Recipe: A New UX Career, in 3 Years or Less

Let’s say…you read Sam Rhee’s recent post. You know, the one that nails what you need to do for UX interviews at Sears to be taken seriously.

Then you thought to yourself, “Oh no! I’ve never worked in UX before. What would I possibly put in an online portfolio? How do I get anyone to take me seriously enough to help me kickstart my awesome new career?”

You would hardly be alone. In fact, that was me, circa 5 years ago.

A younger, pre-UX Jayne

Oh, past Jayne. There are so many things I want to tell you. Many of them hair-related.

Back then, I was generally happy, but unhappy as a PR executive. I needed to restart professionally, but I only had a communication degree from Loyola. And there were too many people with similar qualifications, fighting over the same, limited number of jobs. So I decided to take a big risk and switch careers. After lots of self-reflection and research, I was drawn to user experience. The field had a fascinating combination of art and science; industry and job prospects were growing; salaries and benefits of UX professionals were nothing to sneeze at; and a lot of opportunities were available in Chicago—my favorite city and an international UX hub.

Chicago: A UX Hub


So like Chicagoans willing to bike Lake Shore Drive in the summer, I was willing to do whatever was necessary to get out there. As it turned out, my new UX career recipe was:

  • Supportive and understanding family/friends, as I was often too busy to spend time with them
  • A lot of determination, and coffee
  • 1 HCI/UX Master’s degree, with classes in basic skills desired by UX hiring managers–
    • Graphic design
    • Interaction design
    • Programming (HTML/CSS/JS)
    • User Research (Tools & Methods)
    • Wireframing
    • Prototyping
    • Project Management
    • Mobile Design
  • The ability to not take things too seriously (especially when comparing my school projects to those of established designers and programmers)
  • The ability to recognize when my existing communication skills were useful
  • 1 hybrid position while still in school, to get a foot in the door
  • Dedicated recruiters, to help find UX work after graduation
  • Relevant resources on how to put together a UX portfolio and prepare for interviews
  • As many networking contacts as possible in the field
Another pot of coffee, till it's gone

And maybe one extra pot of coffee, depending on the day.

Once I had all these ingredients, I just had to keep interviewing until I found the right position. And that’s how I got to be at Sears.

But enough about me. 🙂

UXers—what was your career recipe? If you could try it again, would you change anything?

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One Response to “Recipe: A New UX Career, in 3 Years or Less”

  1. Karol Czyrka →
    July 14, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    I, too, redefined my career. I had an initial degree in architecture – and was laid off one too many times in the early 90s. I had enough of that. I put myself back to school full time and never looked back. I am glad I pulled the trigger and it sounds like you are, too.