Career changers and aspiring writers have many goals in common. In this two-part series, two Amys—Amy S (me!) and my friend Amy G—interview each other about best practices for how professionals can establish expertise and credibility by putting their ideas out into the world. In Part 1, Amy G discusses her work as a book coach for non-fiction writers, and how she helps people figure out what to write, and who to write it for.
Now for Part 2, where I talk about the value of sharing our ideas publicly to build credibility and community, and bring professional opportunities our way.
Amy G: How did you arrive at career coaching from anthropology?
Amy S: Anthropology is the formalized study of the human experience—past, present, and future—and the application of this knowledge to solve real world problems. I was never an academic anthropologist, but my training has been fundamental as an applied practitioner and in my roles as a user experience researcher, small business owner, and now as a career strategist and coach.
What excites me most is doing work that is focused on understanding humans, their experiences, and their brains, and gleaning insights and clarity that can be used for inspiration, decision making, and improving the world. Anthropologist and author Zora Neale Hurston once said, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” That’s my career in a nutshell.
I spent about a decade doing research for product design, otherwise known as user experience. My job was to learn about the experiences and perspectives of the people who use a product or service, and incorporate this knowledge into product development and business strategy. Eventually I decided to pivot from research consulting into coaching, partnering with people in a collaborative effort to make progress toward their personal and professional goals. This not-insignificant shift came about organically as the result of knowing myself well, and paying careful attention to my strengths, values, interests, preferred lifestyle, and desire for impact.
Amy G: Who are your clients, and what do you help them with?
Amy S: I work with current or aspiring user experience professionals, including researchers, designers, content strategists, managers, and other specialists. They have one of two fundamental goals: find a great job, or make an important career-life decision. I play a lot of roles—thought partner, coach, advisor, advocate, sounding board, listener, challenger, and confidant.
Amy G: Something our clients have in common is a desire to get their ideas into the world, which involves figuring out what they want to be known for, who their audience is, and the most relevant platforms or media to use. How do you help people with this?
Amy S: Everyone has something interesting to say, no matter where they’re at in their professional journey. Often people have ideas they want to get out there, but they’re scared to take the leap, or they just aren’t sure where to start. They might not be used to sharing in public, and are concerned about their ideas being picked apart. Or, they are well versed in writing journal articles and giving conference talks, but they aren’t accustomed to non-academic communication formats like visual presentations, audio, or video. They may not be familiar with the functionality and culture of platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter.
To move past this, I encourage people to move outside of their comfort zone and start with baby steps. If you want to post something on LinkedIn, begin by commenting on other people’s posts. Get a feel for what it’s like to have a public conversation. Look at it as an experiment and an iterative process. Build your confidence. And you want to concurrently build your network so that as you begin posting, there are people around to engage. Otherwise your efforts will get lost in the algorithm, which assesses how “interesting” your content is based on the amount of interaction it gets. On LinkedIn, comments and conversations are indicative of quality and are worth more than a simple “like” or “share”. Your content and network go hand in hand toward building credibility and bringing professional opportunities your way. For anyone who needs some inspiration for what to write about, check out this list I put together with 100 prompts for community conversation.
Amy G: Can you share a couple examples of people you think have done this particularly well?
Amy S: Yes! I have a past client whose story is my go-to for illustrating the benefits of putting yourself and your ideas out into the world. Emily DiLeo and I began worked together in mid-2021 when she decided to transition from her work as an academic archivist into user experience research. She has a fascinating background, including a Master’s and PhD in ethnomusicology, and a Master’s of Library and Information Science with a focus on archives management. She’s worked in several university libraries, has taught ESL and music, and worked as a union steward and board member!
Anyway, while we were working on her job search strategy and professional materials (resume, interview prep, portfolio presentation), we talked about the idea of sharing her unique perspective and skills as an archivist, as it relates to user experience research, which is the kind of work she wanted to do. After a couple of drafts, Emily posted her first article on Medium: Why UX research needs archivists. It’s not this long drawn out thing either—just a short essay explaining why archivists are qualified to create and manage repositories for research studies within organizations.
The post landed her a job offer a week later. How? After sharing it on LinkedIn (see the original post here), her future boss happened to come across it via a comment from a mutual connection (which made the post show up in her feed). This person just happened to be hiring for a research repository and operations role. Basically, she was looking for someone just like Emily. They quickly set up a call to chat about the role, and she was offered the position shortly thereafter, without having to do any additional interviews.
When Emily’s contract ended after a few months, it didn’t take long to find her next role. By then, she was more practiced in the art of commenting and posting content in public. She had also made inroads into the practitioner community by speaking at conferences, guesting on podcasts and blogs, and contributing to projects to advance the field of research operations. She’s done a stellar job with making this happen for herself in just over a year’s time.
Amy G: Speaking of writing publicly, you've had your own blog for quite some time. Can you share more about how you got into the practice?
Amy S: Right out of grad school in 2011, I started Anthropologizing, which was meant to be a place to think out loud about practicing anthropology and figuring out my career. I stuck with these themes over time, in addition to writing about working in design and business, and some personal topics here and there. I used it as a way to reflect, process, experiment, and share. I discontinued Anthropologizing in favor of my new blog, which is primarily focused on career topics and updates about my professional activities (podcasts, talks, projects, etc.)
I’ve also implemented a different thinking and writing process than the one I used for Anthropologizing. Whereas I used to write something, publish it on my blog, and then post it on LinkedIn, what I do now is post something on LinkedIn to start a conversation. Then after letting it sit for a while, I create a revised piece for my blog, which goes out to subscribers.
I’ve been on LinkedIn for 12 years—it’s where I hang out with my professional community, and it’s led to countless professional opportunities that I never could have predicted. I aim to share ideas that are relevant, timely, actionable, and of general value to my audience, and to engage in a way that’s intentional, proactive, authentic, original, professional, personal, and targeted. The more boxes I can check off, the higher quality my posts will be, which means better engagement, and better outcomes for my professional and business goals as a coach. I estimate that about 50% of my clients come from LinkedIn, and not because they search for a coach, but because they come across my posts, and see my comments on other people’s posts. I don’t use any other social media, because this is where my people are.