Some observations about job hunting in UX lately

So. Back a few months ago I left my job and started hunting a new one. It was both healing and stressful, and some parts of it I think it’s fair to say that I overdid it. For example, I set myself a goal of applying for 5 positions a day — which I didn’t hit every day but which did result in me applying in the neighborhood of 100 jobs in about 3 months[1]You know you’re pushing yourself a bit too hard on the job hunt, by the way, when both friends and family step in and tell you not to book four interviews a day because you’re just frying … Continue reading.

Anyway, having procured a position, I thought “oh, I’ll go back and analyze my data and say something really good and data-driven about it for The Interconnected.”

And friends? That’s easier said than done, because there are hundreds of job posts out on the web every day and it’s literally impossible to capture the relevant bits of every single post. I was specifically targeting UX Design positions involving Design Systems, where I could work remotely (from the Philadelphia area), for senior or higher designers, within a salary range in the general neighborhood of my last position. I sat down about a week ago and started going through the original job postings to capture what the typical requirements of such as job are[2]Thank you to Airtable for making it easy for me to capture all that data. Also, Airtable? Your keyboard accessibility is shit, please fix. I got through 30 of the posts and here’s some of what I found.

A Senior UX Designer (or Product Designer) in Design Systems should have a minimum of 4 years experience, but some organizations require eight years to be a Senior.

A quarter of the (30ish) positions required a degree or relevant experience. The rest didn’t say.

Pretty much everyone wanted a portfolio. Nobody is very good at telling you what your portfolio should contain. I was told about the same portfolio that it was both garbage and that it was one of the best people had seen.

Depending on the position, you should have skills in:

  • Product design
  • User research
  • User experience
  • Information architecture
  • Visual design
  • Design system design
  • Animation design
  • Interaction design
  • Accessibility
  • Content strategy
  • Front-end development
  • Design ops
  • Product management

Which, y’all, that’s a department.

Within those 30 positions were requests for the ability to handle:

  • Discovery and ideation
  • Strategy
  • Identifying improvements
  • Iterative design
  • Agile
  • Knowledge of the software development lifecycle (SDLC)
  • Training peers
  • Mentoring
  • Facilitation of meetings, etc.
  • Ability to explain your designs, the heuristics, and theory behind them
  • Industry knowledge
  • Business acumen
  • Requirements gathering
  • Prioritization of tasks and stories
  • Building the roadmap
  • Card sorts
  • User interviews
  • Personas
  • User journeys[3]which I may rant about separately some day
  • Usability testing
  • A/B testing
  • Survey creation
  • Data analytics
  • Competitive analysis
  • All of the discovery artifacts
  • Design or system documentation
  • Building intuitive designs
  • Presenting to stakeholders / clients
  • Using the design system
  • “Design Thinking”
  • Running design sprints
  • Taxonomy and labeling
  • Search
  • Process flows
  • Wireframes
  • Dashboards
  • Typography
  • Iconography
  • Color
  • Brand alignment (and/ora brand design)
  • High-fidelity mocks
  • Creating the design system
  • Evangelizing the design system
  • Design tokens
  • Atomic design
  • Dynamic theming
  • Inclusive design
  • Writing accessibility specs
  • Accessibility testing
  • Knowledge of disabilities
  • Knowledge of assistive tech
  • Prototyping
  • Mobile design
  • Responsive design
  • Designing for multiple platforms
  • Motion graphics
  • HTML
  • CSS
  • Javascript
  • Various JS frameworks
  • Scalability
  • Performance
  • Design QA
  • Code QA

Once again, that’s a department of job roles and responsibilities out there, all of whom are potentially being labeled as “Senior UX / Product Designer – Design Systems”.

And that’s only 30 of the positions I applied for.

Plus, if you’re going to do all of that, you should also have the following skills:

  • Adaptable
  • Good collaboration
  • Good communication
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Curiosity
  • Decision-maker
  • Detail-oriented
  • Drive / Self-motivation
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Empathy
  • Good with receiving feedback
  • Humble
  • Innovative
  • Leader
  • You have a life mission and this job aligns with it
  • Organized
  • Outcome-oriented
  • Shows ownership
  • Passionate
  • Problem Solver
  • Quick Learner
  • Good Time Management
  • Socially-conscious
  • Storyteller
  • Trust-builder
  • User-centered

So because I don’t want to do this for another 70 jobs, and because there were literally hundreds of jobs I read and didn’t apply for, here are some gut takes on UX right now:

  • Companies don’t know what UX is, where it overlaps Product, where it overlaps Engineering, and what their people shouldn’t be doing.
  • The more experienced you are the more you’re expected to be a generalist, or a pi-shaped designer, maybe even a comb-shaped or tree-shaped one.
  • There are an amazingly high number of opportunities in the market right now to be the ux-team-of-one for a startup promising to redesign the fintech industry and make the industry equitable for everyone.
  • There are also an amazingly high number of opportunities in the market right now to be the ux-team-of-one for a startup promising to redesign mental health.
  • In both the mental health case and the fintech case, they didn’t seem to have an explanation for how they were going to rewire society to be more equitable and still pay the bills, which raised my hackles after the fifteenth or so pointing.
  • Companies are starting to look for people who have accessibility experience so that you can then train the existing staff on accessibility while also being a designer etc., which seems like a really expensive way to train people.
  • Starting salaries for positions I seriously considered ranged from $108,000 to $175,000 and top ranges topped out around $205,000. Most, however, were grouped into “max of $125,000”, “max of $150,000”, and “more than $150,000”.

It’s hard, it’s tiring, and it’s frustrating.

I don’t have solutions except to say that our industry has a problem, and that problem is that we don’t know who we are — or rather, we haven’t adequately sold UX to the population well enough that other roles know who we are and why they’d want to hire us.

I’d love to see someone with a much better set of text-parsing skills and the ability to suck data off of LinkedIn and Indeed figure out just how bad the mess is, but it’s well beyond my skillset and I think all it would do is make me sad.

Hopefully, though, if you’re a manager, this is a reminder of what your prospective employees are wading through to find your job post, and why they may be applying for you even if, from your current position, they look wildly over or under qualified.

Notes

Notes
1 You know you’re pushing yourself a bit too hard on the job hunt, by the way, when both friends and family step in and tell you not to book four interviews a day because you’re just frying yourself out. 
2 Thank you to Airtable for making it easy for me to capture all that data. Also, Airtable? Your keyboard accessibility is shit, please fix.
3 which I may rant about separately some day

“We’re all family here” is a big red flag

Over on LinkedIn, Dave Gerhardt wrote: Your company is not your friends. Your company is not your family. Ask anyone at Twilio. Or Shopify. Or Netflix. Or Twitter. Or Patreon. Or Hopin. Or any company that’s laid people off over the last year. Was it hard to lay those people off? Was it an emotional … Continue reading ““We’re all family here” is a big red flag”