Common excuses holding back UX career transitioners

Transitioning into UX is hard enough. But the toughest hurdles come from ourselves.

From years of serving as a UX coach, I’ve seen the entire spectrum of excuses, avoidance, and self-imposed mental barriers that UX career transitioners impose on themselves.

Knowing about these excuses up front can keep beginners accountable, and prevent you from advancing in your UX career.

Excuse #1: What if I’m from X background?

UX career transitioners often find reasons to invalidate themselves based on their current situation: being in an existing role, industry or other profession. This excuse comes from seemingly innocuous questions like…

As a bio major, can I have a career in UX?
I don’t have a background in tech, can I do UX?
Can a business analyst like me realistically transition into UX? 

From coaching dozens of designers, I identified a hidden reason why UX transitioners ask this type of question…they secretly want someone to tell them no.

If someone says they can’t do something, that absolves the designer for being responsible for their own career. An absolute “no” is easier to understand than the infinite possibilities of entering something new and complex.

But to tell someone “No, biology majors cannot do user experience design” is absolutely ridiculous.

Proposed solution(s)

You only need 1 example to prove yourself right or wrong. If you’re wondering if it’s possible to transition into UX as a marketer, you just need to find one UX designer with a marketing background.

Going through this thought exercise is often sufficient to quell one’s worries. Of course there’s at least 1 UX Designer out there who comes from a marketing background. Or has a biology major. Or used to work in finance.

Replace “Can I do X if I am insert background?” with better questions:

How did I get my last job?
What was the last thing I learned and how did I do it?

The answers to those questions will inform you that getting into UX is not too different from any other transition.

Excuse #2: I’m too old to get into UX

The second most common excuse regards age. I’ve personally seen a high school grad (“too young”) and business professional with decades of experience (“too old”) enter the UX field.

Though ageism may exist in tech, why self-select yourself out of an industry that needs more diversity?

In “Am I Too Old for UX?” , I argue that you’re only “too old” when you decide you’re too old. If you’re passionate about UX (or heck almost anything), do not let age become your excuse.

Proposed solution(s)

Leverage your existing experience, domain expertise and industry network. I once coached a professional who downplayed her 10 years of experience in the publishing industry.

*Record scratch* I told her “Wait, you have a huge advantage for doing UX in the publishing industry!”

More experienced professionals should consider looking in places where they’re not competing with the newest design grads.

Perhaps this is offering yourself up as a hybrid business + design consultant, or UX Designer with project management skills, or a design lead with significant client-facing experience.

Remember that age is a frame of mind, and that you can choose to use it as an advantage or disadvantage for your own career.

Excuse #3: I’m not the “designer” type

You may not be artistic. You may not have gone to art school. You may know nothing about design.

Yet, you can become a UX Designer.

One of the things that plague our industry is the image of designers as lofty, sophisticated, turtleneck-wearing hipsters. While it can be intimidating if you don’t fit that mental model, the beauty of UX is that you don’t necessarily need to be an “artistic, designer type” to transition in.

Proposed solution(s)

Because there are many facets to the UX field, there are also many entry points: you can do well be being analytical, having great business acumen, a mind for facilitation, or project management skills.

The job market is competitive. But consider that no time in history is it easier to fluidly transition into the tech. Decades ago, degrees were a necessity; now the job market hires based on your portfolio, experience and results you can bring to the table.

There’s a place for you, it’s just a matter of figuring out your unique angle.

Excuse #4: I want to master UX completely before applying

Cue Pokemon theme song: I wanna be the very best…

It’s a natural and good desire to want to be the best at what you do. But it’s also a double-edged sword; perfectionism acts as a form of procrastination.

ux-transitioning-question

I encounter many students who will not make the necessary career moves because they do not feel “ready” yet. They see someone else has better skills, or with a better portfolio, and decide they’re not going to apply to UX jobs until they’ve got everyone beat.

This all or nothing mentality does not work with UX, because it’s a freakin’ vast field. To “master” even just one UX discipline like information architecture can take years.

Proposed solution(s)

Let’s flip the equation. For the students who won’t apply to jobs because they feel like they haven’t mastered something yet: how mad inspired would you be if someone with less skills and experience applied and got the job?

This actually happens more often than you think. The designers who hustle on the job hunt – before they feel completely ready – tend to win the jobs as they figure things out along the way.

Instead of making a perfect portfolio, consider the Minimum Viable Portfolio or Text First Portfolio.
Instead of waiting to apply, consider a Lean UX Job Hunt Strategy.

Also, don’t forget to advantage of being a beginner designer. You see things with new eyes and bring much-needed enthusiasm to an often-pessimistic industry.

Excuse #5: Am I guaranteed a UX job if I do X?

I know somebody who’s been “transitioning” into UX for the last 3 years.

Counterintuitively, it’s because this designer wants a guarantee of success. What this looks like…

Will joining this UX bootcamp get me a job?
I want to be sure I get paid the same amount at my current job before transitioning to UX
What programs will guarantee employment after graduation?

No school, course or program can guarantee you a job. Education can certain help equip you with knowledge and experience to get that job, but at the end of the day the decision rests with a company’s hiring team.

The opposite of a guarantee is risk. Instead of looking for guarantees, career transitioners need to take risks.

Proposed solution(s)

Maybe taking a risk means doing free design work, or helping a UX mentor.

You can reduce your risk through education, gaining experience and even hiring a career coach. You can also consider the hunting versus farming paradigm to increase your likelihood of landing a job.

Or at the end of this thought exercise, determine that transitioning into UX is not a path you want to take. And that’s okay.

Just know that perfectionism kills progress, and that you will always have to deal with risk when it comes to change – especially making big career changes.

But the personal responsibility is still on you to get a job; the designers who embrace this make the most competitive candidates.

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Oz is building out UX School, an all-in-one UX learning resource covering design fundamentals + UX career training.

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