Letter to future UXD applicants.

By Jason Civjan

Man sitting at desk, writing

Hi, future User Experience Designer (UXD) position applicants.

While I may not know you personally, I’m beginning to feel familiar enough with you to comfortably generalize your entire being into one not-entirely abstract entity. You want a Design job, right? And you realize that you are likely in competition with countless others for a limited number of positions that fit within your sliding scale of acceptable opportunities. You also realize that your application materials are what stand between you and your landing an interview in which you can convince me to hire you with your smile and winning personality.

Those are givens. Also a given is that the vast majority of applications that come across my desk do absolutely nothing to help convince me that the applicants should be considered for the position for which they have confidently applied.

Time isn’t the issue. Many of the application packages are highly polished pieces of work. They just simply fail to convey the information that their audiences need to achieve their goals. These resumes, cover letters and portfolios just are. They have being, but lack essence. They are items crossed off a to-do list rather than a thoughtful articulation of your particular talents and personality.

For me, a hiring manager, this is an immensely frustrating situation. For each open position, I get 50+ applications that are all screaming Design-y keywords at me. This tactic may have helped bully your way past the exhausted HR administrator, but now I’ve got to open each one of these applications and determine if you are the right candidates for the position and worth pursuing. At this point, the process breaks down. I end up sifting through application packages that suffer from lack of clarity, focus and a total lack of understanding about my needs, goals, and context. It is just a monotonous field of blah blahbabbly blah blah that is entirely on me to interpret and parse into meaningful information.

In other words, what we have here is a classic opportunity for Design. A frustrated user; a product that can be altered to a designer’s whims; clearly defined audiences who have likely articulated their goals (there is a reason why we bother to write out a detailed job description, yo!); and, hopefully, a very eager and motivated UXD!

A woman scolding a boy (1920)

Look, I am not angry. I am just baffled and disappointed in you for having squandered this golden opportunity. I have high hopes for you and know how talented you really are. If you would only apply yourself, others would see it too. After I send out rejection letters, I’ll hear from a staggeringly minute handful of you asking how your application materials could have been improved to have made me take notice. That is a start. I’ll usually let loose and have found that my replies are repetitive, as the basic problems are always the same.

To head off having to send the same damn email to you, making us both feel miserable and frustrated, I’m sending this preemptive message while we are still both gleefully ignorant of each other. Here are some tips that I’ve shared over and over again:

Your application as a UCD project. Think of your cover letter, resume, portfolio, and other application materials as a UCD project. Define your primary and secondary users; document their primary and secondary goals; scope the work to accommodate your timeline and other constraints; and design a great User Experience.

Users are at the core for UCD and User Experience Design. If you are going to dedicate yourself to this field, you will want to make sure that the way in which you present your work — in the narrative of your portfolio and when you talk about your work — is centered on how you have made decisions that have improved the users’ experience in completing their goals. Focus your portfolio on projects for which you can best communicate how user needs/goals informed the design.

Highlight the process in which a design was created, rather than just on the final product. As a potential employer navigates through the project, it should be evident:

  • how you discovered what your users needed to do.
  • what steps of the Design process led you to make key design decisions.
  • how you adapt your process within project constraints to provide essential value.

Prepare to impress. To make yourself really desirable, push yourself in your Design life:

  • Be Proactive.If your work/school portfolio has too many constraints, resulting in bad process or design decisions, then do a few projects in your own time in which you have control to do solid UCD and good design.
  • Convey genuine interest in both your profession (a thoughtful Twitter feed or blog goes a long way) and the place you are applying (there is a reason cover letters exist, people!).
  • Become an expert in areas of Design that you aren’t confident in. The UX of a product is unassailably holistic and an outcome of carefully designed research; clear-eyed Design and Development processes; well-used tools; incessant reflection and questioning; and a narrative that can be traced through the content, the visuals, the ui, and front-end (user-facing) code. The more you know about each one of these areas, the more deep, efficient, and effective you will be at shaping the UX of the product.
  • Demonstrate expertise. Don’t just list out your expertise. That doesn’t mean anything. If you consider yourself an expert coder, code your own portfolio and link me to your GIT account. Expertise in Visual Design? Your materials should represent that. Same for user research, etc. Think of your resume, cover letter and portfolio as a representative of your expertise.

Be confident in your own expertise. You are a UX Designer — take responsibility for and own the Design decisions, processes, philosophies, and products that you touch. You should know where your Design strengths lay, as well as your weaknesses. Convey all this with clarity and authority.

Be specific and avoid generalizations when describing your expertise, your role on projects, etc, even when giving a brief synopsis (always assume that your audience will probably just read the synopsis you provide)

  • Terms like “leading the team” and “doing the designs” convey very little. What exactly did you do?

Be reflective. Sure, you’ve had to make concessions again and again. Yeah, your boss sounds like a real opinionated nitwit. However, I hope that your end goal in applying for the position isn’t just my sympathy. Designers should be able to reflect on a terrible situation and learn lessons for next time. Don’t be afraid to include a “Lessons learned” section of each product, focusing on what you would do on the project given full control of the process. I’ve seen this effectively used to communicate the constraints that forced some bad design/research decisions and used to demonstrate that the designer understands the “right” way to do things.

Be concise. Yes, this seems contradictory. “You just told me to add all these details!” However, concentrate on efficiency in the telling of it. Be creative.

Diversify your references. When 2 of your 3 references are from the same source (same role in the same company), you deny the potential employer a third window/perspective on your positive qualities.

  • Oh yeah… Take some time to develop your interview skills… you really don’t want to get in the door just to flub the interview due to nerves or miscommunication.

With this said, I want to thank you for considering this future position with my team. I hope that this preemptive feedback is helpful and I wish you the best of luck in your future job search.


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