According to The CXLead, there are over 1 billion websites in the world, and 4 million mobile apps. Companies are starting to realize the value of having an intuitive and user-friendly presence online, opening the door for many aspiring designers. The demand is high, so why is it so hard to break into this industry?
Well, with demand comes competition and you can expect every entry-level job posting for a UX designer to have about two hundred applicants. So, how do you stand out from the crowd?
In this post, I’m going to explain how I managed to get my foot in the door, and I want to hold it wide open for anyone to follow.
Before I get into my experience, I want to highlight the benefits of pursuing a career in UX design, excluding the salary. While UX is one of the most lucrative industries out there, you’re not going to find too much success in anything if you’re only in it for the money. (That’s a quick life hack for you.)
The first reason is personal growth.
Reasons to Get into UX Design
It is essential to have a growth mindset as a junior UX designer. Every day, you are faced with new challenges, new problems to solve, and new skills to develop. Your way of thinking changes as you’re learning about your users, putting yourself in their shoes, and stepping outside of your own perspective.
In UX design, the first thing you will learn is that nothing is about you (sorry to burst your bubble). Everything is about your users’ needs and the business’ needs. You’ll be surprised by how much you grow in your first year as this sort of intermediary between the two.
So, what sort of skills will you develop as a UX designer? Yes, we all know about concepting, and prototyping, and testing—that’s all great. But what about the things that can really change and shape who you become for the rest of your life?
You Learn Lifelong Lessons
Empathy is a word you’ll hear a lot in the UX space, but what does it mean? Merriam-Webster defines empathy as the active sharing in the emotional experience of another. Keyword here is active. It’s more than feeling sympathy for your users, it’s putting on their face and thinking their thoughts and experiencing their frustrations when they don’t have the seamless experience they expected.
At every point in the process, we have to keep the user in mind. Understanding people from an emotional standpoint is an incredible skill that will boost you throughout your life and your career. Really, there are dozens of skills working in UX gives you, namely how to take up space in a room full of powerful people, accountability, bridging gaps in communication, and the list goes on.
You Get Clear Results
The last reason I’ll get into today is important for those who need proof of their impact.
UX design is amazing in the fact that your efforts can be tracked, measured, and analyzed. Once you put your designs in the world, you can see if they met certain goals or fell short, then, instead of it being one and done, you reiterate and produce again. It’s a cycle of creating, testing, and releasing. For anyone, especially people with creative hearts, it can be very fulfilling.
Alright. I’ve rambled about how great UX design is, now I’ll get into my own journey of how I broke into UX design, starting with the most important factor—your mindset, including the importance of self-initiative, discipline, and perseverance.
Have the Right Mindset
We all know that job-hunting can be one of the most demoralizing, stressful experiences, so it is crucial to set realistic expectations. There will be times when you’re super excited about a company, so you apply, and hear crickets. There will be times when you make through the first and second interviews, only for them to go with another applicant.
UX design is highly, highly competitive and there are many factors out of your control. What you can control is your reaction to rejection.
Not getting the design job you hoped for doesn’t mean you’re a failure. What it means is that you now have a problem to solve. It’s time to think like a UX designer and figure out why you’re not getting the results you need.
This involves stepping back, out of your emotions, and seeing it from the recruiter’s eyes. Is it your resume? Your portfolio? Would you hire yourself? (Seriously.) Don’t take rejection personally. There are too many opportunities and amazing companies out there to get hung up over one rejection.
Pro-tip: if you’re not even getting interviews, you need to review your deliverables—aka, your resume, cover letter, and portfolio.
Job hunting is the perfect time to rethink your work-life balance. Please do not give up your entire life to sit at your computer and mass apply to every design job you find. Enjoy your hobbies, go out with your friends. Live!
Create a Plan
When you’re teaching yourself a new skill, try not to just throw yourself into it without a plan. This is a new journey, a new chapter in your life, and it’s going to take some time to transition from your old job. Develop a routine and achieve a little each day, preferably at the same time in the same setting. It helps your brain retain more information! If you have other obligations, prioritize them accordingly and make space for your goals.
This may be controversial, but please do not buy a million UX design courses. Exhaust your free resources first. YouTube is an amazing place to learn so many different skills, so before you waste thousands of dollars in a training program that promises you placement in six months or less, figure out what you need to learn and do your own research.
This is where self-initiative comes in. Research what UX designers do, the skills they need, how they got into their field, and absorb, absorb, absorb. Most people stumbled their way into UX design from another job, not a bootcamp course.
If you do find a course you like, reach out to alumni, vet their process, get testimonials outside of the course’s website. Use good judgment before you invest so much time, money, and energy.
Once you feel like you’re in a good spot, it’s time for interviews!
Interviews: Similar Experience Trumps No Experience
The great thing about UX design as a field is that it honors transferable skills. Many designers transitioned from another industry, ranging from graphic design to real estate. I came from the insurance world and knew what it was like to be part of an intricate working process and how my work influenced other aspects of production.
I also had interests in various subjects that pertain to UX, like psychology, human behavior, and marketing. For transparency, I also had a graphic design degree, and knew the fundamentals of design. Don’t let that discourage you though!
Do you want more controversial-ish advice? Forget bootcamps—learn the basics of design and what drives certain decisions. You can do this by engaging with design newsletters such as Nielsen Norman Group.
You’ll know when it’s time to interview and remember that it’s okay to be nervous. Interviews can be high stress and low reward depending on several factors inside and outside of your control.
With that being said, here are some tips that really helped me understand what recruiters were looking for.
Have Your Portfolio on Standby
Be prepared to explain your portfolio at any point in the interview process. You don’t want to be caught off guard, so make sure you invest time and energy into building a portfolio that you’re proud of. It should be shareable and speak of your skills without you needing to be present.
This isn’t sponsored, but I recommend Pitch! They have wonderfully designed presentations that you can easily edit to fit your personal brand. A lot of entry-level designers focus on having a website portfolio, but powerpoint presentations (in PDF format) can be insanely helpful for recruiters to quickly browse through your case studies.
Now, if you’re having trouble getting past a certain part of the interview process, keep this in mind: consider the culture. You could be the perfect candidate on paper, but the recruiter knows whether or not you would fit in with the team. That’s why it’s important to consider the company’s values and make sure you’re in alignment because the truth will show in your responses.
Find a Mentor (Even if They Don’t Know Who You Are)
These days, it can be hard to find a mentor. Mentorship is an ongoing relationship that requires both parties to invest a considerable amount of time for your growth and not many designers have that sort of time.
Fortunately, there’s something called mentorship by proxy, meaning you, as an aspiring designer, seek out an experienced designer on social media (preferably YouTube) and learn from them. There are hundreds of UX designers with a vast range of skills, from people who recently landed a job in UX design to senior designers who simply want to cut through the noise and give actionable advice.
I found a senior designer who was determined to open the door and get more people into entry-level positions. Fortunately, he was active on YouTube and very honest about what people were doing wrong with their resumes and portfolios.
But I didn’t stop there.
I reviewed many, many designers of varying skill levels and tweaked my approach little by little as time passed. Once I was confident, I would apply, assess responses, and tweak more. I handled it like a UX designer would and turned the job hunting process into one big UX experiment.
Three months later, it paid off!
Keep Going Especially When it Gets Hard
Have confidence in your abilities, gain experience through unconventional means, UX the job hunting process and think of the recruiter as the user you’re trying to solve problems for. Measure your results. Pivot when needed and develop a healthy detachment to rejection because it will happen.
That’s it! That is how I broke into UX design in three months. This industry has changed the way I see the world, and I’ve learned so much just from one year of working in this field.
So, keep your head up and good luck in your journey!