You’re looking for your first job in UX. But entry-level jobs require 2-3 years experience. What can you do? This webinar will tell you how to break through this barrier. This invaluable session from will leave you with the actionable insights you need to land your dream UX design role. Details of the speakers and full transcript can be found below.
Webinar from the UX Design Institute in Partnership with Morgan McKinley
Two to three years’ experience required to become a UX designer – how do you break though that barrier and get a job in UX?
Colman – And so good morning and thank you for attending. Good morning, good evening, good night, depending on where you’re tuning in from. So our agenda is, we’re just going to do a brief introduction to the people here in the webinar and also just to reiterate what this webinar is about. Then our two experts are going to give us an overview of the UX jobs market and how that market has grown and demand has grown over the past three to five years. Then we’ll get into the meat of the webinar and five minutes of advice for UX job seekers. How are they going to get over this barrier and get that first job in UK. And then we’ll have a question and answer session where you guys can ask us any questions you want and we’ll do our best to answer them.
So we’ve scheduled the webinar to take 45 minutes and quickly we’ll just talk about who is in attendance. So there’s myself, I’m the CEO of the UX Design Institute, Colman Walsh and Thomas Woods, who is one of our education advisers. Also, lurking in the background and masterminding the whole webinar is Aoife Shanahan, some of you may know her quite well. And our guests of honour this morning, two leading UX recruiters for global recruitment company Morgan McKinley, we have Dara Boland and Ronan McConville.
Welcome gentleman and thank you for taking the time to participate in our webinar. What is this all about? It really is about, a Catch-22 situation, isn’t it? For people who are trying to break into UX, what they tend to see for entry-level job specs out in the market is that two and three year’s experience is required and that presents this conundrum, “Well, how do I get a job without “the two to three years’ experience?” And, “How do I get the two to three years’ experience “without the job?” And what we find is that a lot of people are deterred by this and it presents a psychological barrier and some people won’t even apply for jobs that have this specification in there because they think, “That doesn’t apply to me.” And it’s a psychological barrier, it’s an actual barrier and how can would-be, wanna-be UX designers get over this barrier?
Don’t be deterred from the experience barrier
Colman – So that is what we’re going to be talking about today because our advice for you, we’ll give it to you straight away, don’t be deterred by this. This is totally surmountable and two guys, Dara and Ronan are going to give you some advice and tips on how you can get over the barrier. So anyway, without further ado we’ll get into it. But before we get into the advice, an overview of the jobs market. Dara and Ronan, the question is over to you guys. Can you give us a recruiter’s perspective on the jobs market and one thing, it’s always good to reiterate to people who are trying to break into UX that this is not just a great market, but it’s a growing market and things have kind of boomed in the last three to five years. So what do you guys think?
Dara – Yeah, I mean it’s a great time to be in UX. Business is really investing in UX and backing design. I think what we have seen in the last few years is that UX and design is no longer an after thought, it’s very central and it comes at the start of the discussion when launching products or developing products. And yeah, look, in terms of working it in, there’s never been more opportunities. There’s definitely a skill shortage. Demand is outstripping supply, which means that if you work in the space you can demand higher salaries and have the pick of the bunch when it comes to opportunities. So overall, it’s going from strength to strength. Year on year we’re seeing an increase in demand and it’s for sure one of our highest performing areas in a recruitment sense. So yeah, really strong. That being said, it must be frustrating sometimes for the people that are maybe just starting their journey because all they’re hearing is there’s a war for talent. People can’t find these people. But there’s still a challenge to get the first step in the door. So hopefully we can cover off some points that help in that today.
Colman – Thanks Dara, and Ronan just asking you. So you must work with a lot of employers, obviously you work with a lot of employers. And what’s the sense out there in that they, some of them maybe a few years ago weren’t thinking of hiring UX designers. Probably thought that they weren’t that important or, “Oh, we can live without it.” And that’s probably changed for many of them and is there a kind of sense of desperation from employers like, “How am I going to fill these spots? “How are we going to find these people?”
Ronan – Yes, it’s funny. I remember sitting down to read something maybe December last year that said that user experience was going to be the biggest areas of employment in 2019 and you always greet that with a bit of scepticism, like, will it? And it just absolutely has. It’s probably one of our busiest desks at the moment. I think where you would have had two or three years ago you’ve got a company that’s hiring X number of developers, 20, 30 and then one designer. Any sort of, if you have an industry-wide situation where that’s the case there’s going to be fewer jobs in the space. Now you have teams being built up of 30 people, 40 people in the user experience base. Not quite on par with development, but getting there. And because of that the number of positions has absolutely ballooned. And I suppose on that as well what I’d say is it’s not just the number, it’s the quality has gotten so much better. It’s not a case of, okay one, are you asking why a guy, as a mandate coming down from a senior person who doesn’t even know what UX UI is. And they’re bringing someone in and they’re like, “Bring in your designs to this process.” You’re now saying, “Okay, we need a researcher “who’s going to go out and speak to our customers. “We need a user experience person “who’s going to dive into this research. “We need interaction designers, “services designers, UI designers “who are going to take this research “and going to create clean designs out of it.” That’s an incredible market when you think about where it was a couple of years ago.
UX as a profession is maturing
Colman – Yeah, that’s a big change. So I suppose the take away from that is the market is maturing, you know? I’m sure I’ve bored everybody with this story, when I moved from London back to Dublin about 10 years ago, maybe a bit more, there was no market for UX here. I remember a recruiter calling me back after I sent them my CV saying, “What’s UX? “Whadda you do? “I’ve never seen a CV like this. “Are you some sort of business analyst?” And it was very disparaging at the time but it just shows you that things have taken off and I think Dublin is a tech capital and from my experience it kind of mirrors what’s going on in a lot of other European cities. Maybe London, maybe the States are a few years ahead, but Dublin is kind of the bellwether for what’s happening in Manchester, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin et cetera. Does that, from your experience working internationally is that fair to say?
Dara – Absolutely, I mean it’s maturing a lot. If we’re looking at the UX umbrella we’re seeing that companies are really understanding the intricacies within UX and finally we’re seeing companies that no longer are hiring the UX guy. We’re finally seeing companies understand that maybe we need a visual designer and a researcher. So it’s getting there, we’ve seen huge jumps in terms of understanding and adoption and mindset change. And buy in as well, from everyone. Everyone from, I mean this hits every single stakeholder. Yeah, leaps and bounds and hopefully that trend continues.
Employer expectations for working experience in UX design
Colman – Okay, great. Okay so another thing we talked about Ronan, before was this idea that companies need to adjust their expectations in that if there’s a supply issue with UX designers and all companies are looking for two to three years’ experience that just doesn’t work out and that some organisations are changing their minds and they’re saying, “Look, we don’t need “the two to three years’ experience. “We just need somebody with the potential “and we can groom them ourselves and educate them “and apprentice them, essentially, “to get that bit of experience.”
Ronan – Yeah, and I think you hit the nail on the head there with apprenticeship. I think that’s, you speak to a lot of the best minds in this field and they’ll tell you that the first two to three years in user experience is not where you’re probably going to get the most value out of a person. That comes later on. And those first two to three years are when they need to be learning and almost as an apprentice to the more senior people. I think where the challenge is now coming is because you have these technology companies in Dublin, not just technology but businesses period, who are moving at such a fast pace and they need to say, “Okay, we need to get “this senior person in. “We need someone who can start producing for us right away.” The problem you have is that you don’t have, say if I wanna be an accountant I know I can go through the big four. I can go through these steps that will take me to where I need to go. You don’t have that in user experience. And because of that, you can end up with a situation where companies are hiring all these senior people but these senior people are just being around senior people and there’s not opportunity for them to train the junior staff. And companies with bigger UX teams are realising that and they’re starting to pay it forward that little bit more. You’re seeing user experience rotation programmes coming in in some companies. You’re seeing people or businesses going to the colleges and looking for entry-level designers that way. But it’s something I think that at a wider level businesses absolutely need to address.
Should you apply for UX jobs that require experience?
Colman – Okay, and that mind shift is happening. And it’s not something that job seekers can do anything about, but we’re now going to move on to talk about some advice that you guys are going to give to actually help people get over this barrier. And the first bit of advice is probably the most important, is that don’t be deterred by the job specs that say you need two to three years’ experience. Even if you don’t have the two to three years’ experience you should sill apply. Because we were talking about this before Dara, and that sometimes, if you think about it from an employer’s perspective, they have to put two to three years’ experience on the job spec. They can’t say, “No experience required.” And sometimes the two to three years’ experience is kind of secret code for, “Look, we’ll take someone “who has a lot less experience.” I mean, no experience if you’re the right personality and you show the aptitude.
Dara – Yeah absolutely, that is it. I think ideally when people are writing the job specs they probably do want someone with the two to three years’ experience, but whether or not they could find them is a different question. I think human nature would generally want something that can, quick fix. Someone that can hit the ground running and I think there has, up until the last couple of years and UX Design Institute has done a great job in filling that gap, there’s been a feeling that there hasn’t been corporate-ready graduates coming out of colleges. But that’s changed now and there is. So yeah, don’t be deterred. You absolutely should go ahead and apply anyway. I think it is… I think inevitably you still wont’ get interviews for every single one of them and it will be testing. And it’s as much testing as your mindset as it is your application of the knowledge you’ve learned. So I think like anything whether you’re talking about sports or business, or getting a job, it’s really important to visualise the future, visualise the win. Stick with it and there’s a great book actually. It’s not anything to do with UX but just anyone that is stuck in that loop of being pushed back and being told, “No.” It’s a really simple book, it’ll take you an hour to read, “Who Moved My Cheese?” Really good, it’s just I think for people who are in that mode of trying to get the first step. I’d encourage everyone to read it. And just having the perspective that although it’s difficult going to interviews and trying to get your foot in the door, remember that with the interviewer themselves, wants the next person that comes in the door to be the winner. So having the slight perspective change, they’re not there to fix your problems but the emphasis should be on how you’re going to be the solution. That you understand what they’re looking for. You have something special to offer and you’re selling to them why you’re the person for the job.
Colman – And Ronan, can I just ask you another question on that? Is it fair to say that part of this mindset shift is that certain employers, this isn’t the case of every employer, but certain employers are prepared to take a chance on someone that doesn’t have the two to three years’ experience if they think, “You know what? “This person’s got the right personality, “They’ve got the right attitude. “They’ve got a qualification. “They’ve got a great portfolio of practice projects. “This person could have the right stuff.” Is that fair to say?
Ronan – I think it’s fair and I suppose on that point, and we’ll come to portfolios I imagine in a bit ’cause there’s a lot to be said there. But you have to look, okay, what does that actually mean, applying for a job? This is not just true of entry-level people and it’s not just true of UX people. Applying for a jobs is not firing a CV out online, putting on the boards. Having been that person who somebody sees like, “Oh this CV and that CV”. That’s not a good method of job searching at any level, let alone entry level. But if I can say, “Okay, I’m really interested in company X. “I really wanna get in there. “I know I don’t quite have the qualifications.” But find out, who’s the decision maker in this company? Who’s the head of UX or the UX manager? Can I reach out to this person and be honest and say, “Look, I’m aware I’m not qualified. “Can you take 20 minutes of your time to speak with me? “Give me some advice.” You’ll get it, you know? People in this industry are incredibly accommodating and they’re aware of how still immature it is. They will help you. And you said about it, a lot of it comes down to things like personality. They’re not going to know your personality from a CV. You could meet someone, you get on with them and they say maybe six months down the line, they say, “You know what? “Maybe we can take a chance on this person “in an entry-level position.” And I know it was something that we wanted to talk about in terms of the networking site but I think it’s not just a case of yes, apply. It’s think, “Okay, how do I best apply?”
Colman – Yeah sure, and how do you put your best foot forward and then apply in the best possible position. Because this is a topic we’ve talked about many times and going back, we did an interview with Des Traynor of Intercom five or six years ago and he said the same thing. He said, “Look, we will take a chance on people. The market is so thin that a lot of companies are prepared to take a chance on people who don’t have the two to three years’ experience. We’ve done it ourselves and it’s been an incredible success.” So don’t be deterred. That is the number one advice. As Ronan says, it’s not just a case of flinging CVs around, but don’t be deterred.
Is it too late to make a career change to UX in your 30s or 40s?
Colman – Okay, so the next bit of advice, and this is an interesting one because I think it twists a perspective on its head for some people. Some people think that, “Ah, I’m in my mid 30s, “late 30s, early 40s, it’s too late for me “to switch careers.” Whereas I think the advice is actually, twist that around and exploit your age and your experience because someone who’s got any professional experience it means they’ve got experience, they’ve got maturity, they’ve got professionalism. They might have sectoral knowledge. They might have experience working with clients even in a non UX environment. They might know how to manage meetings, run workshops. There’s a whole lot of things you can do to big up your application. And to big up your CV and particularly if you can draw some parallels between your experience and the role of a UX designer or a UX researcher or whatever it is you’re going to be applying for. Have I given the answer before I’ve even asked the question? But anyway, fire away guys.
Dara – I suppose, it’s an interesting point. When you were saying, this story came to my head. I remember speaking to this 24 year old designer, 18 months ago, and they had probably a year and a half, two years’ experience. And I remember I was speaking to them and I said, “Look, list there’s this senior UX role, “I’m not sure you’re quite there yet but it is an option.” And they turned to me and they said, “Yes, I’m interested. Set up a phone call between myself and themselves.” And it was just that confidence and I thought, “Wow, okay.” And that’s great, but you have to temper that. And I think the flip side, so much of user experience’s field it does, like you said, it’s dependent on maturity, it’s depending on ability to understand people, to empathise with people and not necessarily have this ego of I am the great designer.
So in terms of are you at a disadvantage coming into user experience a bit older? I’d say no. I think that it would be completely the wrong idea and I think like you said. I don’t know what you think Dara?
Dara – Yeah, no I agree that I think that UX is such a fascinating field because it draws on so many different areas. We are talking about human behaviour so some of the best UX designers I’ve come across come from psychology fields. Others come from software development, business analyst, you name it really. So it is about finding the parallels in what you’ve previously done. And remember that UX, a lot of it okay, what we see is the nice user interface at the end but that’s not all it is. It’s not just the visual design, there’s a lot of dealing with people and managing stakeholders and lots to it. So big up your experience, draw the parallels. But crucially put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. Find out, just like you would in the UX project, what’s the problem? How we going to solve it?
Professions that often make career changes into UX design
Colman – Yeah, and it think I would challenge anybody who’s got any experience whether they’re an accountant or a solicitor or a business analyst or a graphic designer or a project manager, not to have a lot of parallels between what they do and a UX role. Particularly anybody who’s coming from software development. My God, you know so much about technology and the software development process and how things actually work. To come from a graphic design background you’ve got a lot of the UI design experience. Business analysis is about requirements gathering it’s about creating solutions, working with people. Anybody who works in the technology sector will have a lot of advantage and would be able to draw those parallels. And I think particularly if you worked with the right recruiter. I’m not plugging you guys, but great recruiters like these guys to help you tell that story to say, “Well look, I might get a shift from project manager to UX, it seems like they’re totally unrelated.” But in fact by working with the right recruiter they would be able to draw those parallels and make those connections.
Ronan – I think as well, you talk about it’s a cross-technology space, a huge filter into UX is architecture. You see a lot of ex architects going to UX design and it’s because the underlying processes and the way to approach a problem is the exact same.
Colman – Yeah, and we’ve got a lot of anthropologists. Obviously they’ve got the understanding of research and human behaviour. But even if you were a lawyer, you know how to problem solve. You know how to take a lot of information and come up with a solution or a kernel of an idea. And I work with clients, how to be ultra professional. So I think don’t be deterred, again. And exploit your age and your experience.
Ronan – I think as well, you’re asking someone to buy into you as a UX designer and you’re looking to draw parallels, it’s really important to distil down exactly what your personal brand is about. To me, personal branding, what it means is what are people saying when you leave the room? And to distil down, do you have a mission statement? Is it in line with your personal values? Does your elevator pitch, is it there? Know exactly what you’re passionate about, what problems you can solve. And then from that you can, if you really understand it yourself then you can really put it out there about in person and online.
Colman – And would that be like, “I wanna become a UX designer because X, Y and Z”? And those kind of motivations have to ring true to yourself and to the industry. Is that the type of thing you’re talking about?
Dara – Yeah, exactly. Know really what it is that you’re passionate about. So if it is that you’re a visual guy or girl, you really like solving problems that result in crisp user interfaces, great. We know what you’re about now. And then have it really distilled down. If you can’t explain in very simple terms what it is that you’re looking for and what gives you passion, it’s hard for someone especially if you’re not coming from that space, to really buy into you. So distil it down.
Ronan – I suppose what you’re saying there in terms of, it’s probably a common enough phrase and I think designers hear of the T-shaped designer. The T-shaped user experience person who has maybe a broad area of skills, then goes deep in one area. And if you’re coming from say, an anthropological background, maybe that area’s research. Or if it’s graphic maybe it’s the visual side. There’s a lot of different things that can be brought to the table.
Colman – And just the reason we have the age up there is that with age comes maturity, with age comes better empathy, comes a bit of humility. Probably you’re better at dealing with people and managing situations. So again, don’t bet deterred if you’re a little bit mature like some of the people in this room, me in particular. There’s a life in the old dogs yet.
Your UX portfolio is more important than your CV
Colman – Moving on to the third bit of advice is create a portfolio. Now look, we could do a whole webinar on portfolios and you guys have done events on portfolios. And it seems like this is so obvious we shouldn’t have to say it, but we still have to say it. So tell us a little bit about the importance of having a portfolio.
Ronan – I would say, and I say this in the boldest terms, if I get an application for a UX role I will spend seconds at the CV and far, far longer at the portfolio. That’s where you see where the quality is. Obviously some companies we know are better at UX than others but any person who you can see has developed a portfolio with a good degree of clarity, explains their processes, explains what roles they took on on the projects. Shows how they did the research, how they did the interaction design, how they guided that process along. That’s what separates a person in this market. And it is what can get you, allow you to leapfrog a little bit in terms of if your portfolio gets put in front of the right hiring manager, a good company they might say, “You know what? This guy actually has enough skills, we can take a chance on him.”
Colman – And it’s fair to say that if you haven’t worked in UX, you don’t have that two, three years’ experience, a portfolio of practise projects can be just as effective. Is that fair to say guys?
Dara – Yeah definitely, definitely. And I think the portfolio can’t be an afterthought, like Ronan said. It’s right, I mean more time is spent looking at that. Like employers, what we’re seeing, they’re looking for creative problem solvers and when we’re looking at portfolios we wanna see full design processes. So we wanna see the problem at hand, sketch wireframes, user research, user testing, low and high-fidelity mockups, the whole gambit. We wanna see it all. The CV does one piece, it tells us what you’ve done. But the portfolio should give an indication of how you think. what’s your thought process in a project? Does it demonstrate a focus on the user? It should scream that you’re a user advocate. It’s really taking the person that’s objectively looking at it, taking them on a journey and they should be able to see quite clearly if that your decision making is a fit with the particular UX culture in the company you’re applying to.
Applying for a UX job without a portfolio
Colman – this is probably an obvious question, what if somebody applied for a role and they didn’t have a portfolio?
Dara – Yeah look, I think there is opportunities to have a portfolio, even if you haven’t worked in a corporate environment. I think there’s a big difference between comprehension and application, right? By all means you can put down on your CV that you’ve attended this module and you’ve done this, show me, you know? One thing I’ve seen done really well is people can write blogs and they’ll do critiques on say, websites. So this is a website, this is what I would change, I’d change this drop down menu, whatever. And it’s just showing your thought process. But I think, do everything you can to get out there and if you can. It mightn’t be paid work, it might be a friend of a friend, it might be something in your, just some connection in your personal life. But if you can do any sort of work, get it demonstrated online. It doesn’t have to be something. It doesn’t have to be a really delicate and impressive web application, just some design flaw that you see somewhere go fix it and show us.
Colman – And it demonstrates your thought process and demonstrates your enthusiasm. Is it fair to say that if someone didn’t have a portfolio you wouldn’t even consider them for a role?
Ronan – I’d say it would be difficult. I’d say there are a lot of companies that won’t consider you valid and they will ask for your portfolio. And I think it’s a case where you speak to people who’ve, more experienced people, who say, “Oh, I haven’t looked at the portfolio in a couple of years.” And they view it as a burden. I would not view it as a burden, I would view it as an opportunity. The majority of people applying for jobs it’s the old adage of don’t show don’t tell. The majority of people applying for jobs can only tell. Working in this field you can actually show. And a lot of your heavy lifting can be done before you even walk in the door for an interview. That’s a massive opportunity.
Colman – Aoife, you might send out the link to some of our students have creative portfolios that we think are exemplars of what a good portfolio is and thinking of Dan’s in particular. Might send out a link to that so people can get an idea that we’re not just talking in the abstract where he has put together a portfolio showing and explaining how he went through the entire process of creating an airline application.
Tom – If you don’t have anything, go with some practice projects and just pick something that you think you can fix, show your process.
Colman – And I think an example is you this this quite a lot, there is a website for booking tickets for my local railway and it’s really cumbersome and I’ve redesigned it. And here’s a couple of these are tests I did with some friends. Here’s the analysis I did. Here’s the wireframes and here’s the final design. Here’s how I think I have solved the problem. Is that the type of thing you’re talking about?
Dara – Yeah exactly, and especially if it’s a kind of thing where you went down this route and then you hit this problem and you said, “No, I need to change it and go this way.” Paint the story, warts and all. And it doesn’t have to be pixel perfect stuff. It can be mockups in the back of a pad somewhere. People just wanna see that the journey you’ve gone on and really that you’re passionate about it. If we look at other industries if we’re talking about, maybe not the best example, but if we’re talking about if we were a modelling agency, people would want to show their portfolio. It’s what they’re passionate about. This, we’re screaming that you’re passionate and you live and breathe UX, show us.
Ronan – And I think it’s kind of interesting, we did an event a while ago and one of the very senior hiring managers talked about a person they’d hired at a very junior level and that person had spotted a particular kind of first aid kit that they didn’t feel worked. And so they had gone, they had done a bit of research into what didn’t work in that situation. They had done prototypes on it, they had tested it with friends and family, all at just an educational level and the company were actually blown away by it because it showed to such clear detail all of the processes. And they took the person on and without going into it, they’ve gone on to have a very successful career.
Colman – Yeah that’s brilliant. And I think the thing is, just to reiterate, the portfolio shouldn’t show just the shiny end product, that’s not what it’s about. It’s designing products, designing software, it can be messy and people wanna see that messy journey that you’ve went on to arrive at the solution at the end. Okay, so next up, tip number four is network in your local UX community. Just a little before Dara, go for coffee with these people, get on their radar, ask them to be your mentor. Do you wanna talk to us a little about that, guys?
Network your local UX community
Dara – Yeah definitely, by seeking out mentors, really important. Just be mindful of people’s time though, if you send someone in a LinkedIn saying, “Hey, would you like to be my mentor?” It’s probably not the best way to do it. I’d go something targeted, ask for advice on something specific, something small that they’ll come back on. I read something recently where there was a study saying that where you ask for a favour from someone the person that is actually doing the favour for you are likely to actually feel indebted to you and not the other way around, which I found was really interesting. I think assume that people do want to help. People were inevitably in your position where you’re at. Senior people were at one stage looking for their start.
Remember as well, Ireland is small. We’re sitting in Dublin here. The UX community while growing, we talk about six degrees of separation. UX in Dublin is probably more like one or two degrees of separation so if you don’t ask you don’t get. So certainly ask for help. If you can get anyone to have coffees, brilliant. Other than that I suppose if you’ve completed a course see where the alumni are. People that completed the course last year, the year before. Can they throw a rope down to you, extend an olive branch? What challenges did they go through? Even using LinkedIn as well to see where people ended up and reach out that way. I would as well, just the online piece, it’s huge. There’s so much going on online and physical meet ups. Meetup.com is brilliant, Eventbrite. Stuff like CreativeMornings. Really good to get out there and meet people and follow up with coffees. Can you volunteer at things like CoderDojo? CoderDojo, most of the parents there will be working in some relation to the software industry. Maybe there’s value there. Give it a go. Can you volunteer at UXPA, IxDA events? It is about getting out there. And also, look if you can’t ask you don’t get. So, networking’s key.
Colman – Yeah, and I think there are so many. I think every city in the planet now has at least one UX meet up if not multiple UX meet ups focusing on different things. And in my experience, always a very welcoming, open community and just a great place to meet people. People get to know you. It’s that old cliche. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. So it can help.
Dara – Something I signed up to there recently is the side project. thesideproject.org, the idea is that people who have side projects, maybe it’s a business venture, maybe it’s a not-for-profit, whatever the side project is you’re matched with other creative people, you go for coffee. I think something like that might be good to build a portfolio. Or even just to get the creative juices flowing. But yeah, networking is key, do it.
Treat your job search like a project
Colman – Right, so the last topic we wanna talk about and Ronan, I’m going to ask you about this because an idea you shared with us is that treat you job seeking like a project. It’s something with a problem to be solved and you’re going to have to go through that to get to the goal at the other end. And for example, focus on a company that you’d love to work for. Say, “How am I going to get in there? “Who are the people I should meet?” You touched on this earlier on. Do you wanna talk to us a little bit about this?
Ronan – I think is probably what every point we have here leads up to is this idea of when you want to go and find a job with this company, how do I approach this? It’s taking in all the different steps. It’s getting in touch with the right people in that company, even if it’s just for advice. And okay, what do you look for? How can I gain that experience? It’s taking care of your portfolio, making it sharp. Making sure that when positions do come up that even if my CV doesn’t scream out that I have X number of years’ experience, my portfolio shows that there’s quality there and there’s potential there. It’s getting out to events as well. It’s amazing the amount of times we would put a CV in front of a company and they would say, “I met that person at an event and I actually really liked them” and right away they’re like, “That’s your first round interview done.” And I think yeah, you talk about delivery of a project that’s what it’s gotta be about. It’s not about put a CV together, something you’ve done, send it off and sit around waiting for the reply. Be proactive, put all those steps in place. It’s not easy.
Colman – And even when that company might not be hiring right now still getting to know the right people, getting to know their business. Maybe even doing practice projects in a related field so that when they are hiring you’ve put yourself in a really advantageous position.
Ronan – And there are very few companies in Dublin not hiring at the moment. Dublin is growing. And absolutely, if a job comes up two months down the line and you are fresh in their minds you’re going to be the first person to get a phone call about it.
Using LinkedIn, Blogs, Slack, Medium, Dribbble, Reddit and Job boards to get a UX job
Dara – And there are some, there’s a lot of online actionable tips here that we should be covering off as well I think. Networking and reaching out to stuff is great but there are some bear necessities ingredients that you should include in your job search as well. LinkedIn is key. Is it up to scratch? Do you have a suitable photo? Do you have all the content up to date? Include all relevant things on your LinkedIn. If it’s not a commercial grade product you can still include it. You can embed pieces of your portfolio in your LinkedIn if you want. If you’re studying something don’t wait ’til you’re finished it to include it. Put up “’til present”. Let people know. LinkedIn, most recruiters, at least with bigger agencies that have the budget for the LinkedIn products use a premium version of LinkedIn and in that we can see people who’ve selected themselves as open to opportunities. If you are open to opportunities you gotta be open to opportunities on LinkedIn. It’s where a lotta people will be finding you.
The old reliable is putting the CV up on the job boards. You will inevitably get calls from recruiters to maybe or not educated and probably your phone might. Look, all of the calls won’t be of value but you might decide to just include it anyway. So it’s Monster, Indeed, IrishJobs, I’d get the CV up on those.
Beyond that then, it’s developing a bit of clout online and I suppose street cred in the UX community. There’s a few different ways of doing that. You want to really, what we’re doing here is painting the picture that UX is your world. So the people that you’re following, the influencers you’re following, are they from the UX community? What sort of blogs are you listening to or, sorry, reading? What’s your blog roll look like? What sort of podcasts are you listening to? Go old school with RSS feeds, Google Alerts. You wanna fill the content that you’re consuming with UX stuff. You can join LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups. Really going contributing to a community then on things like Slack channels, Dribble, Medium. Medium’s big, Reddit. All of these things just showing that you’re active in this community. And what it does is that it shows that you’re passionate about UX. But it also hopefully will give the perception that the learning curve is not the same for everyone. And although your CV might look very similar to the guy or girl sitting beside you, if you’re the person that’s very active online it would portray an image that you’re more accomplished than the person next to you. Blogs as well. I think blogs are really good to keep, even if you don’t, if you write a blog you could have the notion that, “Okay, why am I doing this if no one’s going to read it? “Maybe I’m only going to have 20 people read it.” But from a job seeker’s point of view it’s brilliant. People will google you. You can have it on your CV. It’s an instant, someone will look in and say, “Wow, this guy’s passionate” and it again, will point to areas that you’ve critiqued and show your knowledge and passion for UX. I think as well–
Ronan – It’s get a sense check of the outlets that are being watched and being used within the community. Like Dara said, one of the things we do see sometimes is we see people saying, “Oh, my portfolio’s on Behance.” But Behance is more of a visual, graphic design output and right away if you’re given out an employer, and the portfolio could be there and it could be quality but if it’s on Behance, right away they’re going to ask the question, “Is this person more visual? “Are they who we want?”
And it could be more a case of maybe you need to have your own website that has your own projects. Similarly Dara’s talking about blogs. Where do most people, where do people in the user experience space get their blogs? Medium’s a huge one. So it’s about working out culturally where is the user experience market and how do I best fit in with that?
Your social footprint
Dara – And to catch all of your social footprint, I’ve seen people either having their own website or about.me website. It’s super easy to set up and it can capture all of your online activity in that so that when I click into it there’s no doubt that when I see Ronan McConville’s application that, “Wow, this guy is really active and passionate about UX.”
Colman – Yeah, so again it goes back to that thing that’s your personal brand and you’re putting it out there that I am immersed in this world and not a fly-by-nighter. That’s brilliant advice guys. We’re probably going to stray a little bit over time but we really wanna put it up with the community so it’s over to our attendees now to ask any questions you like.
Questions & Answers
Question from Travis – what about the market for freelance vs in house UX designers? What does that look like at the moment?
Ronan – I suppose it’s tricky, there’s a few different, freelance in terms of stuff when it comes in on a project or project basis. We have I suppose, our lens on this is very much the technology space. We sit as part of a technology recruitment team and on the development side you have a huge contracting market. You can as a development contractor go from one contract to the next to the next to the next with relative ease. I don’t think UX is quite there yet. It is getting there, there are definitely more contract opportunities available. But they’re still I s’pose, and I could be wrong here, but my take on it would be that there is still an idea that companies do want someone who is a part of this and who is going to be there for this entire process. And embed UX into the culture rather than coming on a project by project basis. And that’s not universally true but I suppose would be my reading of it.
Dara – Yeah, like the contract we’re talking about, freelance, but we would see a lot of contracts, limited contracts or people that work under umbrella contracts. And for sure there are career contractors out there that will do typically a six month term somewhere and then move on. They tend to go on six month or 12 month terms. And are often extended. When we do see that it’s typically at a senior level where companies feel that they could come in and hit the ground running very quickly. It’s rare to see the contracts at a junior or even a mid level.
Colman – Yeah, yeah. So I think if we go back to the topic at hand here which is how to break into UX? Freelancing probably isn’t the way to go at that point. You’re probably better off looking for an in house gig where you can learn the ropes as well, right?
Dara – Yeah, I think if you can get it look, by all means take it it’s just that there’s less opportunities at that. I think the idea, somewhere you can go in, cut your teeth. A lot of people, senior UX people will look back fondly on their memories of agency side initially. They found it a great way to learn. But yeah, look, I feel that if you’re at that junior level don’t say, “No” to opportunities, it’s just that there’s less in the temporary side.
Question from Adrian – Is it okay to start sharing unfinished portfolios or practice portfolios with recruiters? Do you feel you need to see a final polished version?
Ronan – In terms of sharing with recruiters, I wouldn’t say, I’m not a UX design manager so they might be able to give you better feedback but I suppose one advantage we would have is that we see a huge volume of portfolios, probably more than most people in this space would. So in terms of do you wanna put it in front of your dream ? Probably not, but there’s nothing to say you can’t run it past a recruiter and say, “Look, can you give me some advice on this?”
Dara – But I think hiring managers often will love seeing that you’ve taken your research entailed taking someone for a coffee and scribbling on that back because in the real world that’s often what it is like. In big multinationals even it might be taking someone for a coffee, “Have a look at this.” We often think that it’s a big formal process but often it’s not. So yeah, you can put down sketches and stuff like that but do have a mind of how it’s presented. One single page scroll down doc with all sorts of stuff latched onto it probably isn’t the best but by no means does it need to be perfect. But have an eye on is the person that’s looking at this going to be visually inclined?
Colman – Yeah, and I think don’t let the great get away in the good, that phrase, you know? Don’t wait ’til it’s absolutely perfect because you might never get there. Just get it to a point where it’s shareable and then just stick it out there. Perfect it over time then after that.
Dara – Companies work to a minimum viable product and I suppose this is probably no different.
Question – With more specialist roles like UX analysts, researchers – do they need portfolios do you think? Or what do those portfolios look like?
Ronan – As a researcher you’re probably not going to have finished visual designs, obviously. But absolutely and you can still, a UX portfolio obviously has to have some visuals in it but it’s not strictly a visual medium. A lot of it goes into the processes and the ways you approach things. So having a portfolio, talking about what was the initial brief given to us? How did we question the brief? How do we take a step back and say, “Okay, “what are we looking for here? How did we approach the research? Why did we approach the research? Why did we choose the demographics we choose? What were the personas that came out of that?” There’s a pretty meaty portfolio right there before you ever get into the–
Colman – Can I just jump in there and say, if you are working on a project like that take photographs of everything. I did an interview, take photograph of you sitting in the room interviewing someone. I went and did some research in a supermarket, take a photograph of that. Take a still of your usability test. If you’re analysing things using Post-it Notes, creating a flow diagram, take a photograph of that, take a photograph of you at the white board. Even though you’re not designing at that point you’re doing a very important part of the job and some sort of documentary evidence of that, oftentimes messy process, can make for a great looking portfolio.
Dara – Yeah, and I think for a portfolio, while we still see these generous roles and sometimes we see job specs that we look at them and think, maybe that should actually be split into two or three head counts instead of just one. So sometimes when doing a portfolio there might be a motivation for someone to try and cover everything. If someone is predominantly visual and coming from maybe a graphic design background, loves the visual design piece, for sure put up your experience and research. But if you know for sure that the area you wanna focus on is visual, it’s no problem if your portfolio reflects that.
Colman – Yeah, so emphasise your strengths, your passion.
Dara – Because it will come out in the wash anyway. For sure, show that your passion for learning, that you understand all the process. But if you know this area you wanna work in it’ll come out in interview anyway. So put your best foot forward.
Ronan – And as a funny aside to that, it’s probably a bit off-point, but there was such a gold rush for UX roles and to be the right UX candidate over the last years, one of the most difficult candidates to find was actually a UI designer. Dedicated UI designer with a good UI portfolio. And you’re actually, like Dara said, if that’s what you do and you have a good portfolio you’re actually pretty valuable on the market right now.
Question from an architect – what are the first steps for an architect to move into a UX design role?
Dara – Yeah, look, you’ve gotta be educated, you know? I think the guys here would love to speak to you if you’re in that position. Beyond that then it’s going out and setting up connections. For me, if I was looking to switch careers I’d try and get in front of people that are doing the job. Can you find someone that’s made the same switch as you? What challenges have they hit? And just before you go and invest in much time or thought, have those conversations to see if you think it is going to be for you. Beyond that there’s loads online, you can be educated. But for me, having something formal would go a long to attract employers.
Colman – Then I think it’s a case of doing everything that we’ve talked about, following the five tips that we’ve talked about there. And for an architect to switch into UX and we’ve met plenty of them, it’s the design process. You’re following the same process just in a different medium and you probably would be able to put together a fantastic portfolio and I think any UX hiring manager worth their sole would be fascinated to interview an architect. You’re already one foot ahead of the competition there I would say, so don’t be deterred. This is a bit of a mantra here.
Question – as recruiters what is the value of UX certification?
Dara – Yeah, it goes a long way. It shows that someone has, like anything, if I was interviewing someone for a job I’d want to see, show me something outside of work that you’ve put your mind to and completed. So irrespective of what it is it goes a long way to show someone that you’ve seen something through to completion. Beyond that, look, it’s a certain, approval you know? For us, I know the quality of the course because I’ve been involved with you guys for the last few years, but it is landing really well with employers. Employers know it. The value of the fact that the Dublin market is maybe smaller than say any other international markets, people know people. So they’ve heard of it. But also the value of this course is that it’s practical application of knowledge as well. So you come out with the portfolio, you’ll come out with real world examples as opposed to maybe some of the, certainly when I, the first time I was introduced to UX and HCI was about 12 years ago when I was in college. And I can say for sure that that wasn’t ready-for-work experience that I was learning was learning from journals et cetera, not application of knowledge. It’s having something there, it’s plugging a gap, it’s showing that you’re really passionate and you’ve taken the time and money to invest in something and you’ll have something actionable at the end to talk about.
Ronan – And I think that in terms of, I know ultimately a lot of roles we would deal with would be at the senior end of the market and even at that level, if I’m seeing someone who is working a full time job and they’re going and doing this course in their spare time or doing any sort of further education in their spare time. That tells me right away okay, this person isn’t just doing a nine to five. This person actually is passionate about the field and they’re passionate about advancing in it. And it says a lot about a person right away.
Dara – Personal validation as well, and even for experienced people. I know lots of experienced people that are signed up to this. It’s having a white belt mentality I think is important in any field. The basics is what will determine how successful you are in any job. So going back over basic stuff is really important.
Colman – Yeah, and I think look, of course we’re going to plug our course, but any good course on UX is going to solidify, particularly if you’re new to the field, solidify in your mind what it’s all about and it’s going to give you the ability to talk knowledgeably about it. I think without that kind of coherence in your mind I think a lot of people new to the field have misconceptions about what UX actually is. And if you go to an interview and you’re not coherent and you’re repeating some of these misconceptions, you’re at a disadvantage as opposed to “Well I am educated, I do understand this and I can talk about it with this base line of knowledge behind me.”
Ronan – And I think that’s one of, I suppose we talk about breaking into UX but I think if it was anything I would tell people don’t do, it’s don’t assume that “as a business analyst, I was kind of in UX, and I was kind of doing this”. Know where the gaps are. If you want to show how your experience can relate to user experience, but be aware of what you need to learn. And courses will show you that and courses will show you what is expected of an actual UX designer because we’re kind of getting out of the point now with the maturity in the market where hiring managers didn’t really know what they were looking for. They do now. And that gives you that awareness I think.