This article first appeared on The Whiteboard.
Design is about solving problems for people, not making things look pretty. Craigslist is the epitome of a hugely popular product, despite unappealing aesthetics. Design must also align with business goals, which is why UX designers need to constantly balance empathy for the end user with cognizance of the overarching business strategy.
UX design is still an emerging discipline, and candidates for junior roles are often unsure of what technical skills/ how much design experience they’ll need to land their first UX design job. We asked seven instructors in our web design course who have interviewed, hired, and trained UX designers about what they like to see in candidates for junior roles. Of course, there is no singular “junior UX designer skill set,” but a few characteristics stood out, such as stellar communication skills, a knack for solving problems with design, and a hunger to understand what makes users “tick.” Read on to hear from Startup Institute instructors who are also UX hiring managers on how they identify great potential in new designers:
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 such like why they did certain things the certain way. Listening to their reasoning trying to understand how clear they explain what they’ve done in a short amount of time. Clarity is what I seek in UX designers.
—Firat Parlak, Founder of Awesome
If I’m interviewing a candidate, something that matters a lot to me is instinct for design as a mode for solving problems. I assess their level of talent: how easily they can generate design solutions, and how they choose the “best” solution. A great candidate brings a unique background or set of experiences into the team, because that improves 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. Great candidates have curiosity about and passion for what motivates users, and they’re motivated to learn and improve; they have 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. 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, Founder and CEO at Subforum, Mentor-in-Residence at Startup Institute
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, for example, about groups of people and their value systems? Is the candidate resilient? Will she challenge our ways?
—Gideon Goldin, UX Architect & Product Manager at Tamr
I look for people who are naturally curious and good communicators. 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 try new ideas.
I also 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 Global Immigration
I look for communication skills—the ability to describe their process of getting from problem to solution grounded in specific examples. But most important for a growing startup is culture fit. You can learn hard skills on the job, but if you don’t fit with our team, those skills don’t really matter.
—Alissa Ampezzan, Senior Product Designer at Civis Analytics
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. 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?
Junior UX designers don’t tend to know all the points I mentioned above, 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
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 – and 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.
One thing I always encourage junior UX 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!
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 set milestones to help her grow in the direction she wanted to go.
—Amy Eastment, User Researcher & Product Designer at Bitsight Technologies
Want to launch your career as a UX designer? Our full- and part-time web design programs will give you the skills, mindset, and network you need to build a UX career you love. Download the web design course syllabus to learn more about our curriculum.