for the team, based on this and other sources of data. Sharing a strong POV upfront vs expecting stakeholders to come up with one based on the data I shared is the difference between a junior and a senior researcher. On the Twitter research team, we used to have a slide called “Research POV” at the top of every research deck. Its goal was to push the researchers to reflect on the learnings from that research + any data points they had from other sources + business context and triangulate it all to come up with a point of view for the company. The fact that it was limited to a slide would force us to really think about what we want the message to be and be really succinct with it. So, push yourself to form a strong POV for every work that you present. And then further exercise this muscle by building POV on other things too — what research should the team be doing next, what should go on the product roadmap, what should the larger org strategy be, to name a few.

2. Have clear calls-to-action (CTAs)

At the end of every research share-out, the audience should walk out with clear action items. Make sure to have very clear CTAs for different stakeholders/functions. To increase accountability, I sometimes even explicitly map recommendations to functions. Another format I learned from a former manager was sharing findings in the form of “what, so-what, now-what”. This means sharing the insight (the ‘what’), why should your stakeholders care about it (the ‘so what’) and what do you want them to do about it (the ‘now what’). This framework often helps me in getting clarity around my own thoughts and presenting the recommendations more effectively.

3. Research isn’t always the answer

Just because you are a researcher doesn’t mean you have to solve every problem with new research. One of the qualities of a seasoned researcher is to identify what the team really needs and help them connect those dots, with or without a new research project. It could mean organizing a workshop to get all stakeholders on the same page and move to next steps, or looking up all existing research and sharing a POV on a topic, or working with Data Science teams to seek more data to complement existing research. Think of yourself as a problem solver with a wide toolkit, which goes much beyond conducting research.

4. Be a real partner to your stakeholders

Oftentimes Research is positioned as a consulting function. Stakeholders involve researchers ad hoc to evaluate an idea or a design. And once that is done, researchers roll off of that project and move on to another one. In doing so, we don’t become thought partners to product and design teams. While some of it is due to our limited capacity as a function (1 researcher working with many product/design teams), some of it is also due to the lack of understanding and alignment on both our side and XFN’s side around how to make research a true partner. Get involved as much as you can with your design/product stakeholders outside of those ad hoc touch points — conduct a workshop to see how those insights/recommendations can be converted to product/design ideas, follow up to make sure they land on the roadmap, be a partner when time comes for planning the next quarter/half’s roadmap, proactively think about how you can get ahead of those planning cycles by planning relevant research, get yourself invited to the key leads product/design meetings of your areas. All of these together will help in establishing your place as an expert and a key thought partner to teams.

5. Sharpen your business acumen

Unarguably some of the biggest impact a researcher can have is on a company’s business outcomes. So stay on top of the larger company’s objectives, goals, and metrics. Know how your research fits into the larger business context, how it ladders up to the company’s priorities, and what metrics you are trying to influence. When presenting your work, again, remember the business context and “speak that language”. A basic example of this can be tying your recommendations from research, to not just potential impact on user experience but also key company metrics. That usually gets the team more excited and makes it easier to land impact.

6. Think beyond your research day job

As you grow as a researcher, you’ll be expected to go beyond just your own lone researcher world, and think about the larger research community. Think about how you can contribute to the research community within and outside the company — can you spin up any projects that’ll help other researchers within your company and their craft? Can you share your experience with junior researchers and mentor them? Can you help evangelize the research function within the company? How can you contribute to the UXR industry outside of your company?

7. Be your own sponsor

You are going to be your biggest advocate and sponsor. No one will promote you unless YOU ask for it. No one will give you that pay bump unless YOU push for it. Be proactive in having career conversations with your manager and openly ask what career progress would look like from your current level to the next. Come up with very actionable next steps for yourself. Early on, I used to find such conversations very awkward — “How could I explicitly ask my manager to promote me?! It’s so awkward! They’d do it when they thought I was ready”. Right? Wrong! Your career growth is ONLY your responsibility, and oftentimes managers also want to see you advocate for yourself. When I managed to get over that initial hesitation and have those conversations, I learned that my managers could be my biggest allies and supporters, but only if I pushed for it myself.

So, that’s how I think about growth. What’s your take? What has worked for you and what hasn’t? I’m curious to know and start a conversation about this. Feel free to comment below or connect with me on LinkedIn :)