I’m Going to Enroll in a UX Bootcamp, but How Do I Get a Job in UX?

Brainstorming at General Assembly, an image I used on my proto-portfolio.

A bunch of people have emailed me after reading the write-ups I posted on General Assembly’s (GA) User Experience Design immersive (UXDi) course. If you bother to find my contact info, you are totally welcome to email me! It just might take me a week or two to reply.

Prospective students and others interested in UX often ask about how I got a job, what my job search techniques were, and generally how to hustle. I get a lot of variations on this question, so I thought I’d try to answer it publicly.

My advice will be targeted to GA alumni or students and graduates of similar programs, but I hope it will be useful to anyone trying to break into UX. I am based in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I won’t be able to recommend regional resources outside of this particular bubble.

While I was in UXDi, I had two major strategies: I spent about an hour after class every day working on my job search, and I tried to go to some kind of networking event at least once every two weeks. I’ll talk about the job search in detail here, and address meetups in a separate post.

My job search comprised 3 major parts: rewriting my resume and creating a cover letter template, keeping a blog on my design projects, and actually finding and applying for jobs. Putting together applications was the easiest part once I had the first two bits underway.

Resume and Cover Letter Template

My first harrowing career transition (academia to literally anything but academia) taught me how to set up a systematic job search that would yield results with just a little work every day. I relied heavily on Martin Yate’s Knock ‘em Dead and Knock ‘em Dead Cover Letters. I’m not getting paid by Yate, so I recommend that you pick up a copy of Knock ‘em Dead at your local library. It doesn’t have to be super up-to-date. Focus on the section on resumes (chapter 2 in my copy).

General Assembly assigned my cohort some pre-work that was very similar to Yate’s “target job deconstruction” exercise. We were asked to pull up 20 or so UX job listings and compare them. GA wanted to show us the wide variety of job types in UX to get us thinking about how we might want to specialize or market ourselves. Yate asks you analyze job postings in order to identify common requirements and jargon, then coaches you through rewriting your resume to strategically include these terms (you should do this to your LinkedIn profile as well. Also, you should have a LinkedIn profile). Yate’s cover letter book takes this a step further and outlines how to use your job posting analysis to create an easily customizable cover letter template. Your ultimate goal is for your application materials to appear prominently in HR screening software search results while still reading like an actual human being wrote them. Once you have a resume and cover letter template, you can fire off a thoughtful and customized job application in about 15 minutes.

I already knew how to do this, so in the second week of UXDi I started getting a preliminary resume and cover letter template ready. I was tremendously lucky in that I didn’t run into any major problems absorbing course material, so I had the time and energy to start thinking about jobs. I was not so lucky in that I was under pressure to have an income again within a few months of the course ending. I do not recommend starting your job search so aggressively so early. If possible, which I know it isn’t for many people and wasn’t for me, save up at least six months’ expenses before starting a bootcamp.

Resumes and cover letters are important to get you through the first layer of screening. This is usually software, a real human recruiter, or both. The first human to see your resume is probably not the hiring manager (unless you have an internal referral) and probably doesn’t know a lot about UX. They do have the job posting, and they might have some guidelines from the hiring manager. Your resume and cover letter are there to make you look more competent than the rest of the hundreds of other resumes and cover letters so that your application stands a chance of getting to a hiring manager.

Blog as Portfolio

Once your materials get to a human who knows something about UX, an online portfolio of your work is the most important part of your application. Your portfolio will determine whether the hiring manager contacts you for an interview. There’s tons of material out there on how to put together a good UX portfolio, but the long and short of it is that you will want to display your problem-solving abilities. I was content to wait until the portfolio development week of GA’s course to try to put something formal together.

I did want to document my progress and demonstrate my capacity for UX thinking, so I kept a blog detailing course projects and my process. I used my blog as a portfolio link in job applications until I made a real portfolio in the latter half of the course. I included as many images and work examples as possible. My posts focused on what I did, why I did it, and what I might do differently next time. I made sure I used consistent tags that both promoted my posts on Tumblr’s platform and linked related content (all posts related to one project, for example) for the viewer. I used the same URL for my blog and my portfolio (both initially built on Tumblr), so it was easy to transition my proto-portfolio into a real one without having to worry about applications having up-to-date information. I got the interview that led to my current job with this proto-portfolio.

Finding Job Postings

To find jobs to apply for, I used the terms I learned from Yate and the GA pre-work to set up email job alerts on Indeed, Glassdoor, and AngelList. I also regularly browsed LinkedIn. This might be bad advice! Lots of people know about these resources, so there is a lot of competition for the jobs that get posted there. More exclusive job placement services like Hired and Anthology are worth checking out, but I found they weren’t effective at my junior experience level. In any case, applying online should only be one prong of your job search strategy.

Setting all this up took me about a week of working on it here and there. The end result was that I had a resume & LinkedIn that were optimized for the kind of UX jobs I thought I wanted, an easily customizable cover letter, a rough portfolio demonstrating my nascent UX skills, and an endless feed of jobs delivered to my inbox. Every day I picked a couple postings that looked like stuff I could do, ignored the years of experience requirements, and fired off 5–10 applications a week. I didn’t follow up on most of them, but you should.

However!

I want to emphasize two final things:

  1. Don’t apply for jobs that you think you’re qualified for, apply for jobs that you want to do. There aren’t a lot of junior designer positions available for a variety of reasons, few of which make any sort of sense. Having been on the inside, I now know that the team looking for a new member may not have ever seen the job posting. It might contain all of kinds of unnecessary requirements. It might be 3 years out of date. Even if every requirement is really a requirement, the company probably doesn’t have the budget to hire the one person in Silicon Valley whose resume checks every box. Not even Google has that kind of money for every open position. You still have to respond to the posting as written to get through the first round of application reviews, but don’t let it intimidate you. Shout from the rooftops about the qualifications you have, note one or two areas where you’d like to grow, and ignore everything else.
  2. Tech hiring is an incredibly racist and sexist process. I use my initials in my professional materials online so that lazy sexists early in the recruiting process can’t tell I’m female. This advice isn’t useful if you can’t make yourself look like a white guy on paper. Please feel free to comment if you have more useful strategies or resources!