As my grad school career is quickly coming to an end, I’ve been busy not only finishing my final project, but have also been preoccupied with searching for my next UX role post-school. While this is certainly not my first rodeo when it comes to landing a design job, this is the first time I’ve had the luxury of a few months time spent being methodical and meticulous in my search process (with a detailed spreadsheet and everything). In the process of preparing for interviews, writing cover letters, personalizing resumes and making portfolio updates, I’ve been able to reflect and learn a bit about myself, what I’m looking for, and how to best approach a job search.
Here’s a few lessons I’ve learned (so far):
Finding a job is like dating
Do they like you? Do you like them? Is it a good match? Who writes who back first? Will the parents (or partners/higher ups) like me? The same rules apply to finding a partner as they do the job search. For instance, everyone is on their best behavior at the beginning, so if you find the recruiters or the people interviewing you to be rude or inconsiderate, you’re probably better off passing, because in all likelihood working there will just be worse.
The dating = job hunting analogy is something I’ve known for years, but its perhaps the first time I’ve thought hard about ‘is this something I really want? Can I grow with this company?’ Being able to be a bit selective is a luxury that not everyone has, and I’m appreciative of the years of work its taken to get me to this point.
Getting a Masters at CMU is not a free pass to work at Google (or Facebook, etc)
From the outside, getting a Masters in Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon is seen as pretty rare air to many UXers. After all, most people who practice UX never went to school for it, instead it was an area they fell into over time. While I appreciate the education I’ve gained in my time at CMU, it's still not a free pass where a job just falls into your lap without trying.
No matter where you went to school, even at the pre-eminent school for professional UX degrees, getting your first design job is HARD. Hell, getting your second or third design gig is hard, because until you’ve become super seasoned, the company is still basically taking a chance on you, knowing they are gonna have to still invest a lot into you as an employee at the beginning to get you to a level where you can make a meaningful contribution. This is why many companies have such lengthy and rigorous processes, because they want to make sure they’re investing in people who plan on staying and growing.
Learn to tell a clear story
When I was younger and went in for an interview and was asked about my experience, I’d rattle off all of the clients and companies I’ve worked for chronologically, starting with Parsons and then going in order. Snooze fest. At this point I’ve worked for enough Fortune 500 companies, presented to enough clients, managed enough projects, and shipped enough products for my story to really be coherent or cohesive by simply going in order, especially given my extensive graphic design experience.
Instead, I’ve tried to consider what my overall value-add is to an organization. What do I bring that few others could? So now, instead of rattling off my experience and expecting the listener to piece together “seasoned designer who knows how to be client-facing, with a track record of taking projects from concept to completion” I simply state that at the start and back it up with examples. Instead of just name dropping my alma maters and past clients, I say “I’ve been fortunate to not only have gained an understanding of design thinking on the ground, in the field, but also from an academic perspective as well.” Instead of naming all the various print and visual design projects I’ve worked on, I speak about “my passion for design stretching far beyond obsessing over typography and pixel perfect UI into truly creative problem solving”.
And then I drop the mic.
But seriously, the ability to pitch yourself shows how you might pitch a project. No matter what your level of experience, being asked about why a company should hire you is an open invitation to humble brag. If you want to talk about how you were ‘crushing it’ from 2008-2011 and 2013-2015 but took a break in between, that’s all you, just be prepared to bring examples of how you totally crushed it.
Speak about future goals and growth
Having been in a hiring position before, I’ve gotten super annoyed and frustrated by people who give total kiss-off answers to the question of “why are you interested in this job?” I’m sorry but “I dunno—because I need money” is not an acceptable answer.
My goals are to not only to continue to build upon my hard skills, but also my skills in leadership and mentorship of other designers. I love working with developers and getting to collaborate with people that have a wildly different background from me, including those who are more technical or business and strategy oriented. I’m looking for a place where I can grow and make awesome stuff.