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How to land your first job as a UX designer

With my fair share of interviewing potential candidates at MOBGEN, I came to realise that there will always be a challenge to prove yourself worthy to be hired as a recent graduate. Frequently, companies might recognise that a candidate is fresh out of university and prepare a specialised track for them, often in the form of a traineeship and so on. However, when that’s not the case, how do you compete in the fierce world of recruitment when you are against other, more experienced candidates and all you have is your academic portfolio? 

Being empathetic experts, as recruiting designers, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the candidate and recognise that it *is* difficult to present yourself as a valuable hire when you have little-to-no experience. Nevertheless, the candidate cannot rely on empathy alone to score their dream job. Here are some tips on how to land your first job as a UX designer (UX architect, UX engineer, UX specialist or a UX-whatever-that-vacancy-title-is that you are looking for).  

Disclaimer: This article skips the generic job interview tips such as ‘ask questions’, ‘be able to answer questions about your strengths and weaknesses or the time that you failed’, etc…and will specifically address UX related job requirements.  

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Create and maintain (positive) online presence. Let’s face it, the first thing that a hiring designer will do is look you up on Google. Make sure to have a positive online presence and that your work is SEO-friendly. If you’re amongst the visual bunch of designers, this could be in the form of online portfolios. Platforms such as Behance or Dribbble provide a great place to do this. Or, if you see yourself as more on the ’thinking’ side of UX, then ensure you are writing articles on relevant topics – show your thinking, express your opinions and rationale on important subjects. This will help to convince the recruiter that you are active in the UX field. Don’t have fancy HTML skills to create your own website? Take advantage of available tools that make it easy to create a portfolio without having to code. 

Dear Applicant #42, very interesting approach presenting your portfolio in Notion … 

Have the basics covered. Read more. Be aware of classic UX staples or design books in general. Be sure you know the basics of well-used programs, for example: Sketch (hyperlink), which became an industry standard. Know what the best or worst apps are, in terms of user-friendliness and good UX. 

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Strategise your portfolio. If you have graduated from a practice-oriented or professional degree, you might be lucky enough to have worked with company clients. However, at many schools, the student is graded based on their work and decisions related to theory that they learned in class, rather than how projects or ideas will succeed in the market. They often lack those ‘real-world’ challenges that working with established companies bring: if you design a product, how will this be developed? How will it be scaled? Or marketed and sold? If your idea is estimated to take too many days to implement, how are you going to simplify it? How do you convince an executive who only has 5 minutes for you, that he needs to invest €5 million in your idea? This is mostly what the industry is interested in: designing feasible and viable products. Therefore, I would recommend tailoring your portfolio to what the company cares for. Less on theoretical background, more on how your product will survive on the outside.  

Love your work and be proud of it. When presenting your portfolio, it shouldn’t be merely a collection of projects in some semi-specific order. They should tell a story. Your story. Like Jeff Bezos once said, use narrative to describe you and your journey to becoming a UX designer. Showing growth, not only along your journey but also within and throughout each of your projects demonstrates your ability to learn and grow within in your future role.  

Do I even need a portfolio as a UXer? I used to argue this topic with a fellow UX colleague of mine on a regular basis. Her opinion is that, if you can talk your way through (really being able to tell a story and demonstrate your skills through strong examples), you can easily convince the interviewers that you are the candidate for the job, without visual representation of your work. In some ways I agree with this statement, as UX-ers we are commonly more of the brainy-type of human and may not even have beautiful visualisations of our work ourselves. However, in my opinion, portfolios are a very good way to showcase your thought process and illustrate that you have the skills that are necessary for the job. If you do not have projects to demonstrate the skills required from the job requirements, create one. Do a mock case study. Set yourself a design brief and try to analyse an existing product from a UX point of view. Create wireframes of a new or an improved product just like this one.

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Process, process, process. As a UXer, not only do you need to illustrate your process, but you must also be able to explain it in a clear and concise way. Communication is key and it is highly important for the interviewer to know that you would be able to design *anything* by using your methodology. 

Dear Applicant #57, you did not need to present your whole thesis once again as if we were your examination committee... 

When explaining your thesis (because after all, it could be your biggest project to-date, so don’t be afraid to talk about it!) you should highlight the process that you took and the reason why you took this route. You need to be able to explain why you chose this method to work with. Why did you or did you not iterate after this round? How did you validate your concept? What led you to make those decisions concerning which features to prioritise? A good portfolio is one that clearly covers all these questions and more. It’s not useful to have tons of examples with no explanation, or even if you only have a few projects — it really is the thought that counts.  

Ok, got it. But what do I use to show my process? If you are applying for UX position, show deliverables as wireframes, user flows, information architecture, low or hi-fi prototypes, your usability testing process, amongst other things. During interviews, while applicants generally showcase the end-result of their project, I tend to ask them to show their work-in-progress stages through wireframes to understand their way of working. Be prepared for this.  

What should I do with confidential stuff? We understand that in many cases, projects are covered by a large and muscular NDA from company-collaboration work you have done in the past. My advice would be to see how (and if!) you can go around the NDA. One option is to white label the contents, hiding all company-related information such as logos, description, etc. If you can do this, it allows you to show your process and deliverables without breaking any rules. Another option is to re-do the assignment (similar to mock study above) by changing the company to a fictional one, this way you are still telling a true-to-life story about your process which will come across just as valuably in your interview.  

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Ending notes  

Of course, we all start somewhere when it comes to building our career. While many may believe that your first job defines your career, it is important to realise that you will always grow in different directions in the future. Do not put too much pressure on yourself. Regardless of what your first job may be, you are almost certainly building skills, learning from the experience and creating options for the long-term. It’s always better to start with *a* job and learn over time what you like (and what you don’t!), this simply makes for well-informed decisions later.  

Remember, as a recent graduate, you really do have an advantage over experienced designers. You’re much more likely to be are aware of the latest approaches and methodologies through what you were taught at school. Moreover, you have a ‘fresh brain’ and unlimited curiosity when it comes to new knowledge. You are open to exploring and discovering newer and improved techniques, as opposed to ‘doing it because we’ve always been doing it like that’. These are all reasons that you can, and will, land a brilliant UX job.  

If luck is not on your side this time, and you do not get invited for that interview you so badly wanted, perhaps it’s time to realise that it is not about you - it is likely about ‘the chemistry’. My concluding advice would be, always remember to never lose your passion. Passion goes a long way. A friend of mine once stepped in an elevator at an office building, found herself commenting on poor usability of the buttonsand to her surpriseended up getting a job offer from a co-passenger in that same elevatorwho happened to be looking for a UX expert. Stay (pro)active. Stay positive. And the future will look bright upon you.

Happy job-finding! 

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This article is written by Eleonora Ibragimova and is part of series on getting hired as UX designer. Read here about what I wish I learnt at university (https://uxplanet.org/9-ux-design-lessons-i-wish-id-learnt-at-school-66a86eff828d) to become a designer and keep an eye open for other parts of the series, such as how to nail that interview and what to do after