The Mythical User

Taking the mystery out of User-Centered Design

Finding a UX Job – In a Recession

on 18 September, 2009

We’ve all heard the lines – if not delivered directly to us, delivered to someone we know:

“We’re tightening our belt right now, and User Experience is not core to our business model”

“We’re taking the interface in a new direction, and we need fresh eyes to do that.” (and then they hire someone at half your salary)

“The product managers have learned so much from you, they’re going to take over your role.”

Whether you’ve been laid off, or you’re just looking to move on, job hunting for UX people in a recession is HARD.

Eight months ago, my employer (at the time) and I mutually decided it was time for me to move on.  I spent two months looking, and in the end I found what I love to refer to as a “pony” job – the perfect job in the perfect company, working with the perfect team.  I’ve never been happier.

Unlike the dot-com crash of 2001, when there simply WEREN’T any jobs out there, there are still plenty of UX openings for the taking.  I still get 3-4 emails a week from recruiters who have opportunities that are great matches, in my area.  The challenge comes from the fact that there are a lot of really excellent candidates out there, hunting for good opportunities.  The competition is stiff, my friends.

But it’s not hopeless.  If you’re in the job market, expect to be looking for around two months.  If you’re not picky, possibly only one month.  I applied to 93 total positions.  I interviewed at about a quarter of that.  I got several offers, but it was important to me that I find the RIGHT place, not the first place.

Whether you’re looking for the perfect job or just a paycheck, here are a few helpful hints:

Job Boards

Post your resume on every single one you come across.  Update it weekly.  I don’t care if all you are updating is your skillset or one word in your description.  Every time you update, you get bumped up in search results.

Resume

I’m not going to enter the debate about one page or multiple pages.  Do what you think is best, there.  However:

  • Have a list or grid of skills.  Not sentences, phrases.  Example:  graphic design, user interviews, heuristics
  • Forget the “goal” – that’s an outdated relic.  Instead, have an introduction that describes what you can do, and how long in total you’ve been doing it.  It’s like a two sentence cover letter.
  • Treat your resume like an Information Architecture project.  What’s the most important info?  Make that very prominent.  What’s next?  Put that nearby.  Etc.
  • Include all your contact info on your resume.  Recruiters will tell you to take it off, but the job board resumes should have it.
  • Include a link to your portfolio.   If you do ANYTHING, people are going to want to see samples of your work.

Recruiters

A lot of people feel recruiters are like used car salesmen.  Honestly, some are.  However, I’ve had fantastic success with particular recruiters and I swear by them.  I like them so much that I keep touch with them for years afterwards, and refer friends.  Build relationships with some good recruiters and they’ll take great care of you.

  • Reformat your resume however the recruiter asks you to, for them.  You don’t have to use that format anywhere else, but the recruiter knows his clients the best, and he knows what they are looking for.
  • Insist that your recruiter tells you every company/position they submit you to.  Bad recruiters will send your resume to positions you don’t fit, and it reflects badly on you.  Plus, if you then submit your resume directly, the hiring manager will only remember that your name is associated with something negative and you’ll hit the round file.
  • Communicate with your recruiter.  Think of them as your advocate.  Or your best friend, or your bodyguard.  Whatever it takes for you to treat them like a partner.

Social Web

Use your friends and your social networks.  Announce that you’re looking, unless you’re doing it in secret.  Talk to everyone.  Go to networking events.  Do side projects.  Offer free advice, consultations or etc.  Word of mouth is invaluable, and nothing gets you an interview faster than some impressed acquaintance saying “I know this amazing person…”

Also, momentum is a great thing.  If you know people with similar skillsets, ask them to pimp your resume out when recruiters reach out to them.  I regularly pass on resumes when recruiters touch base with me – it helps the job seeker and the recruiter.

Keep Upbeat

I know this sounds weird, but the more positive, cheerful and upbeat you are, the better your chances are.

As a job hunt drags on, you can start to wonder, “What’s wrong with me?  Why don’t I have 10 offers and a bidding war yet?  Am I unemployable?  Am I outdated?  Are my skills too weak?”

Don’t fall prey to this way of thinking.  It shows through in your body language, your written communication, and it even causes you to make bad choices about where to apply.  Keep your eye on finding a “perfect” fit.  If you haven’t been hired yet, it’s because you haven’t been exactly the right fit, not because you haven’t been good enough.

Interviewing

Try to find out as much about the people you are interviewing with, how long the interview will take, and what you should bring before you ever go in.

  • Take a printed copy of your resume AND the job description when you go.
  • Take the time to read the website, try the product, and get familiar with the company you’re interviewing with.
  • While you’re doing that, come up with three questions about the company or product that dig deeper in than their website, FAQ or press materials go.
  • Dress nicely, but not TOO nicely.  There’s nothing wrong with asking how you should dress for the interview.  Especially with dot com companies, wearing a suit might lose you the job.  They might decide you’re too stuffy.
  • Be prepared to answer some canned questions.  Think through the answers ahead of time so you aren’t caught off guard.  Do an internet search on interview questions and you’ll find a ton of lists.
  • Be prepared to do a test project.  This isn’t free work for the company, so don’t get irate.  They aren’t going to use what you’re doing, unless they’re really unethical.  They just want to get a sense of what it’s like to work with you.  Be pleasant, flexible and fast and your skills will speak for themselves.

Be Ubiquitous

Unless you’re looking for an entry level position, your potential employers are going to Google you.  Be found.  Blog posts, forum comments.  LinkedIn profile, facebook profile, livejournal.  Make sure you’re everywhere and that everywhere you are reflects your professional persona.  You want potential employers to know you’re not going to embarrass them, and that you’re respected and passionate about your profession.

There’s no magic wand that will fix the economy and make our 10% unemployment rate go away.  But at least for UX people, the situation isn’t as dire as it was eight years ago.  Chin up, carry on, and go find that “pony”.


Today’s Glossary Term:
A/B Testing –  this is a process by which you create two versions of something, either slightly different or very different.  You then serve up version A to some of your users, and version B to the rest of your users.  This is, of course, simplifying the concept, but you get the idea.
A/B testing can answer little questions like “does a red button or a green button encourage conversion?”  It’s invaluable, but it takes some infrastructure to set up unless you have…

Today’s Interesting Link:
Google Web Optimizer – GWO is a free (for now) tool which lets you do A/B testing without building an enormous infrastructure on your own.  It’s not going to tell you everything you might want to know, it’s not going to be as convenient as having a home-grown system, but it’s nearly immediate, and it’s darn easy to use.

Today’s Usability Quote:
“Perhaps the most difficult thing an artist has to do is evaluate the quality of his own work.” -Peggy Hadden

Today’s Music To Design To:
Boards of Canada was introduced to me by an artistic genius and all-around neat guy a few years ago.  You can’t go wrong, with Boards in your headphones.  It’s downbeat, but happy, musical but not lyrical, and energetic without being thumpy or making you anxious.  It’s good driving music, and great for those long hours coding.
Download some MP3s or
Buy a CD

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6 responses to “Finding a UX Job – In a Recession

  1. I listen to Boards of Canada’s music sometimes when I’m writing reports, for the same reasons.

  2. Krys says:

    YES, it’s perfect for that! Not distracting, but definitely motivational. 😀

  3. Nick Finck says:

    Might also be worth it to check out this blog post (yes, I am plugging my own post) but I think its highly on topic here:

    Starting a Career in User Experience Design
    http://bit.ly/129kAA

    Hope you like it!

    Cheers,
    – Nick

  4. […] Advice Finding a UX Job — In a Recession Starting a Career in User Experience Design User Experience Design Career Development Starting a […]

  5. Jon Fukuda says:

    Limina is looking for talented UX contractors and consultants to join our team! IF you’re located in the US and are disciplined enough to hack remote collaboration on fast paced UX opportunities, drop us a line and send us your resume. Cheers! -Jon Fukuda

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