Although I have experience as a freelance designer, I ultimately desire to work for an organization that fits my goals and values. This is a simple sentence, but there are many steps to achieve this goal. However, as I learn and grow within the field, I have gained experience with the interview process…and I failed my first interview. Well, “fail” is a blanket term. I do not consider my first UX/UI designer interview to be a failure because I did not get the job. I consider it a failure because there were core requirements to get the job that I did not do.
Luckily, I am connected with individuals who are a part of the Meetup group, DOUX (Downtown Orlando UX). DOUX, pronounced as Do UX, is a design community located in Orlando, Florida. The organizers include experienced designers with various backgrounds.
- Abhishek Murali
- Leah Livingston
- Wes Brown
- Matt Lavoie
- Jason Beaird
Recently DOUX hosted a panel event where UX designers share their insight in landing a job in UX. This was a much needed panel during these frustrating COVID-19 times. In addition, as more individuals enter the UX field through traditional 4-year schools, bootcamps, certificate programs, and freelance work, it is incredibly important to know how to stand out in such a large pool.
Here were the panelists for the event:
Mineseon Joo - SR UX Researcher/ Designer at USAA
Steph Bodendorfer - SR. UX Designer at Qualitrics
Jason Beaird - UX Team Lead at Paylocity
What are you looking for in your next role?
Joo emphasized the importances of knowing the differences in roles in UX.
Bodendorfer suggested job-seekers ask these questions: Do you want to be challenged? Do you want to work in a specific industry or city? Make more money? Better work/life balance? After you figure out what you want, it is good to figure out what’s your next move in how to get your goals. She suggested to look for companies that have room for growth. If you are changing industries, you may have to take your lateral move meaning take something lower and reflect on yourself.
From Beaird’s perspective, similar to the blind people and the elephant parable, the hiring process looks different from different angles including hiring managers, talent teams, etc. Another step to improve the job search process is to narrow down what kinds of roles and industries that interest you. Are you interested enterprise? B2B? SaaS? B2C? E-commerce? Ask yourself, “What do you like?” Are you a generalist or do you want to specialize? How can you leverage your past experience?
The importance of leveraging past experience to gain new experience is a common statement in the field of UX. For Joo, her experience as an immigrant led to the need to rebuild her career. During that rebuilding period, she would insist to talk to users and build her own portfolio so to break into industry.
Bodendorfer started her career in visual design. Her first job out of college was in Marketing, specifically in the fashion industry. She eventually moved to a big digital agency in New York where she was introduced to UX, which was the perfect combination of creativity and problem solving. She eventually moved to a smaller agency and asked to take on more UX work and build out user flows.
This was my first mistake in my first interview. Because of eagerness to break into UX/UI, I did not research all of the different paths as clearly as I could have. I had a strong understanding of the difference of roles of a UX designer and a UI designer, but the various additional roles were vague or unfamiliar to me.
For those looking at where to start in understanding where you want to be in the wide field of UX, I will share what I’ve learned through my bootcamp and through the highly-recommended book, What Color Is Your Parachute.
- List the skills you have AND the skills you enjoy using.
- Think of the ideal workspace. What is the dynamic of your work team? How flexible is your schedule? If possible, think of your past workspaces and determine what you liked and disliked.
- What are your values? What types of organizations, businesses, communities would you like to help in your work?
I will be honest. When new in the field, you may not be able to be as specific as you like in choosing a role. It’s okay if some of your goals or values are sacrificed to get into the field, but you need to prioritize which ones are non-negotiable.
Joo shared great insight for a UX resumé:
- Keep the resumé short. Don’t go over a page.
- Use keywords.
- Write measurable achievements. The best means to achieve measurable stats is to get close to people who have access to the data.
Bodendorfer shares similar sentiments with keeping track of projects for measurable achievements. She also shares, “the design of your resumé matters just as much as the content.”
Beaird added the clearer and more concise in your resumé, the better. He also stated to make sure the details on your resumé match on LinkedIN. In addition, keep a copy of the job you applied for because sometimes the job descriptions are taken down. He also mentioned that resumés usually need to upload into an system online. Because of this, think about what the resumé is outputting and see what it looks like in an automated site.
“Resumé and cover letter are the first impressions,” Bodendorfer shared. Therefore keep resumés brief and use action words because you want content to be based on the action more than based on subject. Also, be true to what your experience is. She shared an interesting perspective of the irrelevance of the cover letter in her job search experience. However, it is important to have a blurb about oneself.
I will say, my resumé in design is consistent with my portfolio. However, like many designers new to the field, I struggled to add measurable achievements. For designers, make sure to think about the goals of your designs. Even if a product is never launched, think about what those measurable achievements would look like. Would they be an increase in traffic or satisfaction measurements?
In addition, although there is no hard and fast rule to the page length of your resumé, it is important to prioritize the relevant experience and accomplishments. Taking away major accomplishments for the sake of squeezing everything onto one page may be a disservice. however, there is a general consensus that if you are at entry-level, it is best to keep experience to one page.
Joo starts with “Be a storyteller…what kind of problems did you face and how you approach it with a design method?…You can use the STAR (situation-task-action-result) method where you write brief phrases for your thought process or add the… problem-research-brainstorming- test design flow. Sometimes you can view other people’s portfolios in industries that you would like to work in and see how to mold yours like theirs.
Bodendorfer added that there only needs to be a few quality case studies (only need 2–3 projects), but it is key to show your best skills and your ability to adapt to different situations and balance business needs. In advice from a friend from Microsoft, Bodendorfer shared that the portfolio must be scannable and pass the eye-test. Additional information regarding case-studies are usually shared during the interview process.
Beaird added, “We’re not looking for the dribble designer…we’re looking for the process… We are not looking for finished projects.” Hiring managers want to hear about projects. Building portfolios is time-consuming, but as a hiring manager, it is about quality, not quantity. Show. Don’t tell. Hiring managers want to see that process more than the finished product.
Bodendorfer walked through the typical interview process.
- Typically, most jobs will start with HR screen where you talk with a recruiter. They will ask, “why them?” It is important to do your research on the company. The best recruiters will tell you what the salary is so you will know if it is aligned with your expectations. A good one will ask because they want to know why you are looking to change positions. They want to know your job search status. Here, you can choose to be as transparent or opaque as you want. They want to know your high level experience in design and know if you will need visa sponsorship or if you are a US citizen
- The second round requires detailed explanation of your experience.
- The third round is where you showcase your skills in cross-functional collaboration, culture fit, portfolio presentation, and you may be asked to do a design exercise. You will likely give a portfolio presentation (about 45–60 minutes) presented to a group of cross-functional team members-pick your 2 best projects to highlight. Tell a story about your work and who you are as a designer.
- Final interviews can get very long (sometimes hours). Therefore, don’t be afraid to tell your interviewers that you need a break.
Beaird mentioned that he keeps the hiring manager interviews conversational. In addition, there is always a conversation with the Product Owner because they are so involved with the design process. He added, “At Paylocity they hire for the role but not the specific team.”
Joo stated to get an elevator pitch ready. She shared the importance of being a storyteller (win listeners hearts). Have at least one story ready about a difficult situation and make sure to tell how you resolved it. Bodendorfer added the suggestion to write out questions that are expected. Having something pre-prepared can be really helpful.
Regardless of the specific format for the interview, all of the panelists emphasized the importance of practicing. Joo shared that for practice, companies that are lower priority were scheduled first because practicing in person versus the mirror differs significantly.
During the Questions and Answers portion of the event, Bordendorf and Beaird shared additional thoughts about the interview process.
“Interviewing for Ux roles is grueling and time consuming and hard and emotional,” Bodendorfer mentioned. Don’t get down on yourself…you just kind of learn to accept it and learn to understand its is not about you. You have to find the right fit.” She reminded the audience that you’re interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you. If a company is not the right fit, you will likely leave. This statement tied to another question asked regarding adjusting the interview process for individuals with disabilities. In short, as mentioned by Bodendorfer, a truly empathetic and progressive company should be willing to accommodate for individuals with disabilities, aside from legal obligations. If a company is not willing to do so, you need to wonder if that is a company worth working for.
Beaird included, “Remember that from the hiring side, finding the right candidate in a huge haystack is hard…always know that you can bring value to a role…hiring managers are not just looking for skills and experience, they are looking for diverse perspectives.”
Another key part of the interview process is the questions that interviewees asked.
ALWAYS HAVE QUESTIONS TO ASK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And this is where I messed up. I will be honest. After numerous rejections, I started to go through the motions of the job search process with little research of the companies outside of the landing page. When I made it through to the interview round, I was not as prepared as I could have been. In addition, I did not have questions to ask. Although the official reason for my rejection was due to my lack of UI experience at the time, I definitely consider part of the rejection as a result of lack of research and tailoring my skills and questions to the job title and company. Here are some go-to questions from the panelists:
“Tell me about your design process and walk me through a project from end to end.”
“What do you think it takes to be successful in this role?”
“How does the UX team fit in the product process?” Some places expect UX teams to be pixel pushers.
I will add one that I learned recently:
“How do you measure success within your organization?” This tells a lot about a company’s values.
Despite sharing national salary averages, the panelists emphasized that salaries varied greatly depending on location and industry. For instance, Joo shared that in Orlando, she was paid less than the average salary than what website averages state. Bodendorfer added that industries like software and tech tend to be in higher, and in hospitality and agency, there is a difference in pay scales. Beaird added that salary estimate tools are baselines. Regardless, you cannot go into the salary conversation blind or ball-parking because you may lowball yourself or go too high and filter yourself out. Beaird also suggested to look at 401k match because that is free money if you are willing to put into your 401k. Also look at other bonus structures.
In regards to bonuses, Joo shared, “I would not consider bonus as part of that negotiation because it depends on the success of the company that year.”
Self-taught and Bootcamp Graduate Designers
As a self-taught designer and having signed up for a bootcamp, it was difficult to learn that my bootcamp alone could filter me out of a job pool. However, the panelists shared some encouraging words for designers.
Beaird stated, “Theres a lot to be said about self-taught UX designers. The tricky part is showing you’ve been doing that specific piece in that length of time.” Beaird also suggested meetups, Hackathons, and Code for Americas show passion. He stated that the hard part is getting past that talent team screening. The value of networking in the field will help in finding those connections. The more people you meet in an industry, the better to get your foot in the door.
Joo suggests to see if the bootcamp offers internship because everyone in the industry knows that 3 week/ 4 week courses are not going to give you that knowledge. If that internship-like experience cannot be gained after the bootcamp, then it must be done during.
DOUX Organizer, Leah Livingston also shared how she gained experience by reaching out to local businesses so there is an element of reality without going into internship process.
Words of Encouragement
Joo shared her experience in the job search where she applied to 99 jobs where she only made it to 6 interviews and eventually had 1 match. “My self-esteem hit rock bottom,” She shared. However, Joo went to her friends and asked them to tell her one nice thing about her skills and the feedback helped her through the tough times.
It’s rough. The financial obligations don’t always stop when the job ends. In a conversation with another designer, the job search process was described as partially “a numbers game.” Although that means that being rejected does not necessarily reflect your skills or experience, it leaves a feeling of frustration to follow all the steps in the job search and still feel like it is not enough. This is from continued experience.
I will share my own piece of advice. Get continued feedback. When I wrote my novel, I thought my first draft was great because it followed, in my opinion, all of the steps in writing. After possibly 30 or more rejections, I had my work re-evaluated. After more rejections, I had it evaluated, again. By the end of this repetitive process (and at least 100 rejections), I am incredibly proud of my final result.
Similarly, after job rejections, ask designer peers to evaluate your resumé or portfolio. Ask mentors to conduct role-play interviews with you for practice. Just as the design process is iterative, the job search is also iterative.