Tips to Get Your First UX Job
You're Better at UX than the Job Market Is Telling You
This article was originally published in UX Collective
I don’t have the greatest mind for UX in the world and interviewing was a struggle for me.
So how did I get my first UX job?
I can’t claim to have the be-all-end-all method for finding a job, but I can show you how I did it.
Here are my job hunt stats:
•50–60 Applications Sent2-Month Search (from when I submitted my first application; the 3 previous months spent networking and preparing for the job hunt during a UX Bootcamp called DevMountain).
•12 Phone/Video Interviews
•7 In-Person Interviews
•0 Whiteboarding Challenges
•1 Resume Edit
•2 Small Portfolio Tweaks (We’ll talk about this later. Hint: You’re probably spending too much time on your portfolio).
•1 Monitored Usability Test
•2 Design Challenges
•2 Job Offers
After posting about the pros and cons of my job hunt on LinkedIn, I received over 400 comments and messages from UX Designers (both novice and expert), asking about my process or congratulating me on finding a job.
I was blown away that so many first-time UXers had experienced the same struggles that I had.
Though I believe luck was a huge part of why I was able to find a job, I also believe that there are a few things (8 to be exact) you can do to improve your chances.
8 Tips for Getting Your First Job in UX
Follow these steps if you want, but I played to my personal strengths (writing and content marketing), so find your strengths and throw them into the process somehow:
1. LinkedIn Connections — I connected with mainly local entrepreneurs on LinkedIn (also connect with local CEOs and UX Designers; UX folks won’t be so easily impressed by your designs, but they’re good connections to have for obvious reasons). I knew I’d have to do some freelancing jobs before getting an actual job; the main audience that would want free UX help are pre-funding entrepreneurs.
2. LinkedIn Posts — I created content that those entrepreneurs would like and posted it on LinkedIn at least weekly (Daily UI challenges are great to post). I changed my current job title to “UX Freelancer” so people would know I’m down to do some freelance work. Through consistent posting, I was able to get my first two UX Freelance projects, which I did for free. I was then able to add those freelance jobs to my resume and my LinkedIn. Keep posting on LinkedIn until opportunities come. All the while, you should be reaching out to your LinkedIn connections to set up calls, lunches, job shadowing opportunities to pick their brains about UX.
3. Making Friends — This is a personal opinion, but I’m not a fan of asking if people have openings outright. Networking is really just about making friends and you wouldn’t ask a favor of a future friend right when you meet them. Create a connection and then ask about job opportunities.
4. Interviewing — Be genuine. I hope I can say this without sounding conceited, but sincerity during interviews is one of my strengths (among a fair share of flaws) and I believe it works well.
I don’t believe employers are looking for someone who knows every answer. I may be wrong, but I think they’re mostly looking for someone they like. Trying to answer every question correctly will dig you into holes as you try to make up half-assed answers to difficult questions. I have flat out said, “I don’t know” or “I haven’t been able to experience that yet” in an interview.
You don’t need to know everything. Like Charles Poladian from Flatiron School shares:
“You don’t have to be an expert on everything: UX, UI, research, A/B testing, QA, or even implement your design in code. You don’t have to be a “unicorn.” The best part, really, is learning all of this as you progress in your design career. You might even decide to just be an expert on a specific aspect. Just try to have fun, focus on what’s important to you at the moment, and spend time on the things you love and enjoy.”
5. Patience — The tough part of this is that it requires a lot of patience. The general feeling you’ll probably get is you’ll feel bad at UX. Honestly, I felt like I sucked at UX, but I’m really not all that bad. I think most of us are pretty dang good for never having had a legit UX job (of course, we still have a ton to learn), but it’s hard to remember that. Be confident and patient, someone will notice eventually.
6. Networking Over Portfolios — The other thing people are doing wrong is fixating on their portfolios too much. Dillon Winspear (Senior UX Manager @ Domo and Podcast Host of Designed Today) gave some awesome advice.
He said he’s not worried about candidates who aren’t necessarily as skilled in UX (he can train them). What he’s worried about are whether candidates have the soft skills (not so easy to train).
He told a story about how he hired the perfect UX Designer on paper, but a few months into his internship, he had to be escorted out because he lacked the necessary soft skills. From then on Dillon has hired humble, dedicated, and hard-working candidates regardless of their initial talent.So focus on being humble, dedicated, and hard-working.
This is good news, but it changes your strategy a bit. This is why you shouldn’t focus on your portfolio too much.
Make it impressive and then move on to making connections with people (I have 2 case studies in my portfolio and that’s it.). Start a blog. Start a podcast. Do something that no one else is doing and jump at every opportunity to network.
The thing you absolutely must get better at is networking. Go to lunch with people. Befriend them, don’t just ask if they have any jobs opening up. Do some work for free. Prove that you’re not just a good UXer, you’re also a good person. You’re looking to impress in ways they won’t suspect.
7. Make Yourself ‘Worth the Risk’ — One thing we have to understand is that the company who ends up hiring us will always be taking a chance hiring us without the experience. It costs money to train a designer. It’s a financial risk and we need to understand that. So it’s hard to convince someone to take that kind of risk on us without showing them our personalities and our work ethic.
8. Be Unexpected — I interviewed at an app startup nearby called ZooWho (it’s pretty cool, check it out) and there was a misunderstanding during the post-interview communication. It was my fault, so I sent Sean Bair (CEO of ZooWho) cookies to share with his team by way of apology. It was kind of weird and cost me $12, but I’m hoping he will remember me. It might not be your thing, but it was at least a memorable move. Here was his response:
Extra Tip: Adopt a Memorable Tone — Another thing I would recommend might not work on its own, but might give you insight into my thought process.
Adopt a memorable tone. Create a custom header image. Get a professional headshot. Change your LinkedIn heading to something memorable and unique.
EVERYONE who’s looking for a job puts “Looking for Opportunities” or something similar. It’s informative, but it’s not memorable. I wrote “UX. IX. We all X.”
It works, I promise. This was the first message from an outstanding human being who offered to refer me for a job:
It didn’t work out, but I appreciated Tim’s willingness to reach out and help a total stranger.
Be memorable with your heading and be memorable with all the content you create.
This applies to cover letters, posts, messages, etc. For example, I wrote “I golfed almost every day for two months this past summer. I love golf.” in a cover letter for a golf company (I 100% did golf almost every day for 2 months. I’m still not any better. I think I got worse).
They sent me a design challenge.
These aren’t foolproof methods for finding your first job in UX — they’re simply what worked for me.
My goal with these methods was not to get a job, it was to get interviews. If your main goal is to get interviews, it’s only a matter of time before you find a company that vibes with your style.
Remember: networking will get you to the door, but a polished design process will get you through it.
Good luck and happy job hunting!
I’d like to invite anyone looking for their first job to my LinkedIn group UX. IX. We all X.