Getting your first design job
Now that you’ve learned the design fundamentals, got a few practice projects under your belt, and created your CV and portfolio, it's time to look for your first UX design job. A job search can be overwhelming — especially if you don't know where to start.
In this article, we'll walk you through all the vital steps.
Decide on the type of job you want to pursue
Freelancing vs. full-time positions
Ah, the eternal question of freelance vs. full-time positions. The choice will depend on your working style and life priorities. In general, freelance work offers more flexibility and creative freedom. On the other hand, an unstable workload means unpredictable income. A full-time job guarantees a fixed salary, benefits, and career advancement. However, it may be impossible to decline projects that you aren't excited about.
For designers, this choice also determines whether you will work independently or as a part of a team. Freelance designers usually work alone, and they alone are responsible for the success or failure of a particular project. Great results will improve your profile, but failures might lead to reputational losses or not getting paid.
Working full-time, especially as a new designer, usually means joining a team. Your colleagues can provide feedback on your work and help you bounce off ideas. This is especially crucial for beginners in the field who need such guidance to become pros.
One more argument in favor of full-time positions is that big household brands like Disney and Marvel are unlikely to turn to freelancers. So, if you want to create for such brands, working at an agency is your best bet.
Agency vs. corporate design positions
Full-time positions come in 2 flavors: working for a design agency or a corporate company. Each has its upsides and downsides, so your choice will depend on your needs.
In short, a corporate position will allow you to specialize in and get familiar with one product. Such companies usually have an established workflow and processes with assigned supervisors or mentors to learn from and grow.
A design agency can be a better option for beginner designers. An agency offers a variety of projects, which will allow you to exercise your creativity and practice different skills. You can also expect a lot of communication with clients, building connections, and developing communication skills. Keep in mind that not all clients are easy to work with. You need to be patient, ready to accept criticism, and make peace with clients making changes to your work after accepting it.
Apply to relevant jobs
How to determine which jobs are relevant to you? Well, job postings are typically broken out into several parts. Here are some clues on what to look for in each.
For your first job, look for keywords like "internship," "junior," or positions without level labels — for example, a "UI designer." At this stage, you won't be qualified to fulfill the requirements of middle or senior positions.
Qualifications or requirements
This section describes the accomplishments and skills you should have. It's not a deal-breaker if you do not have all the qualifications listed. Essential requirements are usually listed first. Pay attention to words like "must," "necessary," "proficient," etc. For example, "must have experience with Adobe Creative Suite."
Meeting requirements like "detail-oriented" or "team player" will give you an edge compared to other candidates, but they are usually optional. You can learn many things on the job — for example, master a specific tool you don't have experience with. So, go ahead and apply for the job even if you only meet 50-60% of those requirements.
This section describes what you would do at the job. Take a close look — would you enjoy this work? Apply if you are familiar with and interested in most of the listed responsibilities.
Benefits and pay
Make sure the salary and benefits match your expectations. At the same time, be skeptical of companies that don't mention compensation in their listings — this can be a sign that they don't pay competitively.
Many job listings require experience, which you, as a beginner designer, probably don't have. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't apply. Of course, you most likely won't get accepted to a job that requires 5+ years of experience. However, if the company is looking for someone with 1-2 years of experience and you match most of the other requirements, go ahead and apply.
Take skill tests to verify your skills
One of the challenges for employers and recruiters is assessing whether potential candidates actually possess the skills they claim to have. Having your skills confirmed by UX design tests will give you an edge. It tells recruiters that you have at least the basic knowledge of the skill. It's especially important when you are just starting in a domain and don't have much experience.
For example, passing an HTML skill test proves that you know the basics of HTML, but it doesn't tell the recruiter if you know how to code in HTML. They can assess it further down the road in the interview and when checking references. If you’re not sure where you stand in terms of your design expertise, check out Uxcel Skill Tests to self-validate.
Research the company and practice before going to interviews. You might be open to considering any job, but for employers, it's important to know why you want to work for them. Prepare arguments to justify why they should hire you and how you will benefit their business.
Look up common UX interview questions and think of how you can answer them. Have a friend or a colleague ask you these questions to get comfortable answering them. However, don't over-practice. If you do, your answers will sound forced.
Make a list of questions you want answered during the interview. It may include questions about work processes, tools, benefits, etc. Asking questions also shows your interviewers that you've done your research and are serious about getting the position.
Be prepared for design tasks
Sometimes, you might get asked to do an assignment during the hiring process. For a new designer, it's an opportunity to show off your skills, as you may not have many good projects in your portfolio yet.
When deciding on whether to take up the assignment, consider the following factors:
At which stage of the interview process is it offered?
Some companies give candidates assignments before the first stage of the interview. They argue that they want to assess the candidate's abilities to think creatively on a project.
However, value your time. When the request comes this early, you don't even know if the company is worth your time. If you feel that you aren't invested enough in the job to spend your time doing the assignment, feel free to decline it.
How much time would it take?
A smaller assignment like designing a component is reasonable. However, complex and time-consuming tasks like redesigning the company's home page aren't something that you should do for free.
Is the assignment similar to the projects you already have in your portfolio?
If so, you should consider why. What would the company get out of the assignment that they cannot get from a portfolio review combined with in-person interviewing?
Does the assignment test a specific skill?
Asking for every possible type of design deliverable from wireframes to high-fidelity mockups is a red flag. Reasonable assignments test for specific skills. For example, creating high-fidelity mockups assesses visual design skills, a sitemap tests information architecture skills, etc.
Does the assignment match what the company is currently working on?
Unfortunately, some companies engage in ethically questionable behavior of exploiting design work. If you feel that your work would be repurposed in the company product, feel free to say no — or be cheeky and ask for remuneration.
Finding your first job takes time. Don't be discouraged after receiving rejections or no answers at all. The design market is growing, and this growth is predicted to continue. This means that there's no reason that inquisitive, creative, and eager-to-learn designers won't find a great job. Besides, when there's a will, there's a way. Follow Uxcel's job board to keep updated with new vacancies - maybe your dream job is already waiting for you. Good luck!