UX Hiring Process investigation ongoing
I’ve been meeting, finding, and interviewing folks at various points in their UX careers. It’s been fascinating, and reminds me that I’m _much_ better at networking when I have a reason to talk to people.
I’ve not yet had a chance to analyze my interviews in depth thus far, but I have noticed some interesting trends.
Portfolios and online presence
- It’s difficult to know what to put in a UX portfolio, especially for researchers. Lots of folks talk about having a story for your reader to more easily understand and follow what you’ve done. I’m collecting information on what this could mean in practice.
- It’s really helpful to have an online presence that shows how you think about design, whether a blog, twitter, behance, dribble, or github. Some companies won’t consider someone without an online presence demonstrating their thought processes and personality. Put links to your online UX presence in your resume.
Finding your first job
- There’s not a lot of companies hiring folks who are new, and there seems to be a bit of a lull right now even among those who typically would be doing so. There’s a much better chance to get a job if you have at least 2–3 years of experience.
- Most internships require that one is currently or recently in school. It’s also difficult to find mentors or apprenticeships.
- Folks doing the hiring may or may not understand what UX is, what each UX role involves, or what the best things to look for are. Job descriptions may or may not involve throwing everything they might want in there, so it’s often worth applying even if you don’t know all of what they are asking for.
- Lots of companies are playing catchup — they feel like they should have gotten into UX 10 years ago, so think they need senior UXers to get things jumpstarted. Those senior UXers are typically under-resourced and rarely have time or space to take on juniors and help get them the experience they need. Unfortunately, without higher ups understanding and believing in UX, even hiring seniors often results in failure of the UX team.
- Very few folks I talked to have specific tools they prefer folks to know how to use, except in cases where getting permission to use specific tools is complicated. This is especially relevant given the sheer number of tools out there, whether for wireframing, prototyping, or creating high-fidelity visual designs.
- It’s hard to figure out what online resources and books are the most useful to read or follow.
- It’s important to keep toward learning more about UX — even for folks who have a UX job. The field is constantly evolving.
Getting experience and taking criticism
- It’s difficult to get experience before you have a job in UX. This may be worse for researchers, as visual designers have an easier time selling their skills (but ‘looking pretty’ may not actually translate to ‘useful’).
- Even if you’re not great at sketching by hand, it’s really important to be able to jot your down ideas on paper visually. This offers a way to communicate your thoughts, and is quick and easy enough that you’re less likely to be attached to the ideas you’ve come up with. In turn, the sketchiness and reduced attachment makes criticism easier to take.
- Work with other folks on your designs. Practice giving and taking criticism, because no one gets it right on the first try. Design is a process for a reason, and there’s a lot of different pieces to it.
This is a significant problem. Given that few places are hiring folks without a couple of years of experience, newbies and career changers need to find ways to get that experience.
For those who can afford it and have access, in-person UX programs like Bentley’s master’s in human factors program and Jarod Spool’s Center Centre are an excellent choice. These offer curated and guided information, connections, and practice at design. Unfortunately, these and other programs rely on proximity and available time and money, and are not inexpensive (although Center centre tries to mitigate that part).
There are also online courses which can be helpful, and bootcamps both on and offline, but these again cost money and may or may not offer built-in networking.
So how does one find work, even if unpaid? There’s a few options that I am aware of:
- If you can make Code for Boston’s weekly meetings, that’s a good option. They tend to have ideas for what to work on, and specifically mention both developers and designers.
- You can find other folks looking for UX work, and see if they want to team up with you on something. This is especially useful if you each have different skills: like a researcher and a visual designer, or a UX person and a developer. This does require being able to find those folks, and is one possible option for how my project can offer help. These designs are less likely to go live, but any projects are better than no projects.
- You might be able to find non-profits who need help, although this does require a) that the non-profit is able to understand the value of what you can offer them, b) you know the right people to talk to, and c) that they have someone able to implement the suggestions you make. Attending a Give Camp may help with those problems, but the New England page appears to not be functional (the website for it goes to a godaddy page). This may be another thing I can offer help with through UXPA.
- Outreachy might be another option. This is a program to help women and minorities get into open source software, and is not specifically focused on UX. However, I was able to do a UX research and interaction design project with the Fedora Project through outreachy, and it was fabulously helpful and interesting.
- You may be able to find an open source project to help out with, such as Red Hat’s Patternfly Design Library (also on github).
- Do you know any developers working on projects in their spare time? See if you can help them out.
- If you are currently in school, or just recently left, look for design internships. These are easier to get if you have some design experience, perhaps through your classwork.
Options 2 and 6 may be more difficult for designers just starting out, as they are much easier to do if one has some guidance for how to approach design problems.
Finding a mentor
Mentorship is really important, especially if you cannot afford to attend school and get guidance that way. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find a mentor, and precisely what a mentor can offer or do for you varies by the mentor.
Ideally, I think that mentors should offer:
- Guidance around how to start or continue your UX learning process.
- Suggestions for how to improve the things that you’ve identified as weaknesses in your skillset. Alternately, ways to identify those weaknesses.
- Portfolio and resume reviews.
Beyond this, it’d be lovely if mentors could offer networking help (eg: connections to open positions and folks who may eventually have open positions), and suggestions for projects to work on.
The XX UX community offers a mentorship matching program in some cities, although Boston is not yet one of them. This may be another opportunity for my project to help folks out, whether by working with XX UX (which would mean it’s only available to women), or by building on their example and making our own program.
Given how much information there is out there, a possible way to help folks out would be to offer resources that experienced UX folks agree would be useful to those who are starting out.
These resources could include basic guidance for portfolios for various design specialities, design interviews (including design exercises), and job applications, as well as structure within which to learn design processes.
Also relevant might be instruction on persuasion, on communicating and working within cross-functional teams, and on presentation skills (both creating a presentation and presenting it).
We might want to include specific information such as the use of short-cut keys within design programs (Ctrl d, alt Ctrl shift arrow keys for movement, etc), recommendations for tools to start out with and an introduction to their use, and suggestions for how to use those tools to more easily share and maintain one’s designs (since all good design involves many different folks in various different teams).
Finally, we could offer recommendations for good books for folks in various stages of learning.
One of the most important things for someone new to a field is to keep learning. Be visibly interested in and passionate about your field: it’ll communicate itself to those you are working with, and will help keep you informed and aware of what’s going on.
At the same time, don’t believe everything you read — some folks make things look more clear-cut and simple than actually happens. Reality is messy!
Don’t be afraid to try things out. No one in UX knows everything about it, and mistakes are how to learn.
Remember to mention others who had a role in any design you talk about: design isn’t typically an individual process (collaboration is important!), and hiring managers want to know that you understand and can talk about your role in the project.
If you’re interested in research, learn both qualitative and quantitative methods. Most of your work will probably be in qualitative spaces, but it’s useful to be able to measure success (are we accomplishing our goals?). It’s also helpful to understand basic data visualization techniques.
Remember to take pictures at all stages of your process! This will be hugely helpful when it comes time to make your portfolio.