Ruslana Polonska, Head of Creative Team at the Holy Water project, studied at university for three years before suddenly radically changing her profession. She managed to get an internship at Genesis and in just two years went from intern to head of the design team. We asked Ruslana how a newbie can prove their worth, harness all opportunities provided by the company, and start to grow their career.
How it all started
I was in the third year of finance studies at Kyiv National Economic University when I understood that I wanted to work in a completely different field. Therefore, I decided to try my hand at design. I completed courses at IT school and started working as a freelancer. However, freelancing is not the way to prove yourself. The courses provided basic knowledge, but I lacked communication with colleagues and professional feedback. In order to build a career, I started looking for a job in a great team.
Genesis was at the top of my list of 10 companies I wanted to work for. I applied there just after finishing the courses, but my skills and experience were not enough at that time. I was rejected and continued to work on my CV and portfolio.
One day, I accidentally learned about a summer internship for graphic and motion designers at GMEM (Genesis Media Emerging Markets), one of the Genesis projects, and applied there. I got a test task and it was probably the most important project in my life. I spent a lot of time on it and worked on every detail. I clearly understood: Either I will give my best now and show what I am capable of, or there will be no other chance.
After the test, there was an equally stressful interview and bar-raising interview. When I finally got the offer, it was an incredible moment! It was as if my life was divided into "before" and "after." Of course, I understood that I only had three months to prove myself and get a permanent job, so I had to concentrate and give 100% of my efforts.
"To get into the company of your dreams, be sure to pay attention to your CV. For a designer, sending a simple text file is a mortal sin. It should look cool and be perfect. You should also not rush the test task. Often candidates try to do it as fast as possible and send it right away. Yet the next day, you look at your work differently and see a lot of points that need to be worked on. A well-made test task is a sign for a recruiter and a potential manager that a person is really interested and motivated". — Ruslana Polonska
First work days
In product design, all tasks begin with a user story – that is, studying the needs of the audience. To put it simply, studies have shown that the user lacks feature X to achieve Y. Basic answers to the questions "what to do?" "for whom?" and "what results will it deliver?" are the core of a technical task. Then the task passes through various departments and more edits are added to it. At the development stage, the technical task is already described very clearly and scrupulously, starting with how it should look and ending with the mechanics of how it will work.
"Working with comments is important for a beginner. It’s important to understand that they are criticizing not because they want to treat you badly or offend you but because there are gaps in knowledge that should be filled. Moreover, having your weaknesses pointed out is a great way to demonstrate your ability to learn. I perceived such moments as an opportunity to come back in a week or two and show the results of working on myself". — Ruslana Polonska
How to master a new hard skill a month before the end of an internship
The team in which I had an internship needed not only a graphic designer but a motion one, too. They offered me the opportunity to fill this need. It was very scary to start something new at that moment. Moreover, it seemed to me that motion design is very difficult: You need to understand the principles of animation and timing and have an inner sense of dynamics. Despite all this, I agreed.
They assigned Anna Pozdnyakova to be my mentor. The system of working with her was as follows: Anna explained the basic principles, gave tasks, and recommended courses and other resources. Then she checked my work, pointed out mistakes, identified weaknesses, and gave me new tasks. Over time, she made fewer and fewer edits. Finally, I got the hang of it.
All this time I was very worried because I understood that the internship was only a month long and there were chances that I would fail at everything. I tried to learn very quickly. I have probably never learned anything as quickly as I learned motion design back then. Mentoring is a great development opportunity to receive at a company!
"You should go to the mentor with specific questions. They should not be thoughts in your head but already clearly formulated questions you’ve written down. It is also important to record all answers during communication. After all, everything is quickly forgotten. My mentor and I had an agreement that I should try to find the answer on my own and only turn to her if I could not. This is, in principle, a good approach to work and self-development". — Ruslana Polonska
How I became Head of Creative Team and the first mistakes
After the internship, I received a permanent position at Genesis. We worked on creatives in a small "marketer + designer" team. As the product began to grow, the company recruited two more teams and they expected us to have synergy. However, it didn’t work out this way. The ideas of the creatives were good but their implementation was not the best.
We decided to test the hypothesis: What would happen if we put a person between marketers and designers who would help them understand each other in order to improve communication and design quality? I filled that role – and it worked. The quality of creatives went up and communication processes became easier.
That's how I became the leader of the creative team. My responsibilities include allocating tasks between designers, estimating how much time and resources are needed to complete them, reviewing, and making edits.
At first, it was quite easy. There were only two designers under my supervision and I had no problem finding time for them. I was working intuitively. When the team skyrocketed to 10 people, chaos ensued.
There were huge problems with time management: How should everyone’s time be allocated? How should tasks be explained to everyone? How should I discuss KPIs, conduct checkpoints, and not forget about my own work tasks? All 10 designers wrote to me chaotically, sent works to be edited, and bombarded me with small questions. It was as if I was lost in time; I simply answered them and checked the tasks from morning to night. At this time, work stopped while all the designers waited for my feedback. It was very difficult. I had no idea how to properly organize processes.
The first thing I started to do was learn from other managers how their teams work and how processes are built. Everyone had their own approaches, but I adapted the received information for us. In the end, I made the designers as independent as possible, optimized time, and introduced a schedule for distributing and checking tasks.
As head of a team, I try to create the same comfortable conditions for people as I experienced earlier. I make sure that they have the motivation and desire to work. When checking tasks, I always write detailed comments so that the designers themselves feel and understand how to do it correctly. If I see weak points, we find ways to solve problems together.
I try not to transfer my emotions or mood to work and team members. After all, if this happens, it demotivates people a lot.
The most pleasant thing for me is when my team shows a great result, and our work is given as an example during episodes, which are meetings of the entire product team where they sum up the results for a certain period and set goals for the new one. For me, this is the strongest motivation.
How to use all opportunities for development
I probably gained 70 percent of my skills and knowledge at Genesis. If I am missing something for work, I can study within the company or at third-party courses, which the company also helps with. For instance, I took a course in 2D character animation that the company paid for.
I also often turned to colleagues for advice. Everyone at Genesis is open to communication and experience sharing. This is one of the advantages of such a large company with diverse expertise. Everyone who I texted for help always answered.
Another opportunity is access to the library, where you can find a lot of useful information. Even if you need to buy a book, Genesis offers that option.
The company often holds intensive training sessions, hackathons, lecture weeks, and has a design community where speakers from various projects and other companies share knowledge. They also hold a three-day intensive training program for managers and have management and business schools.
Moreover, each employee of the company has the opportunity to draw up an individual development plan. For example, mine currently takes into account two areas — design and people management. So I continue to gain knowledge.
I believe that rapid growth is possible when you are not afraid of challenges but perceive them as an opportunity, follow specific goals, and are ready to constantly learn along the way.