How I Landed a UX Job in 8 Months Without Work Experience or a Degree
I was scared to quit my job in the property management field to pursue a career in UX design, but it has been one of the most satisfying decisions I’ve made in a long time. I’ve worked with multiple clients, been rejected by a ton of companies for lack of experience (even though I had plenty of drive), won two Startup Weekends, gone through many days of intense stress and depression to the point where I made myself sick, worked for Under Armour, and now at Capital One—a Fortune 500 company, ranked #17 out of 100 top companies to work for. This all happened in the span of about eight months.
Many people have asked me how I landed a job in UX with no degree and little to no work experience. While I love to help other people as much as possible, my time is a bit limited, so I wanted to write this for anyone that is looking to get into the UX Design field.
Let’s get started:
1. What’s your why?
For me I always knew my “WHY”. I originally started a career in property management because I wanted to help people find the right place to live. Having the ability to create a positive experience for current and potential residents is what I loved to do. Something that offset this was not being able to be creative. Before I left my job, I went on interviews for marketing, management, and sales positions, but never cared for any of those options.
While working my day job, I would look to see how I could find a different way to support my “why”. I’m an entrepreneur by heart. My first business was in the 5th grade cutting grass for my neighbors in Hawaii. So I looked for different online business such at drop shipping, online surveys, day trading, forex trading, and even some other BS pyramid schemes (I was getting desperate). If it feels like a pyramid scheme it’s probably a pyramid scheme!
When I broke down my choices, I asked myself, “Would I be happy doing this every day? What would the future of my career look like? Is there a good work/life balance?”
Honestly, I went with my gut decision with my career choice after I stumbling across “UX”. After work, I always worked on projects that made me happy. I ended up designing a gif keyboard app before the IOS could support it, found out that there was a company doing the exact same thing, contacted the CEO, asked for a job (didn’t even know what I was going to do), and he told me to sign up for a Startup Weekend.
During that weekend, I worked with a team to solve a problem and create a business from the ground up. We started with a good idea but I suggested we pivot because we could not validate the idea we were working on within the weekend. We then began working on an application that would tell you exactly where an item is in the grocery store. That weekend I fell in love with the process after many hours of practicing our pitch, creating a business plan, user testing, interviewing stakeholders and potential clients in our target market, creating surveys, iterating on our design and value adds.
When our team won 2nd place, it really felt as if we won 1st because we were behind in the beginning. It was at that exact moment, that I knew I had found my passion in problem solving, being creative, and analytical thinking. It all came naturally to me and I was hungry to learn more. This all happened to just fit with a role of a UX designer.
2. Build your portfolio.
This should be a given; it’s 2017 and you WILL need a portfolio of your work if you want to get in the door for any UX designer position. This portfolio should show your design process, sense of visual design, and show a clear understanding of UX principles.
You should only have your best case studies on this portfolio as well as other work that you do. Showcase your talents and projects that would best align with the company you want to work for. For example, Under Armour was very interested in the shoe customization feature I had designed and that got me into my first interview with them.
Now with the increase saturation of the market you want to also show some character and BE YOURSELF! I can’t stress that enough. This could be anything else and does not have to be about design. Tell your story.
Check out other amazing UX portfolios and notice how they layout their portfolio. I will eventually post a list of portfolios that I modeled mine after. After looking at a bunch you will start to see a pattern of good design
Now I’m a firm believer of using Squarespace when you first start because it’s easy to set up and you will focus more on your content and your story. If you’re looking for something fully customizable I would go for Webflow or Wordpress. Now if you don’t feel like getting a domain (which I highly recommend that you do) then you can post your work on Dribble or Behance to showcase your portfolio. The one drawback with this is that your work will be compared with crazy talented designers from all around the world. Don’t let that stop you. Shoot Your Shot!
How do I build a portfolio of work?
1) Find a UX boot camp
I choose to take the UXDI (User Interface Design Immersive) course at General Assembly. This program cost around $10k but I have heard that the price has gone up. They have a full-time course (M-F, 10–12 weeks) and a part-time course (night classes M-F, 4–5 weeks). If you are looking for a career change I would lean towards the 10-week course.
Now there are other boot camps out there but I can’t recommend them because I haven’t been through the program; but what I can say is that you get what you put into the course. During GA they told us not to freelance because it was going to be a lot of work but seeing that I like eating and needed money to survive I did it anyway.
Attention! Finishing the UX program does not guarantee you a job right after the course is finished. It was about five months and almost 20+ interviews later when I landed the position with Under Armour.
On a positive note, attending GA gave me a solid UX foundation, helped me network (I can’t stress enough on building your NETWORK), and helped me find mentors and a support group (my GA class was the best!) in the design community. Believe me, you want to find a good mentor.
2) Gain clients and freelance!
I quit my job and really didn’t save enough money but I took the risk anyway. During this time, I knew I needed to gain experience because that’s what companies are going to ask for. “But Kyle, how did you get clients!?” Put yourself out there and get connected in the startup community near you, redesign a crappy website or mobile app that you use, take the Daily UI challenge, post your process and work on social media (personally, I think IG works the best).
Now you need to remember that Freelancing is a JOB so you should treat it as such. You will need to be disciplined and organized. Apply your UX design principles and treat the client with respect. The best experience is working on a product that is out on web or in the app store because it shows that you can ship something into production. It’s also not the end of the world if doesn’t.
3. Find a mentor
A mentor is one of your best assets and depending on the person, he or she can help you grow exponentially. They will have an unbiased opinion on your work and can see your strengths and weaknesses. A mentor should be least two or more years ahead of you in work experience.
“Kyle how do I find mentors?!” Well, I would say your best bet would to be to check out local design meetups and just go meet people. I’m an introvert at heart that loves to eat and ask questions, so the free food at meetups were a plus. If you have trouble talking to people and starting conversations, just introduce yourself and ask questions about their jobs. People LOVE talking about themselves.
You can also find people on Twitter, LinkedIn, and through mutual friends. Ask to meet up for coffee, ask to visit their office, and always follow up a meeting with a thank you email. Believe me, it goes a long way.
Tip: Be genuine in your interest and respectful of people’s schedule. People can tell if someone is being desperate or if they’re being used for a connect.
4. Always BE learning.
Trends are always changing within the field of UX design. Read UX books and articles, be inspired by different designs blogs and applications because they are constantly being updated. Check out some of the resources below. Let me know if there are any that you would recommend as well!
Practical resources for anyone new to UX/UI design:
- The Design of Everyday Things — Donald Norman
- Don’t Make Me Think — Steve Krug
- Thinking, Fast and Slow — Daniel Kahneman
- Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience — Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden
- Designing Interfaces by Jenifer Tidwell.
- Sprint — Jake Knapp , John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz
5. Stay positive, proactive and persistent.
While you are working on your portfolio & resume, I stress that you network as much as possible so that when you are finished and have something to show, you can start applying to jobs. Every application is a bit different, but a majority will ask for both so make sure when you are applying you have the most up to date version of both ready. That means correct grammar and double check your spelling.
I was rejected MANY times so be prepared to embrace rejection. Remember, this is a learning experience and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and follow up with them. Believe it or not, I landed a freelance gig from a job I didn’t get. Don’t take rejection personally—sometimes you’re just not the right fit. I’ve become friends with some of the people that I’ve interviewed with and reach out for design advice!
Personally, I’m not too engaged with social media, but I would recommend staying engaged because you never know who you will run across. Follow other designers, CEOs of companies you’re interested in, ask for advice, give feedback, and most importantly be genuine; be yourself.
I want to thank everyone who has helped me get this far because making this transition would be close to impossible by myself.
Stay hungry, focused, and humble.
(I will continue to update this post as needed)
And hey, ONE Design is hiring!