Job Hunting with Intention
Desk Lunch IRL was a live event that took place at Stink Studios in Brooklyn, NY on March 7th, 2019 in honor of International Women’s Day. For the next couple of weeks, in lieu of our typical essay format, we’ll be sharing videos and transcripts from this event. We hope to have another IRL event in the very near future, and will keep everyone posted on details! 

Liz Wells
Rose Kue is a Voice Designer and the UX Lead in the Digital Products Lab at Planned Parenthood, supporting products like Roo, a sex ed chatbot for teens, and Spot On, a period and birth control tracking app. Her career spans bringing human-centered design to the nonprofit sector, including previous roles creating an R&D learning lab for refugee Kindergartners, facilitating workshops with the Game Design Committee at FIRST Robotics, and redesigning the diversity and outreach recruitment process at StoryCorps. Rose received her MA from Goldsmiths, University of London and a BMusic from Juilliard. 

Rose Kue
Hey everybody. I'm Rose. I'm really excited to be here. And when I was invited to talk tonight, I thought about a question that people ask me about a lot, which is "how can I find a job that I actually really like?" I get that question maybe like once a week. I mean I think one of the main reasons why I get that question is because I do mission driven work with social justice and nonprofit organizations, which is a little bit unique in the Design/UX world. I wanted to address that tonight and see if maybe I can offer some advice from my own experience.

Again, my name is Rose and I am the UX lead in the digital products lab at Planned Parenthood, which is like the research and development team there. So we exist in this little bubble — we're like a little startup team. And we get to support some really exciting products in AR, like bringing AR into the actual clinic experience at a Planned Parenthood clinic and Roo, which is a sex ed chat bot for teenagers. I get to support questions and try to provide answers for questions like "I'm trans and I'm about to start puberty. What can I expect." Or "Is my vagina normal?" Or a question we actually get a lot, the most popular question is "What is the average penis size? And does the size really matter?" So these are really really interesting questions that I get to think about every day. And hopefully try to make a difference in hopefully one or many teenagers’ lives.

But how did I get there? So I'll try to summarize this for you in about 30 seconds, it's a little bit crazy. I'm Hmong. My parents are refugees from Laos. They came over during the Vietnam War. They never used anything like money there. They were completely introduced to things like currency, taxes, credit cards, loans and really living in the Western world for the very first time. I'm one of the first Hmong women in the history of the world to even receive an education. So moving here was like moving to a new planet. 

So I'll skip ahead. I when I was 13, I learned about music, and classical music, and especially opera. So I studied for about 10 years, had a really great time, performed at Carnegie Hall, got a wonderful scholarship to go to Juilliard, performed all over Europe, and then realized that I actually hated it. I quit that, did a bunch of other things, worked for all these non-profit organizations, and then about five years ago transitioned into service design, and more specifically now into voice design.

So that was a mess. My resumé it looks insane and I think the average person spends like eight seconds scanning a resumé. When I started out as a designer and even now, I sometimes freak out a little bit knowing that my résumé is probably just going to be tossed into the rejection pile immediately. Like what on earth did she do?! She didn't go to design school. She doesn't have an HCI degree. We don't know what any of these companies are. What are we going to do with this candidate? What could she possibly do here?

And then I realized that if I'm taking this much time thinking about my products and thinking about market fit assessment maybe I should do that for myself and think about what my value prop is the same way that I think about my products value proposition. And when I started out with my job hunt, every time that I've gone through a job hunt, I really only thought about these last two things: my relevant skills and my relevant experiences. And I realized that I was really leaving myself and so many of the things that I care about out: my passions, my neuroses, the things that I love, the things that I'm afraid of, all these things that I've thought about my entire life. I leave them, or I did leave them, out of the equation. And I was doing myself a huge disservice, and that was contributing to the reason why my resumé was being tossed into the rejection pile.

So what do I mean by that, my value proposition? Well, when I look back at my life, that crazy journey, and I really only told you like a tiny little bit of it, there were three themes that kept coming up throughout my entire life from when I was a child to now. The first theme is my love for making things. When I was a little kid, my family would move around a lot — almost every year or two years. And every time I moved to a new place, I would sneak out of my house and I would explore the neighborhood and then I would make a map of it. And sometimes I would make like different iterations of the map, like I might decide I'm gonna leave street names out of it, or I'm only going to navigate using plants, or like who knows what. I had a lot of time and I didn't have a computer. But I loved doing that and I realized just a couple of years ago that I did that as a way to claim my new neighborhood and to make it my home, to understand it, and to feel like I really belonged there. That is a theme that is just so important to me and comes up again and again in so many of my projects.

Listening, I have very sensitive ears and did so much ear training when I was studying classical music, and I just love listening to things. I actually consider myself more of an oral person than a visual person. Again just another theme, I love how things sound and I would say that songs are maybe even more clear to me than color.

And then this theme of helping, again just really important from the very beginning. I think when you're an immigrant kid and then a refugee kid, you really have a sense of what family means and what your community means, and how important of a role that you play in supporting each other. 

These are three values that are just really really important to me and aren't really captured by just my relevant skills and my relevant experiences. 

So how does that manifest today? Well turns out I make a lot of maps as a UX designer. I would say they make like a service blueprint or user flow or something like that all the time and it comes so naturally because I've been making maps and looking at problem spaces and looking at things and trying to tell stories for so long. 

Listening. I'm now a voice designer, so I deal with conversations all the time. As a voice designer, I actually get to take so much of that learning that I had from music school, who thought that you could use a music degree, an opera degree, to do anything else? But it turns on a lot of things that I learned and have gained over time are actually extremely relevant now. I was just working with someone else and figuring out how to coach a voice actor to perfect the kind of voice that we need for a side project that I'm working on.

And then helping. Throughout my career I've worked almost exclusively for non-profit organizations. That's extremely important to me, to work for an organization that is mission driven and that's hopefully a nonprofit, and is really trying to change outcomes in society. 

So how can you maybe do something like that? This is really the question that sparked the idea of finding my value proposition. I was facing a lot of rejections and I was really struggling with a way to make myself stand out. The question that I started asking myself and almost everyone that I knew was: what the themes that had been present throughout your entire life? From job to job to job, from relationship to relationship, what's that thing that you've been complaining about to your friends for ten years? You know there's something that has been coming up over and over again and it's really important to listen to that. If you weren't able to find those themes for yourself, ask everyone that you know, especially those who have known you and seen you move from position to position, from place to place, from relationship to relationship. Those are themes that really tell us a lot about where we would be happy, the things that we would need so that we stop complaining about that thing, or maybe a problem that we're obsessed with that we want to start obsessing with in our professional lives.

In addition to that, think about your relevant skills and your relevant experiences. This in combination can really make you stand out as a candidate as you're applying to jobs, not for everyone, but for those people who are looking for you, for that special combination of again your passions, your neuroses everything that you bring. It's really like this special formula.

So after you find that value proposition, the thing that makes you really special, which again for me was my love for making things, for mapping things, for telling stories, my love for listening and also a love for helping people. After you find that thing and you want to put yourself out there and apply to jobs, put together your portfolio, your website, and whatnot it, make sure that your materials spark joy. Don't include a project that you're not proud of because if it doesn't excite you, then it's definitely not going to excite me or whoever is reading your materials. Really only include things that get you so excited that you can't wait to talk about. Your resume, you might not be able to alter quite as much, but certainly your portfolio, your mission statement, your goals — all of that should really spark joy.

Remember that someone is out there searching for you. Like you specifically. When I started out with my search this time I applied for 114 jobs. I worked on my portfolio for three months. I got a lot of rejections. A lot of rejections but basically for every six rejections, I got four phone calls, or emails, or invitations to talk. That's a lot. But again more rejections than acceptances. And when you're getting them many rejections, it can feel like nobody wants to talk to you. But it's really important to remember that someone is out there searching for you. If I had on my search looking for a voice design position at a sexual and reproductive health organization that is very vision driven that will allow me to do really good UX, I never would have found it. But by putting myself out there, casting a really wide net, knowing who I am, I was able to find something that's essentially the perfect fit for me.

One really important lesson: if you're not learning along the way as you're looking for jobs, you need to ask harder questions. One question that I started asking when I finally accepted that basically every place is a shit show. You just kind of have to. Look for like the shit show or the problems that you're comfortable dealing with. I realized that I needed to understand a company's problems so that I could determine if I wanted their problems to be my problems. So a question I started asking was "what's the challenge that constantly creeps up in your work over and over again?" Because I want to know what I'm getting myself into. And that kind of question has revealed so much for me about my potential employers, my potential friends, the people, the place where I'll be spending so much of my time. So if you're not learning, if you're not iterating on your portfolio, your mission statement throughout your application process and it's not going well, then I really encourage you to ask harder questions.  

This is the final lesson that I've learned along the way, which is really that when I think about my happiness in my personal life, in my professional life, in my relationships, happiness to me feels like freedom. Like the freedom to be accepted for who I am and everything that I bring to the table, good, bad, all of those things. And so when I look for a job I look for a place where I have the freedom to celebrate myself to come to work looking how I am, feeling how I am. And knowing that they're going to love the fact that I'm here. And I'm going to love the fact that I'm here. That's what I encourage for all of you. It's not to look for the most impressive title or the most impressive company. Those things might bring you happiness, and perhaps that aligns with your value proposition, maybe you have the most impressive resume for those things. But maybe you might just find yourself at a place that really wants you to be there where you can show up every day and feel, like, that good. That's it, thank you!
Rose Kue is a Voice Designer and the UX Lead in the Digital Products Lab at Planned Parenthood, supporting products like Roo, a sex ed chatbot for teens, and Spot On, a period and birth control tracking app. Her career spans bringing human-centered design to the non-profit sector, including previous roles creating an R&D learning lab for refugee Kindergartners, facilitating workshops with the Game Design Committee at FIRST Robotics, and redesigning the diversity and outreach recruitment process at StoryCorps. Rose received her MA from Goldsmiths, University of London and a BMusic from Juilliard.
Art used in this issue: “Wisdom” by Helen Frankenthaler
Desk Lunch is a community for all creative people of marginalized genders.
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