Ask A Designer Anything

August 4, 2022

A few months ago, I started posting weekly AMAs (ask me anything) on LinkedIn. I’m honored that I get to connect with strangers on the internet and share advice I’ve gathered in the 15+ years I’ve worked in design.

I didn’t want to let these questions and answers sit in my LinkedIn inbox. So, I decided to share some of the best questions I’ve received and my responses. If you’re exploring the world of UX design and eager to get your career started, read on, my friend…

Ask me anything #1

I’m a new grad in UX design. People say approach companies you want to work for and apply when an opportunity opens. This advice seems to work when someone has experience in the industry, but what should new grads do to get their foot in the door without narrowing their options too much?

These days, it takes more than an application to get your foot in the door. Unfortunately, there are a lot of issues, factors and biases when it comes to hiring. You need to up your ante to overcome that and get your resume to the top of the stack.

My advice? Don’t underestimate the power of networking.

LinkedIn is powerful

Pay attention to your connections. Go to virtual events and look to see who’s attending, then go add them on LinkedIn. People love connecting after events. Pay attention to people you admire and don’t be afraid to make the first move.

Strategic networking

Reach out to people in your network to give you referrals for the job. Otherwise, you’ll likely be a needle in the haystack. Referrals get you to the top of the list for a chance to be thoroughly reviewed because someone has said they know you and want to refer you to the company.

For the person who submitted this question, I messaged 20 people and said, “Hey, I see you have an open UX role. Would you mind referring someone?” Four people from four different companies got back to me. So, I connected those four people with that person and said, “Hey, they’re going to refer to you. You need to do X, Y, and Z so they can properly get you through the system. They need to know some basic information, but please make sure you keep in contact with me throughout the process.”

Everyone I reach out to on LinkedIn is so excited to help these folks straight out of bootcamps and college get jobs in tech.

Join UX communities

Become a member of any number of the slack channels for UX designers. Here are some great ones:

Also, look to see if there are any Women Who Code chapters in your area. I’m a director for our local Richmond chapter of Women Who Code and I always tell people if they don’t have a chapter in their local community, then start one. It’s free, it can be a temporary position, it’s a great way to build a community in your field, it looks great on your resume, and the work is tremendously valuable for you and your community.

Ask me anything #2

I see you have over 15 years of UX design experience. Do you have any advice on breaking into the industry? What is the best approach?

I started writing code when I was 12 and went to college for IT but didn’t understand the difference between back-end and front-end programming. After some coding internships, I realized I wanted something different. So, I got an internship in web design before graduation. It was the best decision ever. I knew I loved design; I just didn’t know how my coding experience would plug into the UX world. Here’s my advice…

Freelance

Get your foot in the digital or design realms somehow. Real world experience is so important, no matter where it’s from. I did two freelance projects in college, including a DJ’s website and a website for one of my college business groups.

You will get a feel for your workflow, get valuable feedback, develop your understanding of terminology, and find out where you really want to be.

Internships

If you have the time and financial means to get a paid or unpaid internship, it’s a great way to meet people and gain relevant work experience. Paid internships are obviously preferable, but unpaid internships are still valuable.

A lot of people coming into UX are amid a career change, so internships aren’t viable, but I think it’s about finding whatever digital project you can get your hands on.

Bootcamps

Bootcamps are great, but some bootcamps don’t give you that real-world experience that you get with freelance or internship projects. If you’re exploring bootcamps, find one that gives students work based on actual business problems. For example, I know professors in UX, such as Assistant Professor Reginé Gilbert at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, who will partner with Microsoft or local companies, where part of the class is doing real world projects.

It’s so great to have that practical business experience underneath your belt. It not only teaches you about the industry, but you can then bring that information into an interview. If you have no experience in a professional UX setting, you’ll then have things to talk about with future employers. Instead of saying “oh I enjoyed this class in college,” you can sell yourself to the employer in a way that shows you would be an asset to the team. Or at least someone who’s willing to dive in and learn.

Ask me anything #3

My UX projects as of now consist of just school projects. I have tons of experience as an art director and visual designer, but not quite enough when it comes to UX. How can I leverage my experience to be a bit more appealing to hiring managers?

If you’ve worked in similar industries, like art directing or any type of design, then you already have a leg up. Highlight those experiences in your portfolio and list the skills and tools you learned in your resume. Buzz words like Figma or Photoshop are important to hiring managers, so make sure to include them if you have used those tools in the past.

“Yo, I need a business card.”

“I need a logo.”

We get these questions a lot. People know we’re designers and that’s what we do best. If you already hear these types of questions, that’s amazing. Start documenting it.

Regardless of whether it’s your full-time job, take these little projects and put them in your portfolio. A lot of people don’t realize how much work they do, so they don’t document all of it. Your projects don’t solely have to be from professional environments! Employers can look at your resume and quickly see this person has relevant experience to bring to the table of UX design…they’ve done print, they’ve done art, they’ve done painting.

I personally love to see portfolios with an array of experiences because I think, “Cool this person thinks like a designer and could design on any team.”

Ask me anything #4

I’m working on redesigning my resume and LinkedIn profile. My question is when looking at my profile, what can improve to convey that I am a career changer with years of work experience who is now looking to land a product design role?

A lot of UX Designers think because they’re not getting calls or interviews that something’s wrong with their resume. I always say, before you do anything, don’t. You might want to reevaluate and spend your energy elsewhere.

If your resume is honest and up to date, then leading with a career change is not necessary. The person reviewing your application will see you’ve changed careers, so you don’t have to call yourself out.

Having years of work experience, regardless of the industry, is incredibly valuable. Instead of stretching your resume to appear more experienced in design, this is the perfect opportunity to explore freelance projects and ramp up your network. See above! Join new networks on LinkedIn, attend virtual events, comb through your connections from previous jobs for referrals, message people and ask if they know anyone hiring.

It’s easy to get stuck in the details and judge yourself based on what you think your weaknesses are. It’s easy to put yourself in the interviewer’s position and think to yourself, “oh, well maybe I’ll stretch this experience because I don’t have other experience.” But trust me, people make career switches all the time. You’re not expected to be an expert. In fact, companies actively seek new talent with 0-2 years of experience.

That’s the cool thing about designers. We all have such crazy backgrounds. I guarantee someone is looking for you and your specific background.

Are you a psychology major? Great! They might want to do a lot of research in this UX design role. Ask a lot of questions… you won’t know until you talk to the employer. You’d be surprised how many skills can be valuable across fields.

Ask me anything!

Since we’re on the topic, it only feels right to end this with ask me anything! Message me at the link below or find me on LinkedIn and participate in my next live AMA. I’d love to connect and help you make waves in an industry that I love.

Connect with me on LinkedIn A How-To Guide On Design for Developers

Brooke Smith

Sr UX Designer