In February 2012 it will have been my first year having worked fulltime in the world of UX. I graduated from City University London in January 2011 and then started work shortly after in February.
I frequently question I get asked by my peers inside UX and outside socially is how I seemed to get rather lucky in getting my first job so quickly after finishing the masters degree.
Well the truth is I started looking for UX jobs in the summer of 2007 and it took 4 years of graft to break through. The purpose of this article is to help others to not take so long in getting into the UX profession.
If your thinking 4 years is quite sometime to get a job I should let you know that two of those were working for a fairly large and hefty IT company on the grad scheme. I soon realised that their scheme was not for me and that there wasn’t going to be many UX opportunities. So at the time I went through many changes of heart with my employer considering to see through the grad scheme or leave in advance. In the end I did a bit of both. So in January 2009 most of the people I was working with, knew that in September I would be leaving the company to go do a masters.
But why had it come to quitting a reasonably paid grad scheme salary with a pension to go live the life of a student again? Well every employer or recruitment consultant I spoke to couldn’t offer me any opportunity. The common responses were lack of experience and portfolio.
All very true feedback because my under graduate degree was based on Computer Science and what most User Experience employers actually wanted was graphical designers, not computer scientists. So the Masters degree was the only course of action for me. It was purely a means to an end to get a job and the course at City University was my preferred choice over UCL. The major reason being that City University offered an industrial placement as part of the course, and so in my mind this was the best way to get around the lack of commercial experience in job interviews.
I knew that I would have to get a placement from somewhere. This for me was the most important part of my master’s degree because without it, it had the potential in my opinion to make my master’s experience next to worthless. So throughout my masters degree I was hooked to job boards and was constantly making applications when any suitable opportunity arose.
This in itself was not always a positive experience. I found that many companies and recruitment consultants would simply ignore applications I would make to them. I can tell you that as a result I don’t speak to highly of a lot of agencies and recruiters because of this. Its not a good feeling to be “ignored” or have a recruiter not be able to find your application.
Of course City University had some commercial contacts of their own and these proved to be more productive when getting to the interview stage, and I remember getting to a period of several interviews during a week. I have to say it was a great experience. I got to meet a lot of employers and practice interviews, and each time I gained a little more experience in answering questions and perfecting some of my answers to some of the more frequently asked questions.
It also meant I could interview the interviewer; one clear memory I had was of a company who really failed to impress me at an interview. This was a fairly well known online travel booking company who decided that they would simply give me a “good grilling” from the start. It wasn’t perhaps the best interviewing technique I’ve ever come across and I had decided that even if they had offered me a placement I would not accept it. I mainly came away thinking, “wow! I put in a lot of effort to sell myself and they really failed to sell themselves to me”
I remained strong however and kept looking for that breakthrough.
I had several interviews during the summer of 2010 all of which ended in disappointment. In one case an international business and technology consulting firm employing over 1000 staff world wide could not write an accurate job advertisement and ended up wasting my time attending three of their interviews.
My story does of course come good in the end and just at the right time too. I eventually had two job offers in January 2011. It had showed that my persistence had paid off. I was still attending job interviews during the hand in week of my final masters project. I have to tell you having two job offers was a great feeling and I was even able to get one of the companies to increase their original offer, ooooooh that felt good at the time.
I was weighing up two very different agencies, one specialising in User Experience Research and the other who specalised in User experience Design and Build. I was torn between one who paid significantly more money and the other who was going to offer me a better fit for what I wanted to do. One of the contributing factors to getting into this situation was that I had a little commercial exposure having sorted out a work placement as part of my masters during the previous summer. This counted in my favor with both potential employers.
In the end I took the money. It was a wise decision, because it would have been a problem with the other agency. So in the end I went with the User Experience Research agency.
I’ll sign off now but things soon changed in my UX career around October 2011.