A guide for getting a job in design
A checklist of links, resources and tips to help you to survive the dread and get a new job in UX.
Finding a job can be a dreadful, long process. The solution is to face it as you would face any design project: with clear steps and deliverables. Here, we organized the best articles to help you get prepared for each step of the process:
- Defining your goal and finding your market fit
- Creating your CV and portfolio
- Hunting for jobs
- Preparing for the interview process
- Getting ready for day one
Ok, shall we?
Defining your goal and finding your market fit
Your job should deliver more than just a paycheck. If you are employed and your finances are under control, just a small pay raise might not justify changing your job. If you are changing careers and this will be your first job in design, it’s worth planning your finances before starting the job hunt.
Your job needs to give you more than just a title. It’s easy to be lured by a “lead” role (in a team of one) or by a big company name. These things can be a distraction from your real career goals and shouldn’t be the main driver for your decision.
Most importantly: your job needs to be a place to learn. Whether by the work challenges you are going to have, mentorship from the leadership or for valuing personal growth.
Your job needs to be a good fit for you as much as you need to be a good fit for it. There are thousands of new designers out of bootcamps every year (month?) and other hundreds of seasoned designers looking for a new challenge. You need to understand what you would bring to your employer and how you fit in the context of the market, considering your experience and salary expectations.
There is the romanticized vision of design, and there is the real design industry out there.
There are new and exciting challenges in Virtual Reality and in new startups, but there is also great challenges in enterprise software or bringing design thinking to big financial institutions. Your skillset and background might fit better in a certain industry or company size. Embrace it and make the most of it.
So, the questions you should be asking yourself are:
- What do you want to learn on this job?
- Where do you want to be in the next few years?
- What is your field focus? Research? Writing? Motion? Virtual Reality?
- What is important for you in terms of work culture and style?
- Tips for designers looking for a job they’ll love
- How I Landed My First UX Design Job — While Still Completing My UX Design Bootcamp
- How to choose your first design gig: startup, corporate, or freelance?
- Identity crisis: design job titles
- From grad student to product designer
- Perfect job: purpose, people and pay
- Finding jobs that maximize learning
Getting ready before applying
Start with your curriculum and cover letter. It feels bureaucratic, but it can’t be overlooked. Make sure it’s well-written, with a clear and concise structure. Don’t fall in the trap of just delivering a generic message: take this as an opportunity to practice how you will introduce yourself in an interview, and to deliver the message of what you expect from work and what you will bring in if hired. Oh, and of course, don’t forget to update your LinkedIn with the same content.
If you want to show that you understand metrics, please don’t show your skills as graph stats in your CV.
Then, create your own FAQ. This is, by far, the best advice I’ve seen to get ready for job hunting. Allison Milchling created this method to help her answer the typical interview questions in the best way possible, every time. This exercise of listing common questions and answering it helps you practice and be confident for the interviews, while also helping the hiring company to know you better from the time you apply for it.
Write down the cases for your portfolio. It’s all about showing your process, how you worked with the team to solve the problems and what you learned from it, regardless if it is for UX, research, or motion. People are hiring you because of your thought process as much as the final product you are able to deliver.
Final step: define how to publish it. If you want to focus on visual design, make your portfolio interface a project itself. But, if you work with writing or research, your portfolio could be as simple as a Medium publication, for example. There is no right or wrong here, but make sure you are using the right format for the message you want to deliver.
Articles to read and be inspired:
- The FAQs that got me more UX interviews
- What is the real role of a design portfolio website?
- Let’s talk about design portfolios
- How to wow me with your UX research portfolio
- How to create a UX writing portfolio
After finally overcoming the painful process of updating your portfolio, everything should be easy… But it is not. Job hunting requires time and patience.
You shouldn’t feel frustrated after getting your first no. Or your tenth one.
Check job boards and events to find the opportunities out there. Don’t be extremely picky, especially if you are just starting your career: a company might surprise you or, at least, can be a good practice for future interviews.
Read job descriptions and understand what they really want for the openings. Companies hiring are struggling with a similar problem that you are and, unfortunately, a lot of them will oversell the position. Learn to read between the lines. More than the job description, search who works there and the size of the team to get a better idea to the real job there. Talk with other professionals and mentors to see what you should expect from a specific job position or what should be your best strategy to position yourself in the market.
Preparing for interviews
The first step will likely be a phone screening. They are usually short and the recruiter or manager just want to see if (1) you are a real person and (2) you tick the boxes from the job description. Be brief and clear in your answers. Make sure you have a quiet space with a good phone reception.
Next, you will probably be invited to a “design challenge” or a portfolio review. The company should let you know in advance so you can be prepared. For the portfolio review, be ready to present a case from your portfolio in detail, but don’t just open the portfolio website to show it — bring a proper presentation to show more than what they already know (and to show you care).
Hey, can you redesign our product for free as a test?
Nah, I’m good.
If you have done your FAQ like suggested above, you are almost ready for your in-person interview. Be prepared to answer other questions as well. Try to refresh your memory with good (and bad) cases that you can use as example for questions they ask you.
Research the company and the people that will interview you. Have a list of questions to ask them as well, not only to show that you are interested, but also because this is the opportunity that you have to see if it’s really the place you want to be.
In your last interview or when the recruiter start talking about the specifics of the position, like salary and benefits, it’s your opportunity to negotiate as well. Unfortunately, not all companies have a transparent policy for salaries like Basecamp or Buffer, so you should have a clear idea what you want and make sure that they are not pushing you a lower wage for any reason. Don’t feel pressured to say yes immediately, take sometime to think about the offer.
Be prepared for whiteboard challenges:
Be prepared for portfolio presentations:
- 8 tips to survive a portfolio presentation
- “It’s a bummer that the implementation looks completely different than what we designed”
Be prepared for the interviews:
- Setting yourself up to interview
- Nailing the Interviews
- Interviewing for User Research Positions
- Interview your Product Manager
- 10 Questions You’ll Be Asked in a UX Interview
- 10 Questions You Should Ask in a UX Interview
- Cracking the UX Design Interview
Be prepared to negotiate your salary: