You don’t need a design bootcamp to land a UX job
I’m often asked how I switched from my marketing career to become a User Experience Designer. And the answer is: no bootcamps, just good old fashioned self-learning.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying it’s the best way. It’s certainly not the only way. But this way worked for me and can for you too.
It 's been a while since I was looking to enter the UX field (cue old people gifs), but these tips have proven to still be helpful and relevant time and time again. I’ve given this same advice to different mentees trying to land their first UX design role over the years, all of whom have found it effective in starting their own UX careers.
My own career change into UX Design was before the days of the Google UX Design Certificate and when UX bootcamps costs thousands of pounds, which simply wasn’t affordable. Things have changed and there are many accessible and affordable UX Design courses now, but if they’re still out of your price range or you’re looking for free alternatives, then I hope this helps.
Before that though, a little note about what these tips are and aren’t…
✅ They are
- a guide on how to get started, which should give you some direction
- ways to develop your critical thinking and curiosity
- a way to increase your chances of “getting your foot in the door” (landing an interview 🤞)
- ways to showcase your potential to hiring managers
❌ They are not
- a fast track or cheat code to getting your first UX job — you’ll need to do the work
- a guarantee that you’ll get the next UX job you apply for
- a catch-all approach that will work for everyone — adapt it how you see fit
Importantly, they won’t make you a good UX designer just yet, but they will give you the foundations. Becoming a good UX designer happens with experience in a professional environment where you can collaborate with fellow designers or researchers, talk to real users, and deal with complex business constraints.
OK, here goes.
Curate your feed
Start simple. An easy way to bring UX into your daily life is through social media (if you use it). Finding and following thought leaders and influencers in UX will increase your awareness around different problems, debates and specialties in the field.
Consider and form your own opinion about the point they’re making when you come across these UX posts. And, try to challenge yourself to respectfully engage in the conversation, share your opinion with an open mind.
I’d suggest following:
- Joe Natoli on LinkedIn — great if you’re new to UX
- Candi Williams on Twitter— brilliant posts on content design and equity
- Anna Cook on LinkedIn — all the good accessibility design stuff
- Andy Budd on Twitter — specialises in design leadership (it’s never to early to learn)
- Laura Yarrow on Twitter— a leader in collaboration and the impact design can have in organisations
- NNg on Instagram — I’ve never found Instagram great for UX content, but Neilsen Norman Group, a global UX Research and Consulting firm, share some good posts
- Sorry, I’m not cool enough to have any TikTok recommendations 👵
Absorb information in the right format for you
Find pockets of time where you can learn about UX. Maybe you’re commuting into the office (I know, who does that anymore?) or waiting for your dinner to cook. Pop in headphones, pick up a book or check out videos that could teach you more about UX. Play with different formats to find what’s right for you.
Here are some of the things I watch, read and listen to:
Articles, Audiobooks and Books
- Follow ‘UX Design’ and similar categories on Medium
- Design Better by InVision have a list of free design books (available as audiobooks)
Documentaries & TV
- Got Disney+? Check out Inside Pixar for all the creative vibes ✨
- Watch Abstract: The Art of Design on Netflix
- A Lens A Day is all about information architecture in bitesize chunks
- Content Rookie
- Inside Shopify UX
Online Courses and Webinars
- Espresso Webinar series by usertesting.com
- Learn about accessibility with Ability Net’s webinars
Talks, Conferences and Community events
- Find your local Ladies that UX group or search for local UX events on Meetup
- Anything by Pablo Stanley on YouTube — he has a great perspective on design perfectly peppered with his dry wit
- Figma events and keep an eye out for Config, their free annual conference
Practice what you’ve learnt
I’m fully aware this isn’t realistic for everyone depending on their circumstances. I had no kids, no pets and although I was employed, it was in a job that wasn’t fulfilling me, which meant I’d come home from work everyday underwhelmed by how monotonous my job was. I needed an outlet to channel my energy. Practicing UX was just the trick.
If you’re able to practice, then here a few approaches you can try:
- Set yourself imagined challenges e.g. “redesign an e-commerce app”
- Volunteer to help design part of a charity or nonprofit’s website
- Run a heuristic evaluation of website, app or experience you’ve come across
These are the types of projects you can then add to a portfolio or lean back on if you’re given design challenges as part of a recruitment process.
Then, try getting feedback on your practice work
If you’re able to, look into building a relationship with a potential mentor. If you naturally connect with anyone in a local Meetup, they might be willing to review your work (knowing them first is better than cold-messaging on LinkedIn). Or, find fellow entry-level designers and peer review each others work based on what you’ve learnt. If those don’t work, sign up to ADP List or similar — it’s never been easier to find a UX mentor with platforms now dedicated to it.
Cut down your job applications
I see so many posts on social media proclaiming “I’ve applied to 269 UX Design jobs in 21 days but I’ve only heard back from 1! How will I ever get into UX?” and the author feels like they’re being kept out of the industry.
The reality is, they’re not being kept out. I’ve never met or worked with anyone in UX that gate-keeps or prevents new people joining the field. That’s not to say there aren’t people who do, but simply that it’s rare. Most people I know are excited by the fresh ideas a junior teammate can bring.
The actual problem is you’re applying to too many jobs and hiring managers can spot it from a mile away. So, Marie Kondo your job hunt.
Be selective about where you apply
Choose companies that have missions which resonate with you. Set yourself a manageable limit e.g. no more than three applications at a time.
Don’t apply to mid-weight roles that require past experience if you don’t have professional experience (or academic experience if you’ve completed and researched a PhD).
Find a company that demonstrates how they will support your growth, somewhere that has considered what an entry-level UX designer needs. Else, you’ll be thrown into the lion’s den and expected to survive. That is no environment for an entry-level UX designer.
Let your application shine
Now you’ve been selective, realistic and scrupulous about where and what you’re applying to, you can put more effort into your application and interview. I’m not saying it’s about making it flashy — far from it, instead, you want it to seem thoughtful and considered. Here’s how:
- Use your company research to figure out what skills, attitude and perspective you could bring to their team and include it in your cover letter or portfolio.
- Think about how you can link your application or C.V. back to what they do, their vision and their principles.
- Be clear about what you’re looking for from the company and how you’d like to work, e.g. include any personal design principles you champion. Pop it in your portfolio.
Embrace mistakes and failure
You’re learning! Hiring managers and recruiters know that. They don’t expect you to have a fully fledged process, you haven’t got enough experience to have curated one. Cut yourself some slack.
Know that and acknowledge it. Embrace and talk about the mistakes you’ve made and how you learnt from them. Also, recognise that until you have real-world experience, you’ll need to make assumptions and judgements that you may eventually contradict and disagree with. Showing that level of self-awareness and understanding about your level of maturity and experience will help you stand out in an application and interview process.
That’s it. Curate your social media feed, absorb information in the best format for you, practice if possible, cut down your job applications so you can really let your application shine, and embrace mistakes and failures.
How many of these tips have you tried already? What impact did they have? And what do you think is missing?