How to become a competitive conversation design candidate

Original article was published by Brielle Nickoloff on Artificial Intelligence on Medium


Q1. What skills or experience are employers looking for in potential candidates?

Simonie:

Above all else, I’ve always found it to be more important to look for passion and potential. People who are good in this space tend to have a natural affinity for the customer perspective. Whether it’s voice or chatbots, or a combination of both, the type of mind we are looking for will always be thinking about how to make things more usable and get users to their result faster. So, when we are interviewing we are looking for that passion and that perspective.

Another aspect that will set a candidate apart is a person’s ability to communicate, and in particular, cross-team communication. Customer communication is also a great talent to have as an employee.

Regardless of a computer science degree or educational compatibility, it is the soft skills that set candidates apart. Of course though, ideally, we are looking for the candidate that is very knowledgeable and also very thoughtful. Degrees in computer science, human-computer interaction, or psychology are great to have. I am open to a wide range of qualifications, but usually, a good resume is the first thing that will determine if I will have a conversation with the person, and in that conversation gauge if the person also has the soft skills I’m looking for.

Simonie:

Above all else, I’ve always found it to be more important to look for passion and potential. People who are good in this space tend to have a natural affinity for the customer perspective. Whether it’s voice or chatbots, or a combination of both, the type of mind we are looking for will always be thinking about how to make things more usable and get users to their result faster. So, when we are interviewing we are looking for that passion and that perspective.

Another aspect that will set a candidate apart is a person’s ability to communicate, and in particular, cross-team communication. Customer communication is also a great talent to have as an employee.

Regardless of a computer science degree or educational compatibility, it is the soft skills that set candidates apart. Of course though, ideally, we are looking for the candidate that is very knowledgeable and also very thoughtful. Degrees in computer science, human-computer interaction, or psychology are great to have. I am open to a wide range of qualifications, but usually, a good resume is the first thing that will determine if I will have a conversation with the person, and in that conversation gauge if the person also has the soft skills I’m looking for.

Lance:

The majority of people who are coming into this space are coming into something brand new. This space did not exist 10 or 15 years ago, so you couldn’t possibly be educated for it. For this reason, the first thing I look for is intellectual curiosity. So, it doesn’t matter how versed you are in UX design or some of the other creative traditional spaces, you’re going to have to drop some old habits to do something different in this space.

You’re going to have to drop some old habits to do something different in this space.

After intellectual curiosity and adaptability, we start gauging the human qualities of people. Candidates who are more empathetic or more sympathetic, people who are driven to help other folks, those are the kinds of candidates that when molded properly, become very successful.

So yes, unless it’s a leadership position for a department, I don’t gauge based on a candidate’s experience in this space.

Michael:

At Skilled Creative I truly believe that we hire based on people and not based on role. What I look at when interviewing potential team members is the balance that they bring between creativity and knowledge about the technology. These are the points of reference I use when hiring for user experience and user interface design.

I believe this technology and the experiences that we’re designing, developing, and launching, are executed successfully when we strike the right balance between creative scripting and user flow.

The product has to be so grounded in the backend technology so I think the folks that are most successful in this space are broad-minded people that look at both sides of the equation. The best employees are thinking about the user, the back and front end of the experience, how it feels, and how it operates. So, versatility and a user-focused mindset are some of the qualities that I’m looking for when speaking to potential candidates about job opportunities.

Allys:

Since there is no certain pathway into this industry, transferable skills are very valuable. Having people from many backgrounds and fields enhances diversity, and as a result, the industry is full of new ideas and creativity. Of course, if a company is looking for someone in more of a senior position, industry experience is expected. But still, the beauty of this moment is that everyone in the industry is aware and appreciates that we are all learning together and there’s sort of no right or wrong answer yet.

The beauty of this moment is that everyone in the industry is aware and appreciates that we are all learning.

Q2. It seems like the job market usually looks for conversation designers that can also bring technical and/or programming skills. How do we change this perception?

Lance:

The industry is shifting, and efforts are being made towards that shift. Customer experience has substituted technology implementation as the main driving force in Conversational AI development. Conversational AI has not matured in a silo, it has matured as an enabler for many other things that have to happen together so we can provide the great experiences that customers demand. At the moment, we are hiring with the mindset of enhancing user experience.

Unfortunately within conversational AI (message, chat, or voice), we have had three to four years of a healthy amount of failure. We have been presenting the user with rigid, impersonal, and clunky experiences that have driven adoption down in some areas. So now is all about improving the experience.

As a potential candidate for a position, you want to know who is hiring, what their mindset is, and how attuned they are to the change that’s taking place.

Allys:

It just depends on the company and what they’re looking for. Traditionally, startups tend to hire people to wear many hats. But again, it comes down to the company and their perspective. I personally think that conversation design and conversation development are two separate jobs. Now, there are people out there that do both, and that makes them great candidates.

Lance:

There is an additional change that is taking place. What we’re finding is that even folks who are adept at creating conversational interactivity must also be really good at interpreting and developing based on all the behavioral data, customer data, product data, service data, and interaction data. You can’t really design for that data unless you really are passionately in love with it. This doesn’t mean that you’re a developer or a technical mind, it just means that you need to be in love with the idea of the data that’s flowing around with us and connects us. That is something that has nothing to do with IT or creative, and everything to do with a conversational space.

Q3 — What would make a candidate with no experience competitive? What skills or experience you are looking for in a potential candidate?

Allys:

A good place to start is by showing your passion and interest in the industry as much as possible. For example, complete some courses or start writing a blog or articles with your perspective. You don’t have to be an expert, but just showing your point of view can be a good thing to show that you are interested in and engaging with the community. Try and build some conversations. If a company sees that you’ve actively taking time out of your day to do these things, it will give you tremendous credibility. A good cover letter is also important. There you can include things like webinars you have attended and things like that. Having experience is great, but showing you are passionate about the industry is powerful enough for possible employers to conclude that you will get the most out of every day of work and therefore gain that important experience quickly.

Lance:

I have decided that I don’t look at resumes. At this moment no one can tell me that they are a seasoned expert in conversational AI. Right now I’m looking to have conversations, and what makes a candidate competitive is their intellectual curiosity. I want to know if a person is willing to do something very different than what they have attempted to do before and I want to know why.

I have decided that I don’t look at resumes.

The best candidates are people who have excelled in their field, people who feel like they have hit a ceiling and are ready for a new challenge. If you are ready and willing to make a switch, I will listen. The field is fluid right now, it’s dynamic, it can go in many directions and it will be full of changes so it needs people who can bring new perspectives and adapt on the fly.

Mike:

Being agile, adaptable, curious, and having a drive for learning are key personality traits for this space. Regardless of their experience in the past, any candidate that can arrive in this new space and demonstrate that they did that transition successfully is a person of interest. Having this type of people is also great for the industry. New people from all walks of life means new eyes and new perspectives. So, if you’re adaptable and you are curious, I think you’ll be successful.

Q4. Who I’d be working with as a conversation designer? Which roles on the team would I be interfacing with regularly and what other team members and skill sets are essential to implement voice/chatbots?

Simonie:

I’ve worked in a lot of different capacities as a conversation designer, and to be effective, you have to be able to work with a large variety of groups and team members. For example, one of these groups is researchers, who know and love data even more than I do. So, when building a product you want to get the theory right, you want to make sure you’re putting on your best practices and your usability considerations in place. After that, you need to put it in the customer’s hands so we can get that data and analyze it. I love going through that data, being open to the information it provides and making all the necessary changes that the data suggests. So, that’s one group, researchers.

As a conversational designer, another group that you are going to work with is developers. So you need to communicate your design in a way that your developers can consume. It is important to know that developers and researchers have different ways of communicating, so you have to be able to switch those modes to do that crossing communication. As a conversational designer you will be talking to researchers, developers, project managers, product managers, and even customers, so cross-communication skills are very important.

Lance:

At Cognizant, there is such a broad group of people that may be involved in a project. Here you will be working with Data Scientists, Developers, and Researchers. Because of my agency background, Creative Director and a Copywriter always go together, so, within our setting, we pair an Experience Director with a Dialogue Designer and let the magic happen. At a minimum, you want two minds that are thinking about conversation and experience. Still, they can’t do this in a silo, to create something holistic we need the minds of other participants. We need Data Scientists, Solution Architects, a bevy of Developers, and Project Managers.

As an example of another type of interaction, you as a conversational designer will also be in contact with people from the account. So depending on the organization that you’re in, you may have an account person who only has one brand but they may work within a vertical that only thinks of insurance. In these situations, you will need to present to them the kind of conversational experience that is needed and listen to the insights that they have. So, even though these peripheral participants may not be critical to the core team, they are critical to the business need.

From a project team standpoint, the role of the Conversational Designer or Experience Director is to translate the needs and opportunities from a business standpoint into an experience that is meant to touch the end consumer.

So the main idea here is that as a Conversational Designer you will be working with a core team and some external folks if the intention is to create something compelling and unique.

Michael:

Our agency, Skilled Creative, is a creative agency first. So in that sense, we operate with the mindset of a digital creative agency or even a traditional creative agency. By nature, the description of a conversational designer is very broad, so we first look at people based on how good an addition they would be to the team.

To build a project team, we will normally group several experts that we have on our core staff. Core roles being Senior Developers, Copywriters, Creative Director, Project, and Account Management. In the specific case of designing for smart displays, which adds a layer of design, we will also incorporate people who will think about interactivity and responsive design.

Regardless of what happened or did not happen at the back end or the data researched, at the end of the day, what’s in front of the user is the conversational experience. When I think of a conversational designer, I like to think of them as the glue that sticks all of the different roles together. For that reason, when having a conversational designer on a project, I like that person to be versatile, to be able to speak and understand all the collaborators involved and to have an overall understanding about all the elements of the project, and be able to dive into specific areas when and where needed.

Allys:

As a conversational designer, it is really important to be able to transition and adapt when you’re speaking to the different people within the team.