Don't Let a Survey Choose Your Career Path
LinkedIn recently suggested I take an online career assessment survey that would match me with a “career path.” It was from a bootcamp called Springboard, so the survey was, I was guessing, going to match me with one of its programs. According to its website (in September 2020), it offers programs in UI/UX, UX, data science, data analytics, machine learning (ML) engineering and software engineering, among others.
I should share a little of my background to put this in perspective: I've been a customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX) strategist, architect and interaction designer for over 20 years. I’ve been doing CX and UX research for nearly 10 years. I am not a visual or graphic designer, which means you would label me “CX/UX” and not “UX/UI” or “UI/UX.”
Bootcamps, their claims and their marketing tend to be on my radar because I am consistently finding that the programs and instructors at UX bootcamps are not teaching the right things in the right ways, and not making grads job ready.
What the Career Survey Asked
The first set of survey questions were general: email address, education history and why am I considering a career transition. The second set was about preferences and personality. The third set was about what types of work sounded good to me.
I answered the survey honestly. I told it I did not want to use Sketch and do visual design. Yes, I want to solve problems and use critical thinking. I chose, “no” in response to, “Do you want to be in a role where being creative and owning elements like colors, layout and visuals is your primary responsibility?” This is a highly flawed question. I do want to be creative. Layouts could be interaction design, which I would want to do, but I wouldn’t want to do layouts in the visual design sense. Since the question is aimed at trying to find out if I’d like to do UI work, I said no.
I was sure it would tell me I should be a UX researcher or somewhere in UX. The survey told me there was no clear career path for me — probably because I did not closely match any of the programs they wanted to sell me.
Let me say that again: a survey from a company that should know what UX is — that I answered honestly — was not able to match me to the career I've been in for decades. Once they ruled out selling me on UI, they seemed to have no idea what my career path should be.
Wording is important. “There was not one clear career path that was a fit,” is a very different message than, “We couldn’t match you to any of our current programs.”
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Then the Survey Results Blamed Me
Worse than not matching me with my own career, the page went on to suggest some 'next steps' for me.
Step one was, “Do some self-reflection.” It suggested I watch a TED talk from Bill Burnett on "Designing Your Life." It also sent a link I didn’t follow to something that claimed it would help me brainstorm what might bring me joy in a job. Evidently, I just haven’t found myself yet, and I need more self-reflection.
Additional next steps suggested other surveys I could take to assess what my strengths might be, including a survey that might try to match me with non-tech jobs. It also suggested I attend one of the school’s Career Coach “Ask Me Anything” sessions. I declined that offer, opting instead to ask why its survey couldn’t match me to UX, a career Springboard knows about, and the career I’ve successfully and happily been in for a very long time.
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I looked at these results and suggestions, horrified at what people just starting out or transitioning their careers must think and feel when they see there is no clear career path for them. What must it be like when they have CX and UX running through their veins, are drawn to the profession, and they’re told they need a TED talk or to do more self-reflection? Can a company still claim it has empathy when it treats people this way?
Related Article: INSEAD's Ibarra: To Reinvent Your Career, Don't Think – Act
Don’t Believe Surveys Like This
When it comes to career matching, it might be best to put surveys in a bucket with your horoscope. While a survey could be fun to take, it's probably not a good idea to base any life decisions on it.
Let’s also please remember that surveys like this one are marketing tools aimed at selling to prospective students. Many such students and grads have told me that bootcamps are telling everybody they would be great at UX, and UX would be a super career for them. This indicates there are no real standards or assessments being done. It also unfortunately means that a bootcamp telling you you’re perfect for UX is as meaningful and potentially accurate as a survey telling you UX might not be for you.
The bottom line? Don't let "tests" like this leave you believing that UX isn't for you. A flawed survey or a biased “career coach” should not dictate your path. This survey in particular didn't understand UX strategist, architect, researcher or interaction designer without visual design. If you don't love visual design, you don’t have to do it. Many jobs out there still want specialists.
I believe over time, CX and UX will move back towards hiring and utilizing specialists, rely less on generalists, and focus on real R&D. Companies will have learned that unicorns don't exist, but instead are just folks that are often great at one thing, OK at some others, and mediocre to poor at the rest. Companies will realize that giving mission critical work to people mediocre at things — just to try to combine jobs and save money — isn’t paying off in ROI or customer happiness.
If you are considering any CX or UX education, make sure you research programs and instructors carefully as many are focused on UI over UX. And don’t believe the surveys.
About the Author
Debbie Levitt, CEO of Delta CX, has been a CX and UX strategist, designer, and trainer since the 1990s. As a “serial contractor” who lived in the Bay Area for most of the 2010's, Debbie has influenced interfaces at Sony, Wells Fargo, Constant Contact, Macys.com, Oracle, and a variety of Silicon Valley startups. Her new book, "Delta CX," burns down what's hurting the UX industry and builds up what we must do instead to prioritize quality in every area.