Outside from maintaining a few polished CVs and a well structured portfolio, there are some things you can do before and throughout the job seeking process that will benefit you in the long run. As mentioned in the Step 1 - Effective job search to get your first or next UX/UI job, there is a lot of different advice out there on how to approach job searching. Surprisingly, I found a lot of them, even from educational sources, quite stereotypical.
Below, I have compiled a list of reality check and put it all in one place.
Visibility over networking
You’ll hear a lot, that networking is a must. Well, it’s not networking, more like visibility, that is a must. But if you’re an extrovert and love networking, then by all means do it. However, if you’re a quiet type with small but close network, being forced to advertise yourself could come across as sweaty and salesy. The common rational for ‘networking is a must’, is that 70% of jobs are hidden, AKA not advertised, because companies want someone with reference.
Referrals are highly preferred, because hiring managers can share responsibility over the hire. In reality however, the chance that you meet at time (being available when they have vacancy) and that you have the right skillset (having done in the past what they are asking of you) within your network, in addition to having a referee happy to risk their own relationship with the person they refer you to, is reasonable slim. In my 12-year career, it happened only once.
The fact is, the head-hunters are your most common reference. The vast majority of gigs and jobs come in via agents/head-hunters/recruiters. So to be visible for them is what brings result. Half of my LinkedIn network is made of agents adding me to their circle. Accepting their invite is all I do as networking, and it works. You can read more about the job search preparation in Effective job search to get your first or next UX/UI job – Step 1 – setting up the opportunities.
Confidence in skills over confident personality
You’ll also hear a lot, to be confident. For God sake, don’t mistaken this with actual confidence. The hiring goal is not to find a confident person, but to find an adaptable one, who can flexibly adjust their approach to the team. Most seniors will confirm that even mentioning too many skills or having noticeably more items in your portfolio then others, makes you less likely to be shortlisted. When companies say they want confident people, the mean someone who can clearly list what tools they use, what tasks they do, what skills they have. That helps them to place the candidate to the right project.
Due to this phenomenon, as I progress through my career, I become less and less employable by average teams. Simply because of my strong background, I don’t even have to be confident to intimidate, the sheer number of years in the field makes the hiring managers shrink in a lot of cases. When a potential teammate of mine commented: ‘oh I see you have a lot of impressive work in your portfolio’, I kind of knew, I was not going to be called back. On the positive side, clients do like impressive portfolios, so my daily rate increased.
Big names, big competition, low response rate
You will often be advised to start the job search on the biggest community platforms like Dribbble or Behance. They look such an obvious place to start at. But their job boards are in a middle of a competing designer community, so the job listed there are extremely over applied. I personally have not once in my life got a gig or a job from these sites. They rarely even respond. If you feel excited to build a presence on these sites, getting inspired by the vibrant community, do it, but only if it comes naturally and you don’t feel overpowered by the high-profile agency works that have flooded these platforms in the last years. If you're looking for better job search experience, please visit Best job search sites for UX/UI design jobs.
Avoid going political
Common advice will tell you to show off your awareness as an EDI-Climate-‘People above all’ –advocate. That’s very thin ice, like most political topics. The majority of companies are trying their best but are very aware that they are falling short on most demands. For market push, they often show off as being fully compliant, but won’t hire a whistle-blower because the true story is not what it seems.
This is true that you ‘interview the company’ just as they do. But that would mean checking what they have for you (educational budget, flexible hours, carrier path, etc.) rather than calling them out on politically sensitive topics.
No interviewer can afford to say that ‘Oh, well, we still have 90% male dominance in the product team and will likely keep it this way because the dudes weren’t happy that they had to change their language to accommodate to a female colleague’. Instead, the interviewer will present a nice marketing slogan on how much they have improved and will on-board several female colleagues in the upcoming weeks, then mark you as ‘not proceeding with’.
Similar over best
Also contrary to the popular belief, hiring managers are not looking for the best of the best. They’re looking for a person who fits. Behind the interview curtains, every interviewer is looking for a personality type that:
- fits within the existing team dynamic (not much better than the rest, not much louder than the rest, not much more active than the rest…)
- likely won’t confront the hiring managers themselves or people above them, so safe to introduce as their hire
- ideally covers some skillset they need (yes, this one is the least important)
The simple reason for this preference is that in reality, the work is done only if the team is together. Breaking the team dynamic irreparably with a new addition is the biggest fear of most hiring managers. Yet, when giving feedback, they need to look professional and so explain every rejection with a professional answer. In some cases, the rejection will be nice and neutral, such as:
‘We decided to move forward with another candidate more suited to the needs of this specific project’.
Perfectly neutral, super professional and meticulously crafted answer that won’t hurt the candidate in any way. Unfortunately, most rejections come with unnecessary comments about your skillset and experience. One of the very things that makes the interview process unreasonably draining.
One manager who interviewed me for example, who had the same experience in the industry as myself, did not write on the feedback form ‘conflict of position’. He wrote ‘lack of research skills’. And this wasn’t even the cheapest shot I got, which leads us to the next point, the rejection resilience.
Rejection resilience requires objectivity to see that only a very small portion of rejections have anything to do with your professional experience or skillset. Companies are searching for the best personality match and only the interviewers know what that is.
The most common real reasons behind a rejection:
- You didn’t come across as a similar character to those already in the team
- The interviewer picked their favourite a long time ago but couldn’t cancel the prescheduled interviews for HR reporting reasons
- The interviewer had a bad association with the industries or company types you have in your CV or portfolio
- The position was created by higher stakeholders and the interviewer didn’t agree with it. Accordingly, no one will be found suitable
- The interviewer has a bad experience or unfavourable association to your personality type (introverts are often misunderstood as uncooperative, for example)
- The interviewer has a clear picture in his head about the look and talk of a designer based on corporate stories and that is what they look for
- The interviewer felt you’re too idealistic or politically too committed to certain trends to cope with their flimsy compliance, failing on legal requirements here and there
- You didn’t come across as presentable enough (this can be called ‘politically pretty’) to introduce you to people as their choice internally or externally
- The interviewer didn’t feel you’re stable enough to handle the occasional emotional turbulence/conflicts within the team
- They need to improve the gender ratio and you’re not a woman
- They need to improve their inclusivity and you’re not a minority
- Their budget is lower than what they communicate and they were hoping you would let them talk you into a lower salary
- The vacancy never existed, they had a person for the position already but for liability reasons they needed to officially open the role (absolutely common in the public sector, which is why I don’t bother to fill out any lengthy application forms)
I hope this list helps you to see your position as a candidate more clearly. The job search is nothing personal, it’s more like looking for a business match. Setting up your strategy at the beginning will save you a lot of headache and wasted effort. If you need guidance on job search preparation, please visit Effective job search to get your first or next UX/UI job – Step 1 – setting up the opportunities.