15 Minute Read
A new day of user engagement is dawning – and more companies are slowly awakening to the value of catering to their consumers. User experience research and design are becoming increasingly in-demand skills, but you can't just expect an exciting UX career to land in your lap.
What does it take to break into this growing field without putting yourself through the emotional wringer? How can you stand out in UX interviews?
Notably founders Allison Marshall and Brittney Fuller sat down with special guests Joe Natoli and Nick Finck to explore these and other critical questions facing today's UX job seekers. Check out the video for the full deep dive, or keep reading for the highlights.
Allison kicks things off by noting that even though the market is flush with UX jobs, many come with seemingly insurmountable barriers to entry. Joe attributes some of this to fear-based hiring trends: Employers mistakenly think that by putting up lots of hoops for candidates to jump through, they're minimizing risk.
Nick agrees, stating that this phenomenon is nothing new: UX employment has been headed in this direction for a while as companies progressively realized the competitive advantages of having designers at the table and possibly experienced a bit of FOMO.
Events like the pandemic made the industry even more tumultuous, throwing some sectors into a tailspin while others, such as the companies that already had their finger on the pulse of remote-first work, thrived. Many companies in search of UX talent also seem to suffer from an inability to gauge their own organizational needs.
In a market like this, research is vital. Job-seekers that want to make the most of their time need to learn where prospective employers are headed. They should also be on the alert for red flags (like frequent layoffs) and get the inside scoop from people who work inside the company.
Don't approach your job hunt with tunnel vision, cautions Allison. Instead, look for signals that indicate where research and design might be thriving.
Candidates also need to cultivate an awareness of where they stand based on their career skills. For instance, if you're a senior-level UX designer looking for new opportunities, the growing demand might mean you can simply drop a few well-placed lines and wait. If you're just getting started, however, you'll need to finesse things.
Job hunting carries a huge emotional burden, especially for UX applicants who try for dozens of jobs. How do effective candidates bring their full selves to each interview without breaking under the strain?
According to Joe, the answer partially lies in preparing yourself for the reality: Job searches can be hurtful experiences that involve putting yourself out there and being judged. It also doesn't help that many applicants spend inordinate amounts of time and effort jumping hurdles only for recruiters to ghost them after they think they've succeeded.
Know that these kinds of unpleasant interactions don't reflect on your value as a candidate or an individual. Getting rejected once (or many times!) doesn't dictate your worth: After all, recruiters only look at resumes for thirty seconds on average, have tons of applicants to filter through, and often lack the experience to know what makes a good UX designer or researcher!
Nick says that taking bite-sized chunks can be a huge help: You're only human, and you can only do so much.
Instead of applying to dozens of jobs, concentrate your efforts on the few you're most passionate about because they fit who you are. Focus on putting your best foot forward with one employer at a time. Realize that your failures might have more to do with the hiring manager than with you or your skills.
Next, the panel tackles a challenge that many candidates run into: moving from other careers into UX.
Allison and Joe make the point that many of the problems people encounter while transitioning may simply come down to communication gaps. Joe commonly encounters candidates from other fields who share stories of how they improved products for users – They just happen to lack the right vocabulary to describe their professional achievements in UX terms.
If your talents don't seem to fit the description, reframing them is a worthwhile endeavor. Instead of focusing on the standard "laundry list"-style of resume bullet points, Joe says, candidates should start with the impact of their achievements – How they changed perceptions, introduced new methods, or drove specific outcomes.
Nick says that for many candidates with an understanding of UX principles, having the requisite talent to land a job isn't the problem. Instead, it's about explaining to somebody else how your past experiences have crafted your understanding of what doing the work entails.
Both Nick and Joe caution transitioners not to overlook small organizations that may be hiring. In addition to paying competitively, mid-market companies may be more open to nurturing people who haven't got a lot of formal UX experience – like those making lateral career moves.
Taking a position at a smaller company can be a great opportunity to do important work that changes the course of the organization's growth. These roles may be less glamorous, but many offer new UX team members more leeway than they'd enjoy at larger enterprises. As Allison points out, some of the biggest companies you work for may prove the least conducive to your professional growth.
Every company's hiring process is unique – particularly in the post-COVID world. Differences aside, most UX interviews incorporate three common steps:
This part is just getting your foot in the door. The recruiter will verify your identity and background fit – They're gatekeeping to filter out bad candidates.
You'll only get a short amount of time with the recruiter, so you have to make the most of it, says Joe. Again, the recruiter might not be particularly UX-savvy, so you need to make an impact by explaining your value in broader business terms. Build a strong case for yourself in every email, text, response, or interaction, and as everyone on the panel agrees, follow instructions!
Now the stakes are higher. Employers will look for signals indicating that you possess domain knowledge. They'll also be on the hunt for good examples of your craft and evidence that you'll be well aligned to the role.
This section typically features one-on-one interviews with the UX team or a hiring committee. Live or take-home tests are also common. It's your chance to tell a strong story about what you can add to the culture, why this job is ideal for you, and how you'll make a positive impact.
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It's painfully obvious whether someone's passionate about applying for a given job or merely trying to land every position they find. So how can you strike a better tone?
It's the little things that count, like sharing your availability calendar with hiring managers, avoiding formulaic cover letters, having an email signature that includes your contact information, and personalizing your self-presentation. As minor as these steps may seem, they help distinguish you from the vast majority of candidates.
Some other essential pointers include:
The panel wraps up by discussing how candidates can sell themselves, and Joe makes a good point: The requirements on a UX job post, like the software skills and other boxes to tick, aren't the main event.
Instead, companies that hire want to answer a fundamental question: What can a candidate help us do that we can't currently accomplish?
Joe says that selling yourself is about showing you're the person who can help employers close gaps, solve problems, or take advantage of opportunities. Although it may seem like companies invest in UX to help users, their real goal lies in the residual value they get from doing so – In other words, how are you going to help them achieve their business objectives by applying your UX skills and insights?
According to Allison, candidates that stand out show their capacity to become cross-functional partners – people who help teams pursue greater goals instead of just zoning out on their design prototypes. These applicants demonstrate their willingness to give and take to help move the business forward.
Nick points out that your portfolio presentation needs to be an actual presentation, not just a scenic guided tour of the portfolio website you've already shared. Make a presentation deck that shares a narrative and focuses on business-value-enhancing outcomes.
This doesn't mean neglecting your portfolio or case studies, just that you ought to be selective: You want to promote skills that correlate with what the employer does.
This panel was full of tidbits and pointers we weren't able to cover in this summary, including an insightful Q and A session. We encourage you to check out the full video – It might help you improve your odds of getting hired, even if you're not searching for a UX career.
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