Applying for a job is never an easy task, and sometimes job applications can be confusing – do they need me to have ALL of those skills? Is it ok if some of my experience was during school and not in work projects?
This article is a practical one – inspired by what we do at my place of work, Springboard, where we have helped thousands of people achieve their UX career goals with our mentored workshops, and our free career guide.
We often read about the frustrations of job applicants but what may surprise many is that recruiters also find the job application process frustrating. They spend many hours poring over resumes and cover letters, hoping to find the perfect fit for companies they represent. Recruiters know better than anyone what companies are actually looking for when hiring UX designers, so it made sense to approach a recruiter that specializes in UX design recruitment and ask them for their feedback on how to be a great job applicant.
When speaking about recruitment, one company that I interact with that comes to mind is Creative Niche. As a bit of a background, this company provides creative staffing and workforce management solutions to the marketing departments of multinational corporations, as well as major advertising, digital and public relations agencies in Canada and the United States.
I spoke with Gassia Maljian, their Executive Search Director, who was happy to give me some of the secrets to smart UX design applications and what ultimately yields happy recruiters. Here is the outcome of this informal interview:
What does a qualified UX design applicant look like to you?
A qualified candidate will have a CV outlining their job experience and the specific projects they have worked on, for example some complex sales application, internal registration tool, or a content micro-site and the deliverables that they were responsible for, be it UX research, user scenarios, wire-frames, interactive prototypes, etc. They will have a portfolio that is clearly organized and which showcases the variety of work they have created. We have had organizations say that a candidate isn’t following good UX design principles for their portfolios, and that’s a non-starter.
Could you give us a breakdown of common terminology, job requirements, and their meanings in a UX design job posting?
Most of the terminology we see has to do with the software candidates are required to be familiar with, and the deliverables they are responsible for. Axure, Balsamiq, Omnigraffle, Invision are wireframing and prototyping tools. They are used to create concepts. Photoshop, InDesign, Sketch are design tools used to create final products.
Should people new to the UX design industry apply for every job posting, or only for entry-level postings?
If the job posting specifies the need for a senior designer, junior candidates won’t be considered. By applying to a more senior position, an applicant can seem like they are not aware of their own level of expertise. That being said, if the gap isn’t too large (for example, the difference between your experience and the experience level desired is a year or less), the requirement is likely not rigid and applicants missing just a bit of experience will still be considered.
What skills are people lacking the most on their resumes?
Strong communication, leadership and presentation skills are key differentiators for any candidate. It’s very important to highlight if you have assisted in or run user testing sessions, led collaboration sessions or presented work to senior stakeholders. Also, don’t forget to include any experiences you’ve had mentoring others.
What’s the biggest mistake that people make on UX design resumes?
Not taking enough time to make their resumes organized and visually appealing. A resume should reflect a candidate’s design expertise. Don’t make it overly complicated, though. Remember that a hiring manager typically doesn’t spend more than a minute on your resume. The easier it is to consume your resume, the better. Finally, don’t send it in Word format – stick to PDF.
How important are portfolios to you? Could an applicant apply for a UX design job without a portfolio?
Portfolios are very important. They show all the work a designer has completed and they support all of the experience listed on a resume. It’s important to ensure you are including a variety of samples in your portfolio with as much of the process traced out as possible.
This can be difficult because of the confidentiality around many of the projects designers work on. It’s worth the effort though. Including samples of wire-frames, user flows, use cases, program flows, prototypes, or site maps, will be very advantageous. An employer does not glean nearly as much from just the final product.
You should not apply without a UX design portfolio. Most hiring managers will require that you have one.
What are red flags that come up in UX design interviews? What suggestions would you give to candidates for excelling in the interview process?
It’s a red flag when a designer can’t clearly articulate their contributions to a project. Before any interview, we always recommend taking the time to rehearse achievements and projects. Candidates should be able to succinctly convey the process behind the results achieved.
We also recommend being cognizant of using the words “we” vs. “I”. Projects have multiple contributors and it is essential to give credit where it is due. You should never claim to have designed something that you did not actually complete. However, it is equally important to discuss which part of the work was your specific contribution because that is what interviewers are testing for.
Be sure to bring energy to an interview. A hiring manager wants to be confident that any designer they have on their team is passionate about their craft and will bring that zeal with them. This includes phone interviews, where candidates often forget that energy levels can be a major determinant of who moves on in the interviewing process.
What advice would you give to UX design job seekers?
Prepare for an interview. It is important to take time to reflect on your experience and condense key insights that need to be shared with your interviewer. It is also important to know the [industry] and to be able to communicate your opinions on trending topics. What are the latest UX design trends and how do you feel about them? What companies are producing work that you admire? What are the latest tools you’ve been testing, and how do they compare to what else is out there?
It is also really important to research the company you’re interviewing with thoroughly. It’s a no brainer to look at the design of any of their products, but be ready to discuss your opinions on how you would change or improve things.
Network – It has been said before but it’s still great advice. Connect with other folks in the industry at events, and share that you are on the market. It’s also a good opportunity to meet with specialized recruiters who attend UX meetups. They could have a perfect opportunity for you!
Guide to Making your Recruiters Happy
- Have empathy for recruiters. As a User Experience Designer, you should be able to put yourself in a recruiter’s shoes. Make it easy for them to help you. Try creating an Empathy Map of the recruiters and refer to it whenever you are wondering how to approach the interview.
- Don’t apply for senior roles if you do not have the experience for such a role. A difference in a year or so is not an issue however.
- Ask smart questions based upon the job description. Most recruiters are delighted to open up a dialog between you and the employer.
- Provide a portfolio that includes a variety of samples and shows the process, not just the final product. There are plenty of examples of functional and well designed portfolios out there to gain inspiration.
Bonus: Here is a list of questions that you can expect in a UX Design Interview
Want to learn more?
Want to get an industry-recognized Course Certificate in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic? Online UX courses from the Interaction Design Foundation can provide you with industry-relevant skills to advance your UX career. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research – Methods and Best Practices are some of the most popular courses. Good luck on your learning journey!
(Lead image source: Tim Gouw – Creative Commons)