This article has been contributed by Rylan Clark.
Congratulations on an excellent decision to begin your UI/UX Career!
User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design have been on fire for the past several years running. They pay really well and extend into every industry on the planet.
But now that you have achieved a relevant educational background or credentials, how do you land your first UI/UX job?
We have crafted this article specifically to answer that question, covering the most essential and often overlooked elements of job search success:
- Create and execute a job search strategy
- Update your resume, cover letter and portfolio
- Conscientiously manage your social media presence
- Use templates to apply to more jobs in less time
- Thoroughly prepare for each interview
- Be memorable (in a good way)
- Don’t get discouraged
Related: See our guide to the Best UX/UI Courses Online
1. Create & Execute a Job Search Strategy
One of the most common mistakes we see job seekers make is to act spontaneously instead of strategically. Submitting random applications whenever you feel like it and then hoping for the best won’t cut it. Be systematic about how you’re going to embark on this crucial journey.
First, list out your target criteria, such as:
- Job titles (e.g. UX Designer, UI Designer, Product Designer)
- Salaried vs contract (hourly W2 positions are fine but don’t pursue 1099 or corp-to-corp arrangements until you’ve gained several years of experience)
- Industries of interest (keep an open mind here because you probably don’t have the luxury of being too specific at this point)
- Design maturity (unique challenges are inherent at every stage)
Second, use powerful search and filtering functionalities on sites like Indeed, Glassdoor and LinkedIn to find positions that fit your target criteria. If you’re not finding enough jobs that match, then you should modify your criteria and search scope accordingly.
In addition to hunting posted jobs, look for referrals and references in your existing network and determine how you’ll connect with other professionals in UI/UX. Attend local meetups/networking events, travel to conferences and work the online game like crazy (e.g. LinkedIn, Slack communities and social media).
Third, map out a clear goal for the frequency of applications you’ll complete, such as three per day for the first month, and be smart about it. Don’t go after all your dream roles right out of the gate. Begin with the ones that are more attainable and work your way up the list. This is wise because by the time you’re interviewing for your dream job, you’re far smoother, more confident and more experienced than you were at the start of your job hunt.
2. Update Your Resume, Cover Letter and Portfolio
Now that you have a job search strategy, it’s important to update your core application materials: resume, cover letter and portfolio.
The best starting point for these may be your existing materials. Or it may be smart to start fresh with a blank slate. Regardless, your next step is to get inspired. Tens of thousands of examples are available online for you to explore and learn from. Plenty of guidance exists at your fingertips and we encourage you to actively seek out the best ones for inspiration.
Use these as an opportunity to demonstrate your design prowess. That is, apply all the wizardry you would normally reserve for paid projects to your resume, cover letter and portfolio. There should be zero writing errors. There should be zero usability issues.
In addition to showing off your creativity and personality, there should be clear communication, compelling imagery and adherence to well-known design heuristics at every opportunity. In other words, you should strive to deliver an outstanding standalone experience to anyone who lays eyes on them.
Ensure they all possess the same look and feel (i.e. your brand!). Consider the return on your investment: spending X hours can easily yield 10,000X return over the course of your career! These are not only a reflection of yourself. They are an investment in yourself, the magnitude of which is basically unparalleled.
Many people fret over what these materials should contain and how it should be presented. They have a tough time “telling people about themselves” or “summarizing all the things they have done (or can do).” To be candid, you’ll have to get good at telling people about yourself amidst a job hunt. This doesn’t mean you have to like it, but you do have to get good at it if you want to find success more rapidly.
Furthermore, don’t feel compelled to include everything you’ve ever done. Instead, put yourself in the perspective of people on the employer’s side of this equation and identify what you want them to know about you.
When deciding what to include and what to leave out, follow this simple rule:
- If it’s relevant to the hiring team, include it.
- If it isn’t, remove it.
Collectively, think of these materials as opportunities to showcase your experience and potential to a hiring manager. You’re not condensing your entire life into a few screens, you’re highlighting the parts of yourself that are most likely to implore employers to move forward with your application.
3. Conscientiously Manage Your Social Media Presence
As a continuation of the last theme and as an overarching recommendation of this article, be cognizant of what you share with the world. You want to put your best, most hireable image forward, especially when you put yourself on the job market.
These days, it’s almost too easy, tempting and popular to express your every thought on social media, but considering the potential career future in front of you, think twice before committing.
You never really know what that recruiter, interviewer or hiring manager will think of your 3am rant about personal problems, politics, sex, religion or other controversial topics. Despite what the big technology companies and their ever-changing legalese says, once you hit send, that content is no longer within your control. It can come back to haunt you in ways you’ll never even know, especially when you’re hunting for jobs and people keep placing you in the “no” pile thanks to your overly transparent posts on social media.
In summary, if you’re searching for a company culture that fully embraces 100% of your world views, great, keep going. If not and you’re in the business world to conduct business and make a better life for yourself and loved ones, then consider managing your social media activity more conscientiously.
It’s also worth Googling yourself to ensure there aren’t lingering bits of contentious information that can sink your next dream job.
4. Use Templates to Apply to More Jobs in Less Time
Now that we’ve got the consciousness bit covered, let’s talk efficiency. With a smart and aggressive job search strategy, where perhaps you’re applying to three jobs every day, efficiency is critical. Your brightest cognitive powers should be shining while communicating with potential employers, not spent on droning out repetitive tasks.
This is why templates are a significant part of the successful job seeker’s arsenal. Utilizing templates, where certain words and phrases are highlighted for customization, will save you tons of time and brainpower for the more interesting aspects of job hunting (e.g. interviewing, persuading and negotiating).
Every type of role you’re going after deserves a unique set of templates for your resume, cover letter and interview cheat sheet (described in the next section). Templates become even more valuable when you realize how different the demands are for each of these types of roles:
- UI/UX Analyst or Associate
- UI Designer
- UX Designer
- Product Designer
- UX Researcher
- Information Architect
Although their foundations are shared, you’ll see how postings for these jobs have distinct sets of keywords, skills and qualifications. This means your application must be tailored accordingly if you don’t want to be skipped over like all the other people who didn’t bother customizing their materials.
Most candidates commit the error of having only one resume, which they submit to all kinds of UI/UX jobs. What do you think happens when hiring managers compare their application to that of someone with one tailored to the job listing?
5. Thoroughly Prepare for Each Interview
Here’s a secret: most people show up thoroughly unprepared for interviews. Don’t be one of those people, because they pretty much never get the job and frequently end up walking away filled with feelings of victimhood, discouraged and dripping with dread.
To the contrary, whether it’s a remote or in-person interview, why not set yourself up for success? No matter how clever or lucky you think you are, there are three things to do before every single interview:
- Create a cheat sheet of the company’s business model fundamentals so you’re well versed in their history, market, mission, key product lines, competitors, recent press releases, values, social media chatter, etc.
- Research the individuals interviewing you and generate key questions to ask each one (hint: although overlap exists, engineers, designers, researchers, marketers and product leaders each warrant distinct question sets). Arrange these questions into a logical flow so you’re steering the conversation in a thoughtful and measured manner.
- Conduct mock interviews with friends, family and/or former colleagues. Provide them with the company name and job description beforehand so they can hit you with the same types of questions to be encountered in the real interviews.
6. Be Memorable (In a Good Way)
Put yourself in an employer’s shoes: Given four or five applicants with relatively equal experience who’ve made it through most of the candidate journey, why choose one over the others?
Chances are, with everything else a hiring manager has going on at work and in life, plus the limitations of human memory, he/she will only recall a few things about each candidate that’s not already on paper.
Be the one who made a memorable impression, who was thoroughly prepared, who was dressed perfectly for the context, who sent that well written thank you email, who negotiated questions about compensation and relocation like a champion, who stood out from the masses as an exemplary professional and person that “gets it.” Be memorable.
7. Don’t Get Discouraged; Stick With It
Remember, even top candidates at middle and senior levels of UI/UX often take months to find a new job. It takes a lot of work, dedication, some luck and perhaps most importantly, grit. You must stick with it to make it happen.
Unfortunately, this is the new reality of job hunting: You will send out dozens of applications and never hear back, you will be “ghosted” more times than you can believe and you will occasionally encounter curt, distracted, unprofessional individuals who will make you want to give up. Don’t.
Eventually you’ll find a group, or they will find you if you’re doing this right, where it all just clicks and you will be well on your way to a successful career in UI/UX. Your first few jobs will be launchpads; keep going until you reach that all-important 2-3 years of experience and the rest will be “history”.
We know that embarking on a new career is simultaneously scary and stimulating. There are hundreds of pitfalls to avoid and lots of hard lessons along the way, but if you commit to these tips, you’re far more likely to land your first UI/UX job sooner rather than later.
Done right, these steps should turn into habits as you seek out new opportunities and you’ll thank yourself later for your commitment to excellence.
Even when you reach the point of unconscious mastery, where these behaviors become automatic, the importance of that last point cannot be overstated. The only sure-fire way to lose in anything is to quit. But to win, to seize a new UI/UX job and turbocharge your career, perseverance in the face of adversity is absolutely vital.
Never, never, never give up and continually propel yourself forward as a practitioner of lifelong learning! In fact, if you’re considering additional education, career coaching and real world experience, in an all-in-one bootcamp, check out Springboard’s UI/UX Career Track. It’s guaranteed to get you a job (or your money back).
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About the author: Rylan Clark is Chief Operating Officer of The UXology Group, a leading UX Research firm. He’s also a Springboard mentor for topics including UI/UX, user-centered design & research.