At Avocademy, we believe anyone can become a UX designer. Getting a UX design job requires a bit of project experience, patience with the hiring process, interviewing skills, and a great portfolio.
That said, getting started as a junior designer can be tough. Sometimes the job search takes longer than expected, and competition for entry-level roles makes the process even more challenging. Even highly qualified, talented people can still suffer through an extended job search.
So what can you do to get into a UX role faster? One method is to learn how to emphasize the crucial UX skills that hiring managers seek in a candidate. By nailing these most-important skills in your application, you’ll come across as a focused and qualified candidate who stands out among the rest.
In this installment of The Guac, we’ll explain the top five skills UX hiring managers look for in an application. Without further ado, here’s the guac that will rock your interviewer’s world:
Empathy refers to a UX designer’s ability to understand a user’s needs, wants, and feelings and use them to inform their design.
Unlike emotional empathy, user empathy doesn’t manifest in personal conversations or warm hugs. Instead, user empathy is a designer’s ability to make observations about a user’s behaviors and habits. User empathy means staying focused on the user’s needs throughout the entire design process and not letting flashy trends or personal tastes lead a design astray.
Without user empathy, it’s almost impossible to create a good user experience, and a good user experience encourages customer retention and helps the company reach new audiences. As a UX designer, your ability to understand user’s motivations and desires gives your company a profitable edge over the competition. In other words, user empathy helps make customers happy, which brings in the money.
To showcase your user empathy skills, carefully examine the design decisions you include in your portfolio or resume. At each decision point, indicate how your choices were informed by your users’ needs. Take advantage of opportunities to point back to conclusions you drew from your user research, and make sure your personas, empathy mapping, and other user-focused deliverables are top-notch. Finally, remember to emphasize your empathy-related skills like active listening and conducting user interviews in your application.
Agile is a mindset that developers use to complete software projects more quickly and with more client focus. Instead of writing code and delivering a product all at once, Agile developers deliver the product in small increments with quick turnaround times. Scrum is one common and specific Agile methodology that involves daily standup meetings and other ceremonies to keep projects on track.
While Agile workflows are typically used by developers, more and more fields (and especially UX) are adopting this mindset. Since UX designers often work alongside developers, many become part of an Agile team at some point in their careers.
There is a lot to learn about Agile and Scrum, and we recommend checking out this Agile in a Nutshell resource to get started. If you want to dig even deeper, check out Avocademy’s Agile for UX Design Masterclass!
If you have Agile/Scrum knowledge, you become instantly more desirable by companies who use this type of workflow. If an Agile employer sees that you’ve previously worked on a Scrum team, they know you’ll fit into their team quickly and naturally.
Even if the company doesn’t use Agile or Scrum, having Agile knowledge shows that you are a good collaborator, a quick worker, and someone who is comfortable adapting your routine.
While you should certainly mention Agile and Scrum experience on your resume, the best place to highlight your Agile knowledge is in your job interview. During interview prep, reflect on how Agile has helped you work iteratively and embrace feedback throughout the design process. Be ready to speak about how Agile has impacted your work and worldview as a designer, and brush up on terminology if you’re still a little new to Agile. Even if the company does not use Agile, the hiring manager will love to hear that you think intentionally about your workflow.
This skill is also somewhat self-explanatory, yet many applicants forget to emphasize analytical thinking in their applications. Whether you call it logic, critical thinking, or analysis, hiring managers want to see that you make decisions based on facts, not just opinions.
While some design thinking is definitely creative and intuitive, you should also be thinking about how the evidence and industry standards support your design choices. Analytical thinking is also crucial for defining a problem clearly and creating logical, straightforward flows through a product.
Employers value analytical thinking because it makes it easier to predict the success of a design. When your boss asks you why you made a design choice, you should have an evidence-based reason behind your decision. Without this rationale, you become a less trustworthy teammate and a less appealing candidate.
Luckily, there are many ways to become a more analytical designer. Start by gaining a solid grasp of design conventions in your area of interest so that you can use them to inform your own work. In your portfolio, be sure to polish your research sections, demonstrating exactly how you drew conclusions from your data and used them in your design.
Analytical thinking does not have to be perfect— if you made a mistake or wrong assumption, share that experience with your hiring manager. Sometimes you have to discover what does not work to find a true solution, and changing course based on evidence is a great way to demonstrate your powers of deduction.
Interaction design is an important, more focused aspect of user experience design. It is the design of the interaction between users and products to help users achieve their goals. Interaction design involves tailoring everything the user encounters (such as words, visuals, physical objects, time, and the product’s behavior) to respond to their input effectively. By honing these components, interaction designers create a kind of conversation between the user and the product that guides the user successfully through their task.
Employers value interaction design knowledge partly because it is a more specific type of UX design. They also value interaction design because it takes a close look at each touchpoint between a user and a product, providing valuable and specific knowledge about how an experience can be improved. This hyper-focused, detailed feedback can take a good product to the next level.
To showcase your interaction design knowledge, take a look at your previous projects. Have you ever spent time making a design more communicative? Have you used testing and redesigns to reduce user confusion during a particular interaction? Look for ways that you’ve adapted your designs to react to user input and explain them in your portfolio. You may have more interaction design experience than you realize!
Visual communication is the subtle art of sharing ideas outside of the usual tools of spoken and written language. Visual communication can include images, graphics, and videos. It can also include less obvious things, such as the location of a cancel button or the hierarchy of text sizes on a page. UX designers use visual communication to meet users’ (often subconscious) expectations to help them navigate a design.
Storytelling and visual communication go hand-in-hand. Like visual communication, designers use storytelling to help users understand a start-to-finish journey with a product and connect emotionally with the design.
Storytelling and visual communication are also very helpful skills for working on a UX team. Both help you share ideas with coworkers, and both are critical for key parts of the design process, such as writing user journeys or sharing user research with stakeholders.
Users need to be able to understand your design in order to use it. Employers care about these two communication skills because they make your designs less confusing and more enjoyable. As mentioned above, these skills also make you a better team player, which hiring managers definitely want to see in a UX candidate.
As you edit your UX portfolio, consider adding a sentence here and there (where appropriate) to discuss visual communication. You could mention it in relation to your sketches, wireframes, prototypes, and UI separately, or create a specific blurb about the visual aspect of your designs. Consider answering questions like: How did you create a visual hierarchy on this page? How did you visually demonstrate which elements the user could interact with? How did you create visual consistency to reduce cognitive strain for your user?
You can also tailor your portfolio itself to showcase your visual communication and storytelling skills. Evaluate your portfolio website, looking for ways to make your professional story more apparent and compelling. Look for visual ways to guide, inform, and engage the hiring team. By taking this step, you’ll get good practice and stand out from the competition!
Some of these skills may seem like fundamental UX knowledge, but too often, applicants focus on the bonus skills and fail to emphasize these core competencies. These abilities are fundamentals because they are in demand, and without them, you may struggle to get noticed by hiring teams.
If you emphasize core skills like empathy, visual communication, and analytical thinking, you’ll show the hiring manager that UX design is part of your worldview. Then, you can use more specific desirable skills like Agile and interaction design to stand out from the crowd.
Ready to start gaining these sought-after UX qualifications? Schedule a free UX mentorship session today! We’ll help you build a killer UX portfolio to land a UX job faster.