Landing a job in UX - lessons from a former intern
A year ago, I was sat in a lecture hall studying a master's degree contemplating my next steps after graduation. Like most masters students who don’t plan on pursuing a PhD, that year was to delay having to get punched in the face by real life.
So what did I study? Officially, I spent 5 years in political science and research methods courses. By the end of my academic career, I was obsessed with the practice of stats in social science academic research. My final dissertation was an analysis of ethnic identity among Gen Z minorities in the US, based on multivariate statistical models. And when I first applied for an internship at ekino, I was still looking through that academic lens.
I had flirted with the idea of getting into the creative industry, but wasn’t exactly sure where I fit in. I had no creative background. However, I did have a solid research background and knew that I wanted to continue doing research in my professional career. That was my way in. As it turned out, UX has been the perfect playground where I can bring my background into my work, day in and day out.
Over the course of 6 months at ekino (and counting), I’ve grown a lot both professionally and personally. Here are some of the lessons that I learnt throughout the course of my internship.
Find a buddy
On my first day, I was paired with a buddy: someone that I would catch up with weekly and who would see me through my first solo project. Having someone to talk to about how to do things and to reflect with makes a rich relationship and internship experience.
I was pretty lucky in that every single member of my team acted as my buddy. They all have been supportive and have never missed an opportunity to part wisdom. They made time for me, have pushed me, and were the reason I loved coming into work, day in and day out.
At a new agency, you are likely to be paired with a buddy. Always look to the people around you and get all you can from their wealth of knowledge and experience. Some of them are also getting used to a mentorship role. Although a bit embarrassing, be vocal about how you take direction, about what you need from them to help you progress.
It takes time to find your place and to get used to work life
Let’s be real. Work life is completely different from student life. Be prepared, it’s going to take some time to find your place within your agency as whole and within your team. This is totally normal. It’ll also take some time to get used to the pace of working at an agency, its particular ways of working, and its culture, especially if this is your first time working in one.
Personally, it took me three months to notice the change. Those three months felt like 3 minutes. Every day came with a new topic and a new challenge. And even though it went by so quickly, I felt exhausted with trying to keep up. But finally, three months later, I was finally getting the hang of things. I finally felt like I had a better grasp of what to expect in my day and how to support on projects.
Simply, the key takeaway is to keep going on. Take note of any patterns you notice along the way. By the third month, you’ll get into the habit of things and you’ll notice that change. You’re going to need that time for adjustment and to make your mark. That’s why a six-month internship is better than a three-month gig.
This is the hardest lesson that I’ve learnt. Being asked ‘Do you know what that means?’ and saying no, many many times, was very humbling for me. No one likes to be the one that “doesn’t know”.
But just remember, you are not expected to know everything. The only way you can grow as a professional is by asking questions, by being ok to acknowledge that you need more guidance, especially when you feel overwhelmed. It also signals to your colleagues that you care about doing a good job, about wanting to do your best. So just ask. Get everything you need to do what you need to do, and then run with your ideas.
Processes are not perfect
Agencies establish best practices that work for them. But these are not set in stone. And at times, they may not be the best approach for a certain client or project. A strength of an agency is having the drive and adaptability to keep figuring out new ways of working that help all teams work more efficiently together to deliver the best to clients.
There are a lot of tools that I found were useful for UX. But the challenge for me was to know when and where to use them, to weigh the pros and cons of their impact on a project, and have people trust and look to you to make that decision. Going from project to project meant that I had to be sensitive to its particular business requirements. When I taught at uni, I always told my students that the methods don’t matter if you can’t answer the question/solve the problem with them.
You’ll have to do some figuring out yourself. Find processes that work for you but for different instances and for different types of projects. It’s trial and error but it’ll make you a better designer and team member. Over time, you’ll learn what to use and when. But if you don’t know what to use, ask so you can learn.
You have a lot to contribute
Just because you haven’t worked in the industry before, doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to bring to the table. It’s exactly the opposite. Having diversity of thought and backgrounds brings a lot of value to teams, sparks new ideas, and opens up thinking.
Like I said before, I come from a background in the social and political sciences. My research skills have been a strength for my role and for the team. As a UX designer, understanding the human in its social contexts is massively useful. This is essentially what we do, we design for people. I love having the confidence in doing what I know, and doing it well, at such a vital phase of the UX process.
Your point of view matters. Link what you’re doing today with what you have done in the past. Part your own knowledge with your team. It’s a two-way street. Bring the best of what you do, and bring your people along with you. That’s also what you’re here for. You’ll also gain more confidence over time and it’ll show in your work.
To cap off the lessons, here are a couple tips to getting a job in UX and keeping it:
- Companies are not just looking for interest. They are looking for strong skillsets that will add value to their teams and to their business. Come to them as a unique proposition.
- In addition to the first point, talk through your thinking, talk through how you make informed decisions. What informs your thinking? Why do you do things that way? Has it been successful? Why or why not? Prove why you would be that added value.
- Your formal education will be tested. Your internship will be your creative education. Find an internship that offers its interns unique insights and experiences into the creative media industry. Do they have special field trips? Conferences? Industry talks? Training courses? Take advantage of resources.
- You are not expected to know everything. But you are expected to make the effort to learn everything. So put your hand in everything. Put yourself in a strong position to get to the next step in your UX career.
- Progress is not linear. If your solutions don’t work out, keep going. You will be met with critique, which is natural in design. Companies are looking for a no quit scrappy attitude in young hires. So show your resilience to find solutions.
Overall, my view of UX and work life has definitely changed since I first applied. Now, UX to me is a mindset first, then a practice. Its reach is much wider and role more important than I initially thought, in which collaboration with other disciplines is crucial. And lastly, being able to pierce into UX without having a background in UX has really hit home the importance of skillsets. As my formal education was challenged, it was the ability to find valuable information and make informed decisions based on that research that I think got me into and kept me in UX.
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