October 10th, 2011
The other day, I was sitting with a very talented designer who was debating what her next job should be. She was looking at several different opportunities, each sounding pretty good. When she asked my opinion on how she should decide, I asked her what the opportunities would be.
She’s been a designer for a long while now, having worked on some impressive projects and developed real skills. As she described the different projects, I could tell, however, that something was missing: how would she grow?
Don’t get me wrong. Each project was pretty neat and jam-packed full of cool challenges that every talented designer would want to sink their teeth into.
I suggested she direct her search in a different direction. I told her to focus on who her next manager should be.
In my job, I get to meet a lot of great designers, some of whom are working on projects that, to an outsider, might be considered dull: accounting applications, chemical analysis equipment, and even tax forms. Yet, they love their work, not because of the subject matter of the project, but because they have a great manager that makes every day fun and challenging (in the good way).
I’ve also met designers who are working on some of today’s sexiest design problems — working with the latest technologies on cutting edge, high visibility, society-changing designs. And they’re miserable because they have a manager that makes each day hard and frustrating.
When you have a great manager, the project barely matters. And when you have a crappy manager, the project barely matters.
The advice I’m giving to senior, more experienced folks is not to think about their next project as much as they think about their next manager. What traits should that manager have? How do they support their team? When things get rough, how do they deliver guidance? Do they regularly give out praise? Do they take a deep interest in the work and in their employee’s future?
I recommend folks interview the entire team and learn what it’s like to work for that manager. What happens when the going gets tough? What examples are there of team members growing, learning, and getting encouragement? Do team members talk about how the manager exhibits the desired traits?
My good friend, Amy Jackson, who works as a talent agent for wünderkind UX designers, suggests you take it a step further and ask the hiring manager for his or her references. Amy says to tell them you want to make the right decision and you need to check them out. Her thinking is that if the hiring manager isn’t secure enough give out sound references, they may be sending a signal. I think there’s something to that.
Great managers are what make a job great. Are you thinking about what you’d like to see in your next manager?Tweet