Now’s the time many designers are graduating from college. That’s great — we need more designers in the field — but it’s really, really hard to break into.
I’ve written about this a lot (read my Career Guide, I have about 40,000 words there about this and probably should publish a book), but I still get the occasional email asking me questions about how the process works, where to download a resume template, and if we actually get to do the complete UX process (The answer: “No, we don’t, especially in startups.”).
So, before you email me and I make fun of you over the phone or Skype, here’s a few questions you should ask before you hit the send button.
Did you intern last year or did you do any side projects?
Yes, awesome. You have something to show on your first interviews!
If you haven’t, you’re already a year behind of most your classmates. Some have been working on startup ideas or coming up with neat little websites that do things.
Many students spend time during their Bachelors and Masters programs working as interns to learn the craft of interaction design. They might have been working on something during school (the best idea is to turn a school project into a potential startup).
Remember, the job search isn’t fair. If you don’t put the effort in moving ahead of your classmates, your path deserves to be much, much harder. You have to make your own luck, and that’s through hard work.
Do you have a portfolio?
That’s where you put all those projects you did at your internship. When you see how thin the portfolio is, you’ll be motivated to do more work.
The portfolio shouldn’t be cute or show too much of your personality (they aren’t hiring you for your like of cute flowers). What it should show is your line of thinking, soup to nuts in a project so they know how you think.
Behance is good enough for most people (Every time I talk about this, I bring up LaiYee Lori’s portfolio, because it’s amazing), and most of us just want the design to be clean.
What’s your skill set?
Do you know how to do front end coding, can design simple graphics in Photoshop, or know your way around Visio? Those are the kind of questions that you’ll be asked at any interview or first job interview.
We honestly don’t care about the super cool science project you did; we want to know how you built it so if there’s something than you can do we can’t.
Most of older designers will be looking for interns that know how to code up a page because a) we hate doing it, and b) some of us don’t have that in our skillset. Frankly, there’s a serious shortage of front end developers right now, so if you can pick up that skillset before you graduate, you’ll have an advantage over every single designer you are up against. You have a whole summer to learn it!
I will gladly give that work to them because they can build interactive prototypes that are perfect for doing usability testing.
And, if you’re smart enough, you’ll get to do the testing too.
I did mention both of these are perfect to put in your portfolio, right?
Are you applying through applicant tracking systems?
If you’re applying directly through them, it gives you about .41 percent chance of getting the job. That’s right around a 1 in 260 chance.
You’re better off buying lottery tickets or responding to one of those Nigerian scams.
All that work you do to pretty up your resume may not work — some applicant tracking systems present only a text only version of the resume on the first display (they have to download it to see the real deal). This is the first impression the recruiter gets. It may work for smaller startups because they usually accept resumes through email.
The better thing? Stalk people on Twitter or at events and become a personal referral.
I encourage you to find companies on LinkedIn that you want to work at, find out who works there, and find them on Twitter. Or even better, go to a something like Jobvite’s job board, where you can see the connections you may have at the company. Invite them out for a coffee.
Being a personal referral works: Those people that apply for jobs through personal connections or recruiters have a 10 percent chance (or better) of getting hired.
Are you an idealist looking for the perfect job?
You probably aren’t going to be hired into an organization and get to develop Facebook Home. you’ll be a wireframe monkey or doing research that may (or may not be) used. Don’t expect to get something at Twitter. You can apply, but don’t bet on it.
The employers have the upper hand, and once you realize that life becomes much easier. The competition for those jobs is intense, and best if you actually know somewhere there.
Even better, look at companies that are boring, and see if they are interested in internships. Reach out to companies without a program. They might create one for you. Go to any meetups for these companies (and ironically, not the UX ones) to talk to recruiters and hiring managers.
If you’re lucky, the work might be interesting, but the reason you intern is that you gain valuable connections in your profession and learn who the process is different than the ideal they teach in school.
Are you discouraged?
Don’t be. Don’t give up. You have an amazing path ahead of you: read Christina Wodtke’s post for more education of how you should craft your career.
User Experience is a meritocracy — we want to see what you can do. Find the right place, and you’ll do amazing things.