How to Find UX Writing Experience When You Don’t Have UX Writing Experience
The bane of entry level UX Writing
Breaking into any new field is daunting. It takes moxie to decide that you are going to rebrand yourself as something new and revisit the familiar catch-22 of finding your first experience with no experience. Not only do you need experience, you need to document it in a portfolio to land that first job.
I must stop here and include a disclaimer: I am in the process of finding my first UX Writing position. My current roadblock is the lack of enterprise experience, which I can’t find on my own but rather depend on convincing a company to take a chance by bringing on someone who is untested. While this process can be frustrating and full of rejection, there are things that I (and you) can do to make our employment more certain.
This article is what I’ve learned so far on this crazy, amazing job hunt. I’m sure I have many other lessons left before I land that first full-time job or long term contract, but below are some of my ever evolving tips on building experience…and thus a portfolio…from nothing.
My first lesson is that tech education is cheap…and often free. A resume without education on it is inexcusable. Now — before you bemoan the cost of a four-year degree and your dismal high school GPA — hear me out. User Experience is a field with an abundance of jobs and few qualified people to fill them. Senior UX professionals are creating educational opportunities out of desperation. They NEED well trained entry level writers, designers, and researchers. Free and cheap education is everywhere. My favorites are in the following list.
· UX Writer’s Collective offers a UX Writer’s Fundamentals course that ends in a certification. At nearly $900, this is the most expensive option on this list but taking this course delivered both a portfolio project and a certificate that shows I know my craft and it costs about the same as a three-credit college course at a state university.
· General Assembly classes are a different beast. These classes can be more rough and ready. Often using skype or offered in General Assembly spaces in tech hubs like Seattle and San Francisco, these classes are taught by people currently at work in the field you hope to enter. Some classes come with a price tag, but many are free and will help you develop a feel for different tech industries and get familiar with the language in your perspective field. I took an entry level UX Design seminar and loved learning more about the skills of potential team members.
· Google Analytics Academy has a free certification course. Developing skills that dovetail with User Experience can be almost as useful as a certification in your field. Analytics will help you track the success of your future projects as well as inform potential employers that you are aware that you are part of a process that must yield measurable results.
· Get involved with a user group. I was delighted by the wealth of information and support found at the Portland UX Writing Group I attended. I presented my portfolio to several people which helped me practice explaining my portfolio work to potential employers. I’m much more comfortable in interviews because of this group.
The second thing to understand is that you can always find work experience. When you can’t get real world experience, make your own. A portfolio is only as good as the projects within. The fun thing about making your own projects is that you get to control the environment that they’re formed in. Every move displays your own personal style and thought process. You can use programs like Whimsical or InVision to form your own wireframes and user flows for cheap or free. Illustrate your ideas with images from UnSplash and icons from the Noun Project to show that you understand the importance of the merging of design and words in digital applications. Below are a few ways to create portfolio content where none existed before!
· Improve things that already exist. Spend a few days hyper-aware of all the mistakes you see on the internet, in advertisements, and even on signs around time. Document them, improve them, and then explain why your version is better. This is a quick way to show that you can find points of user friction and offer quality solutions. Make sure you’re respectful of the original copy, however. You never know if the creator is checking out your portfolio.
· Join a free UX Writer’s challenge like this one from Daily UX Writing created by Ryan Farrell, one of the contributors to the UX Writer’s Collective and Content Strategist at GoodRx (while writing this, I noticed Ryan has a Google Analytics certification- follow the leader…I know I will).
· Create an idea that fills a need and document your process. Start with ideas on sticky notes, on a white board, or in a notebook and start creating something. Put some quality time and thought into your project and see how far you can take it. Designers want to see that you can be part of a project from the very beginning. Start with ideation and develop user flows, personas and sample copy. You can even conduct simple user tests and apply the results to your faux application or website. Be honest that this is a sample project — but treat it like it’s real. You’re welcome to view one of my portfolio sample projects.
My third lesson is that you should find someone who needs you. I am generally against giving away your services for cheap or free. After all, the point is to get paid for your expertise! There are some instances when I can justify bending the rules and working for less.
· Many small non-profit organizations would love someone to come in and create a user flow, do user testing, or help with friction points on their website and they often can’t afford a professional. These groups can give you your first collaborative samples as well as words of recommendation for your first UX employer.
· Freelance work can be valuable. Keep in mind, freelance work can still be quite competitive. That said, if you persevere you can often earn your first few paychecks through sites like UpWork and create portfolio pieces that are in use. Just don’t forget to password protect anything that isn’t public.
· Find an internship. Often internships in large companies can produce both portfolio pieces and work experience. Of equal value is the connections you can make with other people in your field.
Finally, find the UX in your current experience. What did you do before this? Did you work at a coffee shop? How did user experience work in that space? Did you work in an office? How did different applications affect your job performance? I was a teacher and combined images with words on slides for my students. As my teaching changed, how and why I incorporated these images changed. I started to use the slides as a way to make my class more accessible for students with learning disabilities. That’s a great example of user experience in action and should be communicated to perspective employers. What brought you to UX Writing and how can you express that as experience?