Don’t Wait for Your Dream Job to Come to You

New Year, New You
Part II

Comedian Milton Berle once said, “If opportunity doesn’t come knocking, build a door.”

For Rusty Munro, a senior user experience designer for Amazon, the focus was on the cobblestones leading to the door—not the door itself. Opportunity, if we’re sticking with the metaphor, was an unexpected houseguest.

When Munro returned to his home state of California after years in the rush of New York City life, he was searching for the ideal: balance between a successful career and a fulfilling life outside the office. Exactly what that would look like, he didn’t know.

Laying the Stepping Stones

“My career path in design has been fairly calculated,” Munro says. His interest was always at the intersection of design and technology. He graduated with a multimedia degree from art school just as the web took off. The succession of gigs that followed offered invaluable experience, yet none ticked all the boxes.

Fresh out of college in the early 2000s, Munro landed a position in visual design at a small startup in San Francisco. He was soon wooed by the stability of an interactive ad agency, which brought him on as a multimedia developer.

“The work was interesting,” he says, “but it felt throwaway and lacked any substance.” He wanted to dig deeper into the digital aspects of branding. That required a one-way ticket to New York.

One of the industry’s first experience design agencies hired Munro as an entry-level designer in its Manhattan office. The agency focused less on traditional brand collateral (pamphlets, billboards) and more on products with a digital slant (immersive experiences and applications). Seven years later, Munro had Creative Director stamped on his business cards.

His engagement with his work, however, was dwindling. Strict timelines and tight budgets proved confining. “The work ultimately came down to what we could get done in the time allotted for the project budget,” he says. Compounded with routine nights at the office, burnout set in.

So, Munro jumped on the chance to help launch a new business. Though reluctant to return to an unpredictable startup environment so far into his career, it was just the creative freedom he needed. Long hours were a concession.

Building the Door

Parenthood, however, often leads people to reconsider their priorities. Munro was no exception. With the birth of his first child, he started to crave greater balance: more time with his son, Sunday dinners with family, a slower pace.

He and his wife decided to pack their New York life into cardboard boxes and head back to California, where he would continue to work remotely.

It was promising for a time: working for the East Coast startup, which had just secured a series A round of funding, from his West Coast home. But, Munro discovered, “It’s difficult to drive innovation and design remotely.”

That’s when he considered his next move. Opportunity wasn’t exactly breaking down his door, so Munro began forging a doorframe with tried-and-true tactics: investigating vacancies and sending out résumés. He kicked off a networking campaign to bolster professional references. A former colleague mentioned that Amazon was hiring.

“Amazon wasn’t always on my radar,” he says. But, as he learned more about the user experience (UX) designer position, it had “dream job” written all over it.

“Amazon made a pretty dramatic shift to focus on creating their own products and services, separate from the dot-com aspect of the business,” Munro says. “The consumer device side of the company—aside from Kindle—is charting relatively new territory. But the company is committed to creating great products.”

Although they played Robin to engineering’s Batman for years, “crafted user experiences and design have found a seat at Amazon’s table,” Munro says. The clincher for this new dad was that the organization encourages employees to have a life outside of work.

Amazon’s hiring process isn’t for the faint-hearted. CEO Jeff Bezos once told shareholders, “Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will be, the single most important element of Amazon.com's success.”

Munro shrugs off two phone screen interviews, an onsite portfolio review, and six individual one-on-one interviews. “The hiring team was transparent throughout the process, which was refreshing,” he says, “and I got a great vibe from the folks I met with.” An official offer arrived shortly after.

What goes on behind Amazon’s doors is hush-hush, and probing Munro for details is futile (a lesson we learned the hard way). As a senior UX designer focused on the Alexa Voice Service, he works to “understand and define the customer or user segments and deliver a crafted, considered, and engaging product experience through an iterative process that comprises research, user journeys, wireframing, prototyping, visual design and development efforts and artifacts.”

In layman’s terms? Brands need to be valuable to their customers in different contexts and spaces if they want to be successful. Munro generates that value. “I can’t disclose specifics, but the Alexa Voice Service really has no limits to where it can live or thrive,” he hints.

Crossing the Threshold

Although this particular target wasn’t always in sight, Munro was steadily working toward it. He kept his head down and took one deliberate step at a time.

“The progression of my career has really been a perfect culmination of the skillsets needed for the role,” he says. At the right time and place, he was the right person for the job. “Being a self-starter, creative thinker, and proven leader made me the type of candidate they were looking for.”

We asked Munro what advice he’d give to someone with an eye on a dream position. He addresses designers, but the takeaway is impartial to industry.

“Focus on your craft, and experiment with different aspects of the work. Stay hungry but be humble, and hopefully you’ll figure out what interests you,” he says. “Gravitate towards strong, talented individuals, ask questions, and soak up as much as possible. If the passion and drive is there, the talent will develop and opportunities will without a doubt come knocking.”

Build the door, and you’ll be ready to answer it.


Check out more inspiring stories from career changers in our New Year, New You series:

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