ZipRecruiter’s Jen Donohue Marino: Be a kind rockstar

4 min read
Kristin Hillery
  •  Jun 15, 2018
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As a fast-growing online employment marketplace, ZipRecruiter connects job seekers with millions of opportunities, with the goal to help them find meaningful employment.

We sat down with Product Designer Jen Donohue Marino to learn how it feels to transition from a one-person design team, what it takes to excel as a woman in the industry, and how to stand out in a job search.

How is your team set up?

Led by our Chief Design Officer and Co-Founder, Ward Poulos, our design department consists of 15 designers split between Product Design, Marketing Design, and UX Research.

We collaborate closely in cross-functional teams that include product managers, front- and back-end engineers, mobile developers, and marketing experts. Our team is relatively flat with each designer holding ownership over his or her area of work.

Is there anything your team has done to improve efficiency, happiness, or morale?

On your first day at ZipRecruiter, you’re greeted with a genuine welcome from the whole team. We send out an intro email, have a first-day lunch, and hand out a swag bag. We introduce you to the office and want to get to know who you are as a person. What motivates you? How can we as a team help you accomplish your goals?

My first week, I remember my calendar being filled with invitations to meet with new colleagues so we could chat and learn about one another. It was really energizing entering such a positive environment and developing personal connections right off the bat.

Most importantly, we have a lot of fun and make time to get together outside the office. There is value in play when a team comes together for a shared experience centered around something other than work; it builds bonds that are so important for your day-to-day morale.

“There is value in play when a team comes together for a shared experience centered around something other than work.”

Jen Donohue Marino
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What is the culture like there?

While it may be a larger company, the startup vibe remains. You feel like you can make an impact without needing an assigned project. Ideas are discussed freely and everyone’s opinions are listened to respectfully. We are diverse in perspectives, backgrounds, and mindsets—a breath of fresh air for this industry.

Individually, we have our own goals, with shared opinions around personal growth, wanting/needing collaboration, and investing in professional development. It’s pretty common to stumble upon a passionate conversation that has turned into a creative jam. It’s a special environment.

What can teams do to build trust with each other?

Each person embodies a level of humility that sets the scene for a secure environment. A safe space is the root of trust and allows each individual to excel.

I make it a point to have transparent channels of communication, which serve as a foundation for curating bonds. The more you collaborate with your teammates, the more that trust is built.Twitter Logo You become a source of guidance and support for your peers. You respect each other and provide a mutually beneficial forum to challenge and develop ideas. Our leadership has done a great job spearheading this mindset: Even in my first few days, I was meeting with executive-level designers and product managers to gain insights and share my perspectives.

“Question decisions made to encourage thoughtful leadership.”

Jen Donohue Marino
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The mindset of I’m counting on you counting on me is quite evident throughout the team. Our individual successes inspire each other to reach for a higher standard. The only way to maintain this is to consistently practice what you preach. Speak up if you need something more from your peers; question decisions made to encourage thoughtful leadership; listen to guidance, but trust yourself just as much as you trust your team.

How does your team use InVision?

At ZipRecruiter, InVision has become a tool for multiple teams. We use it to concept with mood boards, disseminate ideas with prototypes, and pass to developers who use Inspect. InVision encourages collaboration and discussion and has become an organic and integral part of our process.

“InVision has become an organic and integral part of our process.”

Jen Donohue Marino
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How did you personally get to where you are now?

Almost every decision since childhood has paved the way for my life as a designer. Design really grabbed hold of me when I first tinkered on a computer with design software—remember QuarkXPress?—at my mom’s office at a small town newspaper and print shop. My family fostered a creative environment and it became clear that being a designer was hardwired into my being.

With every job opportunity, I took a new course to explore what I could do with design. In college, I took a risk and applied to a small mobile and web boutique. I fell in love with how technology affects a majority of the population, and wanted to be part of that. Working for a company that brings about positive change in a person’s life became a top requirement. Because I truly know my calling is to better the lives of others via design. I believe we designers have a responsibility to be advocates for products and experiences that have a positive impact on society.

“Listen to guidance, but trust yourself just as much as you trust your team.”

Jen Donohue Marino
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Can you talk a bit about what it’s like to make the transition from designing at an early-stage startup to joining a larger team at a corporation?

When I felt stagnant in my growth, I knew I needed a change. There’s a fun challenge in the varying responsibilities of a single-person design team. So much opportunity lies in the ability to launch yourself farther ahead because of the leadership that kind of role entails. But all of that came at the cost of not focusing my full attention on my true passions. I was lacking the resources I needed to push projects forward, including the support of a design team.

Related: So you’re the only designer at your company

I needed to step out of my small-company comfort zone for the betterment of my professional and personal development. Feeling like you’re married to your job, losing touch with personal relationships, and even yourself, was hellish after seven years.

Transitioning was honestly unnerving. I feared strict process and navigating a daunting bureaucratic environment. What if I were just another pair of hands? Turns out that was not the reality. I learn so much from the varying perspectives of the team, and it pushes me to be a better designer. I’m continually inspired by their tenacity and genuine personalities.

For those who are one-person design teams at their organization, what advice do you have?

  • Practice patience. Through all the tough times, keeping your head on straight will be the best thing you can do for yourself to navigate through the craziness.
  • Obtain feedback from other designers in the form of mentors or advisors. This will help you maintain a creative dialogue, and inspire you to push yourself and your designs farther.
  • Learn to speak the language of your peers. If you’re working with engineers, understand guidelines for your platform and use proper terminology. Then you’ll have some common ground with one another.

What do you think made you an outstanding candidate for your current job? How can other designers be better candidates for the jobs they apply for? Any advice on the job search is welcome here.

Empathy, a collaborative nature, humility, and my past experiences of having to wear a lot of hats. Each one of these is vital for fostering a unique mindset that stands out and will be an asset to any business. Being able to deliver and receive criticism is also a fundamental principle: It allows you to communicate better, think with a different perspective, and have discussions without emotion.

Designers have power in their thought and skills.Twitter Logo It’s crucial to work on projects or join a company that reflects the values you’re passionate about. Your work will embody that joy and possibly bring good to someone else’s life.

It’s also important to be fastidious and patient when making the next big jump to ensure you’re committing to the right opportunity. It’s chess not checkers—think about how your next move will benefit you in the long run.

“Join a company that reflects the values you’re passionate about.”

Jen Donohue Marino
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What will it take to make the tech industry more diverse? Is there anything you’re doing at your organization to help?

Tech culture itself needs a reinvention. In my experience, many companies have a very masculine culture. But an office is neither a frat house nor a boys’ club. With hiring, gender bias is a serious problem more often than not. Do a study into your business, carefully analyze the data, and institute changes if issues are discovered.

We need a massive shift in how society views women. There’s some progress, but it’s marginal for this day and age. Women in school who want to explore avenues which lead to tech should be supported and encouraged to do so—not bullied by their peers. That being said, a woman should also be confident in her decisions, hold true to her calling, and seek support from role models and peers.

Related: An open letter to up-and-coming women in digital design

At each company, I’ve befriended my female colleagues and sought to support them in their roles and projects. Having a community is important to discuss ideas or gain advice on how to handle situations. A place for overall empowerment. We have a private channel to share relevant news to the industry, upcoming women-centered meetups, and updates on project wins. It’s also a secure line to examine any challenges. Collectively we are louder than any individual, so let’s harness that power and momentum for change.

Do you have any advice for women in design and tech who might be struggling in their current role, or having a difficult time getting a job? How can we push things forward?

Believe in yourself and have the confidence to speak your mind.Twitter Logo In past situations where I was clearly discriminated against because of my gender, I’ve lost control because I was scared to use my voice. I became enveloped in a negative mindset which greatly affected other facets of my life.

“Go where you can flourish and inspire others by your determination for change.”

Jen Donohue Marino
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There will be bad apples at every job. Learning how to put your foot down to respect yourself is essential. A person is being sexist towards you? Speak with your manager. No change coming from HR intervention? Leave! Find another job where you’re valued as the person you are. Sometimes we can make change from the inside, but if the cost-benefit ratio is severely not in your favor, go where you can flourish and inspire others by your determination for change.

When interviewing, companies will do a culture fit examination on you—and you should definitely do your own on them. If your gut is screaming at you to avoid this environment, listen to it. Ask the interviewer questions about the company’s culture: Is there female leadership? Opportunities for personal growth? I’m so disheartened when interview candidates ask me zero questions. Take the time to understand as best you can what work environment you could potentially be entering. After all, we spend a majority of our time interfacing with our co-workers.

Can you share any of your favorite examples of great design in real life?

I’ve always enjoyed Airbnb’s product with their simple use of typography, colors, and hierarchy. The onboarding and booking processes are so streamlined that it makes for a delightful experience. I also appreciate how they hold true to their own design paradigms across platforms, maintaining parity in all experiences.

SFMOMA has an incredible user experience for attendees. Everything is so well thought out, from purchasing my ticket to exploring each floor of the building. I stopped in my tracks staring at an elevator, and even took a photograph. The doors are a loud orange with beautiful, crisp typography indicating which exhibits are where. The simplicity and functionality behind this was pure genius to me.

What’s your best advice for young designers?

  • Be a kind rockstar.
  • Iterate, iterate, iterate. Then iterate some more.
  • Gather feedback from stakeholders and peers throughout your process.
  • Utilize the power of “no.” If you don’t set your own boundaries, someone else will do it for you.Twitter Logo
  • Know what refuels your creativity, then keep doing that to maintain an imaginative thought flow.

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