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How to Land Your First UX Job

It’s time to bust some job myths, y’all. Whether you’ve landed on this page as a new UX designer who feels like their s*** is mostly together or a designer who wonders whether they’re even qualified enough to call themselves one, my friend Oz, Founder of and UX Content Strategist at Credit Karma, and I are here to give you the scoop on what really matters as you start looking for a job. There’s a lot of noise out there about what is important as you dive into a job search -- your education, your experience, who you know -- and it can be hard to discern what really matters and what you should tune out. 

Myth #1: Networking is Awkward

Look, it’s 2019, who has business cards these days? I’m going to go ahead and be the first to admit that any business cards I have in my purse are just a cover for the pizza coupons and expired driver’s licenses hidden deeper in the pockets. It’s time to start expanding your idea of what networking is. It’s not just hand-shaking and stiff coffee dates. For one, it can start within your own community. For example, I got my first job following graduation from General Assembly from a classmate who had too much on her plate and thought I might be a good fit for one of the projects she’d taken on. 

In sales, there’s a phrase, “always be closing.” Oz and I made up a new phrase for UX designers, “always be curious.” I won’t tell you how long it took for us to come up with that catch phrase and we’re pretty proud, so don’t tell us its cheesy. Being curious about other people invites them to be curious about you. There is nothing more boring than chatting with someone who treats themself as the star of the conversation. 

Oz is a master networker because he consistently uses certain strategies to engage the other speaker…

Tricks to become a curious conversationalist:

  • Be present
  • Make good eye contact
  • Ask questions that probe into the other person and any problems they mention during the conversation
  • Offer suggestions when it feels appropriate

 Being genuinely curious in your interactions makes networking feel less transactional, and more like foundation building for real relationships. The more people that you connect with on a deeper level, the more opportunities that will surface to work with some cool collaborators.

For those of you reading this article from bed, already sweating at the thought of having to make consistent eye contact with near strangers, I got you. I haven’t forgotten about you. Fostering authentic connections with people is hard work but it doesn’t always have to be in person. Good networking can entail meaningful contributions to a LinkedIn or Facebook group. Don’t just be a lurker or a spammer who sends links unprompted and without explanation; encourage discussion. Start conversations and share resources. This type of networking is really powerful these days. Oz runs a facebook group called UX beginners, and this is a great place to start. There are more than 4,000 group members and it’s the perfect platform to ask questions and seek or offer tips. 

Tired of reading? You can also watch Oz and I debunk UX job search myths in my video here. If this networking debunk has been helpful to you and you think you’ll apply some of these strategies to your job hunt, let me know! Write “I’m feelin’ this!” in the comment section of this page or on my youtube video. 

Myth #2: Education Program = Job 

A lot of junior designers come out of a UX Bootcamp like General Assembly thinking they’ll land a job right away. While I totally support entering the job search feeling confident as hell, the harsh reality is that the industry is flooded with junior designers. You really have to set yourself apart from the competition. Don’t despair, though. Setting yourself apart doesn’t necessarily mean having that one rare design skill or killer project on the resume. It starts with your attitude. Start thinking less like a junior designer and more like an experienced one. Most junior designers think in terms of what they can get. But what can you give? Figuring out what you can give starts with determining what the business may want or need.

Questions for evaluating a business’ UX objectives:

  • What is the business looking for in terms of deliverables? In new hires?
  • What could be improved or what information is missing from the business’ online presence? If relevant information isn’t explicit in company or job descriptions or otherwise, approach the business as a customer/user exploring their website.
  • What skills or experience would be important for addressing stated or perceived needs?
  • How can you position yourself to contribute to the success of a company and its branding?

The designers that I see accelerate the quickest in their career are those with an entrepreneurial spirit. For example, I hired a designer that had only completed a part-time bootcamp because I was impressed with their go-getter attitude and their enthusiasm for problem solving.

Myth #3: Hard Skills = Job

Let’s talk about hard vs. soft skills. Being able to use programs such as Adobe XD, Invision, and Sketch is the norm for hard skills in the field of UX design. Soft skills include collaboration and strategy, to name a few. I don’t love the choice of words in distinguishing the two types of skills, because all too often people associate ‘soft’ with ‘weak’ or ‘less valuable.’ Let’s think about it this way for a moment--what kind of compliments would someone with an expertise in a design hardware get in comparison to someone with excellent leadership skills? Perhaps the former would be called knowledgable or efficient. But someone who has cultivated an ability to lead and manage effectively may be seen as dynamic, thoughtful and resourceful. Which person makes a lasting impression?

Less experienced designers who focus all their energies on hard skills are going to think more in terms of deliverables like prototypes, wireframes, and designs. These are important, but the quality of these products--their ability to make a lasting impression--depends a lot on the execution of soft skills like storytelling and clear communication. Designers who have an appreciation for soft skills are going to be able to weave their interests into the design process. 

For example, Oz is a bit of a nerd about crypto-currencies. When he got an opportunity to work on a project related to crypto-currencies, he was able to bring that passion into his interviews with traders and user testing in order to create a much more compelling story in the design process. If someone asked me to define what cryptocurrency is, I’d probably give a mostly incorrect definition (those gold coins you collect when you play Super Mario online?) But Oz’s enthusiasm endears me to both him and his subject, and you can have the same effect on a hiring or project manager.

Myth #4: Good Portfolio = Job

One of the things I want to come back to is being user-centric in your portfolio. Being user-centric in your portfolio means treating your portfolio as an actual product. 

Ways to apply UX design to your portfolio:

  • Identify which users you are targeting with your portfolio
  • Once identified, try testing your portfolio on similar users and getting feedback
  • Figure out how your product fits in the marketplace. Is your portfolio geared towards start-ups or enterprises? What audience are you appealing to?

Rather than speaking about your process through your portfolio solely from a designer’s perspective, put yourself in the mindset of a recruiter and hiring manager seeing it for the first time. A good sneaky trick is to look at other UX agencies and mimic how they lay out their case studies. Often, the information is succinct and results-oriented. Identifying what kind of information they include--and what they don’t--can help you see where you need to cut fluff or how to present an aspect of the design process in a captivating way. I personally love to see when someone has included a short video of themselves confronting and overcoming a challenge. Letting a hiring manager (literally) see you in this way is a great way to highlight your personality and transform an otherwise anonymous application into the representation of a real person.

You made it to the end! Give yourself a little pat on the back for taking a baby step in your job search efforts by reading this article. Let’s hit the highlights one more time. Here are our main takeaways:

  • Apply the UX process to your job search! Try to get in the mind of your end users. Start to do user testing with recruiters and hiring manager types.
  • Don’t focus on tools and deliverables to the detriment of soft skills---recognize the importance of storytelling, personal branding and leading with curiosity.
  • Be patient! Getting good as a UX designer comes with time and patience. Don’t let a negative inner dialogue hold you back. 

If you want to check out more resources for UX designers, head to and check out my youtube, Elize UX, where I talk about UX design in a fun and educational way. Please like and subscribe to my channel if you enjoyed this article and want to see more content just like this. 

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