Writers of Silicon Valley Podcast: Gordon MacRea transcript

Writers of Silicon Valley Podcast: Gordon MacRea transcript

Gordon MacRae is an instructional designer, product manager, UX writer, and more. In this podcast, Patrick and Gordon talk about everything to do with hiring UX writers in 2020, and getting hired.

Patrick Stafford
August 13, 2020


Writers of Silicon Valley is a UX writing podcast featuring interviews with content strategists and UX writers from around the world.

The UX Writers Collective is proud to host transcripts for every episode.

Gordon MacRae is an instructional designer, product manager, UX writer, and more.

He started the UX Writing Jobs newsletter in 2018 to collate all the opportunities for UX writers around the world, and he’s learned more along the way about the market than just about anyone else.

After all, you don’t talk with hiring managers and read job ads every month without understanding a thing or two about the UX writing job market.

In this podcast, we talk about everything to do with hiring UX writers in 2020, and getting hired.

To listen to this episode, find Writers of Silicon Valley wherever you listen to podcasts:

This episode was originally hosted at Writers of Silicon Valley.

Are you interested in becoming a UX writer? Check out our online, self-paced range of courses

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Patrick Stafford:

I hate to start the podcast with a sombre message rather than a happy New Year’s message but my country is on fire. If you’ve been watching the news, no matter where you are in the word, you probably know that Australia is suffering some of the worst bush fires that we’ve ever seen in our history. To give you a comparison, the area of affected land in Australia right now is about 14 million acres. That’s twice the size of Belgium. Now, every bush fire is bad, no matter where it happens but that’s six times more land being burned than the California fires last year. Again, everything is bad but this is particularly shocking in the scope and devastation of what’s happening. The smoke from fires that are hundreds of kilometres away is right outside my window, right now I can see it. It’s affecting not only farmers and people who live in the affected areas, who have had their homes destroyed but the amount of wildlife being killed is devastating.

If you can, I really encourage you to donate to a few different services. The first is the Red Cross, that’s redcross.org.au. The second is the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, that’s rfs.nsw.gov.au. The third is the CFA, that’s the Victorian Country Fire Service, that’s cfa.vic.gov.au. Any money you can give is appreciated and will go to a really, really good cause. Again, I would really love to start this message with some happy New Year song and dance but unfortunately it doesn’t really feel appropriate right now, considering the scale of the devastation and everything that’s going on. So I’d really, really encourage you to donate to those services, if you can.

But, the New Year is starting with one good thing and that is, I’m bringing you this new episode of Writers of Silicon Valley. Three months ago I happened to be in London for a friend’s wedding and Gordon Macrae lives in London as well. Now if you’re in UX writing you may have heard of Gordon Macrae before. He started the UX Writer Jobs Newsletter in 2018 and it quickly gained hundreds of subscribers, thousands even and it become the go-to place to see what jobs are going all over the world but also, doing so, Gordon’s noticed trends that are impacted the industry. I wanted to start 2020 with something inspirational and if you’re thinking about going for a job as a UX writer or hiring, this is the podcast you need to listen to. Gordon and I sat down in his house in the South of London and we talked about the trends that he’s been seeing, what hiring managers are looking for, what he thinks the market is going to look like in 2020. This guy spends every month scouring job ads all across the world. If anyone has their finger on the pulse of what’s happening, it’s going to be Gordon and honestly, I don’t think there’s a better way for you to start your 2020 than listening to this podcast. Even if you’re not going to be looking for a job, this is just essential information that you need to know.

I’ll leave it there, thank you for listening. Again, if you have any money to donate to those services I mentioned earlier, please do so. That’s the Red Cross, the New South Wales Rural Fire service and the Victorian Country Fire Service. Please, enjoy this interview with Gordon Macrae, I think you’re going to get a lot out of it.

Patrick Stafford:

[music plays 00:03:34]

Gordon Macrae:

[inaudible 00:03:48]

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah.

Gordon Macrae:

I give them feedback so I assume people liked it.

Patrick Stafford:

You’d hope so.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah, I’m sure they are.

Gordon Macrae:

I’m getting good feedback, so it’s all right.

Patrick Stafford:

This is exciting because your newsletter, I think, was probably one of the first UX writing newsletters. How long have you been doing it now?

Gordon Macrae:

I was trying to think about this before you came round. I think it was around February/March 2018, I started a tiny letter and put it on Twitter and then saw where it went from there. So it’s about 18 months now. Yeah.

Patrick Stafford:

How long before you started seeing that people actually liked it and it was hitting a need?

Gordon Macrae:

It was fairly quick. A friend of mine jokes that he has a time hop set up for… URL reminders of URLs he’s registered is a good time hop for bad ideas that he’s had so every time the year subscription comes up to renew a URL, it reminds him of terrible ideas he’s had a year ago. I’d actually registered uxcopywriter.com back in 2017, just on a whim because I’d heard people use this phrase UX writer, UX copywriter and I thought there might something there, something to just keep an eye on. So I registered the URL then promptly forgot about it and then a year later it reminded me to renew the URL for it and I was like, I should probably…

Patrick Stafford:

Do something about that.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah, I should probably do something about this, see if there’s an idea that could go anywhere. So I re-registered uxwriterjobs.com and then put the link out there. It gained subscribers quite quickly, I think the first newsletter had about 30 people on it. Then there was a bit of a spike over that month, it went up 200, 250 and I think I broke 1000 after about six months and then it just ticked on from there. I think there’s probably about 30 to 40 people that-sign up each week.

Patrick Stafford:

Wow.

Gordon Macrae:

It slowed a little bit recently but I got about just under 3000 people on there.

Patrick Stafford:

That’s crazy, yeah. What made you even want to do it? That’s probably… a better question to ask is, how did you even get involved in UX writing, to think that this was something that people would want?

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah. Kind of tangentially or sort of through the side-door I guess. I used to be a journalist before I started working in tech and I’d always… the reason I started working in tech was because I was sick of how badly journalism paid and I couldn’t really see a career for myself in journalism, given that so many jobs were… basically there were no jobs. I learned how to code because I figured, if I knew how to code, I’d be a more employable journalist. Then I saw this niche within UX, this could be something I could write about and go back to writing more often, which is what I was missing in my day job. So I thought it would be a really good topic to force me to write on something every week and focus my writing instead of just sitting down and trying to write a newsletter about anything that was on my mind that week. So it was a way to focus my writing on a particular discipline that I knew about and I knew was emerging and was growing quite rapidly.

Patrick Stafford:

Where were you a journalist?

Gordon Macrae:

I was at a corporation called the International Business Times.

Patrick Stafford:

Oh yeah.

Gordon Macrae:

Which I won’t slander on…

Patrick Stafford:

Okay. Well we’ll move right on from that. So you’re obviously based here but you’ve gotten to travel as well, I know you’ve been to New York a few times.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah, I’ve actually lived for four years. I moved there with the job, was there until last July and then moved back to London, July last year.

Patrick Stafford:

How’d you like living in New York?

Gordon Macrae:

It was great. It’s intense.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah.

Gordon Macrae:

It’s an intense place to live. The working culture is so intense there, I think. When you look at how much education costs and how much healthcare costs, we have a little bit more of a safety-net here than they do in the States, for sure.

Patrick Stafford:

although it’s interesting though, in speaking to all the people I’ve had on this podcast, which is now quite a few, the work-life balance has been pretty good, from the people I’ve spoken to. I find that really fascinating. It seems like the content teams and the UX writers… I don’t know, I don’t know why that is, they seem to have it down pretty good.

Gordon Macrae:

That’s good to hear.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah. Obviously, if you’re working at somewhere big like General Assembly or Facebook or Google, there’s expectations on you but yeah, I’ve been trying to think up a theory for why that might be and I’m not really sure.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah. I guess maybe, I always, whenever I worked on the parts of the business that were more metrics, money/revenue driven, in terms of that was the thing that either my boss or myself was responsible for, the work-life balance tended to be less good than when I was working on more product focus side of things. Where there was maybe a little bit more space and a little bit more time to work on the projects that you were working on, rather than it being much more revenue focused but I don’t know if that’s a good theory or not.

Patrick Stafford:

Maybe, I don’t know. I think every theory is good at this stage, I have no data. Yeah, so you started the newsletter and what I think is interesting about it is that you’ve now spent a good amount of time reading all of these job ads and probably… it was early 2018 you started doing it, so well over 18 months now, I’d be really curious to hear your thoughts on the trends you’ve seen in that time and how it’s changed because it feels to me like it’s become a lot more formalised, even in that short space of time, but that’s just my perception. I’d be really interested to hear what you think.

Gordon Macrae:

No I think that’s definitely true. I think that’s definitely been my experience of it too and I think even in terms of the content that’s created around UX writing, is a lot more formalised now than it was 18 months ago. When I started writing it, there were no courses on UX writing and now there are courses on UX writing.

Patrick Stafford:

Now full disclosure, we have to say this, that Gordon and I both helped write the UX writing fundamentals course with the UX Writer’s Collective, so full disclosure.

Gordon Macrae:

Full disclosure. But there are now programmes that will teach people how to be UX writers when there weren’t when I started writing that. I think the biggest trend I’ve seen is just formalisation around the term UX writing. When I started it, there were a lot more job descriptions that said UX copywriter or there were copywriter job descriptions that were a mix of marketing content and UX writing. It seems, to me anyway in terms of putting this together, that over the last 18 months, those have become very distinct roles. Companies are a lot better at recognising when they’re hiring for a copywriter or a marketing content writer or a UX writer than 18 months ago when it might have all got brandished under one job title and maybe you, as the applicant, didn’t really know what you were going to be spending more of your time on, when you went into the company. Which I think is good for people in the field knowing what they’re going to be working on when they go into a company. Some companies are better than others, I think, in terms of telling you the projects that you’ll be working on and the type of content you’ll be writing, during the application process. Often, you can get into a company and then you’ve got to figure out what it is you’re actually going to be doing, after you’ve got the job.

Gordon Macrae:

So I think that’s been a clear trend. I think as… I don’t know if it’s even a phrase right but so Silicon Valley goes, so most of the rest of the world goes as well. I think this has obviously been a role that’s been around in tech companies for a lot longer than I’ve been writing this newsletter but over the last 18 months, I’ve definitely seen, it in the UK, start to be formalised much more as a job role. I don’t think there were any UX writer type jobs listen in the UK when I started writing the newsletter. Now it’s mostly [inaudible 00:12:32]. Across Europe as well, I think that’s starting to happen. Germany’s got a lot of jobs in the field, France does as well. I think even in Australia as well, we’re starting to see a lot more UX writer positions, where before it was content strategist roles and that’s obviously something we can talk about but that seems to be a trend I’m seeing in Australia as well as here in Europe.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah, it’s funny you say this because I was just working with my manager recently about a UX writer job description and we were going through the bullet points about what they need and what we’re going to be looking for. There were a couple where I was just like, no we don’t need that, get rid of that. It’s funny though because reading your newsletter, sometimes you’ll see ads and I’ll read them and I’ll be like, what? Who wrote this job description. There was one I remember in HBO a while ago, where they wanted a UX writer who knew JavaScript and I thought that was the most random thing, unless it was for a very specific purpose but it didn’t say so in the ad. So I think people are still trying to figure out what skills do we actually need people to have and what skills might be nice to have or so on.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah for sure. The JavaScript one, it always makes me laugh. I’ve seen it a couple of times actually, I wonder what…

Patrick Stafford:

Really? Maybe it’s a thing.

Gordon Macrae:

Maybe. Maybe we’re going to get called out, someone will email in and say, well actually I do hire a lot of writers…

Patrick Stafford:

That’s fine. If there’s a UX writer manager or content strategist at HBO who wants to reach out and explain why, I would love to talk to you, so please… yeah.

Gordon Macrae:

But yeah, I think I definitely started to see, or I’ve definitely seen over the 18 months I’ve been writing it… I started it as a lot of the roles I would feature… I would poke fun at the job descriptions quite heavily because there were some just ridiculous things that were written in a lot of these job descriptions, the JavaScript one is a good example of that. I can understand having to know a little bit of HTML, CSS but…

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah that’s pretty natural, I would have thought, yeah.

Gordon Macrae:

That makes sense. That makes sense. But if there’s something out of the core discipline of writing, I found it was always quite easy to poke fun at some of these job descriptions in the early days. It’s a little bit harder to poke fun at them now because people have tightened up what they’re writing their job descriptions in. Which is a good sign, I think.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah, I think… well actually I have my own thoughts about what I think is… I was going to say, I have my own thoughts about what we’re increasingly going to see in job ads and my… based on this conversation I just had internally and things I’ve seen elsewhere, it feels like the criteria is going to step up a notch, I think, in the next 12 months I expect that we’re probably going to see more things around content measurement and the ability to actually show value from your work. I think people have been able to skirt under that for a while because they just sort of stumble into these sorts of roles but I think yeah, going forward, that’s not going to be easy anymore and you’ll have to learn how to not only… you’ll have to not only be a good writer and a good strategist but actually show the results of what you’ve done and the value of everything you do. Which, for a lot of writers, is going to be difficult because they don’t know how to do that.

Gordon Macrae:

That’s really interesting. I’ve had a few people email me and ask that exact question, is how do you prove the ROI on UX writing? I didn’t have a good answer for it, I’m interested if you have a good answer for it because I think it’s a really useful thing for people to…

Patrick Stafford:

There are heaps of methods you could use to test it. It all depends on what you’re testing it for and why? It aligns to not only your team metrics but the business metrics and whatever else. I think the trap people get into is they start using the right test for the wrong thing. So they’ll go like, oh let’s AB test it. It’s like, great. AB tests are a great tool but they’re not necessarily going to give you the results that you’re looking for. If you’re trying to understand customer satisfaction or customer understanding, you should be doing highlighter and comprehension tests. If you’re wanting to understand how people actually use software then diary studies are great. If you want to study actual behaviour then AB tests are a great thing. So I think yeah, there’s going to be a need to understand this wide variety of tools and to explain… yeah I think just to have a better vocabulary in explaining how those work to the people on high. Yeah I just think the standard is going to be a lot higher going forward.

Gordon Macrae:

That’s interesting because that’s definitely not something I think I’ve seen in job ads over the last year or so but I think it’s-

Patrick Stafford:

No I haven’t seen many either.

Gordon Macrae:

But it is the only way that… and increasingly writers are going to have to… or the business units that employ UX writers are going to need to do this because people from the exec suite are going to come to those teams and ask, or actually start to probe, where the value is in having UX writers. Particularly as we see more companies hiring for this role, if you have a team of five or six UX writers, it’s a little harder to get away with it just being a cool experiment you’ve got by having a UX writer on the team. Someone’s going to be asking the questions about what the value is of this team and what they’re bringing to the company so being able to talk about that eloquently and tell the story of where the ROI is actually happening, is going to be so important.

Patrick Stafford:

I don’t know if it’s so much necessarily that it might be in the job ad, although it could be, but it might even be just in the interview process where if you’ve got a portfolio, you need to be able to put something in your case study that says, “and we saw an uplift in X”, or, “we changed this and then this was the result”.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah. I just think that’s going to be a natural thing.

Gordon Macrae:

Definitely. Or else otherwise you’re just writing cute micro-copy aren’t you and there’s no tangible… why are you writing this versus this other thing.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah, exactly.

Gordon Macrae:

It will become much more metrics-driven and that makes sense right? That’s how marketing has gone. UX design as a whole, you need to be able to prove the ROI of why you made certain decisions and so the writing element of that should never be excluded from that.

Patrick Stafford:

Sure. So you talk to a lot of hiring managers. What are you hearing from them right now? What are they looking for? What are the challenges they’re having? What’s the word on the street?

Gordon Macrae:

The big issue, and you see this across most disciplines right… hiring is A, really difficult and it takes a really long time and it’s really hard to find the right people and I think that’s what I hear most from hiring managers is, where do I go to find good UX writers? How do I grow and develop people in my organisation who might want to either become UX writers or are already operating in a similar field and I want to retrain them as UX writers? Then how do I go about building a team of UX writers? A lot of the hiring managers I talk to are either hiring a UX writer for the first time or they are the only UX writer on their team and they’re looking to build out a team of writers and a lot of the time those folks have either never hired a team before, they’ve never managed a team before and they don’t really have the precedent of where they should be going to look for good examples of how to do it.

Gordon Macrae:

I think it’s quite easy, it seems, to find people who are looking to get into UX writing. Weeding out the people that are good UX writers is tough. Then finding that mid-level and senior-level talent is particularly tricky at the moment.

Patrick Stafford:

How are they doing it right now?

Gordon Macrae:

Seems to be a lot of places are growing that internally. So they are [inaudible 00:21:02] taking a punt on someone who is a little bit more junior, who’s maybe coming out of a bootcamp or university situation, trained in UX design but has an interest in writing. So they are at least coming in with the fundamentals of what good UX design looks like and the motivation and the interest in learning more about learning and how that fits into UX as a discipline. Or people are coming over from related fields. I think we see this in job ads all the time but, have you worked in journalism before, have you worked as a copywriter before, have you worked in marketing before, do you come from a research/academic background, anything that’s got a strong discipline of research and writing to deadlines and writing to a constraint, is someone who you can then train in UX design. But that all takes a long time to get someone up to speed.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah. It’s interesting, I’ve heard the journalism thing quite a few times now. Yeah, just because journalists are used to writing to a certain amount of time or on deadline and they can’t really be precious about it, they’re just like, “eh, good enough”. Then they send it out.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah, I think there’s that. I think there’s also… it’s less so now, certainly the journalism I did was all sitting behind a desk and re-writing things. If you’re getting someone good from a local paper or someone who’s worked at a good national, who’s interviewed people, it’s very easy to train them how to run user research sessions because they know how to put together good questions, they know how to interview people and they know when to step out of the interview process and not insert themself into it. I think that’s a very valuable skill as well. It seems to me that mid-level talent is the hardest part to fill though because companies are wanting to hire people who they can put into managerial positions quite quickly and it’s tricky to put someone in a managerial position if they’ve only been doing the thing for one or two years. So there does seem to be a big gap in that middle tier, which is a big amount of experience right? It can be anywhere from four to 15 years. You definitely see that in job adverts where… I’ve seen ones where people are hiring for a senior UX writer and it’s like, two years of experience, which is dangerous I think.

Patrick Stafford:

It can be, yeah. If you haven’t developed a set of best practises or even if you haven’t managed someone before… because that’s the other part of this, you not only have to be a really good UX writer and you have to have good instincts about what works and what doesn’t and be able to make quick, efficient decisions, but you also have to be a good manager and that’s a completely different skill that takes a long time to learn.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah. You can bring someone up who’s a really good individual contributor but then they’re starting from square one again, when you move them into management, unless they’ve had experience before. It can be really demotivating. You bring someone up and promote them into a manger position and then they suck at it because they haven’t done it and that’s fine but then they need to be trained in how to be a good manager of people and unless you have a strong senior UX writer on your team already, who has the time to do it, it’s difficult. It takes a long time to develop that talent.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah. One of the things I’ve found recently is that, as I’ve been working with other writers, I find I just have less and less time to work on some of the bigger projects that I want to, which is hard because you then have to hand those over to other people. There is an ego part of that as well, part of you is like, ugh I’m the only one who can do this, but then… yeah. It’s just one of those things that takes time and not everyone has the personality for it either, especially writers who can be prickly. If they have come from… especially, I don’t mean to stereotype but particularly in advertising. I’ve met writers who are super precious about their words. I think they watched too many episodes of Mad Men and they just get… they’re like, how dare you change my words, or whatever, whereas with UX writing it’s like you just have to have this fleeting relationship with whatever you come up with.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah, interesting.

Gordon Macrae:

Ideally, there’s no ego, right? I found UX as a discipline, the best people I’ve come across seem to have very little ego for the work itself. You have to be comfortable operating behind the scenes and no one necessarily knowing that that’s been your work, which is the opposite of advertising. I do wonder if advertising is the best field to draw UX writers from because it’s all about the splash, it’s all about the words themselves, whereas in UX writing, the words are getting you to an end point, they’re not the means for the whole thing.

Patrick Stafford:

THat’s right. Advertising is… the best thing you can do in advertising is win something at Cannes or… yeah. It’s Cannes is the big advertising awards right?

Gordon Macrae:

I think so.

Patrick Stafford:

I’m pretty sure.

Gordon Macrae:

Don’t know.

Patrick Stafford:

Let’s just say that they are. I’ll fact-check that later.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah, we’ll check that later.

Patrick Stafford:

So there’s this really close relationship that they have with their words and… anyway. Yeah, 18 months, you’ve seen this happen and so have you seen anything particularly in the past little while, in the past couple of months, that you’re starting to see now some emerging trends come up?

Gordon Macrae:

Hmm. There’s a lot more stuff around conversational design, chat-bot design which I think we’ve seen for a little while but I’ve certainly seen a number of job ads specifically for conversational design whereas before they would be UX writer and that would be part of the role and responsibility, so I wonder if that’s something that we’re going to see more of, is people hiring specifically for conversational design of chat-bot.

Patrick Stafford:

This is a hard one though because if you… people are hiring for this but if you’ve never done it before how can you possibly hope to get a job somewhere doing it?

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah, I’ve no answer for you. That’s the stage that UX writing was in 18 months ago, two years, where there weren’t a lot of people who’d been doing it for four or five years so companies were hiring people with one or two years’ experience or less, maybe not even having that experience into the role and hoping for the best. The concern is that… it’s a risk always right? You hire someone in to those roles even if they haven’t done it before and hope you can train them how to do it.

Patrick Stafford:

You just have to demonstrate some more skills, I guess, in your interview, like you can show them a project and say this has similarities with a chat-bot or the tone of voice used is perhaps a little more conversational or whatever. You can show that off or even show off like a fake project that you’ve just come up with. That’s probably the best way you can stick that in your portfolio and then hope that gets you across.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah or as you say, be able to demonstrate that you’ve done something similar in a role in the past. I’d say the other side, we’re starting to see more and more job ads around team lead, UX writer manager, that sort of managerial layer of how you hire, build and retain teams and what the progression path looks like for someone coming in as a junior and continuing their career in a company, seems to be something that companies are starting to look at a little bit more now, which is a good sign, I think, for people coming into the field.

Patrick Stafford:

So people who are listening to this… I had a lot of people reach out and say, they love listening to the podcast because they’re the only UX writer at their company and so they’re quite lonely. If they want to build out a team, what’s something that they should start looking at, based on the job ads you’ve seen, what sort of skills should they be looking at developing?

Gordon Macrae:

Good question. I think anytime that you move into a managerial role, half of it is being able to do the job well and demonstrate that to someone who is reporting to you but remembering that your job is then now not to do your job, your job is to help them do their job better and I think something that we don’t really do a good job anywhere of training people how to do, when we teach people how to build specific skills in a discipline or area is teach people how to lead a team with vision and purpose and unite a team around a specific reason why they’re doing the work. It can become very tactical if you’re just telling people to do these specific things and not showing them the overarching strategy behind it [crosstalk 00:30:06].

Patrick Stafford:

The big picture.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah. Strategy is just having a plan right? You have a plan for where you’re going to be in six months, a year time, for the team. I’d say, if you’re the only UX writer at your company, looking how to develop those sorts of skills puts you in a good position when you do start managing a team. I think there’s a lot that can be learnt from other people in other companies. This idea that there’s only one or two UX writers in different companies, how can that knowledge be shared around individuals that are feeling a little lost and lonely in their career? There’s not really a good framework or progression, I don’t think, at the moment for how UX writers move from that individual contributor to manager to whether they want to mange people or remain an individual contributor, someone should do something around that.

Patrick Stafford:

There you go.

Gordon Macrae:

There you go.

Patrick Stafford:

I’m going to write it down. What are the most common skills you see people asking for?

Gordon Macrae:

From hiring managers or from individuals?

Patrick Stafford:

From hiring managers looking for UX writers, what are the most common traits you see them wanting?

Gordon Macrae:

The main one is always, they must have more years of experience than perhaps they’re able to end up hiring for, I think.

Patrick Stafford:

Right. Which is such a dumb requirement. I get why people do it but it’s not great.

Gordon Macrae:

If you can demonstrate you’ve done the work, it’s not really a good analogy, I don’t think.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah.

Gordon Macrae:

It always seems to be a trade-off right? I think this is good advice always for when you’re looking at what jobs to apply for is, even if you don’t hit 100% of the things that are in the job ad, if you hit 75% of the things in the job ad, you should still apply for it because hiring managers… and anyone that I’ve worked with in terms of creating job descriptions, always want to put in more things. They’re trying to find this ideal candidate who doesn’t’ exist… it’s like we’re talking about with the JavaScript thing right? I’d imagine that company, if they had a really good UX writer come in and they didn’t know JavaScript, they’re not not going to hire them because of that one thing, they’ll find someone else who can do that bit. So if you can demonstrate that you can do 75% of the job ad really well, you’re already ahead of other candidates. I think it’s always really off putting when you look at a job ad and you think, I don’t really know how to do this or I’ve done this once and maybe this isn’t my main skills but you’re only competing with yourself then, you don’t know who else is applying for the role.

Patrick Stafford:

I look at the job ads you put in your newsletter and I look at some of their requirements they put in and most of them are completely reasonable. Like, must have experience in copywriting or content strategy or something like that. Must have participated in Agile working environments. That’s all fine. Then they’ll list out things like, experience in creating and maintaining style-guides. Someone might look at that and go, oh well I’ve never created a style-guide so I won’t apply but if you’ve used it and maintained it and contributed to it, it’s not that far of a step to actually create one of your own so if you go in saying that… yeah, personally, speaking as someone who’s interviewed UX writers before, I’m not going to be put off by that because I can tell pretty easily if they’re going to be able to create one or not.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah. The application is just to get you an interview. You don’t have to demonstrate that you can do all those things in the application itself.

Patrick Stafford:

Exactly, yeah.

Gordon Macrae:

When you’re applying for a job, you should just be looking at it as that next step, which is, will I get an interview off the back of this?

Patrick Stafford:

That’s right.

Gordon Macrae:

Then, if you do, great. Then you can prepare all the things that you feel like you’re a little bit weaker at in that job ad, so that you know how to answer those questions and demonstrate them confidently in the interview itself. I think hiring managers, they’re really looking… especially when you’re building a team right, you’re looking at the soft skills, you’re looking at the personality and how they’ll work with other people on the team. Are they going to be a difficult person to manage? Are they going to be open to learning new things? Do they have a good sense of what they don’t know? Coming back to that sense of where their ego is or not at, with the role. It’s a lot easier to teach someone something when they know they have a blind spot, than someone who’s overcompensating for what they think the hiring manager is looking for in those conversations.

Patrick Stafford:

And the ability to push back in a firm but gentle and kind way and not berate people… I hear people say these things all the time and it makes me think, yeah well of course, but it is shocking the amount of people who don’t play nice with others.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah. It’s shockingly common. I think people would be overwhelmed if they… I don’t know, I’ve just worked with a number… the number of people I’ve worked with who have had to have talkings to or a finger wagged in their face to calm them down, it’s shocking, especially for adults. Right?

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah, I know. In those situations, you can’t just say, we’re all adults here, can we just get on with this?

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah, yeah, no. Yeah. I think the other thing for UX writers too is… and the one’s I’ve spoken to, they don’t… I spoke before about the bar being raised, there’s really a need to be able to speak with executives and speak with department heads on their level and in a confident way. We have this saying around our department… it’s not really a saying, it’s just a warning, it’s like, don’t speak to the department head unless you know everything about the project because it doesn’t matter who it is, it’s a junior coder or whatever, he will look in your eyes and he’ll ask you, oh so what’s the metrics on that? What have you done about this? Have you thought about this? Have you thought about that? What about this?

He’s not interrogating you, he’s just really curious about what you’re doing and it’s very easy to be intimidated in that type of situation, especially if you’re from a different culture or you’re a minority or if you’re say, a woman going into a male-dominated team, it’s very hard to hold your own. That takes practise and skill, to be able to look at them and say, oh, yeah, no, we thought about that but we’re going to do this and speak about your decisions with real confidence. It’s not a writing-specific skill but it’s definitely a skill writers should have.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah, for sure. It’s also something that maybe writers haven’t had to do in the past or there have bene less examples or less opportunities to do it because UX writing hasn’t been this discipline that it is now and so there aren’t maybe… it’s another thing on the managerial side, that mentorship of how to do that doesn’t exist for a lot of writers in companies so getting good examples and seeing that behaviour modelled by someone and then knowing how to do it yourself is something that people are probably lacking.

Patrick Stafford:

Because if you’re a journalist, as you were and I was, you’re basically just thinking about, what are the stories I have to do today? My editor gave me this story so I’m going to do this story, great, then I’m going to go home. Maybe you’ll think a lot at home about the stories that you’re doing and you might do a little bit of work in terms of checking up leads or research or whatever but you’re not thinking about, how many advertising dollars did we make yesterday?

Gordon Macrae:

Right, yeah.

Patrick Stafford:

What’s the next advertising product that we have? If I’m in the team as a UX writer, I need to understand not only what are the initiatives of my team? What are the metrics we’re being judged on? What is my department head worrying about? What is the CEO worrying about? You need to be able to convey what you do, to making those people’s lives easier and the more you’re aware… you can certainly do your job without doing that, but it just makes you stand out more if you can.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah. It doesn’t exist in isolation from other job roles right? You’re on a product team, you have a product manager, you’ll have maybe a couple of other writers, you might be working with an engineer, you might be working with marketing and legal, HR teams on a specific project so what you write impacts their jobs as well, so you need to understand where they’re coming from and what their perspective on things are going to be. Whereas a journalist, you might take an interest where your story features in the paper but you don’t really think too much about the layout of it or… you’re right, what ads are coming into the paper or who…

Gordon Macrae:

Your role does exist a little bit more in isolation and you’re allowed to go off and pursue your own stories sometimes and follow that down. [crosstalk 00:39:21].

Patrick Stafford:

But only with blessing from the editor, most of the time.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah. If you’re allowed to leave your desk. But the UX writer role is different from that right? You are much more part of an interdisciplinary team. A UX writer, you should never just be thinking, it’s only about the words and the words are the only thing I have to care about in my job. That’s great if that’s all you want to do but if you’re looking to expand your responsibilities and to grow… I think what’s quite good about working in UX writing at the moment is, it is an expanding discipline so the scope of what the role could influence inside the organisation isn’t that pre-defined right now, in a way that it might be if you managed the social media and marketing section of the company. That’s a pretty defined job role but you could… as a UX writer, there are opportunities to take on… or I’d imagine there will be opportunities to take on bigger projects within an organisation if you can prove the ROI of what your job role is. At the moment, that doesn’t exist for a lot of places but it should do.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah. I’ve noticed in a lot of UX conferences, more people are talking about the writing and content side.

Gordon Macrae:

Yes.

Patrick Stafford:

Now there’s obviously confab and there’s design and content in Canada but I think yeah, there’s going to be more of that.

Gordon Macrae:

That’s a good point, I’ve definitely seen more of that. Even from having more slots for UX writing and content strategy at conferences to whole conferences around it, that’s definitely starting to increase for sure. I think just the general melding of job roles, job titles, will continue as well. Content strategy… we don’t want to have to go into content design versus content strategy versus UX writing…

Patrick Stafford:

No we won’t have that discussion now.

Gordon Macrae:

Don’t really have the time but you can go on Twitter and have that argument anytime you want.

Patrick Stafford:

No thank you.

Gordon Macrae:

But I think a general movement to consolidation around what each of these job titles actually means, will continue. I don’t think there’s still a unanimous, what is a UX writer job description yet. I think we’re still a little way from that. You see it though in software development. The argument around job titles has existed ever since we’ve had software developers so UX design has always had this problem because it’s always been much more difficult to pin down what UX design means and because UX writing is a part of UX design, I don’t see that argument or that tension ever necessarily fully going away but I think we’ll see more consolidation across geographic boundaries around what a good UX writing job description looks like and then people will adapt that against what they’re looking to do inside their organisation. So you’ll start to see less of this wild differences in job ads that we’ve seen for the last couple of years.

Patrick Stafford:

Awesome. Well I think that’s a good place to end it but I always end with the question. Which is, what have you read recently that you think could help people listening to the podcast? It doesn’t have to be about UX writing but anything.

Gordon Macrae:

Okay. I’m reading Bad Blood at the moment about the-

Patrick Stafford:

Oh, that’s the Theranos.

Gordon Macrae:

The Theranos yeah. Which is… if you want a good description about what not to do with your company, I think that’s a good book to read. I actually think we’re living… there’s a lot of really good writing about Silicon Valley coming out at the moment. I just read Anna Weiner’s piece in the New Yorker about working in Start-ups in Silicon Valley for the last four years and there’s a lot of… we’re definitely starting to see the lens put on a lot of the practises that are not okay in Silicon Valley.

Patrick Stafford:

Especially with the WeWork stuff that’s just happened. Which is happening when this podcast is being recorded.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah I think there are going to be some interesting memoirs written about working at WeWork in a few years time.

Patrick Stafford:

Yeah. I think everyone’s just now asking like, hang on are we really okay with these companies not making any money? Yeah.

Gordon Macrae:

We’ll that’s good. I think for the last five or six years we’ve been okay with this idea that we don’t have to…

Patrick Stafford:

Just grow scale and figure out the revenue later?

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah and to give so much responsibility to 20 year olds, 20 somethings running companies, that can’t end well. I’m looking forward to actually… I think there’s going to be a lot of good writing about Silicon Valley coming out in the the next few years and I think that’s… if you’re a UX writer and you’re looking to do some creative writing on the side, there’s always interesting topics to be written about there.

Patrick Stafford:

But it’s also good for them to read it, if you’re thinking of moving to San Francisco or anywhere like that…

Gordon Macrae:

To know what you’re getting into.

Patrick Stafford:

Exactly, cool.

Gordon Macrae:

Yeah.

Patrick Stafford:

All right, that’s it.

Gordon Macrae:

Cool.

Patrick Stafford:

We’ll end it.

Gordon Macrae:

All right.

Patrick Stafford:

And that’s the podcast, thanks so much for listening, I’ll be back sooner than you think, before the end of the month, with another great interview. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, see you later.


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