Many of us already struggle with imposter syndrome, but the variability and inflation of job descriptions makes for a sort of double-imposter syndrome that sets designers up for unsuccessful conversations with hiring companies. It’s our job to educate non-designers about what we do, what we can help with, and which problems can be solved better by a specialist.

Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash

One skill I didn’t know I’d need as a designer: deciphering what companies need from me via their job posting.

I’ve noticed that there’s generally a lack of understanding about the job functions designers perform. I’ve seen many job postings titled “UX designer”, but with a wide range of variation in job descriptions. Some job descriptions ask an unreasonable amount of expertise from designers, some posts are more focused, others lack an understanding of what to call the and just use trending industry (any combination of “UX/UI/Product/Interaction/Visual Designer/Engineer”) that they hope will catch a job seeker’s attention.

I’m an expert, but I’m also a human

Some of the roles I’ve seen posted ask me to do customer research, industry research, synthesize it, make business recommendations, define the direction of a product, the information architecture, the UI, be responsible for illustrations and animations, create icons, and also write all of the front-end code for it.

I immensely enjoy being a generalist. I love learning new functions and activities, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wouldn’t accept a job that would lock me into an extremely specific function. But taking a second look at the above list, I’ve recognized about three or four full-time jobs packed in there. One could argue that the list could be split out into a number of roles, including but not limited to: product manager, user experience researcher, business consultant, information architect, interface designer, visual designer, illustrator, and front-end developer.

Jack of all trades, master of some

I don’t really believe in the saying “Jack of all trades, expert in none.” That doesn’t give enough credit to the freedom to have multiple interests and be great at multiple things. I do think it’s possible to be an expert in multiple areas. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask designers to be experts in every posted function — not because it’s impossible, but simply due to the constraints of the time it would take one person to do these things and execute on them well. This isn’t a new discussion — the debate for and against the existence of unicorns has existed for years.

A different kind of imposter syndrome

My theory is that the inflation of design job postings puts a pressure on designers to match up to what is asked by job posters. We expand our skillset, which is a fantastic challenge, and one I enjoy. But when I learn something, i want to practice it and be successful at it, which takes time. The more time spent, the less time I have to do other things I enjoy, like reading or playing my viola in orchestra, or spending time with family and friends.

I’m already great at several things, good at others, and can pick up unfamiliar concepts very quickly. Selling this is probably one of the most important skills that I am currently working on.

The alternative is that I claim knowledge or expertise that I don’t quite have, which makes me a different kind of imposter — one who knows less than I claim to, instead of (or maybe in addition to) one who knows more than I realize.

This double-imposter syndrome makes for many vague and unsuccessful conversations between design job seekers and companies who are hiring.

So what?

I’d like to see more job descriptions that tell me about the problems the company is trying to solve, who they’re solving it for, and what my role in that situation would be. There are so many postings that tell me what the company does and what my expected functions would be, which is great, but they totally skip out on the “who”, the “why”, and what my role in the larger picture would be.

It’s our job to educate non-designers about what we can help with and what could be done more effectively by a specialist. We should be confident about what we know, passionate about learning, know our “sweet spots”, and know our limitations — without forfeiting the opportunity to learn.

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