If you’ve been following business and tech trends in the last decade, you know that user experience (UX) is a fast and furiously growing, and ever-important field. Companies are hiring scads of UX professionals to help them understand their users and craft positive experiences for the audience. We traditionally think of utilizing UX in the context of building websites, applications, and products, but the basic tenets of UX can be helpful in crafting almost any experience.
Enter job search. Yes, landing a job is yet another place to apply basic UX tenets, with the goal of better outcomes (like securing that gig that you’re dreaming about).
Let me explain: User experience is all about understanding and catering to the end user, regardless of what’s being built. In a job search, the end user is your potential employer. Crafting your resume, portfolio, and communications around your potential employer can help you land your dream job, no matter your background.
Let’s take a look at the main tenets of UX and how they can be applied to your job search; user research, content strategy, design, and testing.
User experience is fundamentally based on understanding the people interacting with what you’re building and the context that your service or product fits into their life. For instance, think about providing information for health care plans. If you’re looking to provide that information to senior citizens, you probably need brochures with large print, simple color schemes, and callouts to contact information. If you’re looking to provide health information to teenagers, you’d be more likely to build a phone application with lots of detailed infographics and links to a full website to sign up.
Designing a resume, portfolio, or LinkedIn profile is no different, only that primary user is the prospective employer—whether that is a recruiter, a hiring manager, or a client soliciting your services. Understanding the context in which they’ll be viewing you and your online deliverables can help you to set your expectations appropriately and deliver the key information that they need in the best way.
UX professionals typically rely on a variety of user research methodologies to understand their users; surveys, interviews, ethnographic research, competitive reviews and usability studies, to name a few. In the case of a prospective employer, you probably won’t have the opportunity to perform formal research. However, you can unleash your inner detective to understand as much as possible about them.
Go to client or company sites and job-review sites to find out about their culture, products, and projects. Identify your interviewer and learn more about his or her background, needs, and interests on LinkedIn, Twitter, or a personal blog. Mentioning a shared interest or a personal fact during communication helps you to connect with interviewers, demonstrates your enthusiasm about the job, shows your attention to detail, and lets you demonstrate empathy, which is helpful no matter the role you’re applying for. Also keep in mind some general assumptions about prospective employers, such as that they are almost universally pressed for time and don’t always come from a design background.
Once you’ve carefully considered your audience, update your deliverables (resume, online profiles, portfolios) accordingly. Whether you’re 2, 12, or 20 years in, it’s tempting to show all your previous work. However, the time-pressed prospective employers will appreciate a curated sample of your work that highlights how you can help them achieve their goals.
You can take a method from the content strategy world to help with this, called a content audit. Start by creating a comprehensive list of your deliverables, documents, notes, and other work. Then identify your best or most important pieces, and spot and remove the ROT– Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial content.
Keep in mind that prospective employers are also interested in your problem-solving approach and design process, as well as how your work impacts the business. While you want to highlight your beautiful final pieces, consider showing sketches or iterations of designs with notes about how you came to decisions. Include information about the outcome of a project, such as noting how sign-ups increased after you redesigned a site, so they can immediately see your value.
While this may seem obvious, especially to those of us in the design world, looks and format matter.
Your portfolio should be visually appealing, easy to scan, and easy to navigate. It’s incredible how many people apply for design roles with portfolios cluttered with outdated work in no seeming order. The portfolio and resume is the first chance an employer has to see how you organize and present information. Great work poorly thrown together isn’t nearly as impressive as a clear portfolio.
You should also prioritize your skills and visually highlight your strengths and the kind of work you do best or actually want to do.
To my earlier point, designers often come from diverse backgrounds and want to show the breadth of their work and therefore fill their portfolios with every project they’ve ever worked on. But reconsider the time-pressed employer; they’re typically looking at scads of applicants and need to find someone who has the aesthetic and supporting skills to bring their business success. They often assume that applicants would want or should focus on whatever types of work appear most frequently, so they can end up considering people for roles that include skills they’re no longer practicing or don’t want to do.
To help avoid that confusion and ensure that you’re contacted only for roles you’d want, you need to highlight not just what you can do, but what you actually want to be doing.
Last but not least, feedback makes the UX world go round, and if you’re smart, it can be the key to your success in finding a job.
The golden rule in usability is to employ at least 5 participants to capture 80% of issues, and the same is true whether you’re asking for feedback on your presentation style or on a particular deliverable. Gathering input from a variety of friends, teammates, or acquaintances will almost always help us spot things we’ve missed, or provide a perspective we’ve never considered.
Plus, no matter how strong a portfolio, silly typos or browser incompatibilities can disqualify you from a job.
What we can learn from UX
The core principles of UX can help you find and land your dream job. Understanding the people
you’re trying to reach, curating the content you display, focusing on information hierarchy, and gathering feedback can set you up for getting any job.
Speaking of information hierarchy, check out HOW’s Expert Guide, Information Architecture, to why prototyping may be just the website solution you’re seeking.
by Amanda Stockwell, UX Expert
Amanda Stockwell is a UX Expert and research consult at Aquent where she specializes in user research, in-person and remote usability testing competitive analysis and UX strategy. With her extensive background in UX, Amanda has helped companies who were new to user experience assimilate user-centered design into their existing processes.