Breaking into UX - advice?


#1

Hi UX Mastery Community,

I’m making a career change into UX design and need some support. I’ve been reading a lot here and elsewhere but have been shy about posting because, well, it’s hard to publicly admit when you’re struggling.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and am looking for positions in SF. My background is in education, digital media, visual art, woodworking, and CAD design.

Here’s what I’ve done so far

  • I completed CareerFoundry UX Designer course 7 weeks ago
  • I built my portfolio website http://seyonwind.com
  • I attend 1-2 meetups/events per week, and have even connected with several of the organizers
  • I volunteer at CreativeMornings SF and OAK chapters
  • I network on LinkedIn, averaging 2 new connections per event
  • I attend 2-3 webinars a month, including the Ask the UXperts Slack sessions
  • I follow design leaders on Twitter and started posting relevant UX content @seyonwind
  • I read Steve Krug’s oft cited book Don’t Make Me Think, and much more
  • I joined professional groups on LinkedIn, Slack, Facebook, etc.
  • I meet with designers over coffee for short informational interviews

I’ve submitted dozens of applications, each with personalized cover letters, but have not yet landed a single interview.

What more should I be doing? Do I need more/better work samples in my portfolio? -Be honest. Keep sending in applications? More education? Start freelancing?

I’m trying to figure out where to go from here. As a former middle school teacher I’m an expert at empathy. I’m always pushing myself to learn and grow—hence the career change—and I’m super excited about UX design. I’m a great person to work with and an effective communicator as well. I just need an opportunity to sit in a room with a hiring manager (or whomever) and convince them of that.

I know I can do it, it’s just taking longer than I expected, and to be honest waking up to rejection letters every other morning is discouraging. I keep hearing there’s high demand for UX designers, but I’m not seeing it. At least not unless you have 3-5 years experience.

Any advice on what I need to do to secure a full time position in the city by the bay?


#2

Hi Seyon,

Congrats on your commitment to a career change and completing the CareerFoundry Course! I know it’s frustrating when you’ve been working hard to make things happen without results. Good for you for posting about your experience. Here are some initial thoughts that I hope will help:

You’re obviously doing a ton of activities to get your name out there. I wonder if perhaps too much?

Maybe take a look at everything on the list above and just focus on the activities that will get you the most bang for the buck - for example, how are the creativemornings and meetups going? If you chose just one of those two, which would it be? Think 80/20 rule (google it if you haven’t heard of it) and see where your efforts can yield the most results.

It’s hard to give you specific advice without knowing more specifics about your job search. Of your dozens of applications, did you feel all of them were the right fit for you or were they rapid-fire in nature? What are the criteria you are using to apply? Are you up front in your applications about being new to the profession? Have you followed up on any applications by phone?

Just about every job opening out there right now wants a minimum 3-5 years experience, but those people are extremely hard to find. Besides your portfolio (which looks fine, BTW), what else are you doing to differentiate yourself? Sometimes a simple design element on a resume can help it stand out from the crowd.

Think of your resume as a “ticket” into the show. Before you can get in to interview with a hiring manager, you usually have to first get past the HR gatekeeper. Put on your UX hat and think of how you can make that person’s life easier. They are poring over dozens of resumes each day, but many HR people do not have a good understanding of what UX design is. Using your empathy skills, think of how you might educate them to take a chance on you. Hope that helps!


#3

Thank you for your comments Mary. I hadn’t thought that maybe I’m doing too much, hah.

I’ve been focusing on education, personal health, and gaming companies that have current UX/visual design openings. Nothing rapid-fire, each of those areas relate to my personal interests and experience, and I highlight that fact in my cover letters.

I’ll take a look at which activities are helping the most. I could certainly slow down on some of the meetups, I’m just trying to build that network, you know? And learn too, of course.

Perhaps my resume could use another revision too. I’ll review it again from a hiring managers POV. I don’t advertise that I’m new to the profession, I assume that’s pretty clear based on my work history. Follow up calls are not a bad idea, thanks for suggesting that.

On a positive note, earlier today I got in touch with a designer who’s also a former art teacher. My mother-in-law helped make that connection (thanks MJ!). We’re meeting for coffee later this week to talk about connecting with the right companies that value my education background. Progress! -little by little.


#4

Good on you. I’m so glad you took the jump.

I can see why you’re feeling disheartened – you’re being incredibly proactive.

Mary’s advice is solid, as always.

I’ll call in a couple of other people that might be able to give you support and perspective.

Mostly though, hang in there.

Edit: I wonder if a chat with this person might help?


#5

Thanks Hawk!

Yeah, I applied to a position through Creative Circle… never heard back.

They don’t have any contact info for their recruiters. How do I get in touch with real people? Hang on…
(searches LinkedIn “Creative Circle AND Recruiter”)
OK, I found some matching profiles. Time to send some invites.


#6

Hey @seyonwind!

Congrats on completing your course! I work at CareerFoundry (I also used to volunteer at a CreativeMornings chapter - the Edinburgh one) and I’m not sure if you’ve seen but tomorrow two of our Senior UX Designers will be doing a live Q&A on Facebook - I’d love to put your questions to them and have them answer as I think they can help here! The broadcast happens at 1pm ET/10am PT so feel free to tune in! If you ‘like’ the CF FB page then you’ll get a notification when we go live :slight_smile:

P.S. something my CreativeMornings chapter used to do is have a ‘community minutes’ section after the speaker. We’d have 3 people from our community take the stage one at a time for 60 seconds to share something, whether it’s that they’re hiring, looking for a job or launching a new project - it always worked extremely well and we had people get jobs and freelance gigs from taking part. Maybe this is something you could ask to do at your chapter, to share that you’re looking for a UX role? It’s a little nerve wracking but could work well :slight_smile:


#7

Hi @laura!

Yes, I’m following CF on Facebook and please do pose my questions during the live Q&A. I’m open to getting help anywhere it’s offered :slight_smile:

CreativeMornings/OAK does :30s pitches at the beginning to promote a project, event, or org. I haven’t seen anyone pitch themselves, lol, but I’ll ask. That would be nerve wracking, but hey, what have I got to lose?


#8

Hey, @seyonwind!

First off, I have to say, your dilligence makes me feel lazy, and that’s coming from someone who clawed his way into the profession from the level of “homeless bum living in his car.”

Clearly, hard work is not your problem.

Also tight is your portfolio, and you seem to be doing all the right things when it comes to networking and volunteering. I think there’s a lot of validity, however, to what @maryshaw said about focusing on your most productive networking and volunteer opportunities. I’d take that to heart.

Apart from that, I have suspicions that there might be something in your resume or cover letters throwing up red flags. Of course, it’s hard to know if that’s the case or what, in particular, is causing the issues without seeing the documents. In general, however, my recommendation would be to go back through your resume and cover letters and ensure that everything included is UX-oriented.

For instance, I see that you listed your background as being in “education, digital media, visual art, woodworking, and CAD design.” Two of those-- digital media and visual arts-- jump out at me as being possibly UX-related, and your CAD Design piece seems like it might have been as well. Unless you taught some sort of visual design class, that probably needs only a line or two. Ditto with woodworking.

A good approach to consider may be a skills-based resume, rather than the traditional experienced-based resume. This highlights what you can do, what you feel comfortable with, and where your strengths lie. These are also great for getting past the automated portion of resume weeders as they highlight key words and skills that automated programs look for before sending along a resume to a human being. Tutsplus has a pretty article on the topic, and Google can supply you with a ton of examples. If you aren’t using this format, I’d give it a go with a few of your next few applications and see if it helps.

Most importantly, if you do nothing else, do not give up. Success in anything worth while does not come overnight. Your battle right now is one of your will against your skill. You’re locked and loaded with skill, and now the world is testing your will. I know it’s tough when you’re doing all the right things, living like your dream, walking like your dream, surrounding yourself with your dream, making the investments. I know it’s hard when you’re doing all of this, and your mountain isn’t moving, and nothing is happening yet.

Understand that the action of making progress is progress in itself. The push, the process, regardless of the outcome, is progress. If you keep giving your effort, if you keep that grind up, I promise you-- your mountain will move.

Life’s just decided it has a little more challenge for you. Don’t give up.

I hope that helps. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to give you a hand!


#9

Thank you @dougcollins. I read your story and attended your awesome AMA session here, so your words of encouragement mean a lot to me.

I’ve been wondering the same thing. I’ve gotten resume feedback from designers and other professionals, and while I’m sure it could be improved no one’s mentioned any glaring issues.

Here’s a copy of my current resume and a “T” style cover letter I actually sent to Twitch (I got a friendly “we’ve decided not to forward…” reply). Maybe we can spot any potential issues, or perhaps it might help other newcomers.

Resume

Cover Letter


#10

Thanks for attending my session! I hope it was at least a little helpful. I’m also glad my words could provide a bit of light at the tunnel.

Here’s my standard disclaimer: I have some feedback, and if it sounds harsh I apologize. I really want to help you improve, and what I say is done purely in the spirit of making things better. You don’t seem like the type of person who has issues with constructive criticism (a great quality to have as UX’er), but I wanted to put that out there to help reinforce that I’m not saying any of this just to be a doo-doo head.

Giving your resume and cover a cursory look over, I can tell you that your resume does not do justice to the level of effort that you put into your future career. Looking at this, all I see is someone who’s worked as a freelance UX’er since July, with other job history that indicates you’re good with technology but otherwise isn’t relevant to the position.

Fair or not, it looks like you don’t have a lot of actual UX Experience or ability. Given your level of involvement with the community and actual experience working on UX projects, you can do a lot better. Your goal at this point is to show that this is more than just a hobby for you, and a career that you’re actively participating in despite not having a permanent position.

What I’d change here:

  • Switch to the skills-based resume to highlight what you can do/have done.
  • Highlight the projects you’ve contributed to or volunteered with. Speak to your specific contributions where possible.
  • Include your volunteer experience at Creative Mornings (but make it clear what your role is and that it’s a volunteer position).
  • Your cover letter is too long. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to read a full-page cover letter like that. I do like the “T” style, but you don’t need to hit on every point in the job listing. Pick the 2-3 most important ones, and sum up the rest of your qualifications in a couple of short paragraphs. You want your cover letter to be a half page, max. Anything more than that simply won’t get read.

@laura, @HAWK, @maryshaw, do you agree with my thoughts on @seyonwind’s resume and cover letter? Any others of your own? I’ll freely admit that my opinions are my own, and that there may be better ways to proceed. I’d like to hear what the consensus opinion might be.


#11

Please, tear it apart, that’s why I posted it. I’ll pick up the pieces and build something better. One thing I’ve learned as a creative professional is that you have to have a thick skin, and you can’t take criticisms of your work personally.

Ok, that’s two things, but I welcome and appreciate the feedback, harsh or otherwise. I wouldn’t take that as you being a doo-doo head.

The hard truth is I don’t have a very long history doing UX work. I try to make up for that with passion and dedication for the craft, which I agree is not effectively communicated in my current resume.

Here’s another cover letter I wrote for an internship at a data vizualization company—I know, that’s outside my focus area, but I’m just trying to get some xp here. It’s still long (one full page) but since their posted requirements were shorter I also kept my bullet list short(er).


#12

@dougcollins and @maryshaw have given you excellent advice here, Seyon. I agree with Doug in particular that your resume is not telling the story of your UX capabilities; the changes he suggests would serve you much better.

The only thing I have to add is that in looking at your website portfolio, you definitely need at least 3-5 other UX design/cases study examples. One is definitely not enough, and I suspect that’s a deal breaker on its own.

The first project is the only one that speaks directly to strategic UX concerns. And I’ll give you the advice I give every young designer/UXer: if you don’t have actual client projects, make some of your own. This post I wrote awhile back explains what I mean: http://www.givegoodux.com/pick-brain-007-create-ux-portfolio-real-world-experience/

Then add these things to your portfolio. Variance is important across different kinds of apps and sites. The unfortunate reality of most organizations is that they’re not willing to train new hires. No time, money or people to do the training. They want you to be able to come in and get rolling. So they want to see evidence that someone has been around the block a few times. The more examples you have to show what you’re capable of, the better.

Lastly, hang in there and keep fighting. The most valuable skill I ever learned was perseverance.

Nothing, and I do mean nothing, matters more.


#13

100%


#14

Thank you all for the feedback, advice, and encouragement @maryshaw @HAWK @laura @dougcollins @joenatoli

I feel both humbled and flattered by your responses, and I appreciate you taking the time to help a newcomer like myself. I’ll keep you posted on any new developments in my journey.


#15

Absolutely!


#16

@seyonwind One more idea for you - check out https://www.catchafire.org. It is a “marketplace” of nonprofits looking for skilled volunteers. You might be able to land some real-world projects there to beef up your portfolio :slight_smile:


#17

Thanks @maryshaw, I’ll check it out.

OpenIDEO also looks interesting, and they have a chapter in my area.


#18

Mary also offers a paid mentoring service which might be of use if you want to dig deeper. Details are on her site.


#19

This is AMAZING advice! Thank you, @seyonwind, for putting yourself out there, and in a public forum where others can learn along with you. And thank you to everyone else for providing this great advice! :smile:


#20

Hey @seyonwind,

Great! We’ll be doing another Live Stream on Dec 1st, so tune in if you’re free :slight_smile:

Yeah you should ask! We used to do it and it worked really well! Good luck :slight_smile:

Laura