How to Break Into UX Design

As a growing field, true UX and Product Design talent is at a premium. How does someone get a start and break into UX as a User Experience Designer? What are the concerns of a UX Design Hiring Manager and what are they thinking? What are the Hiring Managers and companies looking for?

Break into UX

After engineers, the biggest challenge for companies is finding high-quality creative design and user-experience talent.– Inc.

The UX Design Job Description

Take a look at job posting boards and leading companies looking to attract User Experience and Product Design talent. The first thing to notice is no job description is quite the same. Titles, roles, responsibilities, skills, education requirements, program knowledge and prerequisites can all vary substantially. Even the term “UX” or “User Experience” is not a consistent standard.

Indeed UX & Product Designers
LinkedIn UX Design Jobs
UX Magazine Jobs
Google Jobs: UX & Design
Amazon UX Design Jobs
Facebook Design & UX

Break into UX: Job Description

Why do the job descriptions vary so much?

As with any job, each user experience role can be truly different and require a different focus. The major source of this seems be every organization has a different understanding of what User Experience means. Even with a unified credential, each role could still require a substantially different set of skills.

A “typical” User Experience Design job description takes the form of:

  • A number of years experience in the field or similar role.
  • Degree or study in HCI (Human Computer Interaction), CS (Computer Science) or Design.
  • Ability to communicate and work well with a team.
  • Knowledge of best practices, such as user-centered design process and usability testing.
  • Create deliverables or artifacts, such as user flows, wireframes and mockups.
  • Proficiency in software tools like Axure, Visio and Photoshop.
  • Front end coding and/or prototyping ability with HTML, CSS and JavaScript.
  • Contribute to or help define the user experience vision of the product.
  • Portfolio demonstrating all these points and more.

What UX Design Hiring Managers Are Looking For

The typical UX Design job description can be quite a list of technical, personal and professional skills. Is this what UX Design hiring managers are really looking for? Is this how to break into UX? To answer that, I reached out to over a dozen hiring managers – User Experience, User Interface, Product Designers and UX Research. A few select responses:

Q: What is the one thing you recommend to those trying to break into UX and are looking for in a User Experience professional?

Break into UX: UI Faces

UI Faces

I honestly found the only way to actually stand out and break into UX is to make sure you’re compatible culturally with a new position. I think starting out it’s especially true, since your portfolio is probably not the strongest thing you have… That can mean anything from promoting yourself based on side projects or anything to make you look less like a student.

Go to the local talks, we have Bay-CHI here and they have a talk every month. And for interaction designers, IxDA is a good resource. One thing I wish is designers were more “T” shaped (Research, Interaction Design, Visual Design, Usability)

How do you get a job? Learn everything there is to know about experience design and do projects to get experience under belt. Projects that have a good problem set and show a thoughtful process all the way through.

The thing I’ve seen bring the most success is a willingness to look for opportunities in unexpected places that will let you practice the skills you want to develop. Be flexible, positive and proactive and keep your eyes open for the next gig to break into UX. There aren’t any projects that won’t benefit from thoughtful design and the trick is to find that aspect of your project and make the most of it you can.

Accumulate as many skills as possible and master some. You don’t have to know everything, but it’s important to understand the pros and cons of things when it comes to technology. At the end of the day, highly skilled generalists are more sought out than specialists because of their adaptability.

What UX Design Hiring Managers Are Thinking



What are the concerns of a UX Design Hiring Manager and what are they thinking? After talking further with these same hiring managers, a couple of key concerns and patterns emerged to help break into UX. (Reality Check: Not every hiring manager, role and organization is identical but many of these professionals have over a over a decade of experience.)

Is this person trustworthy?

The nature of UX work is hard problems that must be solved collaboratively. Candidates must find ways (however they can) to prove that they’re trustworthy. These are the soft skills that are difficult to demonstrate without a solid personal connection or established career path. To build trust, you will need to show HOW you work and HOW you think.

Can they help us right now?

These are the hard skills: Prior experience, assisting with production, an expertise in a particular tool or managing workload ahead of development cycles. It depends on the needs of the team, but this person needs to help on Day 1.

Can this person grow?

This concern can take many forms: flexibility, adaptability, absorb business pivots and more. From day-to-day workloads to user behaviors over time and the evolving marketplace, change is the name of the game.

Can they tell a story?

The last point is more subtle. UX professionals need to tell stories every day in developing their work and explaining the user’s needs to others. This skill is also what UX Design hiring managers are looking for during the interview process. See How to Tell Your UX Story for more.

Suggestions on How to Break Into UX Design


Tony L. Wong

Make Connections Now

One of the best ways to become trustworthy and break into UX is to have a common connection. Grow your circle professionally and personally. Talk with students, professionals and speakers, attend meet-ups, and have a non-UX life as well. Do something, no matter how small, everyday.

Get Real Experience

Volunteer, take on contracts, work side jobs, leverage your proficiency from another industry or trade skills with other developing talents. Knowing what you don’t want is as important as what you want. The right User Experience role is not only going to be about credentials and work experience, but culture, attitude and personality.

Connect with a UX Talent Manager

Is it hard to be outgoing or looking to super-charge your network? Develop a close and mutually beneficial relationship with a recruiter you trust and connect with. Doors will open and they will become as invested in your future as you.

Do Your Research

Take a closer look into which sectors, industries, companies and situations you would like to pursue. At worst, you have practiced techniques you will need before an interview. At best, you understand the history behind a potential employment opportunity.

Continuously Sharpen Your Portfolio

A portfolio is your key strategic advantage and biggest asset after any direct connections to break into UX. Developing, refining and optimizing your UX Design portfolio is a whole topic unto itself.

Best UX Design Career and Interview Advice


Access an always updated list of Top UX design career advice and examples along with recommended tools, services, products and UX Design resources.

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  1. Michael Woo says

    First of all, it’s an honor to be posting on UX HOW!

    In all seriousness, Troy is my UX manager at Big Fish and he has asked his team to share our advice for any newbies that are ready to make UX their career choice.

    Here’s my thoughts:

    Foundational UX classes at SVC and the like are good choices that will go a long way. If budget is not unlimited however, I would scour the internet for UX blogs, articles, RSS feeds etc. to stay abreast of the latest UX trends, interactions and overall conversations regarding current challenges in the industry. Build your personal and professional network as best you can with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and UX discussion forums. Attend free or paid UX meet-ups/talks when interesting.

    I would get my hands on as many real world projects as possible. There are job boards out there, craigslist, etc. for potential clients looking for designers for their small business projects and the like. Try to find projects that match the type of UX work you’re looking for. Even a small website project can be a good UX project. Look for diversity in work such as mobile type projects. Some of these may be paid and some may be pro bono. You’ll just have to strategically pick the best that will be cornerstones in your portfolio.

    Additionally, if you truly have that UX mind of trying to solve problems, I’ve told others to get in the habit of documenting challenges in everyday life and possibly blogging about how you would solve these problems. I’ve got this listed on my Bucket List of things to do, but haven’t gotten around to it…yet.

    Here’s an example.

    If you’ve ever rode the Link Light Rail, I don’t think it’s intuitive on how you’re supposed to pay/ride. The first time I rode it, I hopped on the train and was asking riders how I was suppose to pay? I had a pass, but I didn’t know that I was supposed to scan it before I got on. There wasn’t a clear 1-2-3 step that I could see from 10ft away as I was walking to the train platform. With something like this, you could blog about it. Describe and/or sketch a better solution. Not only is this fun, but this shows how you think as a UX professional.

    You’ll probably find that one small pro bono project will lead to the next paid project which will lead to your first employer and so forth. That’s how it worked for me.

    Be dedicated, keep absorbing knowledge, and work hard. Good things will come, I’m sure of it.

    • says

      Thanks Michael… I appreciate the thoughtful comments that match your stellar design skills. Take note, these are some very solid suggestions for anyone – regardless of what place they are in their UX career – especially the everyday life journal.