Photo by Julius Drost on Unsplash

How to DRAMATICALLY increase your chances of landing your next UX job; even if you have no prior experience

Samuel Harper
Growing Into UX
Published in
30 min readSep 14, 2020


Before we get into the meat of this article, I want to emphasize that you are NOT guaranteed a job at any company, no matter how badly you want to work there. I don’t know your specific skillset, relevant experience, or anything else that distinguishes you as a candidate.

With that said, nearly every time I have approached an interview with this approach, it turns out quite positively for me, and it has had a dramatically positive effect on the outcome of my interviews; even when I was brand-new in this field.

P.S. During this article, I will refer to the project you will do that will help you stand out, ie the core subject of this article, as the “value-add” project. Which, in a nutshell, is some sort of initiative project that will show your prospective employer that you really know and understand the product they are working on, the company, how you would fit in as an employee, etc. It is obviously the topic of this article, so when you see that term, you will know what I am talking about.

Back in August of 2017, I applied to a prominent, globally-based software agency in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At the time, I had graduated from Careerfoundry’s user experience bootcamp several months prior. Aside from leading a team project for the Xprize Big Ocean Button challenge and doing a couple of unpaid internships with two different startups, I did not have any official paid experience in this field.

Having been a former bootcamp graduate, I knew that having no experience was a severe hurdle to getting hired. And without a solid network to rely on at the time, I took the typical “shotgun-based” approach where I applied for literally any position that even somewhat matched my skillset (not exactly recommended to rely on just this method alone if you can avoid it, but we all do it at some point). I applied to countless positions all over my home state of Colorado (where I lived at the time), as well as positions all over the country.

When I applied to the position in Massachusetts, I had no idea if anyone would get back to me or not. And to my surprise, after having faced a few hundred auto rejection emails and being ghosted by countless recruiters and hiring managers, a recruiter got back to me and scheduled an initial screening interview!

I spoke with him for fifteen minutes, and despite his hesitation about my lack of experience at the time, he liked my enthusiasm and passed me on to the next interview.

But I knew that having a lack of experience at the time was going to be a detriment to myself, so I knew I had to stand out somehow. So I looked over the job description with a (figurative) microscope and made sure I understood every single word of what was being asked.

One of the requirements was to have a working understanding of HTML and CSS. And while my frontend coding knowledge was fairly basic, I decided to add in an unexpected “freebie” to the interview that would show off one of my relevant skillsets for the job.

So I found a tutorial for how to make a customizable baseball card using basic frontend development. And I wanted to use this opportunity to simultaneously show what I can do, and also show that I did my prior research on the company.

From what I found on the company’s website and Youtube videos, the CEO frequently appeared and would discuss what they were doing in the industry. So I made a baseball card themed after him, using the company’s colors, logo, messaging, and a bit about the company itself.

Yes, I made one of these, based on the company and the CEO, in HTML and CSS, and I presented it during the interview. And it paid off! Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Finally, the day of the interview came, and I had a video interview with two of the lead product designers. I utilized the traditional interview tactics I already had; know as much about the company as possible beforehand, ask questions based on what you found out about them, make sure you are showing your relevant skills, and so on.

My impression of how the interview was going up to that point indicated that while I was doing an okay job for my skill set at the time, my lack of skills was showing. The interviewers looked a little bored, and I knew that I might not get the job if I didn’t pull out the ace up my sleeve.

So before the interview concluded, I told them that I had something I worked on that I wanted to give them. Both the interviewers looked perplexed, but let me proceed. That is when I talked about the requirements listed on the job posting for frontend skills, and I whipped out the HTML custom flippable baseball card I spent a few hours making. I then talked about the research I did on the company and its founder, how I made the card, and how that applies to the requirements they were asking for.

Immediately, the two interviewers perked up and got excited. They began asking me all sorts of questions about how I assembled it, what I know about the company and it’s founder, and so on.

And I can’t guarantee that I would have proceeded during the interview, had I not done that. But I did, and it led me to the next stage of the interview (a design challenge), followed by an all-expenses-paid trip to Boston, where I conducted an eight hour, onsite interview. To this day, I believe that I would not have had that opportunity, had I not taken that initiative with my “value-add project”, to begin with.

November 2017: the view from my hotel room of downtown Boston, from my hotel in Cambridge. I am not sure I would have been here, had it of not been for that “value-add” project.

While I did not land the position at that particular company, I have used the same technique in a variety of other interviews. And the vast majority of the time, I have had great success.

As part of my application for a different UX position at Home Depot’s headquarters in Atlanta, I went into a Home Depot, and I observed how the checkout process was set up, the UX challenges customers faced, and how I would redesign it, including rough and more finalized mockups.

I observed the app, the issues I experienced with it for helping me find in-store items while I thought about how I would test and implement key metrics. I spoke with the guys in the paint department, and I introduced myself as someone “who is applying for a job that will improve the software layout that will, in turn, make their jobs easier”. I asked if I could get a decent understanding of how their system is set up and the issues they ran into (they were more than happy to tell me).

I then put it together with my observations, UX approach, and how I would fit in as a Home Depot UX designer in a Powerpoint presentation and sent it along with my application. That got me at least an interview, even with zero experience at the time.

Even though I was not hired for that job, the interviewer told me “The initiative you took was AMAZING; no one ever does this!”.

I observed the user experience, both for customers and employees in a store near where I lived at the time. Photo credit: Kiosk Industry

And during my last couple of recent interviews (a few years later, of course, having worked in two different agency settings and built my credibility in this field), I interviewed with two different companies at the same time, who asked me to put together a presentation that highlights one of my projects that I am most proud of.

Now, of course, I put together a presentation as asked. But I didn’t stop there; I thoroughly researched the service each company offered, inside and out. I read reviews online. I spoke with people who already use the software and asked for them to walk me through the product itself, and any issues they have run into. I also applied the “Jobs to be Done” framework to how I would be able to research and discover new audience insights. I talked about how I would handle things if, and when they go sideways. I went into great detail about how I uncover valuable audience insights using a well-tested method to identify customer needs (ie, the “Jobs to be Done” framework). I emphasized my ability to test and re-test to get the insights we need. And I showed examples of wireframes I created to highlight my accuracy and attention to design detail that related to that particular company.

And because both companies asked for virtually the same presentation, I was able to talk about the same framework and ways I approach problems but tailor each presentation with its specific product needs and outcomes to that company and its product.

After both interviews, both companies were practically salivating to bring me on to their team. One of them gave me extremely high marks during the interview and stated that scoring as high as I did on that interview is so rare, it’s practically unheard of. The other one extended an official offer to me within hours of completing the required final interview assessment, which I later accepted (needless to say, the former company was quite dismayed and told me they would gladly hire me right away if I ever reconsidered).

Enter your secret weapon; the “value-add” project.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

This is the secret weapon I ALWAYS employ, for a particular company I want to get hired at. It involves doing work that was not initially asked of me (or going far above and beyond for what was asked of me) and showing what I am able to do, for that specific company.

They can come in a variety of forms, shapes and sizes, and so on. As long as you are highlighting that you know the company, it’s needs, and how you will bridge those gaps, it will be of tremendous assistance to you.

And the method of delivery does not matter as much as the end result.

  • For example, if the role requires a bit of frontend coding, you can come up with a custom web page in HTML/CSS that SHOWS what you can do, and also addresses the specific company and it’s needs while highlighting how you would approach solving some of the company’s current issues. For example, I think an interactive resume that brags about you and shows your skills, tailored to how it fits into THAT particular company would be really cool!
  • If the role requires a bit of a research focus, come up with a case study that emphasizes how you approach research, how that applies to the company’s specific niche, and how you are the solution to the issue they are trying to solve.
  • If the company requires a decent amount of visual skills for this role, put together something that highlights how you solve UX problems, and how the visual elements you create will help solve that particular company’s problems.

Obviously you won’t have the company’s specific needs down perfect from an outsider’s perspective. But even educated guesses highlight that you are thinking like an employee, even before they bring you on.

I do want to emphasize, however, that you probably don’t want to spend more than a day or two making this “value-add” project, or roughly 3-9 hours. While you DO want to show what you are capable of doing, you don’t want to spend a month building something just to get rejected later (in case it does not work out).

And before you say it, I think I know what you are going to ask:

Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

“But Sam, I have been told that I should not work for free, even during interviews (such as for design challenges). Are you suggesting that I do free work anyway”?

And I get it; your time is valuable. You don’t want to spend countless hours of your day working on a design project for someone else, that involves benefitting their business, without being paid for your time. I myself have worked on at least one time-intensive design challenge for a company that I also had to sign an NDA for, just for me to get ghosted by them right after I submitted my work. It sucks, and it’s really unprofessional of them to do that.

I completely agree that in a perfect world, you should not do work for free… when the interviewer asks you to do it.

But the magic of this approach is that you are delivering work on YOUR terms, not on theirs. When you go above and beyond and deliver a “value-add” project that you were not previously asked to do, it shows initiative, not that you did what was simply expected of you.

Almost no one does anything even remotely related to this. It makes you uniquely stand out. This is not a several-day design challenge that the company asked you to do, and it has a much greater impact on their decision to hire you if take initiative before you are asked to.

During my experience in sales, I learned that people are much more receptive to purchase from you (or at least, hear you out) if you first, give them something for free, hence where this idea came from. Remember how you got on someone’s email list after you downloaded their free guide? Or how grocery store vendors will provide food samples to passing customers in hopes of selling more of that product?

Knowing the company you are applying to and connecting your skills to their need in a very clear and tangible way by providing a “sample” of what they will get if they invest in you (ie, going above and beyond from what you were asked to do), will do WONDERS for you during the interview process.

Trust me, it works.

Before you commit to doing this

I want to emphasize first and foremost, that you should not spam any and every company you apply to with this approach, as it can be quite time-consuming. I also recommend making sure that you REALLY WANT to work at this company in particular, and/or that you have made it far in the interview process before you commit to it. That means knowing the product they create (especially if you have been a consumer of it yourself), seeing that this is a direction you want to grow in, etc.

For example, if the company you applied to sells insurance, and you are far more interested in some other companies and/or not interested in anything in the insurance business or with this company, I would not commit to making a custom project for them, since it will feel dull, forced, and out of place. You will not be excited about the job or joining the team, and it will show.

It also helps to take this approach after you have received an interview (or two). While you are free to do a custom “value-add” project for any company at any time (it might help you land an interview, after all), you must also be willing to strategically balance your time, and do it once you have already captured your attention.

I will say that there is a HUGE advantage when you do this at the right stage, at the right time. And there is a reason why I labeled the Y-axis as “Safe” vs “Risky”, as opposed to “Best” vs “Worst”, as when you feel the best time for you to do it falls in your court to determine, not mine. All I can do is make suggestions, based on what has worked best for me.

You wouldn’t want to fire a shotgun from 10 meters away and expect to effectively hit a target, after all. You (ideally) need to get close to that “sweet spot” where it will be most effective.

Showing this “value-add” project when it will get seen by the boss and your prospective teammates is the best time to pull that ace up your sleeve, as opposed to say, an initial recruiter call.

To give context to this chart:

APPLIED: This is where you submit your application. This is in my opinion, the riskiest stage to do a “value-add” project, as there is a high chance you may not even get seen (it could get thrown out by a recruiter or an ATS bot). However, if you have plenty of time on your hands, you REALLY want to work for this specific company, and you are having a difficult time getting callbacks, you could try this. As I stated, it’s risky since the chances of your application not being seen are there and it can be quite a time-consuming process, so you may wind up doing all of that work just for it to not pay off. But if a person sees it, a well-defined teaser project could help you become visible. I have done a project at this stage when I applied to work at The Home Depot, and it worked for me. So aside from a few hours lost, you don’t have anything to lose either way!

SCREENING INTERVIEW: This would be an initial call with the recruiter. Again, this is a “get to know you” call that usually lasts between 15–30 minutes. If you show you can do the work (or are very enthusiastic and willing to grow at a rapid pace), you probably don’t want to hit them quite yet with a “value add” project, and it is a bit needless at this point anyway, in my opinion.

TEAM/1–1 INTERVIEW(S): This is, in my opinion, the best time to show off (ie, PRESENT, don’t passively email it to them and hope they read it) the biggest, meatiest “value-add” project you can create (assuming you only make one, then it should be at this stage). I especially like doing this during group interviews, where you have multiple people in the room (ie, your future potential boss and coworkers). If you can convince a few of them (including the boss), you can usually convince the whole group, and it is often far more powerful than showing a single person.

However, if you don’t have that luxury for whatever reason, make sure you PRESENT IT (remember, don’t just email it to them and forget about it) to the person with the most impact in the hiring process.

FINAL INTERVIEW: I think of this as the “recap” interview, where you have already shown your value to the team, and they are giving one more review of you before they pull the trigger. While you could present your “value-add” project here, I believe this is a little too late past the ideal point, and this stage should be more about Q&A of the company, team dynamics, reviewing how your group interview went, etc.

Obviously, coming up with this “value-add” project will be the most impactful if you show it during your team interview, when not only your potential supervisor is there, but also the team you are working with (most companies have at least one team interview, in my experience). If not though, you are at your safest when you show it during your 1–1 interview with the boss.

As stated though, I HAVE done this during the “Applied” phase. The risk is that your application stands a decent chance of getting thrown out even after you did all of that hard work (especially if you have not used strategic keywords on your resume to get picked up by the ATS bots). But the advantage is that it makes you stand out significantly more during your initial application review. It is how I got on Home Depot’s radar (when I went into one of their stores and reviewed the user experience of their checkout screens, app usability, and internal tools in the paint department), and it worked.

Furthermore, depending on how much time you are willing to devote to this, if there is a company you REALLY want to work for, you could try a smaller project for the initial application phase to help yourself stand out, and a much bigger one if you get to the team interview stage.

Next, we need to talk about laying the groundwork, before you create that “value-add” project.

Before you apply or create your project, know what YOU want and what you bring to the table

Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

Regardless of where you are in your career, you want to have a strong sense of what it is you want in your next role. This should include a wide variety of experiences you would like to further explore, such as working with agencies vs in-house roles, startups, growth opportunities, roles and responsibilities, type of platform (such as AR & VR, websites, software, voice-based interactions, etc). You don’t have to have it nailed down, but have an idea of what sounds interesting to you.

Some criteria you can use to evaluate what you want from your next role include:

  • Does it provide ample opportunity to grow and mentor (or be mentored)?
  • Is it in a niche that you are interested in?
  • Do you want to be on a more fast-paced, smaller team (like a startup), or have the security and structure of a larger company?
  • Are there any particular companies that do work you are excited about? And are there any causes (such as environmental, social, political, socioeconomic, etc) that you deeply care about, that certain companies or non-profits are working to solve?
  • Does this job diversify your skillset in a direction you would like to grow in?

Trust me, this fine-tuned level of self-awareness will REALLY help you identify which jobs you want to apply to, and devote a lot of your energy towards. Which in turn, sets the stage for the “value-add” project(s) you will create.

You need to stand out as much as possible, both online and in your interview

Think of this as “setting the stage” before you even walk into the room.

This may sound like cliche advice, but trust me when I say that not everyone does it nearly to the extent that they should be, or even at all. It’s the reason why I regularly contribute to LinkedIn. It’s the reason why I started a UX podcast. It’s the reason why I write on Medium and add a link to my LinkedIn page at the end of each article as an invitation for people to connect so that I can grow my network passively without all of the forced handshakes and awkward bar side conversations.

And most of all, it is the reason why I create very hyper-specific projects for a specific job that I really want, which shows my understanding of the company’s needs and growth areas, and how I fill those gaps.

Photo credit:

Does this stuff work? Absolutely. I have had companies practically engage in a tug-of-war contest to bring me on their team. I have also been offered a senior-level position based on what I demonstrated I know and can accomplish, with just mid-level experience on my resume (at the time of writing this article).

Now of course, I am not saying this to brag or gloat. But I want to show you what is possible, with a carefully crafted approach that WILL grab a hiring manager’s attention (which most people don’t do).

“What is common sense isn’t common practice.” — Stephen Covey

The problem is that so many people approach the job hunt the EXACT same way. They carefully craft a cover letter talking about how they are the perfect candidate. They apply to numerous jobs advertised, sometimes without even reading the description. And then they get disheartened after spending so much time crafting a cover letter, just to get an auto-response rejection letter a week later stating “Thank you for applying, (insert generic attempt at flattery here), but we went in another direction”.

Believe me, I have been that person, over and over and over, not just in user experience positions, but in positions for my past wildlife and zoology-based positions, in my former career.

Call me bitter, but it never worked out for me. So I do another approach, which has been 100 times more effective for me, anyway, and I treat my online presence like my cover letter.

Photo by Slidebean on Unsplash

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”. — (not) Albert Einstein

Fun fact; did you know that Einstein never said that quote? Well, now you know. Now, back to the article.

People often think their resume, cover letter, and portfolio hold equal weight. But that’s simply not what I have experienced in this field, and it has been validated with the numerous hiring managers I have spoken to who admit they hardly, if ever even read cover letters (for example, reference Luis Beruman Castro’s article on hiring new UX designers; check out the second paragraph).

Some people may disagree with me, but I strongly believe that crafting a “perfect” cover letter is incredibly trite, and quite overrated career advice that inconveniences the job applicant for something that will very likely not be looked at, and in my opinion, is a complete waste of time. While it may make more sense for a standard position where a resume alone can get someone hired (such as an accountant), you have to remember that we work in a creative(ish) field. Recruiters and hiring managers only have a few seconds to look at your application, and the first thing they generally look at is your portfolio. They want to see that you can show a logical process from taking a product to either where it is now (or from conceptual stages) to the end result.

In other words, they want to see proof of your SKILLS. Not a generic sheet of paper that talks about how much you want this job.

I myself have NEVER written a single cover letter for any of the UX positions I have been hired for. And frankly, I don’t need to. I have been able to sufficiently show my thought process, mixed with my visual design elements and the results my work has achieved.

I let my work, and my online presence speak for itself.

This is how I look at the broad spectrum of what I can do as a UX designer; valuable job skills cannot always be shown in a portfolio!

You may also notice that instead of using the word “portfolio” in the graphic, I use the term “What I can do”. I use this much broader term for a reason; I want to show in as many avenues as possible what I am capable of (that cannot always be shown in a portfolio). This comes in a variety of forms, such as project case studies on Medium, LinkedIn posts, live websites I have worked on, etc.

It also shows my soft skills. For example, podcast interviews where topics are discussed, and I am either interviewing subject matter experts or being interviewed about my expertise. Being featured as a hackathon winner (or some other variation) makes the outcome and impact I was able to achieve public domain, and clearly visible on my “Google resume”. Giving a talk at a conference (or a TedX stage, one of my many career-related dreams!) highlights what I know, to both a live audience, in addition to my online audience.

In many cases, the top two columns of my upside-down pyramid (I.e, “My Online Presence” and “What I Can Do”, which you can reference above) actually compliment each other, and even intersect in many ways. So if you can show your UX abilities in your online presence where it will be seen by thousands upon thousands of people (and maybe even millions), even better!

And for ventures I have seriously thought about, such as starting a hackathon, or a conference in my area, or writing a book, or building a startup, the results and outcomes from what people will see online will ideally, more than speak for themselves.

In summary, your job is to make sure you are the worst-kept secret out there.

Do that, and you won’t even need a cover letter (in my opinion). The content, results, and people you interact with, will speak on your behalf.

Treat your “value-add” project as an actual UX project

Being a user experience designer should not just turn on at 9am and off at 5pm on weekdays like clockwork. If you label yourself as a “User Experience Designer” in any professional capacity, you are one, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. There should never be a waking moment where you are not in problem-solving mode. And that is where you need to apply a UX method to your “value-add” project.

A normal UX method looks something like this:

Obviously this is a VERY simplified version of a UX process, and there are MUCH more nuances involved (ie, much more testing throughout, before, and after launch). But for the sake of this article, let’s go with this quite simplified version.

You want to make sure your approach to the UX job hunt is similar to how you would solve user experience problems. So a modified version that I would suggest would look something like this:


Photo by --> on Unsplash

This is the initial phase where you are collecting information about a company, ie the “getting to know you” phase. This can go from discovering the job up to the initial recruiter screening call.

Once you have secured an interview, it is time to get to work on knowing the company. Ideally, you should be able to know as much about the company as possible, even before you speak with the recruiter. Dig around on the company’s website. Look at their LinkedIn and other social media pages. Be able to have a conversation with the recruiter about what the company does, even before you hop on the call.

While you are speaking with the recruiter (and other interviewers later on down the road), come prepared with plenty of questions. Figure out how long the company has been running for. How they have pivoted and evolved over the years. What competitors they have, and how they have gained the upper hand in the market over the years. What problems they still face, and how they are growing into that role.

If this is an in-house position, look up reviews on the company’s product, so you can see what is working for their service, and what is not. And assuming you are able to, I also encourage you to dive into the company’s product. Access a free version, play around with it, and put yourself in the shoes of their audience.

Here is what you should consider in this step:

  • Identify what market the company serves
  • What problems are they solving?
  • How long has the company been around for?
  • How big is the UX team, and how much of an emphasis does this company place on good, solid user experience?
  • What potential issues are they currently trying to solve?
  • What is the job description asking of you (seriously, print this out, and understand it quite well)!
  • Talk to people who work in the UX department from that company via LinkedIn and ask them to tell you about a day working there, if you can get a hold of someone.
  • Does this job align with my skills, interests, and expertise? Remember, don’t try to fit a round peg into a square hole if the job description and/or company does not match you, your skills, and your interests.


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

This is where you would identify how you fit into that specific job, based on your findings. Based on the information you collected, is this still a company you want to work for? And if so, how do you fit into that role? What specific design principles do you use that would be of benefit to this company, that also matches up with what they need, and how they plan to grow into a particular market with your help (assuming you can get this information)?

Be sure to get creative here, as this is how you are drawing your specific skills to the role both for yourself, and for the company.

For example, one of the methods I strongly believe in is the “Jobs to be Done” framework (which is also heavily utilized in quite a bit of tech companies). For certain jobs that I have wanted that aligned closely with my skills, I have created a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted how my research-first approach will help impact the company’s bottom line, implement a well-known method for uncovering customer needs, and how I would use that to really develop a fine-tuned approach that effectively builds the company’s product and positively impacts their bottom line.

Although a PowerPoint presentation can be easy to put together, stylized nicely, and tailored to that individual company, you can do other approaches that show off how your skills apply to that specific role. For example:

  • A custom web page that shows the specific skills they are asking for, such as UI elements, frontend programming, how your skills solve the specific challenge the company is facing, etc. You can even make something quickly, such as a Wix or Squarespace page if frontend development is not a strong skill of yours.
  • A Medium article (or two, or three) highlighting a case study regarding how you would solve some of the potential issues the company is facing.
  • Create a case study in your portfolio (or in a private Powerpoint) that addresses how you would solve this specific company’s needs, and how you have solved projects with similar outcomes that you can show measurable results for. Then, research key people who can get you hired, and target them with Google AdWords so they will see your case study.
  • Do a mock research project with the audience they are targeting. You can do things like setting up an Optimal Sort account (you can get a free demo account) to test how effectively people understand the information architecture of your potential employer's site and how you would improve it, as well as informational interviews and any sort of insights that sample how you would perform on the job. There are lots of cheap (or free) ways of gathering initial insights!
  • For companies you know you would like to work for long-term, you can create portfolio work that aligns with the job roles the company posts, as long as you are making them real and tangible, and testing them with users. For example, if you want to work for a game company, learn Unity and start making some games, while working in UX elements. If you want to work with Amazon on their Alexa team, create a ton of voice interaction projects over the months (or years). One of my dreams is to work for ESRI, so it would make sense to make a lot of tangible UX related to maps and cartography. Worst case scenario, the company still isn’t interested, and you can apply it to some other role that utilizes similar technology (they probably weren’t good enough for you anyway, at that point).

Anyone who gets an interviewer’s attention by utilizing their specific professional skills probably deserves the job. The more creative they can be, the better.

As a note, I want to distinguish that sites like Dribble have lots of redesign concepts from companies like Spotify, Slack, Apple, etc. While there is nothing wrong with this, realize that if you are applying to a UX role, you don’t want to show off a ton of UI and visual skills, and then try to pass it off as UX. I am personally not a fan of relying on Dribble, but then again I am not a visual designer, either. If you are strictly a UI designer, however, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for you!

I encourage you to get creative. I am personally a fan of going the unconventional route when looking for work, and I personally love it when people use their skills as the very means to find a job. For example, when people in SEO use their skills to get seen on Google for a job, or when advertising creatives launch ad campaigns to land a specific job. Or when copywriters sign up for a MailChimp account and create an email marketing campaign that highlights their skills (and gets their potential boss on it), or when bloggers write a blog post for a client of the company that generates traffic for them.

And if you can somehow go viral, it is even better.

While unconventional methods CAN backfire and must be done carefully, I do believe that they also have a tremendous potential to get you seen and recognized. For example, you don’t want to accidentally reveal sensitive information about a company, or annoy the person who you were trying to get hired by when your intention was just to get yourself seen by them.

As for creative ways people have applied for jobs, you could try these for inspiration:

10 Brilliantly Creative Ways People Have Gotten Jobs

28 Most Creative and Unique Ways to Find a Job

5 Crazy Ways People Got the Attention of Hiring Managers

The Most Ridiculous Ways People Apply for a Job In Today’s Economy

25 Most Creative Ways People Landed a Dream Job

While I will state that the methods in these articles may be a bit out there (you may not want to buy a billboard or wear your resume for example), it does show creativity, and I do see that out-of-the-box thinking as being beneficial, especially for creative careers, especially if you are applying to work at a “creative factory” like an advertising agency, for example.


Photo by Halacious on Unsplash

This is what I would define as the “execution” of your idea. Of course, the term “design” should be taken loosely, as you may not really be doing any design at all, such as if you are a UX researcher. But it is where you are building the tangible project from your plan, and showing how you fit into the company’s vision and abilities.

My recommendation is to not spend too much time during this stage. While this is the meat of the “value-add project”, you also don’t want to sink a ridiculous amount of time, just for them to pass on you. Don’t spend more than a day or two on it, max.

But you have nothing to lose, and it will certainly help you get seen. Just remember to follow the KISS rule (keep it simple, stupid). Short, sweet, and to the point is what you always want to aim for.


Photo by Headway on Unsplash

This is the stage where you get to present your work, which I would equate to the “launch phase” in a real UX project, such as pushing a software update or bringing a site live. Here, basic interview tactics apply. Don’t talk too much, give the interviewer plenty of time to ask questions, highlight how this actually benefits the company, and don’t be nervous. If you went the extra mile to show how you can benefit the company and really tied in how you would fit in as an employee, you should do well here.

Just remember to not talk too much, and allow the interviewers plenty of time to ask you further questions. Think of it more like a back and forth tennis match, not a word vomit contest like some people do when they are nervous (gross)!


Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

The last phase of this involves a bit of self-reflection on how well it worked. How well were you able to connect your ability to provide value to the company itself, based on your skill set? How well did you articulate the value you bring to the outcome of your role?

If you are doing a remote interview, you could tell the interviewer that you like to record your interviews to see how effectively you present yourself and that this is for you to get better during interviews. If they agree, go ahead and record the call. After it is finished, look it over and observe your body language, and how they responded to you.

If not, you can also write down their responses on a word document, in a notebook, or even commit it to memory (if you are that confident).

Here are things you want to evaluate:

  • How well did you present your concept? Was it evident, based on verbal (and nonverbal) feedback from your interviewers that you connected your proposition to the company and team’s needs?
  • What were the reactions of the interviewers? Were they impressed? Engaged? Confused? Bored? Pay attention to both verbal feedback and nonverbal feedback, since these are your users.
  • Was it obvious to the interviewer that you effectively understand the company and what they do?
  • What further questions did they ask you? This can help you identify what you may have not been as clear on, and what you can do a better job of covering in future interviews.

If you found what works, keep doing that for future interviews. If you found some areas you can improve, note that and practice in the mirror, with a friend, or with a career coach. There is no right or wrong way to approach this, but you always want to take feedback and keep iterating, like a UX designer would.

And before we conclude, always remember this:

Do not go far out of your way to do this if the job does not match your skills or interests very well

I will admit that this strategy can definitely be a double-edged sword. On one hand, you want to show the company that you are more than capable of doing the job they are asking, and when done right this can benefit you tremendously. But you don’t want to invest too much time into showing how capable you are of doing the job if it does not align with your skills and/or does not interest you that much, to begin with.

I have been turned down for plenty of roles I have applied to, and I will continue to throughout my career (it happens). Positions that ask for skills that I have not fully fleshed out yet, such as UI or dev skills, for example, have passed on me, and that is fine.

And similarly, I have not done projects like this for companies that I only felt lukewarm about, such as ones that do not have a strong, well-defined UX team, or little to no emphasis on user experience in the first place. Or for companies that are in a field that I do not care to work in.

Attempting to force yourself into a role that was not meant to be is like trying to force two equally-charged magnets together, or trying to mix water and oil together. You don’t want to spend a good chunk of your time trying to show these companies what you can bring to the table if you and/or they were not that interested in the first place.

Once again, I did this earlier in my career, for a company I could not have possibly cared less about. The interviewers sounded like they were not even slightly passionate about this company whatsoever, but I still needed the experience, so I committed several hours towards a “value-add” project, just for it to get dropped down a black hole. Despite all of that hard work, I never heard back from them again (and that was a good thing for me, in the end).

So focus on the companies you are super stoked about, and it will work out for you in some way, shape, or form.

In Conclusion

While this can definitely help for getting you seen, it does not work all the time, and the downside is that this method can be time-consuming. I have done a “value-add” project with another company where I put in hours of time, just to never hear back from them and get ghosted. I am by no means, guaranteeing your success. But what I can guarantee is that it will dramatically help you stand out, especially the more you do it. And it can help you at the very end when it comes time to negotiate your salary and such.

Furthermore, I encourage anyone who would like to connect with me on LinkedIn to do so here; I always welcome new connections!



Samuel Harper
Growing Into UX

Professional UX designer and UX career coach; I help brand-new UX designers land their first jobs, excel in their first jobs, and network like a badass!