7 real ways to stand out and land your first UX position

Here are 6 tips from someone who just landed their dream job on how to stand out during the process


Elise Entzenberger

3 years ago | 5 min read

Fresh grad from bootcamp or college? Here are 6 tips from someone who just landed their dream job on how to stand out during the application process.

1. Don’t lead with foundational design skills.

I know you can wireframe; so can everyone else. Leading with basic skills like rapid prototyping or Sketch misses an impactful opportunity to differentiate. UX roles go way beyond knowledge of design methodologies and hiring managers look for candidates who understand that.

Certainly include foundational skills in your application, but don’t highlight them in the initial paragraph of your cover letter.

Instead, discuss your design-adjacent skills that relate to the position and that simultaneously show you understand the larger picture of UX within a specific context. You can do this using the next step.

2. Leverage the hell out of your past through a simple storytelling technique.

I knew the position I applied for needed someone who could occasionally bridge the gap for user research. I have a background in academic psychology so I used a simple compare and contrast method throughout my application process to fully leverage my fit for this role.

This method accomplishes two things: (1) it highlights your differentiated skills and (2) it shows you have a broader understanding of the UX process.

Compare: In my cover letter, I leveraged my brief experience as a qualitative research assistant by speaking to the skills I can carry over from that role into UX.

I discussed building rapport with research subjects quickly, developing and asking useful and non-leading questions, synthesizing a lot of conversation into meaningful thematic data and documenting that data to share with my research team.

Contrast: In my interview, I reiterated that experience and I added to it, by noting how academic research was different from user research and usability testing. I noted that academic research is intensely rigorous (often needing hundred of interviews to establish a theme) whereas product design only needs 6 or so interviewees and can iterate more quickly toward a solution.

Comparing and contrasting roles can work on even seemingly disparate industries. My friend was a studio artist who majored in sculpture.

When we dug into her past, we found that her experiences on a gallery art installation team showed her ability to handle ambiguity in the process, to creatively problem-solve in the moment and to work well with a project manager and a team of other creatives.

Service industry experience? Me too. Perhaps you have honed the ability to think from the customer’s perspective to provide stellar anticipatory service.

Maybe you can re-prioritize and pivot tasks quickly without too much stress. Perhaps you keep your cool with demanding clients or you have practice speaking in front of small groups and facilitating a productive experience.

Make a simple list of your previous roles and pull out the threads that are applicable to the role you want. Write them down. Weave these threads into stories that connect, and then follow the next step.

3. Develop and practice your personal narrative.

Once you have collected a list of skills built from previous experiences, practice talking about them. Ask your friends, your lover, or whoever will listen for a few minutes of their time. You can even provide them with some sample questions like “How did you get into UX?” or “Tell me about yourself.” This exercise may initially feel awkward, but the more you talk out loud about your experiences, the more you can firm up your personal and professional strengths.

4. Attend networking events.

Obviously, the more people you know, the more you chances you have to connect with someone who can hire you. However, in my experience, networking was best for practicing how I spoke about UX and my applicable skills.

Take advantage of the fact that right now, UX is still an emerging role and is still very interesting. If you mention you are a UX designer, people will definitely have questions about it. Use it as practice.

5. Be tenacious but selective.

When I first began job-seeking, I said I would take anything remotely interesting that paid anything at all. This did not work. People can smell desperation, even if they’ve never actually been close enough to smell you.

Keep your head up. Remember you are a person with many applicable skills and anyone who hires you is going to hit the freaking lottery because you are going to knock their socks off with your effort and fresh perspective. Sure, you are green, but you can reframe this as a hunger to learn and a newfound passion for the field.

Remember that rejection is protection. This may seem esoteric, but the hiring managers that passed on me actually saved me from positions that were not as promising, in roles that would have certainly bored me quickly. I also got passed up by companies that would have definitely underpaid me. The rejection made me available for the job I have now.

6. Write down what you want in a job,

I am a writer, so I may be biased, but I think writing is pure magic.

When I finally sat down and thought about what I really wanted in a position and committed to paper by hand, I almost immediately started interviewing with the job I eventually landed.

This job is absolutely perfect for me and my interests and my trajectory, and it pays me more than I thought would be possible in my first UX role.

When writing out what you truly want in a role, consider office environment, team vibes, pay and benefits, flexibility or scheduling. Get specific.

7. Dare to ask.

Ask people who have the role you want to have coffee. If they seem exceptionally busy, ask them for a 30-minute Skype or Zoom meeting. Then, show up prepared with informed questions.

Engaging informational interviews accomplish three things:

(1) You create a personal connection and possible internal advocate for yourself at the interviewee’s company. If you ask good questions and carry on a conversation decently, they may feel impressed by you or connected with you. They may go to bat for you when there is a position open at their company.

(2) You are able to hear new language around how people talk about their roles and the challenges within them. You will be able to discuss the role you want with more nuance and a higher level of understanding. Or, you may discover you don’t actually want the role you thought you did and adjust your seeking.

(3) Asking someone for their time can be especially intimidating. However, get in the habit of going outside your comfort zone to move toward your goal more quickly. Discomfort facilitates rapid growth. When you get through the fear of asking, you are in a better headspace to ask for the position you want and create synchronicities around you.

Originally published on medium.


Created by

Elise Entzenberger







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