A year into pandemic work-from-home, UX Designers can be counted lucky that we have a job that affords that. Though we will be more productive and creative when we can do in-person design sprints, contextual inquiries, interviews and usability tests, the job market for designers hasn’t declined as it has for others, and as it did after the bubble bursts and downturns in the past. Maybe even more so as remote work opens up new possibilities–as someone who relocated 5 times for work this is good. Though I doubt companies will be paying for relocation in the future as well.

In fact, it seems like there are more postings for UX than ever–could just be my perspective in Austin as Silicon Valley moves here. As I am currently hiring for one position, just finished recruiting for two summer interns, and have done a bunch of hiring and recruiting as a manager with three companies–plus getting a number of ‘review my portfolio’ requests–I thought I would add my perspective.

The first thing I look for is if the candidate matches the context. Not all postings are the same. For example, the position I am currently hiring is looking for an experienced designer with experience in enterprise applications–think tables and forms, real time reports, transactions. So right off I screen out those who don’t meet the posting “Required Experience”, namely: 5 years of professional experience and Experience with complex enterprise workflows for transactions and reporting.

First thing I do is look at the resume — yeah, old school, but gives me an answer to those questions.

  • Has the candidate worked for 5 years in design? Not just school projects on their portfolio, or intern, or are they changing careers (more on that later)
  • Do they have experience in B2B/enterprise? Not retail apps or marketing/content websites. In some cases this is where I jump into the portfolio to see examples.
  • Do they have experience working in agile scrum, on a mature UX team in the software development lifecycle. Based on prior candidates, these are the most successful candidates. Freelancers, UX-team-of-one, startups, or those with waterfall-like design experience–not collaborating or communicating daily with product owners, developers, QA–are less likely to make an immediate impact on a team.

If the candidate meets those criteria, or close, I move on to their portfolio. Personally, I think portfolios are mostly useless for user experience; they are an artifact of graphic design creeping influence in the last decade or so. It is a visual medium that gives short-shrift to researchers or process. That said, the move to use case portfolios is more representative of UX. So in a review of a portfolio I will look for:

  • shipped products and not student/freelance projects (e.g. my redesign of craigslist!)
  • use cases — must include your role in the team and some indication of collaboration — show problem/solution and what was learned.
  • something that doesn’t look like a dribbble template
  • examples of apps that are close to the job posting

If a candidate is promising I will reach out even before the HR screener. As a hiring manager, I will eyeball each candidate’s application–at this point, we aren’t getting the volume to require automated scanners, counter to a feedback I have gotten in the past to add lots of keywords, like resume SEO. I will take less than a minute, which is more than others, and the first pass is looking to screen out. Promising candidates will take longer look, often these portfolios have some personality that stands out and pushes them to the next step.

Next step is the HR screen or hiring manager screen. At this point I am looking for personality that hints at ‘culture fit’–which is really do I think the product development team is going to like working with them; ultimately the team will have the final say–pushing someone on a team when they don’t have buy in never works.. As a long time manager I am listening for the UX soft skills — curiosity, empathy, ego-less, collaboration, storytelling. You can tell me “your process” but at this point I wouldn’t have called if I didn’t think you knew the UX process.

My screen is really validation at this point, do I think this candidate has a chance of passing the panel interviews (managers, peer designers, development team).

Could be just my position, but from what I see there are maybe 80% of the candidates are career-switchers and visa-seekers (immigration is out of our control now so unfortunately this is a non-starter). With entry-level positions (we will have in the second half this year!) there is a very different review process–more evaluating potential than probable success. This is where career switchers have an advantage, since they don’t have the step of learning how to work.

A UX Hiring Manager Perspective

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