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How to get a UX/UI design job in Canada. Step 1 — Portfolios.

Karina Daukaeva
Jul 9, 2019 · 10 min read

There are over 3000 design jobs in Canada with Toronto and Vancouver listing almost 1000 and 500 jobs, respectively. Every 3 months there is an influx of freshly graduating UX and UI designers from tech schools like RED Academy and Brainstation. So, what does a girl (or boy) need to do to get a job around here?

I get asked this question a lot. So I wanted to put together a guide that would be accessible to all, not just my students and mentees. This guide is a compilation of all of my wisdom and experience of the last 13 years as somebody who’s been hiring, placing students in companies, as well as a friend to a lot of amazing people who kindly shared their own experiences.

This step-by-step guide consists of 3 parts:

  1. Prepare to apply for jobs. This is about your personal brand, your portfolio, your resume and LinkedIn. It’s about getting all your ducks in a row so you are armed to your teeth with everything you need to make sure your application stands out from the crowd.
  2. Apply for jobs. Shotgunning for every job out there is rarely successful, so this step is about picking 10–15 jobs you really want (and qualify for), and then going after them like the laser focused killer ninja that you are.
  3. Ace the interview. For some people this is the biggest hurtle when it comes to landing a job. Here I will talk about the typical process you should expect, white-boarding exercises, how to create a top-notch presentation, and give example of questions that you will be asked.

So, read on. Follow the steps. Put in the work detailed below and you will get a job.

Step 1 — preparing your portfolio.

  1. A personal brand. This brand will be consistent and prominent across all 3 channels (resume, portfolio, LinkedIn)
  2. A value proposition. This is your “why”. The core of your existence as a designer. The summary of what you can bring to a new company.
  3. Unique, personal website. To stand out, you need to be remembered. You need to create a memorable impression, so when the hiring manager is looking at your resume, they can see a human behind this application. So, add those quirky details about your background or the past, what you do when you are not at work, or the peculiar jobs you’ve had in the past.
  4. High quality content. Although I’m mentioning this last, this is, by far, the most important part of your application.

Let’s take a closer look at each of those.

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1. Your personal brand

  1. Start with why. What gets you out of bed in the morning? If money wasn’t a factor in your life, what would you do be doing? What are you most passionate about? What recent experiences made you feel excited about the future? If I were to talk to 5 of your closest friends, how would they describe you?
  2. You as a designer. Why did you decide to become a designer? What excites you most about design and its future? What area of design do you excel at? If money wasn’t a factor, what kind of projects would you be working on?
  3. Your top 5 values. There is a really useful tool that I like to use called “Mountains and Valleys” (you can download PDF here) that helps you identify your core values by looking at your past most significant milestones and values that were present (or absent) during those events. I’ve used it A LOT with my clients and students. There is also another, similar framework that’s called “Peaks and Valleys” by Matt Hryhorsky that can be used for identifying personal and professional opportunities — super useful!
  4. Survey your friends & colleagues. Why should you be doing all the work? Get your friends/colleagues/social media involved! What colours do they associate you with? What 3 words that come to mind when they think of you? What top 4 qualities do they value the most in you? What images come to mind when they think of you?

All these above will help you figure out what values and core objective of your brand is; that, in turn, will lead to colours, typography, certain mood and tone of voice.

Let’s take a look at some examples.

Professional, serious designer.

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Simple, high contrast, big typography, nothing extra. David Perozzi
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Minimalistic picture, big bold typography, a traditional, serious red tone (if he used, let’s say Airbnb red, the overall feel would have been more playful) Aaron Porter
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Nothing says “I mean business” like black and white. Again, it’s minimalistic, not a lot of extra details, straight to the point. Content is the focus here. David Pacheco
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Another example where content is the number one focus, without much else. Simon Pan
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Great choice of fonts, space, and little colour highlights — all these create more visual depth. Simon Scalzo

Quirky, fun designer.

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Lydia Amaruch
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The combination of bright colours and fun, uneven circle create that playful, fun feel. Jeff Bae
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The font that Piotr uses feels like it’s straight out of Microsoft Paint, and there is something incredibly different and fun about it. Piotr Samborski
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Great use of shapes and colours here. Francois Risoud
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This is a good example of how a particular shade can really change the entire mood of the page. Wokine here uses a brighter, pinkyish shade of red. Imagine how different it would be if it was a Ferrari red, for example? Wokine
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2. Your value proposition

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My value proposition that I can use across all of my channels.

A good value proposition is:

  • straight to the point, doesn’t sounds like marketing fluff
  • highlights something unique about you (like the example below from Sagar Salvi or Griflan Design)
  • is written well, doesn’t feel bland (like the example below from Grappus)
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Good examples of value propositions

What not to do:

  • Be generic. Something along the lines of “I enjoy creating user-centric, delightful and seamless experiences” — because who doesn’t?
  • Be pretentious. “Saving the world one pixel at a time” just makes me think of you as somebody with a very big ego
  • Say something that isn’t 100% accurate or true — for example, “I solve business goals by creating seamless experiences”. If you’ve been in the industry long enough, you should know that some business goals don’t need seamless experiences (just check Slack’s 10 step sign up process, not quite so seamless, but effective at getting people engaged in a product right away)
  • Make grammatical errors or typos
  • Be too broad. “I create multi-faceted products on multiple platforms” — this doesn’t tell me much. Which platforms? What products?
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3. Unique, personal website

What is your story? Is there a narrative that underlines everything you do? Is there a common denominator to all of your projects?

About 7 years ago we were expanding our team and we looking for a web designer. Among multiple applications, I remember seeing one resume that among accomplishments listed that this person wrote a cook book. This one little fact was so irrelevant to his application, and yet so unexpected, that I remember it to this day. These little facts humanize resumes. They add depth. They create a picture of an actual person in my head. Those applications are much more likely to stand out and leave a lasting impression.

So, tell your story. Dig through your past and find 3 random facts about your life. Add those to your portfolios. Here are some examples that might give inspiration:

Kellyn Loehr

There are lots of things to appreciate about her website. The distinct, clean style. The amazingly well-designed case studies. But what I personally love the most is what she says and how she says it. She’s open about her personal life, what she enjoys and what she does outside of work. I read her content and can almost hear the voice behind it (she sounds like Dakota Johnson for some reason). That imagined human voice is a sign of a good brand.

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Home page of Kellyn Loehr website

Elias Monserrat

One thing I appreciate the most on Elias’ website is how genuinely unique it is — from the style and interactions to how he chose to display the content. It’s clear that he has multiple things going on at the same time and doesn’t just have one label. At the same time, it’s short and sweet, and allows users to go on and explore on their own.

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Dexter Yun

I chose this portfolio, because I don’t see this format a lot, most of the UX/UI/product designer portfolios look like this. But Dex’s is unique — it focuses on the content; specifically who he is and what’s he’s been up to in the past. One thing that I love the most is his Book Shelf section — this INSTANTLY tells me what kind of thinking I should be expecting from him.

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https://www.dexyun.com/

Bethany Heck

From the very first glance on Bethany’s page, it’s clear that typography is a biggie with her. There are elements that are mystery (like what’s up with the halo and the horns? I want to know more!!) and elements that are subtle (like the smaller icons for categories of content). She’s also got one of the best, most well-designed case studies out there.

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All these portfolios tell a unique, personal story. And that’s the second most important thing.

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High-quality content

  • It’s better to have fewer but high-quality projects. And by high-quality I mean aesthetically pleasing, clean and scannable case studies that clearly demonstrate challenges you had and how you solved them. I see a lot of pictures of sketches and whiteboard flows or affinity diagrams, and, personally, I don’t see a lot of value in them. Sure, it shows me that you go through some iterative process. But they are also messy, hard to decipher and don’t mean anything without context. Instead, I encourage you to make a digital copy of it and present the same information in a clean and clear way.
  • Categorize your projects. If you happen to be a UX designer, as well as gif meme master, as well as a painter, and a graffiti artist; then don’t add it all into one big gallery. Separate your professional work from other things and name them appropriately. It will help me judge your work and your hobbies independently from each other.
  • Pay attention to details. There is nothing worse than seeing typos and grammatical errors. If you have a learning disability or don’t feel well-versed in English, get other people to review your website for inconsistencies and grammar errors.
  • Share your thoughts. Don’t limit yourself to just case studies. Write about design, the latest trends, how you optimized your morning commute or UXed your kitchen. This shows that you truly do have design thinking and it extends beyond your 9 to 5 projects.
  • Have an ongoing personal design project. Something like this shows me that you are intrinsically motivated to be a better designer. Just PLEASE don’t do UI redesigns. If you are tempted to redesign Craigslist, Facebook or Instagram, read this first.

I’ve written before about how to write a good case study, you can find a ton of really good examples there.

I hope this is a good starting point for you and your portfolio. Good portfolio is like a good mattress — it will cost you more upfront, but it will be worth it in the long run.

In my next post, I will talk about another important ingredient you need when it comes to applying for jobs — resumes and LinkedIn. Stay tuned for a link!

Karina Daukaeva

Design. Data. Culture.

Thanks to Lia Fadeeva

Karina Daukaeva

Written by

UX / UI / Product / E-commerce / MVT Testing / Culture transformation / Coaching. Currently UX Director at autoTrader.ca. Co-founder of Hyperminds.io.

Karina Daukaeva

My name is Karina Daukaeva, I specialize and write about three areas: design, data, culture. The common denominator is transformation; under my guidance businesses become user-centric, design teams transform to be data-driven, and the teams I lead evolve their underlying culture.

Karina Daukaeva

Written by

UX / UI / Product / E-commerce / MVT Testing / Culture transformation / Coaching. Currently UX Director at autoTrader.ca. Co-founder of Hyperminds.io.

Karina Daukaeva

My name is Karina Daukaeva, I specialize and write about three areas: design, data, culture. The common denominator is transformation; under my guidance businesses become user-centric, design teams transform to be data-driven, and the teams I lead evolve their underlying culture.

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