Getting the first UX job in London

On Tuesday, September, 9th, 2014 in Job Hunting

Wireframe by Baldiri

There are certain things that I wish I had known back in 2007 when I was first looking for a UX role. So hopefully this maybe helpful for a lot of people who want to break into the field of UX, and you can maybe avoid some of the mistakes I made.

This is not a step by step guide

This is not intended to be a step by step guide of what to do to get a UX job.

It is more my experience of breaking into the industry for the first time.

So I wont talk about how to make a portfolio, or interview techniques.

All of those are for anther time.

Finishing university for the first time

So in 2007 I had just graduated with an undergraduate degree, and I was having to work out what to do next with myself. Eventually I decided that because I had enjoyed the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) module and had obtained a good mark that something HCI related would be of interest. I was actually really surprised to come across the job role entitled “Graduate user experience architect.”

Why a graduate scheme ?

I suppose because it said the word “Graduate” I thought it would be suitable. The Grad scheme was being run by an agency named LBi and to be honest I had never heard of them.

But anyway, all that lay in front of me was the assessment center with other grads.

Things went quite well I thought, I had to do a presentation on any subject matter of my choice. So I did a presentation on the mighty AFC Wimbledon. It went down really well and everyone remembered it during the lunch break.

But at the end of the day I had an interview with the lead UX guy. Trust me when I say this but everyone in the UX community of London will know who this guy is.

My catastrophic mistake

I probably made my first MAJOR CATASTROPHIC mistake. I had no creative portfolio. It maybe wasn’t my fault, after all I was up against a lot of creatives and after all I was a computer science student. However in hindsight I could have showed him the website I developed for my Ultimate Frisbee team at University. I was great site, where the captains and social secretaries could create events and then members of the club could sign up to the events. Annoyingly a year later Facebook came out, but thats not the point.

The point is in hindsight I could have showed off a piece of  exciting and creative coding that at the time was on par with Facebook, but alas it wasn’t to be on this occasion.

How did the Lead UX guy recover from my interview ?

So in hindsight going into my first UX job interview without a portfolio was a mistake. The guy I saw actually went onto publish a series of well known documents on UX portfolios that have done the rounds a few times in the London UX community. Who knows he maybe was thinking me when he did them? Probably not though, as I’m sure he sees literally thousands of bad portfolios.

How did I recover from the interview ?

So in the end I recovered and down the line I got myself a a job in the field of UX.

To do so I went off to work for an IT Consultancy for a few years, with the main motivation to save up enough funds to take part in a UX masters degree at City University London. The fees were expensive but I considered the long term pay off regarding the training I would get.

Why City University London and why a UX degree ?

Basically I needed to do something that would open the door to new UX roles. Without a creative portfolio I had to consider taking additional and further study. I was really attracted to the City University London course Human Centred Systems  because it offered a place in industry as part of the course.


City University College Building by : Nick Sarebi

In the end it was this placement that gave me a little bit of experience and just enough to convince someone to give me a break into the field of UX. In the longer term employers and recruiters still see that having some sort of academic background as being really beneficial to UX professionals.

Applying everywhere

Throughout my Masters degree I was continually applying for UX jobs anyway I could. The major motivation was to land an internship somewhere that would take me on. It was of course tough because no one in London really wanted to take me on as a junior with the view of nurturing me.

I remember getting really stressed towards the end of my Masters degree because my avenues were starting to dry up. But I had to remain strong and I kept making applications and even attended interviews during the last week of my dissertation hand in.

It all coming together

Sheer persistence paid off in the end as one day I had two phone calls with job offers. One at a creative agency and the other at a user testing agency. In the end I was in a situation where I could negotiate on salary and in the end I choose the one that offered a little extra beer money at the the end of every month.

What should you learn from this ?

  1. Take up some formal study regarding UX
  2. Be persistent and apply for as many jobs as you can
  3. You will suffer rejections, but pick yourself up
  4. If you are persistent you will get the UX job career you want and deserve
  5. The lead UX guy who interviewed me back in 2007 probably still has nightmares about the young UX wannabe he conducted an interview who turned up without a creative portfolio.

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