“How do I get a UX job?”
These 7 tips will help you land that next big UX job. Plus bonus tips from UX EXPERTS to improve your chances even more!
Have you seen UX job postings that seem almost impossible for you to fill? You are not alone.
Many postings, like this example below make it seem like only a UX guru could possibly qualify for the position.
Example UX Job Description. Required Skills:
- BA or BFA in Graphic/ Digital Design, human-computer interaction, interaction design, or related field or other design discipline
- 4+ years of relevant experience specializing in visual and user interaction web and mobile UX with a proven track record in consumer and enterprise product user interface designs
- Strong experience with Enterprise applications, information architecture, interaction/user experience design, and accessibility design
- Experience designing for web and mobile-based applications a plus
- Experience with coding in HTML/CSS/PHP
- Proficient with design tools such as Adobe Creative Cloud, Photoshop, inDesign, Illustrator
- Expert knowledge of: RPG Progression Design, Narrative and content creation, Low-fidelity mockups, Wireframes, User Experience Design, User Interface, Sitemaps, Information Architecture, Fluency in Adobe Creative Cloud and/or Fireworks , UX Research, Usability Testing
- Experience working with InVisionApp, Balsamiq or other prototyping tools
- Understanding of technical platforms (i.e. HTML, CSS, XML, AJAX, Java, .NET, XAML/WPF, Flex etc.) and other web scripting languages and of how design choices translates in those development contexts
OMG! Scary right?!
If you have all those skills then congrats, you’re awesome, ask for a raise!
But if you don’t have all those skills, I know what you’re thinking:
“Who the heck has all those UX skills? I’m feeling inadequate!”
Actually, I’ve found that there are lots of good UX designers who already have UX design jobs who don’t have all of the skills typically listed in today’s UX job description, I assure you!
But if you don’t. Well, to quote one of my favorite books (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy):
UX Job descriptions like the example above may make you feel unqualified for anything except perhaps shining the shoes of the UX designer that actually has all those skills.
But I’m here to tell you that you can get a job in UX without having all the expertise in every UX field under the sun.
UX Experts on How to Get a UX Job:
The following UX Experts have kindly included their tips on how to get a UX Job. The panel of experts includes:
- Dave Garr (Co-Founder of UserTesting)
- Steven Cohn (CEO and Founder of Validately)
- Rich Gunther (Former President, UXPA, Principal of Ovo Studios)
- Daniel Szuc (Co-Founder ApogeeHK, co-author “Global UX”)
- Ritvij Gautam (CEO and Co-Founder of TryMyUI)
Just follow the 7 steps I outline next, and take the advice from the UX experts who also provided their tips below to help you get your next awesome UX job.
7 Tips on How to Get a UX Job:
1. What the heck do they mean by “UX” anyway?
First, define what is meant by “UX.” Based on the job description, is it going to be primarily design, research, information architecture, strategy, project management, all of the above (ie, Unicorn)?
Depending on what’s listed highest in the bullet points for skills, you can assume that more than likely the job will be more focused on those skills. The other skills lower down the list, near the bottom, are probably less “must haves” and probably more “nice to haves.”
Based on what’s listed near the top, make sure your resume or CV properly covers those aspects when highlighting your experiences and skills.
Don’t have those skills? Fear not!
More than likely many of the experiences and skills you’ve been doing in your last job or jobs can be translated into UX-based experiences and skills.
Have you been developing graphics for print or other traditional media? Your design knowledge can directly be applied to UX. Perhaps you’ve been project managing IT programs. No worries, project management expertise is just as effective in a UX context as in a more traditional IT role.
For both of the above examples, highlight the UX part of your experiences by focusing on the “experience” you were working toward. Use terms that align with UX such as “UX design” instead of “graphic design” or “project management of IT programs designed to improve the user experience of the enterprise application” instead of “project management of IT programs designed to improve the enterprise application.”
2. What are YOUR UX skills?
Do you do design, IA, project management, research? What are your interests and/or prior experiences?
Whatever your skills or your passions when it comes to UX, make sure your resume or CV properly covers not only what those skills are, i.e., what you can do, but how what you do made a difference.
Here’s a baseball example of a resume demonstrating a ‘traditional skill listing’ and an ‘optimized skill listing:’
Traditional: “Professional Baseball player. Play first base. Field balls, catch line drives and balls thrown from the infield and outfield. Tag runners out. Hit balls when at bat.”
Optimized: “Professional Baseball player. National League starting first baseman for three years in a row. Lowest percentage of stolen bases due to overthrown balls in team history. Second highest batting average on the team for three consecutive years.”
Which one captures your attention? They both call out the same skills, but the optimized description does so in a way that clearly demonstrates how those skills were used to make a difference.
Do the same with your UX skills and you’ll be well on your way to “catching” your next UX job (Get it? Catching? You know, like a play on words with that whole baseball example thing above, but now a metaphor for getting your next UX job. Oh never mind. Moving on).
3. You need a UX portfolio
You’ll need a UX portfolio that clearly demonstrates your skills. This is especially true for UX Design roles, less so for other roles like UX researchers.
Don’t have a portfolio? You can create one using projects you’ve worked on in the past that reflect your UX skills. If you’ve not been an official UX Designer and are looking to make an entry into the UX space, you can still use your projects and focus on how the UX aspects of what you did contributed toward the success of the final product. The secret is to focus on how what you did helped contribute to the “user experience” of what you worked on.
A very common question I hear is,
“What do I do if I have gaps in my portfolio?”
For example, a graphic designer may have PDFs of final versions of print pieces she created, but may be missing things like mockups, sitemaps, taskflow or other UX outputs.
My advice is to add to your portfolio by creating the missing elements as appropriate. Spend a few hours or so to create example wireframes or taskflow maps that highlight the thinking you used to create the final pieces.
Your portfolio should include items that provide an overview of your skills. How many items? You don’t need 50 different examples in your portfolio, three to five is better. Busy hiring managers won’t wade through your entire work-life experience of projects. They just need to get a sense of what you can do, and how you did it.
It’s also good to provide an overview across media, so as an example include a website, app and application that you were part of. That’s better than focusing on just websites only.
Remember that UX in this day and age is increasingly all about cross-device experiences and responsive design, so do your best to show how you can help achieve that by highlighting those elements in your portfolio.
4. Create a UX-focused resume or CV
Your resume or CV should heavily focus on the UX aspects of your work experiences. It should include a link to your portfolio. Don’t make very busy hiring managers hunt for your portfolio link in your cover letter (although that’s a great place for it too).
Make sure your resume properly uses typical terms associated with UX. If you’ve created sketches for designs, use the term “low fidelity mockups” or similar. If you’ve created surveys and focus groups as a marketing researcher indicate you’ve conducted UX research projects including surveys and focus groups.
A helpful way to check your new and improve UX resume or CV is to use your friends and family as a sounding board and second pair of eyes for grammar, spelling and all that really important stuff, because spelling and grammar still count!
When we get to the networking component (covered below) this will save you, and them, the embarrassment of bluntly asking them,
“Here’s my resume. Do you know anyone hiring a UX person I can talk to?”
It’s much better to share your updated UX resume with them and ask them,
“Here’s my resume, can you have a look at it and let me know of any improvements you think I can make?”
This does two things quite nicely;
- First, it provides an extra set of eyes on your resume or CV that can only help you to sharpen it and make it better. Consider their input, you don’t have to take it, but at least you have some ideas for making it better.
- Second, it helps them understand what you do so that if they do hear of something they’ll think of you.
Finally, and importantly, you should modify your resume to highlight the specific aspects in your experience that align with those bullets called out higher in the job description. You’ll do a better job of helping the hiring manager understand how you can be a benefit to them.
5. Train in UX and stay current
If you want a job in UX, you have to know UX. This means training and staying current in the latest best practices for UX across websites, mobile apps and applications.
A great way to show you are really serious about UX is to consider adding UX certifications to your list of accomplishments. Local community colleges, online courses and on-demand instructional courses can all help you to obtain certifications that adds an extra “this person is a UX pro” feel to your resume or CV.
And the extra knowledge will definitely help you when you do land that awesome UX job and are required to put your money where your mouth was!
If you want to get a degree in UX that’s fine. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to get a degree first before entering the UX job market. Many UX-ers out there learned by doing, and don’t have a specific degree in UX.
Stay current by reading blogs and books on UX. I’ve created a list of the top 20 UX blogs I think are worthy of your time, but feel free to add your own to the mix.
6. Network! Network! Network!
As that most famous UX guru Yoda once said:
“Do, or do not, there is no try.”
You’re going to have to do networking.
Other than that annoying girl you knew in school that seemed to know everybody and could talk really fast and non-stop about absolutely nothing seemingly forever and who now is in marketing and enjoys talking to strangers at parties and meetups, everybody dislikes networking.
As humans, most of us find it hard to walk up to complete strangers and start up a conversation. And we find it even harder to have that conversation in such a way as to hopefully help land us a job.
Go to networking events and meet-ups.
There are several benefits to the pain:
- First, you’ll get practice working on your elevator speech for that all important first question any hiring manager will ask you, which is, “So, tell me about yourself.” You better be able to succinctly talk about your UX experience/skills and how they help firms in about 2 or 3 sentences or you’re going to have an uphill battle.
- Second, you’ll start learning more about the UX field. You’ll learn who does what, how they do it, what terminology they use, how they think about UX. A UX networking event is a great way to obtain UX knowledge through osmosis.
- Third, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll be hanging out with fellow UX fans who at some point in their work-life may just need someone with your exact skill set. The more people you meet, the more chances you have of being remembered if and when that occasion occurs. And occur it does, more often than you may think.
Network, network, network!
7. Be patient, persistent and persevere!
How to get a UX job is very similar to how to get into Carnegie hall:
“Practice! Practice! Practice!”
Getting in UX will take patience, persistence and perseverance. But remember that good things take time.
Don’t give up, and keep on keeping on. Keep practicing your UX skills.
UX Experts with Advice on How to Get a UX Job
As an added bonus, here’s some true experts in the UX world that live, eat and breathe UX. They provide their thoughts on the best ways to go about getting a UX job.
As a co-founder of UserTesting way back in the dark days of 2007, Dave and his team have made a major impact for all usability practitioners across the world; a fast, low-cost and useful usability testing service that provides results in a day versus what used to take weeks.
“When you go to a company that has a job opening, be prepared to answer this question: “Do you have any UX suggestions for our site?” This is one of my favorite interview questions.”
Steven Cohn is the CEO and founder of Validately, a UX research service and tool that enables live remote moderated mobile or computer-based usability testing using a sleek, turn-key system that takes all the work out of recruiting, scheduling setting up, running and analyzing sessions.
“We work with a lot of UX Designers and, in my opinion, being well trained in user research and testing is becoming a critical requirement for a UX Designer. If you can become an expert in research and testing, then you are even more attractive. But if you are not at least very good at research and testing, I think you would have a very hard time getting a UX job at a quality technology/web company.”
Rich is the former President of UXPA International, a Senior User Researcher at Ultimate Software, and a co-owner of Ovo Studios.
“Don’t just talk about what you’ve done or produced or know, talk about your UX philosophy (so that the hiring manager/team will know you have one). Some examples from my philosophy:
I talk about how I feel usability fits in with other disciplines like QA and PM to form a triumvirate that I call the “Usefulness Characteristic”. The three prongs are usability, quality, and market fit. Each product or service needs all three of those or it will inevitably fail.
I talk about the importance of operationally defining the severity of usability issues, and the priority of design recommendations. This rigor establishes credibility with the stakeholders making decisions about the direction of the product or service, as opposed to the “throw results from the Ivory Tower” syndrome that has plagued UX researchers in the past.
Communication skills, aka “soft skills”, are perhaps the most underrated aspects of a good UXer. Whether you are a designer or a researcher, you simply must be able to communicate effectively, and context-shift for the various groups of people you’ll interact with day to day. Those who can’t tend not to be very effective. In general, you want to come off nice, respectful, and empathetic, while subliminally suggesting that you’re the smartest person in the room. If you can pull this off during an interview without offending anyone, you’ve done it right. Note: you need the “cred” to back it up, by the way.
When asked if you have any questions, be prepared to ask how the UXteam is structured (centralized, distributed, fully embedded, cost center, UX generalists vs. defined roles, etc.), what the PDLC is like at the company, what current efforts are underway to formalize/mature/document the UX processes, where does UX sit in the org structure, who are the champions for UX in the C-Suite. Basically, prove that you know what makes UX a success or failure organizationally.”
Dan is the co-founder of ApogeeHK, a top-notch design and UX firm in Asia. He’s a co-author of the book “Global UX” and was founder of UX Hong Kong. He’s a frequent speaker, lecturer and expert on usability, User Experience, Customer Experience and how they interrelate with businesses.
“My main tip would be to do homework on the companies that actually care about their customers. For example, start with companies that score as good places to work.
Be careful of companies that use all the buzz words in and around customer care, but do not follow through.
And as links to this, write questions for the job interview that dive into how customer understanding is included as part of product management.”
Ritvij is the co-founder and CEO of TryMyUI, a remote unmoderated usability testing service that enables recording of remote UX tests with actual users of your website or app.
“Firstly, figure out what kind of UX Job you want and find out EXACTLY what the job posting means when they say “Entry Level UXer.” This could mean so many things and entail entirely different responsibilities that you might or might not be prepared for, qualified to do, or want to do. For example, I have seen the role of a User Researcher, an Interaction Designer and a Front End Developer all described as “UX designer.” Getting hired into or interviewing for these misnomer roles will result in frustration and heartache for both the employer and employee. We had Darren Hood, a UX manager at Bosch give a very compelling webinar talk about this. He spoke about how specialization is emerging in UX but definitions for the specialized categories are not clear enough and are often interchanged carelessly. My first piece of advice is know what UX Job you want to do!
Secondly, I would say my tip for hiring a UX designer (a real UX designer) is someone who is able to articulate why they made the design decisions they did BEYOND, “it looks cool/sleek.” I have often times seen portfolios that are full of aesthetically stunning design which is a sure fire signal of the applicant’s comfort with the designer’s technical tool kit but without a lot of fore thought into usability, product purpose or use cases. You cannot simply get by, by being an artist. My eyes light up when a UX Designer talks conversion flows, calls to action and use cases with me because it shows that they are able to leverage their skill to solve a real business problem and provide value. I want you to design for a business, show me that you can!”
How to Get a UX Job Conclusion:
How you get your next UX job will depend on how well you can follow the advice and best practices provided above. The important thing is to focus on the end goal and continue to work toward it. If you put your mind to it, you can get your next fabulous job in UX. Good luck, stay positive and hang in there!
Photo via Good Free Photos