Illustrated by Rouba Shabou
“UX designer” is one of the most popular career choices in the design industry these days, and hiring UX designers is a top priority for many companies.
If you’re wondering how to get into UX design, you’re not alone. But even with the high demand in the industry, getting your first job in UX design can be difficult, especially when you don’t have a ton of experience. However, with a little extra effort, strategic networking, and careful attention to your portfolio, you’ll be able to land your first junior UX position.
To make things easier for you, we’ve prepared this actionable nine-step guide on how to become a UX designer with no experience.
1. Find your area of interest
UX design is a broad discipline. Under the umbrella of “UX design” we have people who create the actual design (UX and UI designers), people who focus on user research (UX researchers), people who write user-focused content (UX writers), people who conduct usability testing sessions, and more. That’s why the first thing you need to do is to decide what part of the user experience you want to focus on. With a clear understanding of your future role, you’ll be able to pinpoint the soft and hard skills you’ll need to be successful.
Tip: This also makes it easier to find skills in your previous work experience that you can translate to the UX field. For example, if you have experience working as a recruiter in human resources (HR), your interview skills will be very useful during user research and usability testing.
2. Get educated
The next step after you find your area of interest is to learn all of the right skills and knowledge. The path you choose for this can vary significantly. There are several ways you can learn UX design, including taking classes at a university, applying for a UX training program, or self-learning.
Another common question people ask is if you need a university degree in UX to get an entry-level design job. In my experience, a university degree is not necessary to join the field. Hiring managers rarely ask about formal degrees during interviews. Your practical experience is more important. So, if you want to learn and get relevant practical experience, joining a UX training program is a much better option. You can apply for UX bootcamp programs from General Assembly, Springboard, or Designlab. These courses will teach you the fundamentals of UX design.
Tip: Never stop learning! While completing a bootcamp or online course will teach you mobile or web design basics, it won’t give you all the UX skills you need. You’ll need to continue investing time into self-learning and practicing on your own.
3. Find a mentor
Mentorship is a great accompaniment to your learning program. A good mentor can help you get on track with your journey to landing your first UX design job. It’s important to understand that a mentor isn’t a trainer or teacher; instead, this person should be someone who works in the design field and can give you valuable advice. Mentors can provide insight into how to solve design problems or offer advice on how to manage your career. The latter is especially important when you’re at the start of your UX career path, since you will likely have a lot of questions as you face new problems and challenges.
Tip: Respect your mentor’s time and try not to be too demanding. Don’t call them every time you face a problem.
4. Master the right tools
According to Adobe research, 42% of hiring managers say that knowledge of UX tools is the most important skill they look for in a designer or engineer. UX design is a broad discipline and the number of tools can be overwhelming. So, how do you select the right tool to learn? I suggest mastering any tool that helps you visualize your ideas. No matter what you will do in the field of UX design, the most important skill is how you communicate your ideas.
If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.David Kelley, Ideo
Tip: As you play around with different tools, save and collect your best work for your portfolio. You can showcase it on sites like Dribbble and Behance to increase your chances of getting noticed by the design community and a future employer.
5. Get practical skills
Your next step is to put your new knowledge into practice. At this point you might be wondering, “How can I get practical skills when I’m just starting out in UX design?”. At first glance, it seems like a classic chicken-and-egg situation. However, there are a lot of ways to apply your knowledge and skills. For example, you could take on small UX projects at your current company, redesign your favorite online service (for fun), or help a friend with their business. Working on these kinds of projects will also help you master the basics of UI design, since you’ll be conducting research and also creating a visual solution for the problem.
Tip: If you want to practice your UX skills, also check out:
6. Create a portfolio
Once you have practical experience and real projects under your belt, it’s time to create a portfolio. A stellar portfolio is pretty much a necessity if you want to land any kind of UX design work. It’s what most clients or companies will use to inform their hiring decisions, as it demonstrates the candidate’s design process and problem-solving skills.
Here are a few things to remember when creating your portfolio:
- Present each of your projects as a case study. Use a storytelling format for each case study—the story should start with a problem, explain your design process, demonstrate your problem-solving abilities, and present the final result.
- Provide context. Each piece in your portfolio should include the target audience, an explanation of why you chose your design solution, and a demonstration of how users interact with the current design (if applicable).
- Use visuals to showcase your work. Sketches, wireframes, and prototypes you created along the way will help people understand and evaluate the outcome of your work. For each step in your UX design process, include a narrative to illustrate the rationale behind it.
- Communicate your skills. Your portfolio should highlight both hard skills (e.g. your level of proficiency in design tools) and soft skills (e.g. how you solve problems and make decisions).
- Don’t put everything into your portfolio. Gear your portfolio toward the type of job you want to find. Highlight your best projects but keep a few others in the back of your mind to bring up if it’s relevant to the interview.
- Present your portfolio online. If you don’t want to buy a domain, you can use sites like Behance to create your online portfolio.
- Before publishing your portfolio, ask an experienced UX designer or your mentor to review it. You are likely to hear a few recommendations on how to improve your portfolio.
Creating a portfolio is a time-consuming task and it might be tempting to skip it. However, I strongly suggest avoiding this temptation. Think of your portfolio as an investment into your future, because this investment will likely get you the job in the field.
Tip: Think of your portfolio as a living and breathing organism and update it as you get more experience in the field.
7. Write about design
Blogging is a good way to get noticed in the UX/UI field while also improving your writing skills. Well-crafted articles about design can demonstrate that you’re both knowledgeable and interested in the field. Blogging is especially important when you make your first steps in the field because it shows potential employers that you understand various aspects of UX design, even if your portfolio has a limited number of projects.
Tip: Consider combining blogging with your ongoing education. For example, every time you read about an interesting concept you can write a blog post about it.
8. Connect with others
Establishing a network of contacts is necessary when you’re first starting out in the UX field, since many jobs come through referrals.
Virtual UX communities like Designer Hangout are great for this, allowing you to chat, search job boards, and receive mentorship. Take the first step towards networking and commit to attending one or two virtual meetups or joining online communities to connect personally with fellow UX designers.
Tip: Do not be too demanding—don’t just show up and start asking for a job. Remember that you need to build relationships with people first.
Once you have your portfolio ready, it’s time to start applying for jobs. The process is usually pretty simple, with most roles requiring a cover letter and a portfolio. If your portfolio looks great, there’s a high chance that you’ll snag an interview. Since you’re new to the field, though, interviewers may doubt your abilities in design, and you’ll need to show them that you’re capable of doing the work.
To help you feel more confident, consider setting up some informational interviews first. The purpose of an informational interview is to learn what it’s like to work in a specific organization and to get information about the type of traditional and non-traditional career paths that may be available. You can use an informational interview to find out how the company does their user research, their design process and methodologies, and the type of prototyping tools they use.
While every job interview will be different, here are some questions that you should be ready for if you’re looking for an entry-level UX designer position:
- How do you define UX design? Why did you choose UX design? Interviewers ask this question to determine how well you understand the concept of UX design.
- What is your design process? Interviewers ask this question to learn more about your problem-solving skills.
- Do you prefer working alone or with a team? Interviewers ask this question to ensure that you can work with other people.
- What are some websites that you visit regularly? Who in the design field do you follow and read? Interviewers ask this question to know where you go to get inspiration.
- How do you react when someone says that your design is bad? Interviewers ask this question to understand whether you are willing to accept constructive criticism and improve your work based on it.
- Remember that honesty is the best policy. If you lack experience and don’t have a good answer to a certain question, be upfront about it instead of bluffing.
- Always ask for feedback from the companies that have interviewed you. This valuable feedback will help you focus on areas for improvement.
As you can see, diving into a UX design career path isn’t always easy, especially if you don’t have much experience. Landing your first UX job will be a journey and it will take time. But if you commit to each of these nine steps above, you’ll be well on your way to a successful career as a UX designer. For more information on career journeys, check our UX design career tips.