Landing a job in UX is hard
by Nick Harris and Harry Oaten
We’ve seen ads from bootcamps that say they include a job for students at the end — guaranteed! Woof. That’s a tough promise to keep. Certifications ensure that skills are in place, but landing a role often requires so much more. At the end of the day, it usually comes down to luck, lots of patience, who you know, and even being in the right (virtual) room at the right time. There’s no one-size-fits-all model or path to follow.
In this post, we’ll hear from two UX Writers Collective students who share their honest takes on transitioning into UX — and the valuable lessons they’ve learned along the way. (P.S. Harry is ready to work!)
Five lessons Nick learned during his career transition
The following section was contributed by Nick Harris, UX Writing Fundamentals graduate
A couple of years ago, during a cold night shoot in an industrial zone near downtown LA, I decided to change careers. At the time, I was working in film. I’d gotten into the industry almost two decades before, and I loved my work. But as this particular shoot continued past 2 a.m., I grew more sleep-deprived, more exhausted, and more annoyed — and as I realized that, for the past 90 minutes, all I’d done was calculate, then recalculate, when I’d get back home (around dawn, with any luck) — it hit me: I couldn’t do this anymore.
Changing careers is terrifying. It can make you feel stupid, small, ignorant, and unemployable. It can be hard to find a job, to get in that door. Believe me, I know.
Here are five things I wish I’d known starting off my career transition journey:
1. Don’t underestimate the power of your soft skills.
My biggest hurdle, while transitioning into UX, was myself. I’d convinced myself that my previous career experience was non-transferable. This can’t possibly apply to work in UX, can it? Thankfully, I was wrong.
Though the technical specifics of film work are not transferable, everything else — negotiating, managing difficult situations, working on tight deadlines, thinking on the fly, and keeping on top of 20 million things at once — all of these skills are very much appreciated in UX, and any career for that matter. These are sometimes referred to as soft skills. You have them, I have them. You tend to pick them up as you go along in life. They matter more than you think. In content design, you’ll use them often to get buy-in on your work.
2. Have a plan of action.
The UX world is like any other: there are structures, systems, customs, histories, and practices that you need to learn before you can competently succeed at UX work, even at a junior level. You need a plan of action that you can use to learn what you need to know. Whether that’s attending a UX boot camp (as I did — a topic for another time), or teaching yourself online, you need a way to track and develop your UX skillset. One resource you can use is the UX Writers Collective. There are also a wealth of other resources, great books, Slack channels, and professional tools out there to help you learn.
3. There is no guaranteed job waiting for you.
No one is going to just hand you a job. I repeat: no one is going to just hand you a job.
Transitioning into UX, I expected — unrealistically — that jobs in this sector grew on trees (and that the streets were paved with gold, and that the entire population of Silicon Valley would line up to meet me, and so on…).
But no. Work is work. Finding a job is just that. A job. It’s difficult. You have to be proactive. Which brings us to point number four…
4. The real work begins AFTER you pass your course.
When I emerged on the other side of the UX boot camp, I felt like a warrior for a couple of weeks. Then, reality sank in. I was still unemployed and had to find a job. Like I mentioned earlier, soft skills came in really valuable here: networking, self-discipline, flexibility, adaptability, and lateral thinking.
People told me many times that learning UX is like drinking from a firehose. Partly, what they’re talking about, is this stage in your career transition.
UX is a huge field with a bunch of different niches and sub-roles. There’s UX Design, UX Writing, UX Research, Content Design, Service Design, Content Strategy, UI Design, UX Architecture, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, and many more.
You’ve got to figure out which field you’d like to focus on, which field suits your skillset, and which field piques your interest the most. Let me repeat that last bit: which field piques your interest…the most.
The work, at this stage, involves searching out those opportunities that can help you grow. Don’t cast aside the Spam and Ramen noodles just yet. You’ll be needing those a while.
5. You’ll feel like a rookie for quite some time.
And that’s okay! First, you are a rookie. Second, that’s how you’ll grow. You have to start somewhere. There’s so much to learn about all these fields, and there will always — always — be more to learn. Even senior folks are continually improving their skills.
That said, don’t allow yourself to succumb to the dreaded imposter syndrome. You are not the first to feel like this and certainly not the last. You are a UX professional, you can do the work, and you will (eventually) succeed.
Just remember you’re not alone in this.
So where do you go from here?
These are just a few (of the many) lessons I learned while transitioning into UX. Some of them you may find helpful, some of them you may not. There’s no one-size-fits-all method that works. Take what seems right for you, and know that I’m rooting for you from the sidelines. We all are.
I could have never made this transition without the support and encouragement of my dear wife, as well as the time and goodwill of the many UX writers who helped me out along the way. They are such a kind and collaborative bunch.
Maybe the most important lesson I learned while transitioning is to reach out to people. We’ve been where you are, and we’re always willing to help. Don’t give up! I did it at 49 and landed a job at 50. If I had listened to the doubts in my head I would have never done it, so feel the fear and do it anyway!
Six lessons Harry learned during the job search
The following section was contributed by Harry Oaten, UX Writing Fundamentals graduate
Reading the blog posts of others — usually, the ones who have successfully found work after transitioning from some other career — it’s easy to get the impression that, with the right attitude, landing a job in the world of UX is simplicity itself. I get the feeling that this is not the case for many people.
Here are the six things, that after over a year of job searching, I’ve learned the hard way:
1. Certificates may get you more interviews but may not be enough to get you the job
Back at the beginning of my UX job hunt, I repeatedly read in various blogs and forums that certificates weren’t necessary for a job in UX — be it research, design, or writing.
I can say with some high degree of certainty, that this isn’t the case if you’re just starting out. The number of interviews I’ve received has been in direct correlation with the number of certificates I’ve gained over the last year.
Not all certificates are created equal though. I got noticeably more attention to my LinkedIn profile after gaining:
- The Professional Diploma in UX Design with the superlative UX Design Institute
- The Professional UX Writing Certificate with the awesome UX Writers Collective
- The Introduction to Web Accessibility with the fantastic W3C
Both the diploma and professional UX writing certificate helped me create really nice material for my portfolio. However…
2. Case studies from courses may not be enough to land the job
Although the upskilling and certificates have landed me more interviews, I’ve still lost jobs to “more experienced candidates.” In fact, this has been the consistent feedback from every interview so far — well, those that have bothered to give feedback (I’ll get to that in point number four).
Some feedback explicitly said how, although I show understanding of the fundamentals of UX writing via courses and speculative work, I don’t have on-the-job experience. The expression Catch 22 fits perfectly here — you can’t get on-the-job experience without a job, but you can’t get a job without on-the-job experience.
I’ve done some volunteer work helping a designer friend with UX copy but found employers only take this type of work seriously if you were part of a full product team.
Many blogs and career coaches have suggested wrapping past work experience in a UX context, but…
3. If your past work experience isn’t within a UX team, it might not count for much
You may think that having worked as an English language teacher for over 12 years, and having remotely written lesson plans for an international network of schools, that this experience would help me land a job in UX writing.
Teaching English as a second language is all about suiting your language for your audience, having empathy, and speaking to people from all different backgrounds. Despite this, it’s clear that as it wasn’t done as part of a design team, marketing team, or another business team, it’s not as helpful experience.
What about dealing with stakeholders? Can anyone deny that parents can be difficult stakeholders to deal with, especially if they pay a lot to send their children to your school?
I only had one company that talked about this experience in a positive light, regarding their open position as a Content Writer. Sketch impressed me greatly with their humane interview process and transparency from start to finish. I would happily apply there again! Which brings me onto…
4. Ghosting is very much the new norm
I’ve sent over fifty applications in the last four months. Most of these were in response to job postings, a minority were speculative. Over two-thirds had a personalized cover letter, with research done on the company beforehand. To help you set your expectations for those trying to enter UX, here are the numbers regarding the responses.
- 17 straight automated “no thank you” emails
- Around 4 “no thank you” emails from real humans
- 5 interviews
- 27 without any sort of response
Out of the five interviews, I never heard back from two companies despite reaching out. Nothing.
Over half the applications got no response, which admittedly can be disheartening. I comfort myself thinking how they have lost out on a potential talented worker and how I’d not be happy working in a place that treats people with so little consideration anyway.
I’ve grown to appreciate automated rejections. Some of them could use a UX writer’s hand — I wrote my own version and added it to my portfolio — but at least you get closure and can move on.
I should mention that two of the interviews were gained not from applications, but from recruiters reaching out to me via LinkedIn. These were also pretty good experiences, however…
5. Recruiters on LinkedIn and via email are a mixed bag
As I’ve gained qualifications, I’ve found the occasional recruiter reaching out, either by email or a message on LinkedIn. As I mentioned, two of these encounters led to two of my more promising interviews. The recruiters were friendly and professional. Those from Wrike even engage with my posts sometimes, which I appreciate greatly!
However, for every great recruiter experience, there seem to be three bad ones. These are the recruiters that engage you in a conversation about an open position, then suddenly vanish. Each time this happens you find yourself getting your hopes up a little, only to have them dashed. At least they are added to your LinkedIn network, although…
6. Networking is great for meeting new people, but not a sure road to work
There is a lot of emphasis placed on networking. I’ve heard several success stories about people who have found their job via this route and you probably have too. But what if — like me and many other creative people — you’re a bit of an introvert?
Well, despite being quite shy initially, I’ve really enjoyed networking online.
I started by simply engaging in the chat during webinars. This gave me a little more confidence to graduate to attending meetups. Unfortunately, some of these are now moving back to physical locations which means I can’t attend anymore.
I’m glad I tried though. I met loads of interesting people, made many new connections on LinkedIn, and gained further UX knowledge. The only thing it hasn’t helped with so far is finding a job.
To sum it all up
There are many blog posts out there, giving all sorts of positive steps you can take to transition into UX, but I’m willing to bet that many of you reading this have tried everything and are still struggling to get your first job.
I wanted to write this less positive description of the job hunt to let you know that you are not alone. I’ve finally found something that I love to do, and I’m really good at doing it, so although I’m yet to land my first job, I’m not giving up!