Talk to aspiring UX professionals around the world and you’ll find that the most common challenge (and frustration) among them involves the pursuit of the first job. “I’ve applied to several UX jobs and can’t even get an interview,” is echoed around the world — to the extent that it seems like some kind of mantra. Many of these people have either completed a degree, a UX bootcamp, or a certificate program and all expected more.
This blog post is being written to provide one thing that isn’t usually communicated. Proper perspective. I’ll do this by presenting what I call the UX Job Seeker Manifesto. It’s a list of truths, expectations, and attitudes that are important to embrace as you continue your occupational and career pursuits.
You might not want to hear these things, but they’re important to know, understand, and embrace. Ready? Let’s begin:
- Nobody can promise you a job.
Many “educational” venues promise those who enter their institution they’ll get a job. Newsflash!!! NOBODY can promise you a job. Unfortunately, this is the worst part of the lie. The worst part is the sense of entitlement people have because of the false promise. Instead of embracing the false promise, understand that the educational foundation you’ve laid has (hopefully) helped to make you marketable. Put it to work, but understand that there are no guarantees.
- Entry-level UX jobs DO exist!!!
Many complain that there aren’t any entry-level UX jobs out there. Not only have I personally and directly been associated with people being hired into entry-level UX jobs, but I know for a fact that the claims are not true. The volume may not be as high as you like, but such jobs are indeed available. Therefore, it’s critical that you don’t allow yourself to become “infected” via folks that are complaining.
- Getting a job is a competition.
I often hear people express frustration about applying for jobs and not getting interviews or getting hired as if employers have no other choice. The application stage, at times, consists of hundreds of candidates—and you are competing. Recruiters and hiring managers feverishly review applications in hopes of identifying what they consider to be the best people. One applicant’s qualifications are being compared to others AND the decision to move a candidate forward to the next part of the process happens in moments, often times without resumes being read and/or portfolios being reviewed. In addition, sorry to say, many (if not most) employers do NOT know how to evaluate and hire UX talent. No matter the case, the application process remains a competition. Is it fair? Many times, it’s not, but there are no alternatives. Tout what you have to offer and apply. And if you don’t get selected, there are thousands of other jobs to apply for. Keep moving forward.
- Beware of “job seeker bitterness” and bias.
While the frustration is understanding, some people having difficulty become embittered. Overcoming this requires emotional intelligence. Don’t let the trouble finding a job cause you to have a destructive attitude. If you have an attitude about this, it can show up during the interview process and just perpetuate more of the same. You must keep your head up and keep moving forward. In addition, beware of having a biased mindset during the process. People who are drowning in bias only see things from their own personal perspective, ignoring the needs and goals of the company, and ignoring the competitor factors mentioned above.
- Resist the urge to be hypersensitive.
Lots of new and aspiring UXers don’t realize that it takes a certain set of personality traits to truly function and excel at UX (a topic I covered in my podcast series entitled “So… You Want to be A UXer”). One trait that works against new and aspiring UXers is hypersensitive. When you hear certain things, especially when someone is sharing tips to help you grow (that go “against the grain” of your mind), it can indeed be jarring. Hypersensitive people hear things they don’t like and things they can’t relate to and have a tendency to do one or more of the following: a) Take the statements personally and respond with hostility; b) Interject things the person didn’t really say; c) Get offended by the tone being used and dismissing what’s said and/or d) Assume (and inform others) that such a person is against them, is blocking their progress in UX, and avoid them. Hypersensitive people also have a tendency to say and do provocative things and then demonize the person who responded to their behavior, of course, never saying or sharing what they did to provoke the matter. This is one of the most common issues occurring today. You may have to work to overcome this one, moreso that the other things listed here, but you’ll be glad you did.
- What can you do to stand out? NOTHING!!!
Aspiring UXers ask me this question often. In general, there isn’t anything you can do to “stand out.” You are who you are, you know what you know, and (truth be told) there are a lot of folks that are just like you with a relatively thin line of difference between you and them. Instead of embracing the misguided notion of standing out, put that energy into representing yourself in the best way possible based on what the employer is looking for. In other words, just present yourself in the best possible light. Review a job’s responsibilities, duties, and qualifications and highlight those things in your resume (if you can). If you don’t have the experience, but went through training, list education first on your resume. Under no circumstances should you fabricate (i.e., lie) and present yourself as someone or something that you are not. That mindset is a detriment to the company, potential team, and the discipline as a whole.
- Remember, nobody owes you ANYTHING.
Yep. I’m purposely revisiting this one a bit later (extending from #1), but it’s important to know. The sense of entitlement that exists among many aspiring UXers, especially those who attended a program or bootcamp that promised a job. If you’re one of those folks, it’s time to abandon that mindset. Instead, embrace the fact that you must qualify and sell yourself (honestly, I hope) in order to make progress in your job search.
- There are factors beyond education required to get a job.
Many people enroll in different types of educational sources and, for some reason, think it’s going to help them prepare completely to launch their careers. It helps, but it’s also important to understand the various parameters of the job seeking process. For example, you need to know how to construct a proper resume and cover letter. You need to know how to behave at an interview. You need to know how to ask questions. You need to demonstrate good interpersonal skills. Without these things, the “excellence” on display in your portfolio don’t have any real worth.
- Embrace the power of following instructions.
You would not believe how many entry-level UXers I tried to help get a job, only to learn they don’t have the wherewithal to follow instructions. Imagine a person you tell about a great opportunity. You forward a link to the job, answer their questions, get their resume, and forward it to the appropriate parties. Yet, the applicant (for some reason) thinks their job is done…. and NEVER bother actually applying for the job. A thorough examination of what we’ll call the “new UXer blues” reveals that lots of folks can’t get a job, because they can’t get themselves out of the way and do the little things (like actually applying). Frustrated after several attempts (some applied and some not), they choose to play the victim, while those who refuse to be denied keep plugging away and eventually have a breakthrough. Complaining is a gross waste of energy. Remember, nobody is going to hunt you down and give you a job. You must complete whatever the standard process and wait… just like everyone else. There’s power in following instructions.
- There aren’t any “gatekeepers” blocking your path to a job.
I have encountered hordes of people who embrace the belief that some people work to keep entry-level people from being hired. These people are labeled as “gatekeepers.” In all my years working as a UX professional, I have ABSOLUTELY NEVER seen such a thing. Senior UXers who advocate for quality and learning about the discipline properly are also referred to as gatekeepers and are believed to stand in the way of entry-level people getting UX jobs. Both accusations are GROSSLY FALSE. Besides the fact that believing a lie is counterproductive, having a destructive attitude towards senior UXers can eliminate or minimize the potential for said seniors to impart into the lives of up-and-coming UXers, thereby creating problems for one’s own advancement in the discipline.
- No matter how good it is, your portfolio isn’t “magic.”
Let’s expand on that one. A portfolio is NOT a magic force and does NOT reflect the occupational currency that many think. It definitely won’t overcome flaws in other places, so make sure you’re as solid as possible on all counts.
- Lay down your ego.
Today, many set out to learn about UX, but miss out on a key factor. To excel at UX, one must be void of ego. After all, we spend our time driving wins for users and the business. It’s NEVER about the UXer. Hence, the earlier someone learns this, the earlier you can begin to excel. Demonstrating a persona that’s void of ego will help you to stand out when applying for jobs, but people with certain personalities can’t do this. Strive to be ego-free.
- The best path to finding a mentor is organic.
Many will dispute this one, but the proof is in the pudding. Much of today’s UX mentor landscape is (wait for it) predatory. Many of these mentees are nothing more than a notch in the belt of their “mentors.” Several reports are also circulating about the gross lack of substance via these engagements. How does this happen? The quest for mentors with a heightened drive and perceived sense of urgency, can easily result in settling (though those who do it don’t realize it) for pretty much anything that comes along. Enter the faux mentor. And don’t be fooled. When you don’t know certain things, practically anything else someone says will seem interesting and useful. Fortunately, many build organic (i.e., natural) relationships with senior UXers that result in beneficial info downloads that help benefit the aspiring UXer tremendously. These connections are void of regret.
- It’s not about the 50 jobs you don’t get, it’s about the one that you do.
Some people talk about the many rejections they receive. They pile up, are frustrating, and can be overwhelming. What did folks not tell you? This was always the case (potentially). So don’t allow the rejections you may experience to get you down. Keep your head up, keep making yourself more qualified, and keep applying.
- Getting a job doesn’t mean you have arrived.
Getting hired might seems like a point of success and it is to an extent. This, however, is the just the beginning of your journey. Truth is, we never stop learning and never stop growing. Therefore, it’s important that you continue improving your acumen.
These truths, expectations, and attitudes will help to put you in the right state of mind and offset the entitlement, bias, and toxic positivity that threatens the well-being.
For all the new UXers out there, welcome!!! I wish you all the best in your endeavors. Just remember nothing worth pursuing comes without work, purpose, and patience. You’ll also have difficulty succeeding without the right preparation, expectations, and drive. You’ll just have a semblance that seems like success. ;-)
If if you need more info downloads, I’ve posted one of my podcast episodes to help you along the way.
Hang in there…. and remember the UX Job Seeker Manifesto.
Darren Hood is a 26+ year UX practitioner with a broad professional footprint that spans several types of business. He serves as an adjunct professor at Kent State University (Kent, Ohio), Lawrence Tech University (Southfield, Michigan), and Harrisburg University (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is also one of the authors featured in “97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know.”