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Gaining and maintaining confidence as a new Content Designer

Ebony Johnson shares her journey and advice on building confidence as a new content designer, stressing the importance of being selective with companies, identifying areas for improvement, and leaning on community support.

In this Perspectives talk, Ebony Johnson, then a Content Designer at 1Password and now at Google, shares her personal journey of transitioning from a career in public affairs to the world of content design. Drawing from her own experiences during her time at 1Password, Ebony offers valuable insights and practical advice on building and maintaining confidence as a newcomer to the field. Her presentation is perfect for anyone looking to break into content design or struggling with imposter syndrome in their early career.

Meet our speaker

Photo of Ebony Johnson
Ebony JohnsonUX Writer and Content Designer, Google

Ebony is a UX Writer and Content Designer at Google. Before landing her first tech job, she was a Freelance UX Designer working with entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations. Additionally, Ebony spent a decade working in public affairs, contributing to affordable housing initiatives and public policy in New York City. She credits her previous professional background, breaking down complex legislative proposals to digestible talking points, to preparing her for content design.

Ebony is also a UX Mentor at Femmecubator, an online community for women of color that provides resources and a supportive network to develop and transform their tech careers.

Photo of Ebony Johnson
Ebony Johnson

About this talk

In her talk, Ebony walks us through her own experience of breaking into content design and the strategies she used to build confidence along the way. She breaks it down into three main parts: building confidence when you're just starting out, during the interview process, and once you've landed the job.

For folks who are trying to get into content design, Ebony suggests things like freelancing, going to events, and networking to get some real-world experience and start building a portfolio. She's big on being strategic about which companies you apply to, making sure they align with your values and goals, instead of just playing a numbers game.

When it comes to interviews, Ebony recommends really digging into how your own story and skills connect with the company's mission. Showing that you get what they're about and how you can contribute can be a major confidence booster.

But the meat of the talk is all about keeping that confidence up once you're actually on the job. Ebony gets real about how tough those first few months can be, especially as an introverted Black woman transitioning into tech. Her advice? Don't be afraid to talk openly with your manager and coworkers. Identify areas where you want to grow and see if your company offers resources or training to help you level up.

Ebony also suggests keeping a list of your wins and leaning on your community for support. And here's a gem: try mentoring someone else. Turns out, helping someone else navigate the UX world can remind you just how much you actually know.

Throughout the talk, Ebony drops helpful tips and tools, like the spreadsheet she used to track her job applications and how blogging and speaking gigs can boost your confidence and professional brand. But she also keeps it real, reminding us that sometimes, it's the situation that's the problem, not us.

If you're new to content design or struggling with imposter syndrome, Ebony's talk is a must-watch. Her story is relatable, her advice is practical, and her perspective is refreshing. Give it a listen and walk away with some new strategies for building and maintaining confidence in your content design career.

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Lessons learned from Ebony

Freelancing, events, and networking: Your secret weapons for breaking in

When you're trying to break into content design, it can feel like everyone wants experience, but no one wants to give you a shot. Ebony's advice? Don't sleep on freelancing, attending industry events, and networking. These can be gold for getting real-world experience, building your portfolio, and making connections that can open doors. Just remember to be strategic about which opportunities you take on, so you don't burn yourself out.

Treat the job search like a two-way street

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to apply to every job posting out there, but Ebony recommends being selective. Do your homework on the companies you're interested in. See how their mission and values align with yours. Think about how you want to grow in your career. Remember, you're interviewing them as much as they're interviewing you. Having that mindset can be a major confidence booster.

Your unique story is your superpower

When you're interviewing, it can be tempting to try to fit into some cookie-cutter mold of what you think a content designer should be. But Ebony encourages you to lean into your unique story and experiences. How does your background connect to the company's mission? What perspectives and skills do you bring to the table that others might not? Owning your story can help you stand out and show that you're the right fit.

Communication is key to conquering imposter syndrome

Starting a new job is exciting, but it can also be a major trigger for imposter syndrome, especially if you're transitioning into tech from another field. Ebony's tip? Talk to your manager and coworkers. Be open about your goals and areas where you want to grow. Chances are, they don't expect you to be an expert in everything from day one. Having those conversations can help you get the support and resources you need to thrive.

Celebrate your wins and pay it forward

When you're in the day-to-day grind, it's easy to lose sight of how far you've come. That's why Ebony recommends keeping a list of your accomplishments, big and small. Did you ship a feature? Get great feedback from a client? Blog about your experience? Write it down and refer back to it often. And don't forget to lean on your community and even mentor someone else. Seeing your journey through someone else's eyes can be a powerful reminder of your own growth and expertise.

About Perspectives Conf

This talk is part of Track #1 - Breaking into content design of the 2022 edition of our conference.

Perspectives Conf is the world’s first event specifically focused on the careers side of content. It’s been carefully curated to help people at all levels navigate the many facets of working in content – from being the first content person to hiring and growing a team.

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See full Perspectives 2022 program

Transcript of the talk

00:00Hello, everyone. Welcome to Perspectives. My name is Ebony Johnson and the title of my talk is Gaining and Maintaining Confidence as a New Content Designer.

00:11Again, my name is Ebony. I'm a Junior Content Designer at 1Password, a password management company. Prior to that, I was a freelance UX designer.

00:21And prior to that, I spent 10 years working in public affairs. I worked at nonprofit organizations and government agencies working towards the affordable housing initiatives of New York City.

00:34Some fun facts about me. I absolutely love scary movies. I'm really looking forward to the new Jordan Peele movie that is coming out this summer as content designers.

00:45We're constantly reading about content design, UX, web design, but I wanted to include some of the books from my personal reading list.

00:53Currently I'm reading. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha. Irby It's a fun, hilarious collection of essays that I'm really enjoying and highly recommend.

01:04If you need a good laugh, the next book is The Courage to Be Disliked. It sounds like there are some incredible gems there, and I'm really looking forward to exploring that for my next read a few things about the format of my talk is that it's divided into three parts.

01:23First building confidence when you're starting out two building confidence during the interviewing process and three, which is the bulk of my presentation, maintaining confidence, once you actually break into the field.

01:40So for starting out, the first thing I have listed is freelance. There's an amazing talk dedicated to freelance, and I wanted to provide some of the resources and opportunities that I took advantage of.

01:51Once I graduated from a bootcamp, this gave me real-world experience and allow me to build out my portfolio. The second I have is attending events.

02:03I do want to stress the caveat of paying attention to bandwidth. When I was transitioning, I would constantly go to any and all events dedicated to UX, UI design, UX, research, UX, writing, content design, it quickly became overwhelming.

02:26And I definitely will not advise to do that. But I do think that there is something to be said about learning about different industry practices and becoming a lot more familiar with terminology, which was very helpful for me as someone that was transitioning into tech.

02:46The last thing I have is networking.

02:49I have some of the opportunities that I took advantage of a lot of times we think of networking, uh, in terms of getting a job or exposure to different professional opportunities, which I do think is important in terms of confidence.

03:05For me, it was an amazing experience to talk to industry leaders about some of my concerns, some of my goals, and they were always so encouraging to let me know that one, I have a voice in this field and two, I am on the right path or track because there is no one way of entering content design.

03:27It really helped build my confidence in something that I highly recommend interviewing. I have so much to say on interviewing, even though I've only included two points here, but I won't keep you here all day.

03:44Uh, the first thing I do have is being selective with companies.

03:48So I have to say that when I was applying to jobs, uh, or even different, uh, contract gigs, I felt like people let me know that it was a bit of a numbers game and that I should apply any and everywhere.

04:06The most important thing was getting my foot in the door. Well, I do think that it is important to get your foot in the door.

04:14For me, the numbers game really didn't work. I didn't want to be, uh, overwhelmed. Like I mentioned, from attending all the events that I had already gone to.

04:25I didn't want to have that in my job application process. Also as someone that transitioned to a new career, I wanted to be really intentional about my overall career goals, how I saw myself growing in the company.

04:42And just remembering that as much as a company is interviewing you to see if you're a good fit.

04:49And if you align with their mission, you can do the same thing as well. So for me, I really didn't find the numbers game to be particularly helpful.

04:59So I wanted to provide a bit of insight into how I, uh, build out my strategy of being selective with companies.

05:09So I built out a spreadsheet where I would list the name of the company that I'm applying to the job title, my own understanding of the responsibilities listed in the job, posting any values that were mentioned on the company's website and how I felt like it aligned with my own core values.

05:31I also included, how I was connected to the company, whether I was following them on LinkedIn. If I knew folks that worked there, uh, or if I was familiar with the product even better, if I was a fan.

05:44So I had all those things listed and it really helped me build out talking points for my cover letter, as well as talking points for the interview.

05:54So that definitely helped to boost my confidence. The next thing I have is competitive advantage. So what are things about your own narrative or story that aligned with the direction of the company?

06:08So I have, how can you connect to the company's mission? And are you aware of any company-wide goals that you have past experience?

06:15And I think that's huge. If you can find out something that they're working towards and something that you've previously worked on, even if it doesn't directly align to content design, there's so many transferable skills that are still so helpful.

06:32So that definitely helped boost my confidence. As I spoke very passionately about operations, uh, my experience in public service and what that taught me, it was really advantageous for companies that had a close alignment with volunteerism, anything connected to public affairs, or just wanting to make

06:54a world a better place. It definitely helps show how I could be a good culture fit for certain companies. And I understood how they could also be a good fit for me as well, which is also very important when you're thinking about the atmosphere that you will be able to learn and grow in.

07:17So you made it, you have a job offer, you negotiated your salary, you have a start date. You are now working in content design.

07:30Hooray. I know thought extremely excited, but that is something to celebrate. So pat yourself on the back. So now what on the job?

07:42So to be completely transparent the first couple of months, uh, transitioning into tech, especially as an introverted black woman was incredibly challenging.

07:57I go back and forth between whether or not I want to call it imposter syndrome or not. There's a lot of great literature around, uh, I guess, challenging that notion.

08:09So for the sake of this talk, what I will say is that during that transition, there were so many things that impacted my confidence.

08:18So here are a few things that have helped me. I also want to say that these were things that have helped me during the first couple of months on the job, up to a year.

08:28And I imagine that they will continue to help me going beyond that time. So the first thing I have is open communication with supervisor and coworkers.

08:40I'm very grateful to have such a great relationship with my coworkers, my colleagues and design leads at the company that I work at.

08:49One of the things that I was very insecure about, for some reason, I thought that I need it to be this outstanding cybersecurity expert in order to write phenomenal copy for 1Password.

09:08Luckily, my supervisor explained to me that the most important thing for me right now was learning the fundamentals of UX writing and content design.

09:20The institutional knowledge of working at a password management company would come into place and that helped so much with my anxiety.

09:32I am so grateful for that advice. And I would say that for anyone, especially if there are industries that you are interested in applying to, when you have the basic fundamentals of UX writing and content design, you will be able to understand a lot more than you think, but also you're not necessarily

09:53hired to be an expert in that industry.

09:57You're expected to write copy, think about the content hierarchy of web applications and mobile applications, so on and so forth.

10:07So that was something that was helpful to me. And I hope it's something that could be helpful to any of you.

10:13The next thing I have is identify what you want to work on. For me, it was easy to see some of the places where I needed improvement.

10:26And I started to draft certain goals for myself goals within content design, um, overall for my career, but then also goals for the company that I work at.

10:38And those were things that were really helpful. But I would say to take it a step further, contact your employer and see if there's an education budget.

10:47Is there a course that you can take? Are there any trainings that are available, if not, are there free resources that you can look into or other ways that your employer can help you in those areas?

10:58I think that that's super important to help build your confidence while you're on the job. The next thing I have is keep a list of wins.

11:07This was something that was so helpful that one of my coworkers mentioned in regards to having a notion page that lists all your achievements.

11:16Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day. So actually having that visual, um, I guess, uh, expression of all the things that you have accomplished, it's so heartwarming and will also help during your performance review.

11:31So I find it to be incredibly helpful and a great way to boost your confidence. The next thing I have is lean on your community.

11:40I am so grateful that I'm a part of so many different communities that I can go to if I'm having, um, issues or problems, understanding something.

11:52If I want to talk about something related to diversity or just something that I'm learning, it's, it's so great to be able to lean on my peers and know that there are folks that understand where I'm coming from.

12:05It truly is remarkable. The next thing I have is mentorship. So you may be like me in terms of if, well, actually let me start, let me back up a bit.

12:21I think that actually having a mentor is a great way to build confidence. Sometimes it may be a bit limiting to just kind of see things through your perspective.

12:30So it's been incredible to work with mentors who will see things in me that I don't see in myself. So that's a great way of, you know, looking into different confidence boosters.

12:41I will also say mentoring yourself. So you may be new to the industry and it's like, what can I do?

12:49How can I mentor someone I'm still learning? I'd say to that, you're kind of always still learning, which is kind of the beauty of working in content design and working in a new field.

13:00I am currently a UX mentor for a program or excuse me, an online platform called Femmecubator, which works directly with women of color and encouraging us in our careers in tech.

13:13And it has truly been a remarkable experience to mentor someone that's transitioning into UX. I think I know a lot more than I think that I do, and it comes up every time I'm having a conversation with my mentee.

13:29So I think mentorship is really important. And the last thing that's kind of connected to keeping a list of wins is keeping track of your client reviews.

13:40For me, every time I like look into the email address I use for my freelance business, it was so great to see how I help different nonprofit organizations and entrepreneurs building out their website or mobile apps.

13:57And those are things that you can also add to your portfolio. Um, sometimes it can be a bit difficult to, at least for me listing out some of the impacts if there were short term projects, but being able to have something to refer back to on how you were able to really help the client, um, and help whatever

14:18their, um, issues or problems were the world of UX and content design will really be something that I think is also a great talking point during an interview, but also really help your confidence as well to, to see your contribution.

14:36So the next thing I have, these are just suggestions by no means there are things that you have to do, but they are things that help with my confidence.

14:46So the first thing I have is blog about your experience. So last I published an article on Medium call How the Word Gap Study Fueled My Interest in Content Design, Bootcamp, which is a subset of UX Collective, uh, took note of it and actually asked me if they can publish it, through their publication

15:10, which was great. That definitely helped to boost my confidence, but even if I didn't get published with Bootcamp, I did get a lot of amazing feedback from my colleagues who were always so supportive and peers on, on LinkedIn or via emails on how the article that I wrote really helped them.

15:31And that gave me a lot of confidence. It was very heartwarming as well. Um, so that's something that I want to include here as well.

15:39So even if it's a, it could be a Medium post, it can be a post through LinkedIn. It can be starting your own blog.

15:47I think blogging about your experience and starting out in content design can definitely be helpful. And the other suggestion I have is speaking engagements.

15:56So speaking here, or, you know, other opportunities can definitely help build your confidence as well and help with your overall brand as a content designer.

16:10So the last part of what I want to, uh, bring attention to is a lot of times when there are self self-help or professional, excuse me, development, um, conversations, it's a lot around what you can do to change your circumstance, how you can, uh, you know, contribute to a better environment for yourself

16:39and all these things that you need to do. And I want to challenge that a bit by saying, is it you, or is it the situation?

16:51So for me, a lot of times between, um, I guess like some of the lessons I learned in like bootcamp or reading, it will really set you up for, uh, the, uh, best or most ideal situation.

17:08However, there are things that are completely out of your control. What if you are working on a project or assignment, and there are a ton of technical difficulties or limitations, excuse me, that you did not know about, or if you were brought on to a project later than you would have liked and are perhaps

17:33charged with writing copy, but don't have the full context of the complete and total, you know, user or task flow and just a myriad of other things that can come up.

17:47Those things can impact your level, especially when you're first starting out as a content designer. However, those things to me sound more like, uh, concerns about the situation and things happen.

18:03Nothing is perfect. So I really want to stress again, is it you, or is it the situation? And I wouldn't want anyone to take on, um, stress or to think less of themselves as a content designer, just because the situation is not ideal.

18:22So I really, really, really want to stress that.

18:28And lastly, I wanted to include this quote from Oprah Winfrey. Real courage is being afraid, but doing it anyway, I think it is totally okay to have fear with starting out within content design, starting out in tech, trying to figure out how to break into UX, writing all those things I think are so important

18:51to admit to yourself, but do it any way. I think that the importance of doing it afraid is still important.

19:03So doing my best is a picture I have here that I really just want to stress, just do it afraid.

19:11I don't think that bravery is the absence of fear. So those are my words of encouragement as you're getting started in content design.

19:23And yeah, that's my talk, uh, let's connect. I have my LinkedIn here. If you have questions about integrating process a bit more about my spreadsheet strategies or a bit more about how I've been maintaining and continuing to maintain confidence, uh, as a new content designer, I would love to hear from

19:43you and I am just so excited to be here and speak to you all. So I look forward to chatting soon.

19:50All right. Take care. Bye.

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