The Comprehensive Guide to Finding a Kick-Ass UX Job

Christian Beck
Jun 25, 2018 · 13 min read
by Bob Ewing

Myths

But first, a few common myths:

“Startups and agencies have the most exciting work.”

The pace of both is unquestionable, but the actual work isn’t always the most exciting. You can get stuck doing superficial work or doing so many tasks, you’re never getting time to do great work. “Exciting” is a matter of perspective and it is not tied to fast-paced environments.

“Big corporations are boring and where careers go to die.”

Well, maybe this is true, but it’s also where great careers can be given life! Big corporations are home to successful people who can provide amazing mentorship. And later in your career, they can become places to put your decades of experience to good use. Personally, I can’t imagine going back but I also know that I wouldn’t mind applying all that I’ve learned to help make an impact at a large company.

“My ideal career path is to become a manager, then director.”

Thankfully I’m hearing this less from designers (except often I hear “strategist” in place of “manager”), but I think there’s a general misunderstanding of the available career paths for UX professionals (from designers to researchers).

by Pasha

The Reality

Before I get into some tactics for approaching your next job search, it’s useful to uncover some fairly unknown truths about design jobs. These may not be surprises to everyone, but certainly surprised me at some point in my career and I wish I’d known them earlier.

by Fuzzco™

Most employers don’t know how to post roles

Here’s what often happens in hiring for UX:

  • The hiring manager wants volume so s/he casts a wide net with a generic posting that speaks to nobody, or everyone all at once. This makes it hard for designers to understand what the employer really wants.
  • The hiring manager is new to UX him/herself. This is common in less mature tech markets or with non-tech companies who want to add this competency. This is unfortunate for those seeking a challenge because the role will probably be listed as something like “Web Designer” when what they actually want is a UX Designer who can help them create a better web presence.

Some of the best jobs never make it online

Ever wonder how great people always seem to find the best jobs? That’s because they know people, and get jobs before they ever make it online.

There isn’t one way to find good jobs

It’s not benefits, company size, location, industry, etc. It’s a combination of those. And everyone has different priorities which change over time.

What you love changes over time

Sometimes the reason you’re unhappy at a job might be less about the job and more about you. You may simply want something different than what you’re currently doing.

by Neal Gao

People hire based on personal connections first

Glassdoor, LinkedIn, recruiters…employers would rather use connections first. I’ve been hiring for half a decade both for my own teams and for clients. You’d be amazed how expensive and time consuming this process is. No digital tool or curated network in the world can come close the effectiveness and efficiency of leveraging personal networks.

Salary is the least important factor to consider

If you’re reading this, you are likely well-educated and in one of the most high-growth, lucrative fields we’ve seen in all of human history. However, personal situations create different priorities. Salary can be extremely important for someone’s personal happiness. Instead, what I’m advocating is that salary alone is not a great indicator of how good a design job will be.

by R A D I O

Tactics

I’ll start with a fundamental principle that should guide every UX professional’s career choices. Then, I’ll dive into a few tactics for achieving career happiness.

Don’t chase titles and salary, chase personal growth

The happiest and most successful designers will tell you they look for roles which will challenge them. After over a decade in the field, I fully believe in the adage, “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

by Mike Smith

Establish your personal value system

Finding great jobs starts with understanding what you want and creating criteria that will help you filter opportunities. This will become your system and guide your job search going forward. It will also help you stay focused on yourself rather than looking sideways at what makes other people happy.

  • Benefits: Salary, family leave, insurance, time off, 401k matching, etc. At different points in your life, these will fluctuate in importance. Family leave and insurance didn’t matter to me in my mid-20’s. Today, they’re both vital. There’s absolutely nothing wrong using these types of things to guide your decision, because job happiness is partly tied to how well it handles the “outside stuff” so you can better enjoy your day job.
  • Location: As much as I rail on people who blindly flee for the coasts, I get it (and I did it myself). What I want to dispel of here is the notion that those are the only good markets for UX. And furthermore, if you want to go to a big market, do it with eyes wide open. Again, there is not one best location. Different markets have different qualities, and provide different opportunities. For example, I believe my career has fared much better because I moved to Indianapolis, IN. However, I don’t know if I’d be on this trajectory had I not spent time learning in the Bay Area.
  • Culture: This is about the type of culture. People often talk about having “great culture” but that doesn’t really make sense. Culture exists whether we like it or not, and culture can’t inherently be “great.” Culture is what it is. What’s important is how it fits with your values.
  • Industry: My first job was a dream because it intersected between my talents (UX design) and my passion (geography). For others, you might be passionate about health care or robotics. And then for the rest of you, industry might not matter so much as simply getting new and interesting design challenges (that’s where I am today).

Identify business models that interest you

All UX jobs are not the same.

  • Digital Product (ex: B2B SaaS, consumer apps): Here, the digital product is sold through one-time fees or subscription. Your work will be tied directly to the product’s success, but it won’t be as easy to measure (too many factors to consider in market success). Pro: More strategic opportunity. Con: UX roles can get silo’d from other roles as teams grow in size.
  • Physical Product (ex: appliances, smart products): In these companies, money is made by selling physical products. Pro: Get to work with cutting edge technology and other types of designers. Con: UX will be subservient to industrial designers and hardware engineers.
  • Service (ex: insurance company, service/utility providers): In these companies, money is made through providing stellar service. Digital or physical products may be a part of that, but ultimately the company makes its money based on a service, and may often give digital products away for free (I don’t pay extra to use my health insurance portal). Pro: Research and customer interaction is highly valued. Con: Design isn’t the primary revenue driver, and strategic decisions will come from other departments.
by Vasyl Boyarchuk

Search for jobs regularly

Change what it means to “job search.” In short, your job search should not start when you’re ready to leave. By that time, you have drastically reduced the available options and will make decisions that will compromise your criteria. Instead, stay ahead and Always Be Looking.

Use LinkedIn and Crunchbase to scout opportunities

This wouldn’t be a very helpful article if I just told you to search on Glassdoor or Indeed. Those are great tools when you haven’t done pre-planning :)

  • LinkedIn: Start finding contacts. As I mentioned earlier, recruiters often aren’t great in a fairly young and oft-changing field like UX. By using LinkedIn, you can start finding the practitioners or leaders in companies you admire and reaching out to them directly. You may still work through HR if/when a job comes available, but you’ll be much better off if the ultimate hiring manager knows who you are.
by Pierre Borodin

Keep your portfolio updated

I have already written extensively on creating good portfolios. I highly recommend reading that if this is a gap for you. But in an Always Be Looking world, you need to be ready. I have passed great opportunities to designers many times and I’ll often hear, “Give me a few weeks to get my portfolio updated.” That dream job might be gone by then.


To continually find great jobs, define your criteria for what a “good job” is, stay proactive in searching, and focus on personal growth above all else. This approach will ensure that you’ll set yourself for the best opportunities, will keeping your career laser-focused on growing as a UX professional.


UX Power Tools

A publication for designers, written by designers.

Christian Beck

Written by

By day, executive designer at Innovatemap where I help tech companies design marketable products. By night, co-founder of UX Power Tools.

UX Power Tools

A publication for designers, written by designers.