It’s not unusual to come across a UX Job posting that reads like this:
“7+ years of professional experience as a UX Architect, expert in interaction design, front-end web development…”
And that’s not even for a senior / principal designer role. Whoever does have that much experience should be a top-dollar consultant, has his/her own business or wrote a book on UX already.
But these UX job descriptions, unrealistic as they are, do have one effect:
Scare the $hit out of aspiring UX designers trying to break into the field.
It makes UX beginners think that they need years and years of experience to nag their first UX job. This creates a feeling of constantly being under-qualified.
Case in point:
I know someone who has taken three different UX certificates (not courses) and a Masters before even seriously applying for her first UX job…that’s ridiculous.
Today I’ll talk about how to break into UX with no professional UX experience.
1. Take at least one UX course.
There’s a ton of UX courses to explore. Do at least one to completion. I’ve met a surprising amount of UX transitioners who really want to get into the industry, but haven’t “done their homework” yet.
UX courses often have project work that you can include in your portfolio. Programs can also introduce you to job leads. Colleagues in my UX Certificate program were already working in the field just looking to expand their knowledge…and a lot of them were actually hiring or knew someone who was hiring.
Taking a UX class is not just about learning – it also gives you momentum, that all-ever important starting fuel for what could be a long career transition process.
While you’re at it, read at least one UX book. Take a look at this UX reading list for UX beginners. Picking up any decent UX book and really digging into it will set you apart from other career transitioners in terms of knowledge and expertise.
2. Shape your existing experience.
Most UXBs come into this field thinking they have absolutely no UX experience. They want to become a UX designer “from scratch.”
Here’s a not-so-secret secret: you most likely have projects that already include elements of the user experience design process.
Key pieces of the UX design include ideation (brainstorming), research, implementation of the solution itself (design), and the validation & testing of those solutions.
Many jobs and projects, regardless of what industry you’re in, are likely to include these elements. They just go by different names:
- Market Research -> UX Research
- Business process modeling (BPM) -> UX workflow
- Anything to do with data -> numbers that validate the success of a (UX) solution
- Quality Assurance (QA) -> Usability testing
These are not 1-to-1 translations, but the idea is that UX students can reframe existing experience into relevant projects for their UX portfolio.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. – Theodore Roosevelt
In the spirit of Roosevelt’s words, examine the work you’ve already done, take the projects that include the most UX-related elements, and turn them into portfolio pieces.
Is this a huge part of what I do as a UX Career Coach – help designers realize their value and leverage their existing background to get a job in UX.
But what if certain projects don’t feel “complete,” like they can’t stand on their own as a UX portfolio piece?
Glad you asked.
2. Fill in the Gaps.
Some typical user experience deliverables include sitemaps, process flows, sketches, wireframes, etc.
If your existing projects can use more UX deliverable to better show your design process, you can go back and fill in the gaps…
For example, let’s take a graphic designer who wants to reframe what she does into UX design. She already has high-fidelity comps and sketches of her work. The visual design part of the UX process is done.
She can go back and look at her designs, and spend two hours creating a simple sitemap that ties together all the different pieces of the experience that she made. She might also whip up a taskflow of the different paths that users might take to achieve a task. It’s even fair game to survey her friends and get some guerilla user testing done.
For UXBs transitioning into the field, this is a completely legitimate way to build portfolio pieces. Just because you didn’t create all the UX deliverables in the correct order, doesn’t mean you can’t open up old or existing projects and add new UX deliverables to your design process. It’s your own damn portfolio, after all.
3. Gain UX experience.
The shortcut to developing UX experience is to pursue do-it-yourself projects. These are the primary ways I suggest hacking together your UX experience.
- Redesign an existing experience. Choose one with a lot of flaws so that your solution looks much better and different.
- Approach a non-profit and pitch them on doing pro-bono UX work
- Go to hackathons like Startup Weekend and be the UX/UI designer
- Help a local business like a mom-and-pop coffee shop or store that needs a new website.
- Pitch a small startup (it could even be your friend’s business) on the importance of UX and UI, and how you can help.
Doing self-initiated projects takes a ton of initiative, but the payoff can be big.
Related Resource: The 5 Hidden Sources of UX Portfolio Projects
4. Finish your UX Portfolio and Apply
Develop at least 3 solid UX case studies to showcase in your UX portfolio.
Ideally, each portfolio piece is different. Perhaps one is a mobile app, another a desktop application, and another one a responsive website.
But don’t spend forever on your UX portfolio.
Focus on “done,” instead of “perfect.” Shoot for a Minimum Viable UX Portfolio.
Once you have 1-2 solid UX case studies, apply to UX jobs ASAP.
Even if you don’t feel like you’re 100% ready, or even if it’s a firm that you’re not really interested it, consider it an opportunity to practice UX interview skills.
Applying also helps you adopt the thinking that you are a UX Professional – how you view yourself is vital and this will show in the interview process
Bonus: Join a UX Community
Consider joining a UX community – they can lead to UX mentors, jobs, and other opportunities.
Meetups are awesome for connecting with peers who can help review your work, staying up to date with the UX industry, and of course rubbing elbows with those who are hiring.
The UXBeginner Facebook Community is an extension of this blog’s community. Read the community rules, request to join and connect!
Job hunting is an entire job unto itself, but I hope these 5 strategies give you a big push to get started in UX, complete your UX portfolio and start the UX interview process….all with no “professional” UX experience needed.