User experience is a science as much as it is an art. This makes it an attractive career choice for technologists who enjoy working with people as much as they love building products. What does it take to launch your career as a user experience designer? What skills and experiences are most important to hiring managers seeking junior UX designers? We went straight to hiring managers to find out. The instructors at Startup Institute’s web design course are experienced practitioners who have hired designers and built product teams. Here’s what they had to say about what they look for in junior-level UX hires.

There’s no prescribed path for becoming a UX designer. It’s an emerging discipline, and UX professionals come to the field from diverse backgrounds. At Startup Institute, we’ve seen UX designers make successful career transitions from a range of disciplines—from jobs in psychology and behavioral sciences, education and linguistics, to customer service and marketing. Highly empathetic people who understand human behavior often have a natural penchant for designing effective user experiences. 

CAN YOU COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY?

"I'm currently in the midst of hiring a junior designer, so this is top-of-mind. I look for communication skills—the [candidate’s] ability to describe their process of getting from problem to solution, grounded in specific examples."
Alissa Ampezzan, Senior Product Designer at Civis Analytics

"I believe that design is centered around communication. As designers, we want our designs—whether web application or print designs—to communicate something to our audience. It could be a task we'd like them to do or an emotion or experience we want them to leave with. If you have a hard time communicating with those around you, you will likely have a hard time communicating with your designs, as well."
Stephanie Finken, Senior UI Designer at VISANOW

"Junior UX designers don’t [always have the experience and portfolio], but if they are able to tell me how they got a project from point A to point Z and what problems were presented and solved along the way, that definitely appeals to my point of view."  
Luis Mendoza, Creative Director at Krossover

 

WILL YOU LEARN FROM & CHALLENGE THE TEAM?

"I look for people who are naturally curious… Curiosity can make you a good learner and it often means you question the status quo, which I think can be really valuable when building online experiences. We don't necessarily want to design and build something one way just because we've always done it that way. Being curious is important so you can understand why something was done a certain way while also being open to trying new ideas."
Stephanie Finken, Senior UI Designer at VISANOW

"When interviewing a candidate, I look for the imagination and humility of a beginner's mind—regardless of experience. In designing an experience, does the candidate build upon assumptions, or does she reflect on them? Does she begin by generating ideas, or by generating questions about groups of people and their value systems, for example? Is the candidate resilient? Will they challenge our ways?"
Gideon Goldin, Senior UX Architect at Tamr

 

DO YOU TAKE INITIATIVE TO LEARN?

"As a hiring manager, I'm not always looking to hire someone who's got years and years of experience. I look for opportunities to give junior candidates a chance to grow—I focus on evaluating their passion, ability to take initiative, and whether they want to learn the skills that will fill the gaps on my team."

"An anecdote—I once hired an office manager with zero professional technical experience as a QA engineer because she'd taken the initiative to take programming classes on her own in the evening, and she was clearly passionate about learning and growing into an eventual web developer role. It made it easy not only to hire and train her, but also to set milestones to help her grow in the direction she wanted to go."
Amy Eastment, Design Lead at Bitsight Technologies

 

ARE YOU TALENTED OR CREATIVE?

"If I'm interviewing a candidate, the skills/qualities that matter a lot to me are:

  • Their instinct for design as a mode for solving problems. How easily can [the candidate] generate design solutions, and how do they choose the "best" solution? Level of talent, basically.
  • Will they bring a unique background/ set of experiences into the team and improve our creative diversity? I've never built a UX team of purely "design school" grads—I'm a big fan of career changers who are junior at design, but can map in their prior experiences to help support their design activities.
  • Curiosity about and passion for what motivates users.
  • Motivation to learn and improve—good work ethic.

Conversely, I'm less concerned about specific tool skills or ability to code. I like to hire for instinct and motivation, and enable junior talent to develop their tool skills on the job."
—Giles Phillips, Product and Design Lead at Tamr

 

DOES YOUR PORTFOLIO SHOW YOUR POTENTIAL?

"I look for well-designed portfolios. UX designers should have a good user experience showcasing their work. Second, I look where I can get my hands on their actual work. Engaging with interactive prototypes and asking them questions about why they did certain things a certain way. Listening to their reasoning trying to understand how clearly they explain what they've done in a short amount of time. Clarity is what I seek in UX designers."
Firat Parlak, Founder at UI UX design agency, Awesome

"In terms of portfolio, one good mobile project is all I need to get excited about a junior candidate.  Also, I love to see creative work from other fields and interests!"
Giles Phillips, Product and Design Lead at Tamr

"When we start the hiring process for a UX designer at Krossover, the first thing that catches my eye is their work history. If the interviewee’s experience isn’t up to par with what we’re looking for, the next thing I focus on is project process. Meaning, how does the person applying to the position begin and end a project? What are the first steps they take to build out the user experience? Do they create a mood board for any visuals? Do they create a clickable prototype in InVision? And are they familiar with the process of getting a static design into a functional website?"
—Luis Mendoza, Creative Director at Krossover

 

TAKEAWAYS:

Hiring managers for junior UX design roles want to know:

  • Can you communicate effectively?
  • Will you both learn from and challenge the team?
  • Do you take initiative to learn?
  • Are you talented or creative?
  • Does your portfolio show your potential?

Notably, each of the designers we spoke to had a different answer to our question. Some looked to the portfolio first, others based their hiring process on a candidate’s motivation, communication skills, and passion for the work.

The big takeaway for aspiring UX designers is not to let a lack of experience stop you. Build your skills, connect with designers in the field, and consider the transferable skills that you bring from your past roles. Your portfolio will become more impressive with time, and there are many other ways to showcase your potential.

We’ll leave you with a hack from instructor Amy Eastment—

"One thing I always encourage junior UX designers to do when they've got an empty portfolio: pick out a random, silly idea that they are interested in, and run with it.  Do user interviewing, design the workflow and wireframes, do the mockups, do the usability testing, and document your approach to it all. It doesn't matter if it's not a real, feasible product—it matters that you cared enough to practice design on your own."
Amy Eastment, Design Lead at Bitsight Technologies

Interested in learning UX and front-end design from a community of experts? Download our Web Design Syllabus to learn more about the our curriculum.

Find out more and read Startup Institute reviews on Course Report. Check out the Startup Institute website.

About The Author

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Christine Zimmerman is the Content Marketing Manager at Startup Institute.

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