- Artwork by Eli Jorgensen
Justin Dauer implores us never settle in our important quest to find the right cultural fit. He reminds us that being human-centered doesn’t just affect our users, but especially the humans we interact with. He encourages us to think hard about where we choose to hang our hat, & understand what the ramifications of the wrong decision may be. He also reveals the maze of signals to watch out for in our search for the culture that will foster our creativity, & empower our passion to produce what could be our greatest work…yet.
Justin Dauer is a passionate user advocate, designer, writer, and denim elitist from Chicago. Through bloodshot tunnel vision, he’s drawn from career experiences across agency side, client side, design studio, and pure tech to foster healthy, dynamic, supportive, creative cultures. Crafting as the Vice President of UX & Development for bswift by day, his personal creative outlet by night (and day) is pseudoroom which also happens to be his Twitter handle. He eats a bowl of cereal every night before bed. Every. Night.
- What Does It Mean to Say “The Right Cultural Fit”? (5:07)
- Why It’s Vital to Find That Fit (7:28)
- What Are the Reasons You Made This Your Life Mission? (8:55)
- Is It a Good Plan to Apply for Jobs Everywhere? (17:13)
- The Best Ways to Vet a Company’s Culture (22:47)
- Is It Worth Jumping into an Undesirable Culture to Gain Experience? (31:57)
- Before Heading into an Interview (34:25)
- Thoughts on Interview Questions (40:32)
- Advice for Listeners Who Feel Stuck (44:35)
Jason Ogle: Welcome to this very special episode. This is an addition to the importance of landing a job in UX series that I have going on here. There are some incredible guests and my guest today is certainly no exception. He is also a friend in which is great. So, this feels more like a conversation. I don’t feel as nervous like I have got to tee-tee as often. Yes, I have my friend on the other side of this, Justin. So Justin, he’s a Chicago in, a proud Chicago in at that, and I’m going to touch on some bullet points here through his bio and just so you can kind of get a sense, he was with me, he’s a repeat superhero which I love having repeat guests on the show. And he was in a very important interview all about his new book that was just released called “Cultivating a Creative Culture”.
And so I highly recommend checking that one out Defenders after this. But yes, so that’s when we talked last, but we’re going to really drill in on the whole kind of interview side of finding that right culture for you as a creative person. So, he’s been at this for couple decades plus, so he’s seen the evolution of the web. You saw the evolution of this field and he is a vice president of UX and Development for a company called “Be Swift”. But he’s also got many side hustles. He’s a super creative guy. He’s got a lot of things going on, “Irons in the Fire”, and he’s a speaker. He actually key-noted “The Midwest UX”, which was incredible by the way. We’ll link to that as well. And, let’s see. Also the host of the podcast called “Creative Culture”, right? Is it “Creative Culture”?
Justin Dauer: Creative Culture podcast. Correct.
Jason Ogle: I should know this because I’m a co-host.
Justin Dauer: You’re in the ballpark. That’s all right.
Jason Ogle: Okay, great. And that’s been fun. I just joined Justin about three episodes ago, two episodes ago. And so, we’re, yes, we are kicking it off this New Year as well. So be sure to keep tabs on that. And as far as the last time I checked, he eats a bowl of cereal every night before bed, every night. Do you still do that?
Justin Dauer: I do. That is an evergreen, a factoid. So you could always pull that one out for sure.
Jason Ogle: Awesome. All right, well, awesome. I think that’s an apt enough introduction to you, my friend, and we’re talking about finding the right cultural fit. What does that mean? And can you define that for us listening? What is a cultural fit?
Justin Dauer: Yes. Absolutely. Jason, first of all, thank you for the intro. I appreciate the kind words.
Jason Ogle: Absolutely
Justin Dauer: Cultural fit, it’s kind of a broad thing and in some ways, defining cultural fit. There are certainly some core tents of a healthy creative culture, but that it can also be a subjective thing based on what people, get the most value out of. That said to me, a cultural fit can be defined as the environment that ultimately best respect your humanity and your uniqueness. Facilitate your growth in your craft and ultimately support, you do your best design or programmatic work. So, those are broad buckets admittedly. But, if you dig into that a little bit as I said, humanity and uniqueness that could be qualified as work-life balance or diversity and inclusion in team composition or, even processes you’re advocating for human beings. Growth in craft, that could be career development, that could be a conference, offsite camp offerings, things like that.
Association memberships, support in doing your best work. Does the business have healthy product development, life cycle process? E.g. “making things look good”? And I’m air quoting, you can’t see that making things look good. Or are you advocating for human beings holistically? Is time being given a to refuel or recharge? I like to say, are you given time to pause with intent, in the office space? Are you given time to mutually inspire one another? Is leadership, collaborative, empathetic, are they invested in your growth and success, or on the other side of the coin or the ego-driven micromanagers. So, that’s a fairly bloated response. But to the core aspect of, respect toward your humanity your uniqueness, a facilitating your growth and supports. You look at those three words, respect, facilitate and support. Those are the three action words and I think those are kind of the three things you want to make sure, I’m keenly there in any cultural fit based on how you define it.
Jason Ogle: Okay. That is very helpful. I appreciate that on the outside because that gives us kind of a good understanding of the sort of what we’re going to be talking about today. Why is it vital, Justin, to find the right cultural fit, especially as a designer or a developer?
Justin Dauer: Sure. There will always be trends in what we do. Just to get a little macro for a second. So with UX, there’s trends and process and deliverable. Wireframes are everything, wireframes are nothing or, there are always, read me kind of headlines in that sense. Visual communication, there’s design language or there’s the animated lava lamp Gif. They’re always trends and what we do, human-centered design, the empathetic human connection is something that’s timeless. That is something that is evergreen. So, finding the most apt cultural fits, which of course is inclusive of connection of project process support for growth like we just talked about, that needs to be paramount in a designer or devs. job search. I mean this is the business that is going to support you and the work you do, your evolution. So, you might look for things like a job title that is the best fit and of course that’s a factor in it. But a culture that is going to support you keenly as a human being and in process and growth. That is why it is absolutely vital.
Jason Ogle: And I want to take a second to plug your book because it is so good. It’s “Cultivating a Creative Culture”. And, I think we talked a little bit about this last time, but I want to kind of touch again, like what was it about this topic? What was it, was it something that happened in the past with you, like at a certain workplace, or experiencing really poor leadership? Can you touch on some of the reasons that you really made this kind of a life’s mission, so to speak?
Justin Dauer: Certainly. I mean, the reason I wrote the original, A List Apart article, it was called “Resetting Agency Culture” and, what’s different from that to the title of my book? Ultimately, of course, is the agency, delineator and, at the time I wrote that article, I was in the agency sector. I’ve kind of vacillated between the agency side and tech side and design studio a side that triumvirate across my entire career. Agencies side always has some inherent, at least in terms of my exposure, some inherent issues culturally. So I wrote that article because I was feeling it at that point. That’s, where I was at with my role in my evolution as a designer and in my career. So I wrote this article, I pitched the idea to A List Apart. It resonated with them and I worked with their awesome editorial staff to, bring the piece to fruition. And it really resonated.
This was the Eureka moment with me. It really resonated trans-media. I was getting feedback from people in print and radio and television and design of course as well in the agency space. What the Eureka moment there for me was, is that this was not about the agency connection. This was about the human connection. It was bigger than the agency space. So I always come back to this is not about pseudoscience and new age crystals and things which some people might find wonderful. That’s fine. This is about tying back to the human-centered process, human-centered connection, human-centered growth. And this is something, you mentioned in my job title at the beginning of “VP of Human Centered Design”. This is something I’m tremendously passionate about. So the culture, of course, is the underpinning.
This is something that we just talked about. All of that the culture supports you and everything you do and the culture should permeate interactions at the office. It should permeate the project process; it should permeate the deliverables and our goals. So, that was the kind of foundation for writing this book. And, I mentioned this when we were talking off mic earlier that, I’m working on the second version of the book now that gets more into the human center design side of things and how that is a core part of this kind of connection as well. So human-centered design is, my true passion of what my air quotes day job is, but the culture and then a healthy creative culture surrounding it is absolutely paramount. So that’s why I evangelize that so much because really these are all just pieces of the same puzzle.
Jason Ogle: Yes. I can’t wait for your follow-up as well because I really enjoyed it and I’m not just saying this cause I’m your friend and because there are thousands of people listening to this right now, but I, I really enjoyed, I sincerely enjoyed reading your book. You really great writer and you just have a way with words and just really taking a topic that’s really ambiguous in many ways and just kind of breaking it down into a human-centered language a way that we can understand. So I am actually really super excited to kind of see that follow-up. And, I touched on some of the reasons that this is such an important topic for me. And, as humans, we psychologically designed to kind of always be seeking homeostasis. We always want to, and that’s for a good reason. There are survival kinds of things involved with that.
We always want to kind of find that balance that kind of wellness in our lives. And I was just kind of, it’s been several years since I had that awful experience that I described in our earlier interview. You kind of start to heal, you and here’s the thing, time doesn’t, especially with the death of a loved one, time does not heal. It does dull the pain. And I think that also relates to other really painful experiences in life, including working in an awful culture. It’s been several years and I started to think about just before our interview, actually just minutes before we got on the phone, I opened up my notes app here on my computer, and I couldn’t find my exit interview that I wrote out at that job. And I was very honest in that exit interview. And I actually just started skimming through it and it Kind of opened up some moons for me again. Just thinking about how I was treated at this job and treated in-human. I was treated like I didn’t matter at all. And I was hired in the leadership role to over there and there were some things that I had kind of forgotten about.
Again, my brain’s way of kind of protecting me, right? Kind of self-preservation, right? And there were a couple of things that I had actually kind of forgotten about because they hurt so much and one of them was the fact that we were on the way out, and again, Defenders checkout, I don’t want to go into the whole story, but you can check out Justin and my first interview at userdefenders.com/ccc and you can hear kind of a little bit more of that story. But one of the things on my way out of this role, it wasn’t just that, even though the budget was cited for me being let go, he was hiring new people into my department. In fact, he got a guy to replace me, it was so blatant. It was so just dehumanizing.
Justin Dauer: Dehumanizing. Yes, that’s a great segue. When I have a team member come to me and someone is having trouble with the process or someone’s having trouble with a deliverable or something. Someone on the other side of someone when interacting with a client or internally and there’s some trouble there. I always bring that human-centered. When we’re doing a human center design process and we’re doing observation and we’re analyzing or we’re doing research, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of the other people we are advocating for or designing for. So I always try to bring that human-centered thinking back into, the cultural interactions at work. So somebody comes to me and they’re having trouble with a deliverable or this person isn’t stepping up to the plate.
I always say, let’s pause for a second and put ourselves in their shoes. What else can be going on here with them? Well, let’s think about, before we rush to judgment, what else might be going on? And when we kind of pause and let the initial energy of coming into the room and I’m going to talk to my manager about this. When we kind of let the diffuse and we can actually have a calm conversation about it, we always get to something. There’s always something there. So to your story just now about how you were treated and you were let go because of a budget, but at the same time they’re staffing up. I mean, the empathy there was just, it was devoid. It was an empathy vacuum.
So, that to me is hard to connect with because I think based on what we do, we advocate for people and we observe and we were researching were empathetic just inherently. But, I mean, it’s hard to connect to a dynamic like that because it is hard to put yourself in someone’s shoes and say, you moved you’re, I remember that story. You moved your family, across the seaboard effectively and this is how you were treated and that, at the time, I can’t put myself in your shoes. I’m sure that was insanely challenging. But look where you are now, look how you build yourself back up and you use that experience to as a learning experience and you’ve grown from it and that is so key.
Jason Ogle: Thank you so much, man. I appreciate you chiming in on that and helping to kind of explain how I felt. I started getting emotional and it’s kind of hard for me to think when I get emotional. So yes. Thanks for bringing that in. And this is a listener question, Justin from Faatima.
Justin Dauer: Yes.
Jason Ogle: And I was so delighted to get this question from her. I think it was a really thoughtful question. And Defenders listening, you all can relate to this. I think in many ways, especially as a newer designer. So here’s her question. It’s really great if you’re new to the field.
Listener question: How do you avoid just taking the first offer you get or do you recommend taking the first offer? Everyone advises me to just apply everywhere. Is this a good plan?
Justin Dauer: This is an awesome question. As you said, Jason, everyone, starting out in their careers has been there. I think this is almost a unanimous thing, so I appreciate this question from a Faatima. Taking an offer, accepting the first or the fifth offer. It can be extremely case dependent. So, I’ll put that out there straight away. This is not going to be a blanket answer. I can give you a response based on myself as a job seeker and have hired and build teams over the years being on the other side of that. So, by and large, I would say, see what your options are as best you can before taking the first offer.
If you get the first offer and it is crystal clear and extremely lucid that the stars are aligning, the salary is there, the growth is there, the culture is there, the team is there, they’re doing phenomenal work, then it’s clear. Sometimes that’s not possible because businesses give deadlines. A business is a business. They have to staff up so they’ll say, I need to hear back from you by, you interviewed Wednesday, here’s your offer, we need to hear back you by Monday or Friday. And then it’s challenging at that point. And you might even think about what kind of business would give me a deadline. So this answer, I’ll tell you it’s going to be about money. So there’s that side of things and we can circle back for some clarity.
In terms of applying everywhere first and foremost, pick an industry or a business or a cause that you’re passionate about. This one I can speak to with extreme clarity because this is the business that is ultimately going to support you completely it’s this agency work. It’s this health care where the healthcare system and our countries is a mess more so now than ever. It’s the studio projects with a wide range of clients. This business and I just said this will be the home to your abilities, your passion and the evolution of your career and your work for the next x number of years, you have to choose wisely in this capacity. The businesses pillars and their business and their process will be the lens through which your design is produced. And that is an absolutely precious process.
So certainly don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I would not apply to a company just because of the role they’re promoting matches a title that sounds good or matches as a title that sounds apt per your career evolution. Be Very selective in your applications even if they’re copious. So, applying everywhere, yes, but to a point, apply everywhere that is a good ultimate fit for you. Because if they extend you an offer and you go in with that momentum, you don’t want the surprise, to happen with you. And that’s happened to me. I believe that’s happened to you. Well, you’re hungry at that point, either literally or to and when a company either throws a lot of money at you or they respond quickly, that feels good and you might see the synapses are firing at that point. And at, this company wants me and, and
Jason Ogle: Neurochemicals firing.
Justin Dauer: Yes. You’re right. So, I said pause with intent before and I use that towards dynamics in the office. I use that in business. Pause with intent here on getting an offer to, and pause and think about what the implications are here. Even if you’re just coming out of a role, or coming out of school I should say, or you’re exiting a role and it’s toxic and you apply to one and you get an offer, of course the first thing is to be, now I can jump ship, I’m going to take this role. It’s a challenging thing and I’m not saying it’s a trivial matter. It’s a non-trivial thing to pause and say is this ultimately the right fits? Because like I said that this can have long-term implications and we’ll talk about not settling lighter and things like that with your career evolution. But again, it’s an apply, certainly, apply liberally but make those liberal applications, roles that you ultimately will find a good fit for you holistically.
Jason Ogle: That’s so good. For example, and this isn’t just something off the cuff here. I feel like a lot of us as designers and I raised my hand too because I did the same thing. We see a company that’s doing awesome things and they most commonly have a large brand attached to them. They’re a big brand name and a company that’s innovating and doing exciting things. And of course, as designers, we’re drawn to that. I want to be a part of that and that’s awesome. It is awesome. But I want to use apple for an example, right?
Let’s say Steve Jobs, Apple dude, that guy changed the world with his leadership on technology and many humans in the world have one of his products in their pockets right now. But, we don’t know what it’s like to actually be inside indoors and like working under, a leader that may not be a very good one and that’s putting it lightly. And certainly we know Steve Jobs was an incredible innovator, but, word has it, he was also kind of a jerk, to his people. He kind of treated his people pretty terribly sometimes. So, I guess what I’m trying to get to is, what are the best ways to vet a company culture before we even start submitting our resumes and email blasting out our resumes? Are there, techniques that you’ve found that are really helpful in this process?
Justin Dauer: That’s a fantastic question. Let’s start with bigger brands. So, I will hone in on a brand specifically, but you cited apple, so let’s say any large, tech firm that, as you said, is doing good work and is changing the industry and innovating and it probably seems like an externally great place to work and you start doing your research. So first I’ll say, do research on your business. So, you start doing your research and you see, okay, they’re doing awesome work and the work is siloed out into this unit and that unit. And there are different product categories. And oh look, they have sleep pods. If I’m overworked, hell, I could go in this little sensory deprivation chamber and sleep on the job or I noticed that if I have to work late, they’ll send a cleaning crew to my house or they’ll pay for our cab and that on the surface sounds awesome. But yes.
Jason Ogle: Everything provided.
Justin Dauer: Yes. Here’s the thing, here’s the pause with intent again, think about what the other side of that is. The other side of those perks can be, I won’t say this is universal. It can be toxic. And that is setting your expectation that you are signing your life away at that point to always be at the office. The sleep pods are conducive to pausing because you’re probably overworked and staying past five. Why are they sending a cleaning crew to your house? Because you’re going to be there. You’re not going to be home to do your own cleaning or why are they paying for a cab? Because maybe public transportation has dried up by the time you have to get home. So I’m just saying go in when you’re vetting a company, do not have blinders on any capacity just because the brand sounds great and you have this product in your pocket or you have the logo on your, on your shoes or something like that.
You have to dig into what might be the other side of those factors or their perks. So doing research beyond a one to two paragraph description about this business on a LinkedIn job ad is huge. Don’t just let the marketing copy define the lens through which you perceive this company. So their brand story, how they positioned themselves, their work, their culture on their site, their pillars through which they produce work or perceived themselves, those things are absolutely key. So I said, brand story, a company tells its brand story outwardly to connect to its users and to keep them engaged and to build relationships. How the organization came to be, why it’s employees are charged to come to the office, why they produce the work that they do.
So in your research, when you’re looking at their brand story, does this resonate with your ethics? Does this resonate with your career evolution? Does this resonate with your passion to create? So, it can be as simple as when you’re looking at their websites where does people or culture or following the navigation. Is at first, is it last, is it there at all? When you look at their website, who is listed under the leadership or on the about page? Is it leadership, Is it sea level only? Are you seeing the people who are actually making the work, is there a lifelike, our life at a section on the site? What is a day in the life look like in this site? Is something like that even present on the sites? Some businesses they blow that section out the most about, their cultural manifesto or what is a day in the lifelike, or, little vignettes about an employee speaking about what a day in the life is like. Talk to them as best you can reach out to these people.
I keep talking about the human-centered approach and this one is the one that might cause the needle scratching the record the most for people. So, we keep talking about human-centered and the human connection. I would say if you’re genuinely passionate about this business, trying to take it a step further than tossing a pdf over the digital fence of your resumes. So, some businesses are very busy and there’s HR, they kind of, is in receipt of resumes and you can’t talk to a person physically. But I can tell you this, I’ve worked in an agency before Jason, where I was a creative director and add this agency two different times. People knocked on the door and just walked into this space. And one time it was a fellow who walked in and he was seeking a designer role, but he had not really done his homework on our business or what we were about.
And he walked into this space and it was different. This person’s coming in there and they’re introducing themselves. And my curiosity was peaked enough where I got up and I went over and I introduced myself and we talked a little bit and he had his business card in his resume and he was just, kind of doing, he probably had stops along the way for the day and he was just knocking on doors and I respected someone who wanted to, I respected their approach in that sense, to kind of connect with the human being. Another time someone did the same thing, knock on the door. I was a little, I was a little busy that day and I didn’t interact with them specifically. But they had done their homework. I am knocking on the door because I’ve looked into the work that this company does. And they knew about myself and they knew about other members of the team just based on doing the research and they were expressing that they felt like they would be a good fit based on those things.
And I followed up with them. I thought the human-centered approach again, that was intriguing to me that that was a curiosity. Again, I was too busy that day and I wasn’t available, but, they were putting themselves out there and I respected that at the, at the end of the day. So multiple ways to vet a company culture before submitting your resume, if you’re submitting to like Google, air quotes, knocking on the door might not be the best way to go about it. If it’s an agency of 50 people or if it’s a smaller business, it might be a little more accessible thing to do at that point. So I’m not seeing them, as our blanket solutions by any means, but if we’re putting the human-centered connection at the core of everything, and I think that is permeating through this incredibly bloated answer I’m giving, that is what we have to hang our hats on throughout that process.
Jason Ogle: That’s great advice, Justin. And I want to kind of piggyback on, Faatima’s question earlier. Be careful about this spray and pray with your resume. It’s something that’s natural. We want to do that, especially if we’re really, and here’s the thing. I know you’re hungry to get your foot in the door and that’s awesome. Hang onto that passion and that’s what’s driving you to be a part of it. It took me two years to get my foot in the door. And I started in 1997, trying just to get into a company. And really it was any company I felt like I just want to do this and I wasn’t thinking about the culture at the time, but you be careful about the spray and pray to try to bide your time if you can. I guess just temper that. Just really try to take that extra time to vet as best you can, to vet the company culture. Trust me, trust us. It will save you a lot of heartaches and maybe that, that experience, you might get, that’s subjective as to whether or not it’s going to be worth being treated like crap at your job.
There are some people that hated working for Steve Jobs and hated his leadership style, but then there are other people that are like, I loved it. Like I loved the punishment that he rendered unto me, and kind of beating me up at three in the morning to get something shipped by six, things like that. It’s really subjective. I think it’s just kind of your personality to think about it. Logic tells me it’s never worth it to be treated, inhumane. It logic tells me that. So I think it’s up to you to determine whether or not it’s worth just jump in somewhere, where the culture may not be great, but you might get some good experience from it for a resume. And maybe that’s part of your plan. I don’t know. That’s kind of a gray area. What do you think about that, Justin? That just something that came to me right now, is it worth it to jump into a company that’s like an apple or a Google knowing that the culture and the expectation are not going to be great for you, but to gain that experience, to maybe jump to a better culture. Like what have you thought about that before?
Justin Dauer: You make a great point there Jason. I want to ask risk. A lot of what we’re saying is that subjectivity does kind of apply across the board here. So like I said, respect. I think it’s something we could absolutely hang our head on in terms of what is a good fit for people or how you’re treated or how you’re advocated for. Some people, a good culture fit for them is coming into their desk, putting their headphones on and that this is the culture of the environment and producing work and clocking out of five, nine to five doing my work, I’m producing, I’m done. And that’s fine. I mean that’s a healthy fit for them. And that’s the kind of work they want to be doing and that is they’re a good fit. Like I said, still respect, empathy, advocacy, just a healthy culture in that sense. I think that is universal throughout.
If you need, if some of the things we’re talking about, in this interview are more your cup of tea or speaker to your evolution and are more apt to your work as a designer, that’s fine too. So there’s certainly a baseline there. Like you said, getting your foot in the door towards a company as long as, like I said, your blinders are off and you know what you’re getting into. Apple, I’m sure their culture is great in many respects. But at the same time, it is a product driven company and we know what is inclusive many times of culturally what a product is driven company or an agency like I talked about before. So just having a crystal-clear view, the long view of what is going on there, as long as that’s present and you can hang your hat on that, then I think that’s perfectly fine.
Jason Ogle: In your book, you talk about the mutual interview and I love that. I love the sentiment behind that. And it’s basically Defenders, to describe it. It’s basically when you’re in an interview, you’re there to answer questions, right? Just like Justin is here to answer my questions today. It’s kind of that same sense, but typically, how often do you actually realize that you’re going to have a chance to ask questions to. And so typically at the very end of the interview, the interviewer will ask you, “hey, we’re done here now, or do you have any questions for us”? Do you want to kind of describe what that is and why that’s important? Why we should always be prepared to answer those questions with thoughtful questions ourselves?
Justin Dauer: Yes. Absolutely. So I say the mutual interview because I almost want to say the honor, the privilege of interviewing is a privilege both for you and for the business at that point. They’re coming in there with your talent and your abilities and your drive and your passion. So, the goodness of that process, that the healthiness of that process of being in, walking in the door, it’s a boon both for you and the business to be having that dialogue at that point. So you’re not there to be grilled. You’re not there to be put over the coals. It is a mutual dialogue and that, hopefully, there’s a give and take and it’s an organic flow like you said in our conversation now during the interview.
But if it comes to at the end where it’s kind of saved up, okay, I’ve done most of the talking now, do you have any questions? That is the point for you to be charging. There are some lobs where do you see the business in five years? Things like that. Some standard, if you googled, what questions are asked during an interview you’ll get a bullet list of the top five. But pick some things at that point that are important to you and ask them. So, for example, is the ability to work remotely, something that’s important to you, like working from a coffee shop. So can I work from a coffee shop? Sure. And then you say, really well what days, how often? What coffee shops do you have any that you recommend at that point?
So, bring the dialogue down a notch from a Corp, this is an interview, I’m being grilled and make it a conversation at that point. And also by making a conversation, then you should expect genuine answers back. If you say, oh you can, what days? And they’re like, well, maybe on second thought, maybe it’s like once a month or you should get a degree of candor at that point. Once you bring the dialogue down from interview mode into conversation mode. Genuine responses tend to be more conducive at that point. Revealing responses I should say on the positive or the negative? Or are people here past five o’clock often if work-life balance is important to you or as I was walking in, I saw there were cots in the hallway. Are people sleeping in those cots?
There are things like that. This is your opportunity to get a window or peak, behind the curtain about what the culture is or things that are important to you. Is Career Development important to you? Can you attend the conference? Do you have any kind of camps? Things like that. So, I’d ask backs some questions that you’d likely asked on the other side of things. So, what’s a time you’ve been humbled in your work? Why can’t you ask that if the people are asking you? That’s the question I’ve been asked before. That’s a question other people, I’m sure have been asked before. Tell me a time in your career, where you experienced those kinds of questions. Why can’t you ask those back of the people that are asking them to you? If you get a kind of an eyebrow raise or like why are you asking me this kind of vibe that’s a red flag straight out of the gate.
So if someone is empathetic and views and isn’t thinking in terms of a hierarchy at that point in the conversation. I mean, why the hell not if I’m talking to a VP if I’m talking to someone who’s not at that level and an org chart. I mean, why can’t, the dialogue would be the same at that point. So it should be natural and fluid. So, we’re creating and we’re researching, we’re testing in a human-centered sense. Why wouldn’t the same process of human-centered observation of your potential new collaborator or teammates apply here? So just watch for those cues when we put cameras and when we’re doing usability testing and usability testing lab to see if someone furrowing their brow if someone is frowning.
If someone having a delightful experience at that point. Put your mindset in that same way at that point. Put your Webcam on in your brain and observe brow furrowing and observe if you ask about, can I work off-site, is there flop sweat? Is someone giving an immediate and passionate response though? Just go and research and observation mode. This is what we’re passionate about in our career. This is what we’re doing. We’re advocating for humans. Research and observation is a part of that. Apply that same mindset to the interview process.
Jason Ogle: So good, Justin. My biggest takeaway so far is what you just said. Basically, treat your UX interview like a UX research project, right? Like that’s so good. I’ve never thought about it that way. Like you’re researching the culture, you’re researching, you’re interviewing them too and have the confidence by God, Defenders. I know like out the gate, it’s hard to have that confidence because you don’t maybe have a lot of wins under your belt.
But you know what, I just really want to encourage you to just be confident in this process because you need to see yourself as somebody, even if you are super-green. You need to see yourself as somebody who is going to grow exponentially and you’re probably going to do it once you get your foot in the door. Right? If you keep that growth mindset that we always talk about in that passion and that hunger because you know what, skills can be trained, passion cannot. I really love that, Justin, that’s awesome. And you’re talking about the cots and my brain is so weird. Like I was thinking like if you were applying to the “Heaven’s Gate Cult”, then bunk beds and Nike tennis shoes would definitely be a requirement for that position.
Justin Dauer: Man. I don’t know where that came from, but that’s astounding.
Jason Ogle: Yes. So if you’re, you know, that’s a requirement to just keep that in mind. But I think Hale-Bopp has long left us. So I wrote an article called “Don’t be Culture Clubbed” and it was inspired by my experience that I’ve mentioned a couple of times here. And I’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes as well. But Justin, I’m going to throw some questions out and I’d love your input on these and tell me that these good ones or what you’re thinking of them. But these are some questions I mentioned in the article. But if Defenders, maybe, if you might even want to jot these down and just kind of keep them in mind for when it is your turn, when they say now, do you have any questions for us? Here are some ideas, some suggestions. What’s the culture like here? Tell me about the leadership style and philosophy. Tell me about the emphasis put on employee development through conferences and other training opportunities. And you mentioned are the remote opportunities. That’s a good one to ask. And then here’s one that ‘s close with that. What do people like most about coming into work each day? So those are some thoughts.
When asking about leadership style, like that’s how much, that gives you an idea of how much the leadership cares about its people. And again, you’re going to want to probably really use your observational techniques and look, make eye contact and see, because I know sometimes it’s easy to kind of fabricate if you’re on the other side. Yes. We’re awesome leaders here. Like, use your eye contact and your gut feelings. And then the emphasis on employee development. Like I said before, most of your development if you’re green, you’re, most of your development’s going to come through being in that job and you’re hungry Defenders, I know you are because I know I’ve talked to many of you and you listened to the show. So, you have that hunger to grow. So I know you’re going to grow. So, keep that in mind and that tells you how much trust the leadership has on his people. If they do get remote opportunities for example and also about development and training. So, thoughts on those Justin.
Justin Dauer: Those are fantastic questions, Jason. I need to read that article that you had written again because those resonated tremendously with me. And like I said before, what is the response time on those? Is there a pause? Is the response genuine, like I said, an impassioned or does everyone has a bs detector or what is the actual fiber of that response. I suppose I’ll say. I mean, does it lean more towards P and L and bottom line, being the response towards, the manager’s perception of why people want to come into work? Or does it lean towards the things that are more about collaboration and doing good work for people and having a human-centered charged process internally and in the work people are doing it in research and a UX design capacity?
So, the core thing here, the core threat is like you said in terms of summarizing what I noted before. We have to observe an advocate for humans and put ourselves in the shoes of other people, just intrinsically in what we do. So applying that same lens to this process, this should be a home run for us just as designers and UX people and developers. So just apply that same lens to this process. And I guarantee if you will take something away from it far greater than googling the top five interview questions to ask.
Jason Ogle: That’s awesome. So as we kind of come in for a landing here, I’ve always wanted to say that at the end of an interview, everyone take their seats, put your seatbelts on, here comes the airplane. You’re going to say that to your newborn.
Justin Dauer: Yes
Jason Ogle: So, you’ve done an incredible job, Justin of helping us understand how to vet a company culture before and during, the interview I want to talk right now as we kind of close here, I want to speak to those who are currently in a UX role or they’d be their developers in front end developers and in a design kind of agency environment. I want to speak to those Defenders listening who are stuck. They’re in a cult. They know their culture is bad and unfortunately, the blinders may have been on when they got in, as to what it was really like being in their nine to five or even remotely. There’s, there can be a bad culture remotely as well. So I want to speak to those people right now. Those designers, those developers who are just stuck and they know it and they’re being treated like a cog in a factory instead of a human and a difference maker right now. What advice do you have for those Defenders listening?
Justin Dauer: I suppose I would summarize it in two words. Jason, I can expound upon this and that is don’t settle. It sounds like the most obvious thing looking out for number one but it can be also the hardest thing because we’re just conditioned to think, this, this business invested so much in me and they’re paying me and I’ve been here for so long or, hell on the other side of things, I’ve only been here for a month. But I went through the whole process of going through interviewing, and I’ve told all my family and friends and that could turn into six months and that can turn into two years or that could turn into six years. And it becomes an abusive relationship where that feels like the norm, this is just how businesses operate and this is how I should be treated. Absolutely not. Don’t settle. So, instead of looking back I can say this with years behind me at this point. Instead of looking back on years of compromised work of industry burnout, this is all we would talk about seeking out the companies who are doing it right because there are absolutely out there.
The passion for doing your best work is way too precious to be extinguished by an unhealthy creative culture or a negative environment. Because not just for ourselves, I said, look out for number one, but the human beings on the other receiving end of the experiences we’re creating also can’t settle for anything less than the best. We talk about, not just healthy design or effective visual communication or effective programmatic work. But, what about accessibility being shortchanged, is advocacy for people with disabilities being shortchanged? All those kinds of things. Procedurally, personally, we cannot afford anything less than the best in terms of being facilitated, doing our best work. In terms of doing the best work for human beings who are interacting with the experiences, we’re crafting. You cannot settle for anything less than what is best for you to do your best designer programmatic work. So if it’s a bumper sticker, if it’s a t-shirt, if it’s a tattoo, don’t settle that, that is my advice.
Jason Ogle: I love it. I’ve got nothing to add. That’s just it right there in a nutshell. Just never settle Defenders. You are far too valuable. You are far too important and you have far too much of a difference to make in this world. And we need you. We need you to do this work. We need you to help make things better. There’s always going be room for improving this world. This world is poorly designed. It’s not designed for us and we need you to get out there and do it, but we need you to be healthy when you do that. You can’t do your best work in a terrible culture. It’s just not possible. So, Justin, thank you so much for being here. I want to ask you; how can the Defenders connect and keep up with you?
Justin Dauer: Yes, thank you as well, Jason, as usual, I appreciate our dialogue immensely. In terms of connecting, I’m @pseudoroom, and pseudoroom on effectively all social media. So, reach out that way pseudoroom.com is also my personal sites. And then you mentioned my book “Cultivating a Creative Culture” that is the-culturebook.com and, as you said, our podcast is on their “Creative Culture podcast”. The latest news and of course things having to do with the book. So, I would love to stay engaged, with everyone who has tuned in or if you have any feedback. If you think this has been helpful, if you think this has been bs, I of course love to engage with feedback on either side of things so I can evolve myself.
Jason Ogle: Yes. Say same here. Tweet your takeaways and tweet your challenges if you have them or contests with anything we’ve shared today on Twitter. We’d love to engage with you. And this is a really important conversation, man. This always will be. And I’m thankful to see a lot of companies, kind of understand this a lot more, especially more creative-driven companies. And I think there has been a nice shift, but there’s still much more work to do and it all begins with leaders, honestly. So, yes. Thanks so much, Justin. Again, I totally agree with you. Like, I love our conversations. This has been so rich for me, I’ve learned a lot too. So I thank you and hey my friend, as always, I just want to say fight on my friend.
Justin Dauer: Thank you, sir. I’m going to go Google Hale-Bopp right now as well. It’s been a while hunting to catch up on the trajectory of where Hale-Bopp is at.
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