One of the questions that the mentors on our free UXmentor.me Slack channel frequently get asked is how to get your first UX job and create a UX portfolio.

UX is a growing phenomenon – it came fourteenth in CNN’s top 100 jobs list. They said the number of UX roles will rise by 18% over the next ten years. However as a fairly new area of expertise it can be confusing to know how to start off your career.

There are lots of different entry points, UX job descriptions vary wildly and I know from my own experience as a fledgling UX Designer how scary putting together that frequently asked for UX portfolio can be.

The number of UX roles will rise by 18% over the next ten years -CNN

Luckily help is on hand. We have surveyed the experts and here are 10 great tips on how to break into UX and get your first UX job without that scary bells and whistles portfolio.

1. Play to your own strengths

This is a favourite of my boss, Fiona Monks, Digital Experience Manager for New Zealand’s biggest IT company Datacom. She understands that not everyone can be great at everything so she has built a team of people around her who all specialise in slightly different areas of UX.

I failed five interviews before getting my job at Datacom – I was trying to blag that I was excellent at and interested in everything and these companies saw through me – but with Datacom I was really honest.

I told them I was really interested in user research and happy to create initial wireframes but that I was no good at the Adobe suite and not interested in creating high-fidelity wireframes.

Rather than being told that i could have the job but i’d have to learn Indesign (like I had in previous roles), I was told that was fine and I would be assigned projects based on what I was good at.

Action: Read up on the 8 different UX competencies and rate yourself on each one to determine what your strengths are

2. Meet people who inspire you

Jared SpoolSpeak to as many people as you can who already work in UX to get career advice and to grow your network so you are more likely to hear about good opportunities.

David Montero, UX Lead at Blippar was working as an engineer in Tokyo, when on a business trip to Berlin he requested a coffee meeting with the Blippar Head of Design.

He showed him his resume and asked “What can I do to work for your team?”. The Head of Design replied quite honestly “Go back to university or join a startup where you can combine engineering with design”.

He ended up doing both – doing a masters in UX and then joining a startup in Amsterdam. The rest is history.

Action: Join hundreds of others on our free UXmentor.me mentorship Slack channel to start speaking with our UX, Research and Service Design mentors today

3. Stand out from the crowd by being proactive

Sarah Doody, UX Designer and author of the UX Notebook highlights the importance of being proactive stating:

People who are self starters and don’t need to be told what to do all the time are going to be attractive, especially in UX.It’s all about being a problem spotter and a problem solver.

She recommends showing that you understand the company or industry you are applying to by doing a small case study, for example, a usability analysis of their product’s on-boarding process or an analysis of competitor products.

If you don’t have access to their product, then choose some other product or a problem in the world, and do a light case study about how you’d solve that design problem.

Paul Olyslager, Lead UX Designer at Home24 AG agrees suggesting doing a short heuristic evaluation of the company and signing up and trying out any services they have so you can see what works well and what goes wrong.

Action: Start evaluating companies you’d like to work for and incorporating this information within emails you send to recruiters

4. Fake it until you make it

Both CareerFoundry mentor, Sophie Lepinoy, and Emma Pittar, UX Designer for Serato recommend faking confidence until you have it naturally.

Emma says:

Basically the best way to get your first UX job is 1/4 blag, 1/2 enthusiasm for the people you want to work for expressed in a self directed project. And 1/4 proof you have the right mindset and knowledge of what UX is and how to apply it.

ConfidenceNot feeling confident is a common phenomenon – particularly for females who can often suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s ok – say you are still learning but very keen to gather knowledge and hone your skills.

Part of confidence is knowing your subject matter well so never stop learning, always ask questions and remember that age-old saying ‘practise makes perfect’.

Action: Work out any blocks you have in your confidence and work out ways to remedy them, e.g. if you are scared of speaking in front of lots of people, join Toastmasters.

5. Attend as many UX events as you can

Get 10% off Mobile UX London using our promotion code uxrltd

Lean UX ConferencePerrin Rowland, Support Experience Manager, Spark New Zealand was working for an elearning company and giving a talk on bringing UX principles to education when she met her current employer and mentor.

Now she describes herself as a UX storyteller who gets “to inspire, educate, and cocreate a new culture of UX practice”.

She helps designers create learning paths to becoming better ux-ers and apply frameworks – ways of talking and learning about experience – to developing products and supporting customers.

Action: there are 100s of UX and tech events out there. Aim to attend at least one a month to meet like-minded people.


Chris Mears

Chris is co-founder of UXmentor.me. He has worked with clients such as the UK government, Just Eat & Which? with a focus on service design and transformation.