Check out my new project, Practical Service Design!
User Experience at Hello Erik

What I’ve Learned as a UX Interviewer

Posted January 15, 2013

Sitting on the other side of the table during a UX interview is a very different experience. I don’t see a lot written from the personal perspective of the UX interviewer. There are generalized guides and how-to’s, but no actual real-life accounts.

That is what this article is about. I wanted to write something with some personality and heart. So here it is; my experience over the last 15 months in interviewing dozens of UX candidates, and eventually hiring (two) Sr. level co-UXers that work with me as peers.

A personal take

Recently, more than a few articles have popped up concerning “what to do, what not to do, 5 biggest mistakes, one cool trick… etc etc.” The problem I had with these articles was that they were stale 600 word editorials that didn’t really provide anything interesting. The same boilerplate advice meant to generalize out to as many companies or candidates as possible. They were written from an anonymous, 3rd party perspective where there was no human voice, no empathetic POV for the reader to relate to.

This is all just my personal take, it’s not a general guide or a how-to. It might provide something that helps you directly, and it might provide some things you disagree with and don’t like, which still helps you to clarify your own goals and preferences. Either way, I hope it’s not just another boring collection of things you can read anywhere.

Before we begin, know I am not a hiring manager, I just brought my chosen candidates to the review committee.

  • I am not in HR
  • I am not a recruiter
  • I don’t sift through hundreds of applicants a day
  • Some of these notes might actually hurt you in some interviews
  • My take is biased, personally skewed, and not at all a “how to” guide.
  • I am just a UX person who desperately wants to hire people that care about they do.

My “What not to do” List

Over the past 15 months, I had the chance to have two separate job postings open, around 6 months apart.

Each time, there was probably 50 resumes submitted. Being that UX is a fairly specialized and nuanced role, I had the HR recruiter send me every candidate that came through; there was no way to explain what we were going to be looking for.

As the resumes came in, we looked at them usually within the same day. We had a system we went through first – the initial disqualification round. This is necessary, a lot of people don’t even try, or they just apply for every job with UX in it whether they are remotely qualified or not.

I will always put as much effort into reviewing an applicant as they appear to have put into preparing or submitting materials. I believe in being fair. But like the Russian Police, that first look at a resume has to be a stern one. Stern, but fair.

First Impression – The Resume

The email is forwarded with a resume attached. I drag it to the desktop and hit spacebar to preview it. Here are some instant DQ’s:

  • Unattractive Resume. This was the first thing we look at. If there is no sign of effort or good-intent to make my viewing of the resume a positive experience, it is an instant no.
  • Word Documents. Just don’t. Word has a “save/export as PDF” feature. Word is a composition tool, not a presentation tool. Plus, using Word isn’t always a good experience for me as the reader. Do you really want to leave the presentation layer of your first impression to each persons individual install of Office? Also – I think people forget that when a Word doc is viewed, all the little red and green squiggles appear under spelling or grammar errors, and since most of these jobs have a lot of tech skills, all the strange words and acronyms appear misspelled. Just ugly.
  • Margins. This is one of those intangibles that has so much hidden meaning to me. If your resume has small margins, or the same margin around the whole document, it just feels lazy. It doesn’t have to be graphic-art, but you’re interviewing for a role where your work will eventually be what a user sees and feels. Empathize with who you are sending your resume to.
  • Length. I do not, and never will, care how long your resume is if it is relevant info. If you want to include your resume as the first few pages of a PDF portfolio, even better.
  • Cover Letter. If you want to write something specific, send it. If you have a reason you want to work at this specific place, mention it. Otherwise, skip it. If it doesn’t say something beyond what we already assume – that you want a job – what value does it add?
  • Visually Designed Layouts. If you want to do an actual layout that has considerable visual design work done to it, great. Delight me. Times New Roman does not delight my eyes or brain. If your layout is not annoying and adds to my experience, that’s a plus. Why? Because imagination and greatness only come from risks. Don’t be as flavorless as possible for fear of rustling the jimmies of a prospective audience.
  • Don’t have a data visualization of your skills! Showing a graph or chart of a bunch of skills, with a few that are far lower than the rest is always a bad idea and should be nuked from orbit. Never do this anywhere.


Second Impression – Portfolio & Material Review

With the resumes we didn’t instantly delete, it was time to check out any material you submit.


A UX portfolio is a hard thing to put together. A lot of work is confidential, proprietary, or just plain private. I get that more than anyone. If you’re going to submit a web or PDF portfolio, here’s what I would always be wary of.

  • DON’T: Showing Final Designs Only. Visual design is awesome, and potentially a big part of your job. But it shows me nothing of your process; techniques, methods; innovations. I can’t see if you have an analytic or abstract though style. I’d prefer to see how you arrive at something. Even if you have to make a fictional example project or IA example, at least that shows me your inner though processes.
  • DON’T: Only using Dribbble, Behance, DeviantArt, etc. Please don’t send me to a site 3rd party site as the only option. Just do the PDF. Even if you just drag and drop the same images from the 3rd party site. Otherwise, suddenly I forget where the email is with your URL, or I want to view it on my phone and their mobile experience sucks, or as in a real-life case, Behance was down!
  • …with regards to the previous bullet. I have to send your materials to upper management and they have never heard of these niche sites. I’ve had to give people’s Behance (or whatever) to Sr. Executives who have no idea what they’re looking at. “Is this their website? Why are the pictures so small? The URL didn’t work. Why is the name different?” Once, when a candidate sent a Dribbble profile, my boss clicked and clicked the thumbnail, and when I told him “those don’t enlarge,” he looked at me and said “This is how people want to present their work?”
  • DON’T: Old examples. It can have old items, but don’t send me a “Last updated July 2010” collection of examples.
  • DON’T: Sending nothing at all. Send something.

Personal Website

  • It’s good to have. It’s 2013. Personal websites aren’t hard to build. Domains are $10.
  • Make it non-terrible. It doesn’t have to be the best thing I’ve ever seen. Far from it. If you’re not a web designer and never have been, make it simple, clean, and follow the easy best-practices of small websites. A bad website is such a bad sign.
  • Show Examples. Have your examples and portfolio up there. Maybe some link to live sites or apps. A personal site is a great place to maintain complete control over what you say and show.
  • Include links to relevant sites. Your Dribbble, GitHub,  Linkedin, Twitter, etc etc.
  • Again… Don’t have a data visualization of your skills! All this says is “This is what I suck at” and makes you look like you have shortcomings you felt necessarily to highlight. How does that help you? Especially if it isn’t a direct job requirement. Don’t put “HTML/CSS” at a low state if that’s not an integral part of the job. And if it IS an integral part – why are you applying for a job where your weak skillset is a liability to you?

Third Impression – The initial meet

If the first phases went well, I’d want to talk on the phone or in person ASAP. My personal goal is to rule people in, not rule them out. I want to attract as many people with strong potential as I can, and the quickest way to do that is by talking. It’s not an interview yet, I just want to make contact and get a sense for each other’s personalities.

Bad Signs

  • Low energy. I am a UX practitioner who loves what I do with all my soul. When people have low energy or seem to just treat this as a job, it brings the conversation down.
  • Not speaking to the different aspects of UX. Know what they are, what they mean, why they are important. Dominate the conversation with UX in-depth discussion.

Good Signs

  • Talking about methodology. It’s always real clear when someone is speaking from a place of genuine interest and knowledge, as opposed to when they are trying to use the right terms and topics but don’t really have it in their blood. Take control of the interview and start writing your process down on a whiteboard.
  • High energy. This is a personal thing. But I want people to be fired up. Care about what you do. It doesn’t matter if you’re super advanced or a beginner, you can still have a deep investment in your work and the time you spend on it.
  • Give me the realtalk. Lay down the law. Tell me why things work and why they don’t. You’re a professional. If I’m trusting you to go and fight the UX battles against bad design, bad experience, bad ideas… diplomacy and compromise will not always work. If you don’t think it’s a good experience for the user, advocate that and don’t give up your principles.
  • Be direct about what you want. Never, ever say you’re “willing to do anything” or “whatever is needed.” If I ask, genuinely, what you want to do here – tell me.  None of us get our exact dream role, but having conviction for what you want to do is way better than just being a UX Roomba. Not sure what to say? Say “I want to kick some ass on your UX problems and crank this place into high gear.”

I do have one question I ask that is more about how a person responds. The details of the answer aren’t super important.

It goes “We believe in getting people the hardware they need. Tell me what we’d need to buy for you so you show up your first day and can just start.” Don’t say “just whatever” or “I can work on anything, I’m flexible.” Do you want a Windows box? Linux? A Mac? Do you need dual 27” screens? A big Wacom? What sort of keyboard? Mouse? Laptop? Desktop? Solid state drives? 16 gigs of RAM?

I’m not trying to burn money or just indulge in “geek toys.” This is a serious job and every second you’re impeded by hardware is a second wasted. Plus, I like to know that people have preferences and that things that matter to them. Even if certain hardware isn’t feasible, at least you spoke up. It also let’s you know your prospective employer’s view on investing in new hires.

My current CEO said to me during my interview, “If you’re working at a place that won’t get you the tools you need, you don’t want to work there.” That’s truth.

Why my current UX partners got hired

After many months of interviewing people, I was finally was able to hire a peer, and then he and I repeated the interviewing process for a few more months. We eventually hired a 2nd peer. Here are the highlights of why myself, my boss, and our company chose them:

  • They spoke on the UX topics without hesitation. They weren’t repeating things they’ve heard, or talking “around” UX like it was a book report.
  • Their first-impression materials were on-target. I ruled-in one of them on a first impression based on a single thumbnail of a wireframe. The other I ruled-in from the custom design and layout of his UX documentation he used at his previous job. It just had that intangible something that like-minds can just feel. Intuition is a big part of this.
  • They told me what they would do. Not passively, but literally told me what they would do here, making clear “Look, I know how to fulfill a UX role, and here’s how I would do it for this company.”
  • They cared more about doing good UX work than getting this job. You could just tell that their tools were sharp, but the tools belonged to them, not their current employers or me. They can take them anywhere and create great things. They didn’t need to be instructed on how to do the job.

But most importantly, they didn’t give rote answers to my questions. They listened, and then educated me on the relevant topic. It was like I was the university student in the crowd asking a question, and they were the tenured professor at the front of the room spreading education. Do you see the difference? Answer as the professor, not as the nervous job applicant.

Oh and I guess they had experience. But experience isn’t what excites me. Lots of people have experience. And lots of people have 10 years of experience in repeating the same year 9 more times.

Don’t be a rockstar ninja lean agile UX designer.

Smart people hire a person, not a work history. They ask “What can you do for me in the future?” I’d take a newbie with potential over a veteran who doesn’t seem excited. Your career history and past accomplishments are good, but remember; I’m hiring a person. I’d be more prone to hire someone that isn’t an exact fit for the role, but has too much potential to pass up.

People can learn to “do” tasks. But you can’t teach people to care.


I love all things experience design. I work as a Principal Service Experience Designer at Intuit in Mountain View, CA.

50 Responses

  1. yingying
    yingying January 15, 2013 at 8:28 pm |

    Excellent! Excellent post Eric, thank you!
    Having been an interviewee for many times, I found I was always do some imagination about interviewers or the interviews… although people can have different taste, a very (probably the most) important thing that I should remember (and show them) is that how much I care and love my work as a UXer, and why am so passionate about it.


  2. David Royer
    David Royer February 21, 2013 at 1:33 pm |

    Nice article! Lots of great points, and I am totally with you about the value of passion and designers caring more about good work than getting a particular job.

    However, I am curious about your disdain for skill visualizations. I actually think those suckers are very useful when screening candidates. Most designers are not equally strong in all skill sets (UX hats) and I find a representation of which skills are strongest very useful when trying to fill a particular role. I’d want to know the UX candidate sees themselves as stronger at research & IA, and weaker at visual designer, or vice versa.

  3. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers February 21, 2013 at 2:14 pm |

    That’s a good topic of discussion.

    I feel like they skew the bell curve by including things that do nothing but lower the overall average. If you’re a spectacular 1st base player, just say that. Don’t include that you’re not good at shortstop and have a .105 batting average.

    When you’re asked in an interview (not that I’d ever ask this) what your biggest weakness is, they say “reply with a weakness that is actually a strength.” But I see these skill-charts as listing weaknesses that are actual weaknesses. It’s almost like saying “I’m a so-so unicorn.”

    I also think it might perpetuate the idea that a UX person should be expected to “pinch hit” for anything remotely related. But that’s a different paradigm battle ;)

    I’ve seen worse though, I had a person submit a resume once with their hourly pay indicated on each job in a timeline graph. /boggle

  4. David Royer
    David Royer February 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm |

    Nice metaphors. You make a compelling case and I think you may have won me over. I guess a nice replacement for the skill chat would be a headline like ‘UX designer specializing in user research & IA for complex systems’.

  5. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers February 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm |

    Now that’s what I’m talkin’ bout! If you get responses from that headline, you’re getting the right kind of people you want.

    I want to reiterate, it’s not that the other skills aren’t just as important. But if you narrow down and succinctly say what you really want, you’re going to get people who love those aspects and have a real focus in delivering high quality results in that area.

  6. Kyle
    Kyle August 17, 2013 at 2:14 pm |

    I enjoyed the post and will incorporate some of the items mentioned here into creating my resume.
    If you don’t mind extending your own perspective as an interviewer…
    1. What are your thoughts on interviewees that have a more even-keeled personality, but are passionate about UX?
    2. “Sending nothing at all. Send something.” & “Show Examples”
    For those of us whose work is not readily distributable in a public forum, what suggestions do you have?

    Any feedback would be appreciated.

  7. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers August 18, 2013 at 1:51 pm |

    Someone’s general personality can be whatever is acceptable in a workplace. Loud, quiet, pragmatic, etc. The energy is more around innovation and exploration. Wanting to do things because their driven to create things that compel and delight people. To believe that what they do matters in a big way and have the desire to push that energy against the obstacles in the way.

    If you don’t have a lot of public work (even I don’t), you can still show a process and mindset and walk people through the work you have done and how you did things along the way. A user is a user is a user. What is important is honing in on their actual problem and solving it in an effective and delightful way.

    Even when people have lots of highly visual examples, mockups or flows or wireframes, the interviewer has no context of the work without narration. And how do we even know it was a successful UX result? Without vetting a project, seeing all the deliverables only shows that you can create artifacts. It doesn’t actually show you’re a problem solver.

    That’s the crux of why I like energy and people discussing why and how they do things. If they know why, and have a process that shows they know ways to explore and solve problems, artifacts are just a small piece at the end.

    I did a post about making a mock portfolio, if you want to read that too.

  8. Kyle
    Kyle August 18, 2013 at 2:04 pm |

    Thanks for the reply

  9. Kellie
    Kellie November 5, 2013 at 4:54 pm |

    Erik, I’m stoked. May we clone you? You’ve restored my faith in finding the right gig, with folks that have the same philosophy. Phew!

    And I SO BADLY wanted to say (at my last interview), “I want to kick some serious ass with [your current UX Team]”. I probably would have if I read your article beforehand… Maybe I’ll get the chance at my next interview. (!)

    Thank you so much for taking the time to help us driven newbies keep up our momentum.

  10. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers November 5, 2013 at 4:58 pm |

    Great to hear it.

    I’m actually hiring 3 spots right now (ux generalist, ui and interaction designer, and visual designer). Feel free to do a mock interview, or real interview, if you’re interested =D

  11. Kellie
    Kellie November 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm |

    Interested! I’m sending you a Linkedin request right now.

  12. Karl Vochatzer
    Karl Vochatzer November 25, 2013 at 2:56 pm |

    Nicely articulated about your perspective on hiring UX partners and peers, Erik. As one who is looking for my next full-time UX role where I can utilize my skills, knowledge and experiences while ever expanding the scope and depth of each, I truly appreciate this perspective from the other side of the table. It’s refreshing to feel that you really want to see that candidate shin and succeed rather than digging for something that proves that s/he is human and not a unicorn (or a rockstar ninja lean agile UX designer).

  13. Elisa Baliani
    Elisa Baliani January 20, 2014 at 5:10 am |

    Hi Eric,
    I really enjoyed your article, it’s full of great stuff and pieces of sincere advice.

    Anyway, I would like to ask you some addtional words about data visualization of skills: what method or visualization do you recommend to be synthetic, clear, complete and not boring? A list of skills or, I don’t know, a short paragraph?
    Have you got a good example to show us?

    Thank you so much.

  14. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers January 29, 2014 at 6:46 pm |

    I used to have funky resumes, but I’ve started to just make them super clean, laid out with precise spacing, margins, and just put things in bulleted lists. What I’ve found is that you can get things down to just the sheer fragments and make it scannable, and when people see the keywords and skills, they’ll call.

    What you have to remember is that a resume gets you phone screen, not an interview or a job. Just give enough to get people to say “yeah, I can see this person has the right description of things, lets call them to verify.”

    Avoid paragraphs. I recently redid a resume for someone and we cut out any proper paragraphs or sentences and just made it into fragments and bullet lists. And maybe some descriptive sentence fragments, but we removed every word possible so that it was clear, but not even close to proper grammar. It was a huge improvement.

  15. Elisa Baliani
    Elisa Baliani January 30, 2014 at 7:38 am |

    Thanks a lot Erik, valuable advice!

  16. Erik Solfvin
    Erik Solfvin May 15, 2014 at 12:40 am |

    I easily could have been one of the applicants that didn’t make it through the “initial disqualification round”. Do you have any advice for people who are relatively new to user centered design? How can someone communicate that they have the passion and a complimentary personality for UX, without the work experience?

  17. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers May 16, 2014 at 9:01 am |

    Sort of a chicken and egg thing. Without real experience, it’s hard to get a look. Passion and personality doesn’t ship software. If someone wants to start in UX and really become a professional, I don’t know of any real way to do it other than starting at the bottom doing the basic type of design and research that is involved in the UX hats (IA, IxD, UI, Visual, research).

    It’s sort of like being a software developer – you could have an engineers personality and passion, but if you can’t write basic functional code that could be used in a production release, there’s not a lot of options. Our work is about shipping, so everyone has to be contributing something to the final product.

    Really, you’ve got to start with the basics and create a portfolio of real world projects and work your way up. Even if you’re in a whole other developed career, there’s no real substitute for being able to produce the results via the UX work. If you’re starting from the very beginning, I would recommend anyone start with books, tutorials, and getting some projects built and underway.

    See if there are ways to include it in the work you already do, start approaching your current job as being user centered, and incorporate UX work and types of deliverables into it. Soon, you’ll be building up demonstrable skills and results based in the UX career framework.

    Other than that, the other option is to look for entry-level UX jobs, but really who can do that anymore? More and more UX folks are coming out of colleges with some sort of design training and getting into good starting jobs. For someone who already has a career and wants to shift… that’s a hard one.

    I’ve read this question a lot, I don’t have a great answer. I guess the answer is “the same way you’d do it with any other trade or profession – start at square one.”

    Maybe you can elaborate on what you actually want to do. UX is a career and skillset like any other, the only way to be good and to excel is to do it many hours a day, relentlessly, and work for years trying to improve and gain knowledge that can only come through the slow trickle of real world experience.

  18. Erik Solfvin
    Erik Solfvin May 17, 2014 at 9:19 am |

    Totally! I do have real world examples in my portfolio that I worked on voluntarily. I tried to make it as authentic as possible interviewing people, developing goals for the sites, doing wire frames and full mockups. I tried going through all the ux steps I learned from doing research and asking other user experience professionals. I guess my big question is how can I land my first ux role without having any previous ux roles on my resume? Will a ux hiring manager look past a lackluster resume if someone has strong portfolio?

  19. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers May 17, 2014 at 11:24 am |

    Can you clarify a little? I saw you’re linkedin and you have a great deal of experience in your work history, but not really as a UX professional. Are you looking to join teams as a Jr. designer? slip in somewhere in the mid level?

    The problem is that no one can really be taken seriously for anything other but junior if they don’t have a body of work, even if it’s small, but it has to be representative of what they want to do.

    Are you trying to be a UX generalist (like I always have been [not a unicorn {as that is a ridiculous notion}])? Do you want to focus only on research, ethnography? Are you great with flows and wireframes and want to focus on pre-visual/UI design interaction? Graphics? Interface polish?

    There are so many places to go. Most people enter as a UX generalist from a web design or graphic design work history. If an accountant or say, a plumber came to me wanting to get into UX, I’d have to say “here are rad books, blogs, people to follow… and some job postings I have found for unpaid internships and entry-level web design or overworked UX generalist jobs.

    I don’t want to be a downer, but UX or design jobs are compared apples-to-apples with those you’re competing against (and it is a brutal competition). Some jobs in the past, I’ve been 1 of 100~ interviewees. At my current job, the req was open for *months*.

    If you read this article, I hired a guy with basically 1-2 years of real UX experience, and about 1 year later, he manages the team at the former company.

    Feel free to carry this to email if you want to talk more about your personal/private goals.

  20. Erik Solfvin
    Erik Solfvin May 18, 2014 at 8:05 am |

    I would be happy with a jr level ux generalist position. Haha, I didn’t even knew jr level existed until recently; there are so few of them available and they are gone sometimes without even being advertised. The way I’ve been approaching ux is like a one man show, so I believe a generalist role is appropriate. I view my work history on my resume as a somewhat relatable asset to ux with the firm understanding that more training will be required as well. I’ve always worked in a professional customer service role helping customers navigate complex systems and making thier experience as friendly and simple as possible. I know that might sound a little ridiculous, but I believe the basic philosophy is the same. I would love to connect with you through email and get more insight from you, if you have the time. I will send you a message and we can continue the dialog, thank you so much for your advice. I hope this conversation is also useful top others in my same situation.

  21. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers May 19, 2014 at 9:46 am |

    That simplifies things.

    The next step then would to produce proof that you are -skilled- enough to join a team or company. That is where the porfolio comes in. Check this out

    As you look at UX jobs, there are zero places that will take a chance on someone with the mindset alone. If you can prove you’re capable of cranking out artifacts and deliverables, you can’t complete with those who can. The minimum would be some product specs, interaction designs, some IA, wireframes, maybe some HTML prototypes, and visual mockups. Being a bit of a graphic artist doesn’t hurt, but that requirement is dying out.

    Basically, if you want a job, figure out how to compete in the interview screening process with candidates who will be coming mainly with a decent portfolio of artifacts. Higher level thinking, research, etc etc will not be enough. You need boxes and arrows. Even if it is 1 or 2 projects, you need to show a full spread of the UX work.

    Note: I am not saying that UX is wireframes and boxes and arrows – I’m saying that if you want to get into UX, most jobs are looking for that, misguided or not.

  22. Jacob Madsen
    Jacob Madsen May 19, 2014 at 4:16 pm |

    Dude. How did I just stumble across your site this week. Seriously well written and a hiring process that I can fully endorse. If we ever cross paths IRL, I’m buying you a drink.

  23. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers May 19, 2014 at 4:19 pm |

    I’m a UX super-amadeus.

  24. Billie
    Billie June 26, 2014 at 7:31 pm |

    Erik, What would you say to a person who just graduated and doesn’t have much to show. I’ve been applying for Web and User Experience Design jobs for about a month now. I’m getting bites but no job.

  25. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers June 26, 2014 at 8:54 pm |

    What did you graduate with? Any experience with design and UX through your own personal work, side work, or hobbies? You’ve gotta have soft and hard skills for whatever angle you want to take, it’s not really different than any other job. If you were to be a programmer, how would you start? Some books, some projects, days and nights doing projects for yourself and figuring things out on your own.

    A month isn’t long enough. For UX jobs, they’re some of the hottest jobs there are right now. Dozens of people apply, if not more.What are your skills and experience? Not just work experience, but along the way over the years, what have you done and learned that can apply to UX jobs?

  26. Sidd Maini
    Sidd Maini July 21, 2014 at 8:39 am |

    I really enjoyed reading your article about your UX hiring process. You did a smart thing by having all resumes come directly to you for review. Can you share any tips on how to show your potential via resume when you are applying for a job?

  27. AL
    AL July 22, 2014 at 12:39 pm |

    Hi Erik…I am an experienced UX professional with good interaction design and information architecture experience..
    My portfolio probably has samples, process and methodology detailed…when I sent it to one of the companies…they commented it looked like a Technical Writing profile and it shocked me…can you help me do a quick review…send me your email id..i am looking for someone neutral who can advise what went wrong

  28. Marcel
    Marcel October 27, 2014 at 1:31 am |

    Hi Erik, thank you for this post. I learned a lot from this. I have a Master’s degree in UX Engineering and I am practicing wireframing, journey maps, and design in my spare time to build a better portfolio. Because besides my internships. I have no experience yet. But it is hard to get a job in UX without the experience. So I am working in a field totally unrelated to UX until I can find a ux job. Do you have any other ideas on how I can better set myself apart from the competition?

  29. Abhaya Pothina
    Abhaya Pothina November 18, 2014 at 6:48 pm |

    This is an excellent other point of view article Erik. A common issue I’ve seen during my internship as a UX designer and based on my friends internship experiences was the lack of knowledge about UX among the various stakeholders. When managers, PM’s, developers start mistaking UX for UI, Usability and various other things, and in companies with no UX process, it becomes difficult for a junior UX designer to be successful. A lot of companies are hiring UX interns and Junior UX Designers as sole UX designers on a large project. But when your team and stakeholders don’t understand what UX is, and how to provide you with the resources you need for UX, how does a new grad level UX’er succeed at his/her job?

  30. Marvin L Eason
    Marvin L Eason November 21, 2014 at 4:30 am |

    I truly enjoyed reading this post and can not thank you enough for the value you brought with it. Thanks!

  31. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers November 24, 2014 at 12:04 pm |

    You have to take the initiative and be willing to operate as a change-management factor for the organization, and spend a lot of your time re-educating and demonstrating how UX works. That’s part of the job and a big responsibility. Being a sole designer on a large project is tough, but happens a lot, and if successful can be a huge opportunity.

    You can check out former Intuit employee Leah Buley, her book on being a UX team of one:

    But also, jr and new grads in UX have to admit that a lot of UX jobs are really UI jobs, and are just about “producing mockups” for developers. It’s not really UX anymore, it’s user interface and visual design without any real research, usability, information architecture, flows etc etc. So a lot of new people just end up taking the first job they think they can get, since a real UX job is more rare. Often, it only is available in larger companies that can actually afford it.

    It’s hard to do, but if you want to be in UX, you have to look at each job and think “do I really want to do this description?” And if not, maybe look elsewhere as these jobs rarely evolve into something more than endpoint interface and visual design, unless you really want to work at UX education and evangelism.

    It’s really all about the company and place you want to work. If you find out the job is just interface and visual design and not really UX based, it’s time to look elsewhere. The good news is that once you find a real UX job, you’ll be a lot happier than just being the software engineers photoshop and mockup puppet =D

  32. Kavita George
    Kavita George December 16, 2014 at 12:49 am |

    Thanks for this post. Its always good to know the view point of the person on the other side of table. These are simple things that can be taken care off….

  33. » How to Break Into UX
    » How to Break Into UX December 30, 2014 at 8:52 pm |

    […] never been on the other side of the table, but Erik Flowers has. Other than that, read more advice and then kill […]

  34. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers February 4, 2015 at 1:47 pm |

    Always remember – a resume and portfolio get you an interview, not a job. Resume’s and portfolios should take dozens of hours to perfect, if not more. In this day and age, I would say to target what they NEED, and let the other stuff come up later. Because when resumes are being sifted through, all someone cares about is “What can this person do for ME”, and seeing unrelated things doesn’t answer that question.

    So if you focus on “what can I offer that is relevant to what someone is looking for right now”, that’s the focus. The resume gets you a phone call, not a job. Remember that. Fast, lean, and direct to the point of why you can very tactically help the company with relevant skills.

    Having sort of related skills that are similar to UX, but not real UX experience, that’s hard for a hiring manager to want to spend their precious headcount and salary budget on something that isn’t EXACTLY what they need. That’s why we all have to work at getting stuff that shows what we can do for them, and nothing else.

    It’s a tough spot, and it never gets easier. Even for me with lots of experience, I’ve been turned down for lots of jobs and interviews. They only get to hire 1 person, so that person needs to be right on target. Your material should be so sharp that when it’s your turn, you can aim right for the center of that target, and nowhere else.

  35. Matt W
    Matt W March 25, 2015 at 6:11 pm |

    In my experience, people who are “high energy” are often the worst to work with. They’ll typically be argumentative for the sake of being argumentative; they will often wear the badge of “user advocate” more as a proxy to just get what they want, rather than find that balance between user advocate and team player. I hope you would agree that passion for what one does is best tempered by the professional candor to calmly communicate those trials and victories experienced in UX, rather than “jump out of my seat” like some little boy at a theme park ride.

    For me, passion in UX extends from the idea of solving a real problem; that’s where I often find fault with interviews: they’ll provide these bland scenarios, where there’s no imperative or crucial issue at stake, but they just want to “hear my process”. I think this is complete crap, often because without a sense of imperative, there’s no reasonable expectation to see passion from me. No matter whether it’s something stellar, like finding a way to increase efficiency in emergency care application, or even something simple, liking making someone’s work day just that much easier, as long as there is some sort of imperative, I can get passionate about it.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is: I agree that passion is important, but in a job interview, it has to be a two-way street. If an interviewer asks bland questions/scenarios, yet expects passionate “high energy” answers, that’s idiotic. I feel your article puts the onus on the interviewee, but not the interviewer; and I think that’s the biggest mistake I see interviewers make, and the number one cause for the interviewee “low energy” you describe.

  36. Tips from a UX Interviewer | Design for Interaction: Object and Place II
  37. Steve G
    Steve G May 15, 2015 at 3:35 pm |

    I went to school for HCI and settled a for being a UI designer for many years. I’m now trying to move to become a real UX designer. I’m glad I found your site.

  38. DaBous
    DaBous June 15, 2015 at 9:01 pm |

    Hi Erik, looks like I came late to the party :) I agree with everything but one point. Using a PDF vs a word document. While I agree that a PDF is the way to go I’ve found that a lot of companies prefer Word documents. This is because they struggle to use annotating tools in PDFs and are more comfortable with Word documents. You probably don’t want to work for a company like that but it’s a reality. Also if you’re working with recruiters they prefer Word documents full stop.

  39. Brandon Ward
    Brandon Ward June 17, 2015 at 2:16 pm |

    Hey Erik. This post got retweeted and I’m reading it for the first time today.

    Given a résumé, (and possibly a cover letter), and a portfolio, and LinkedIn, what are you looking for in a personal site? What are you seeking at the site that either wasn’t obvious, or is, for whatever reason, missing from the previous documents? Why do you go there?



  40. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers June 17, 2015 at 2:24 pm |

    Odds are that whoever this person is works in the digital medium, and almost certainly something to do with the web unless they’re way off into super focused app design.

    Say you didn’t maintain some sort of website presence, and you’re asked by an interviewer “why not?” What possible answer could a designer give that wouldn’t sound lazy?

    For me, it’s not that there’s some extra secret content in there. It’s that if I am hiring you to be a cook at my restaurant, and you have all the credentials and experience and proof, and yet your home kitchen sucks and you don’t really cook at home, I don’t want you. If I am hiring a cook, I want someone whose home kitchen is really personal, even if it’s small or cheap.

    I can’t think of an answer someone could give me as to “why not” they don’t have at least a personal 1 page site that would satisfy me. Too busy? Don’t see the relevance? “oh, that makes sense.” Not in 2015.

  41. Brandon Ward
    Brandon Ward June 17, 2015 at 2:44 pm |

    Recruiters and HR usually want Word for 2 reasons: so they can strip your contact info, and enter the file into their bot-parsing system. Unless you’re starving, I can’t think of caring to work for someone who did either. In 15 years I’ve had exactly ZERO percent success in some random recruiter stumbling across my info in their database. If all you want is a job, then whatever, but if you actually want a good match, and a career, you should be able to provide your résumé in the form that best suits how you wish to present yourself.

  42. DaBous
    DaBous June 17, 2015 at 4:54 pm |

    I’m going to have to disagree with you.

    You have to think of the audience here.

    Firstly we’re not talking about creative agencies or digital software houses. We’re talking about huge organisations which are currently suffering a lot from using antiquated systems. We’re talking about banks, airlines, insurance companies, medical, government agencies, oil & gas, energy and primarily focusing on their internal/external customer facing systems.

    Until recently all these companies built internal and external systems at the whim of the BA and dev teams. This stack has matured and they now understand they need better approach to design in order to compete with new and agile players. We’re not talking about emotional or persuasive design or building a ecommerce shop front. We’re talking about the UX on the systems that run the engines of the world.

    When these people go to market they don’t engage with digital software houses for their bespoke systems. They’re too expensive, the requirements shift like sand and also they don’t want to give away any operational knowledge away. This means that have to hire people. They have to hire internally or on a contract basis. They don’t have the necessary expertise (although some banks now do with digital transformation projects) to go to market and hire because they have no clue. They rely on specialised requirement companies to vet and weed out and help hire based on their criteria.

    This isn’t about some recruiter coming across your resume and then offering you a position. This is when you have to submit your resume through. A good recruiter has industry experience and will vet exactly what’s needed. Sometimes you might put strong emphasis on points which companies simply don’t understand. This is where a good recruiter should come in and organize it so that it’s more inline with the job profile at hand.

    Again we’re not talking about building a concept website for a new Audi car or some new activision game or getting more signup on a call to action on a SAAS site. We’re talking about grimmy, muddy businesses to need a bit of love too.

    At least this is the case here in Australia.

  43. Jesse McBride
    Jesse McBride July 13, 2015 at 7:46 am |

    Hi Erik,
    I really enjoyed this piece. After earning my bachelor degree in Psychology/Media, I was quite unsure about what I wanted to do with my life. I somehow ended up falling into technical recruiting, (those exciting java developer roles at the big 4 :P), and then, the first UX role came across my desk.

    I fell in love with UX and saw so many parallels with my strengths and passions. I stayed up til 4am that night and mapped out my plan to become a UX Designer. I immediately started attending every meetup and startup workshop I could find, and before long I was recruited to recruit for UXers at UX Hires (recruitception?). I’ve fallen in love with what I currently do, and it’s fascinating to hear your take on it from a UX Designer’s point of view.

    One of the more frustrating things I see is when people who conduct interviews aren’t good at interviewing, which happens a lot with recruiters and HR people – (so kudos on getting resumes sent directly to you). It’s a broken link in the chain, and also is an opportunity for designers to take charge of the interview, so to speak, and shine a spotlight on the skills that are most crucial to that specific role.

    Anyway – thanks for writing this. I’m subscribed :)

  44. Gus
    Gus January 4, 2016 at 12:36 pm |

    Erik, great post. Considering its now 2016, how much would you say
    things have changed around the interview process in general? Also, what advise would you give to someone break into the UX world with not a lot of relevant experience?

  45. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers January 4, 2016 at 10:20 pm |

    I think the 2nd part of your question is a whole blog post in its own. I haven’t ever considered how I would change this article for today, so maybe I should. I think what would be better is to write an article about what you can expect in an average interview, and also the realities of breaking in to the UX world without a lot of relevant experience. I’ve written quite a few long emails to people who ask that very question.

    Let me think about this. It’s late right now and I want to give a good answer.

  46. Alma Madero
    Alma Madero January 5, 2016 at 2:07 am |

    I have the very same question, I’m monitoring this thread :)
    Thanks for the great post Erik

  47. Mariano Garcia
    Mariano Garcia February 21, 2016 at 12:52 am |

    Great post, Erik! Thank you for sharing your experience recruiting for UX positions.. even though the post just got 2 years old, I couldn’t agree more with some of the things you mention (death to the skill bar chart!). So, my congratulations for creating a timeless piece!

  48. Erica Lynn Trani
    Erica Lynn Trani April 18, 2016 at 7:44 pm |

    Erik, this is such a powerful article. Yes! Of course. We fail to remember that behind each job door are people either a) geeking out about what they do and want to bring on others who are engaged, thoughtful, and excited or b) not into what they do and just want to hire someone who won’t make much of a fuss. At most places people want to be, the teams are among the ‘a’ variety. Many if not most burgeoning UX designers feel that if we stick to being ‘generalists’, accumulating and displaying broadly marketable skills, we’re on the best path to landing fulfilling work. If we take enough of our personal interests and passions out of the equation, we’ll become robotic enough for any team to hire. The truth is that we should not only feel free to become more specific in our aims, we should embrace it. At the point at which we’ve emotionally jumped in with two feet, honest engagement, curiosity, and enthusiasm will differentiate us for the jobs we most care about and increase our likelihood of not only joining a great team but also finding fulfillment. And, put simply: Who wouldn’t want to hire someone who’s dream it is to be on your team? :)

  49. Kristin Currier
    Kristin Currier April 5, 2017 at 9:26 am |

    Wow. 2013 and still relevant as hell.

  50. Erik Flowers
    Erik Flowers April 5, 2017 at 9:30 am |


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.