Changing careers to UX

Changing careers to UX

Probably the question I get most often when I give presentations about UX resumes is, “How can I transition into UX from my current career?”

There’s no doubt about it—UX is a hot industry right now. There are more jobs than qualified candidates, starting salaries are high ($60-80,000 in major tech hubs), and the work is fun and challenging. It’s no wonder so many of you are trying to get a piece of the action.

So, if you’re serious about getting into UX, here are a few tips:

» You have to be able to do the job

No matter how much experience you have managing projects, designing logos, or writing proposals—no matter how many years of experience you have—if you can’t demonstrate some ability to do UX, I’m not going to hire you for a UX position. If I hired an unqualified candidate, I wouldn’t be doing my job, would I?

I’m expecting to have to train you in our processes, our corporate culture, and our industry or subject matter. But I am not expecting to have to train you in basic UX concepts, techniques, and tools. Very few employers these days can afford the luxury of long ramp-up time or weeks of training. We need you to be productive from day one.

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Why are resumes so hard to write? A conversation with Leslie O’Flahavan

If you’ve been following this blog, then you know one of my common complaints is that UX resumes are poorly written. They not only suffer from typos and grammatical errors, they’re rife with banalities, awkward prose, and poorly expressed ideas. To understand why this is so, I talked to my good friend and former client, Leslie O’Flahavan from E-Write.
The fabulous Leslie O'Flahavan
Leslie has more than 30 years’ experience teaching students and professionals how to write effectively. In person, she’s down-to-earth and full of droll observations—even on short acquaintance she makes you feel like you’ve been friends since high school.

In our conversation, she quickly got to the heart of why writing resumes is so difficult. Her insights challenged me to think harder about the purpose of the resume and about how to make the hiring experience more transparent and satisfying for job-seekers.

» Resumes really are the worst kind of writing

If you find writing a resume to be hateful drudgery, or you feel like it’s impossible to represent yourself properly in the confines of such a formal document, or you hate the way you sound in your resume—you’re not alone. And the good news is, it’s not your fault!

According to Leslie,

A resume is the worst interaction of all the worst conditions to produce good writing.

She went on to identify six reasons why the resume (and the hiring process in general) conspires to undermine our confidence and ability to write effectively. Continue Reading

The executive summary: Energy misdirected

The executive summary: Energy misdirected

For years, resume writers were told that we must include an objective statement. But the objective statement has recently fallen out fashion, and with good reason (see “The Objective Statement, aka ‘I Want a Job’”).

Now, we are told, our resumes must include an executive summary, because recruiters only look at resumes for 6 seconds and you must GRAB THEIR ATTENTION. The executive summary is where you “brand” yourself and tell the prospective employer about your unique talents and key accomplishments.

Wait, isn’t that what your resume is supposed to do?

» A summary of a summary

How did we end up needing a summary for something that’s already supposed to be a summary? It’s like we’ve given up on the actual resume and have decided to stick another resume on top of it. I’ve seen UX resumes where the executive summary takes up the whole first page. Perhaps we’re hoping that the sexy new summary will devour the traditional resume and all its dry, boring bullet points.

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Writing accomplishments: What you did

UX designers are positively gushing when they talk about their skills and responsibilities, but when it comes to concrete accomplishments, the reservoir of words seems to dry up. The problem, I believe, is that many of us haven’t taken the time to think about what we’ve actually achieved on the job and what kinds of results we’re getting. We’re not good at recognizing our own accomplishments.

An accomplishment in its simplest form is: what you did and how well you did it. Where “how well” ideally means how it benefited the company.

In this post, I’m going to focus on what you did.

» Deadlines and deliverables

The first place to look for accomplishments is in your deadlines and deliverables. Did you deliver what you promised on schedule? Did you exceed the client’s expectations by delivering more than you promised? If so, you might write about it like this:

  • Exceeded client expectations by delivering five screen designs instead of two.

Were you asked to do an impossible amount of work, so you busted your butt to get it done on time? Were you well organized and able to get the project done early?

  • Worked weekends and evenings to meet a challenging 6-week development schedule.

Notice how short these accomplishments are? I’m not describing which screens were delivered, or why there was a 6-week development schedule. You don’t have to get into a lot of detail—you just have to write enough to pique the interest of the hiring manager. Believe me, I’ll call you if I want to learn more. Which is exactly what you want.

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“Expertise”? I don’t think so

“Expertise”? I don’t think so

Malcolm Gladwell famously said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve an elite level of mastery in a skill. Of course, most of us aren’t at an elite level in any skill. At best you could probably call yourself an expert in one or two skills or practices.

So, if it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, how long does it take to achieve expertise—maybe 1,000 hours?

Now let’s look at the “Areas of Expertise” section on your resume. How many of the skills listed there have you spent 1,000 hours doing? Let’s say you have 12 areas of expertise—that’s 12,000 hours, or approximately 6 years of 40-hour work weeks.

How many years of experience did you say you had? I’ve been in UX for 7 years and I doubt I’ve done anything near 1,000 hours of user research, just to pick an example. I certainly wouldn’t claim to be an expert user researcher.

» Say more with less

“Expertise” means you’re an expert. And that means your list of expert-level skills should be short.

The same thing goes for “areas of specialization.” Specializing means you’re focusing on one skill to the exclusion of others. If your list of specializations has more than one or two items in it, that’s not specializing.

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Less wanting, more doing

Less wanting, more doing

A close cousin of the objective statement is the “I want” paragraph. Here are a few examples:

I Want #1

I Want #2

I Want #3

I can guess why candidates put this stuff in their resumes—they want to describe their passion for UX, their motivation, and their goals. Unfortunately, this content almost always comes across as egotistical and pretentious. I think we can agree to call bullshit on wanting to “continue to explore new methods of providing narrative in UX documentation.” Yeah, whatever.

The more you want, the more I think you’re going to be difficult to please.

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The objective statement, aka “I want a job”

Maybe there’s an effective objective statement out there. If so, I have yet to see it.

Because they’re so prevalent, I assume there’s some training or general wisdom out there that says your resume must contain an objective statement. Too bad whoever put that notion out there didn’t bother to tell you how to write one. As a result, UX job-seekers have come up with a thousand and one overblown, pretentious ways to say, “I want a job.”

For example:

To secure a UX designer role where I can utilize all my skills to help create delightful products or services.

and:

I am looking for a job that will allow me to demonstrate my skills in visual design, interaction design, content strategy, and usability

and:

A director, manager or senior level User Interface/Experience Designer position in an organization looking to leverage the depth of my design experience, leadership skills and proven track record, to deliver highly innovative user experience solutions.

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Avoid the #1 reason for rejection

Avoid the #1 reason for rejection

No matter what industry they are in, all hiring managers say that one of the top reasons they instantly reject resumes is bad grammar, spelling, or formatting. Nobody wants to read a poorly written or designed resume. The assumption is that if you can’t bother to proofread your own resume—which has a direct impact on your financial wellbeing—you’ll be probably be just as careless on the job.

As a designer, aesthetics and presentation ought to be important to you. Good design creates a warm and trusting feeling in the user—you don’t notice the design as much as you feel comfortable, cared for, and confident that you’re in good hands. That’s the feeling you want the hiring manager to have.

When I see a sloppy resume, my first thought is—“Oh boy, let’s see what else is wrong.” I’m immediately looking for more errors to back up my bad first impression. It’s the rare resume indeed that’s strong enough to overcome such a handicap.

Before sending out your resume, run through this checklist and make sure you’re not heading for the slush pile before the hiring manager has even read a word. (You can also download a printable PDF version if you prefer actual check boxes.)

» Proofreading

Print your resume out (don’t try to read it on screen) and proofread it no fewer than three times:

  • The first time, read it out loud.
  • The second time, start from the bottom and read every word in reverse order.
  • Then put it away for a few days and read it again.

While you’re doing that, find a friend whose command of spelling and grammar you trust, and have them proofread it. If you find mistakes, correct them and start at the beginning. (Pro tip: Getting your resume down to one page saves a lot of proofreading.)

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It’s better to reject than hire poorly

It’s better to reject than hire poorly

In the security industry, we talk about “fail open” and “fail closed.” Fail open means when you have uncertainty, you err on the side of letting things proceed—on the assumption that the risk is low. Fail closed means when there’s uncertainty, you shut down the process rather than risk a bad outcome—even if it means losing a possible benefit.

One of the reasons managers reject so many candidates is because the worst mistake a manager can make is to hire poorly—a fail closed situation.

If you’ve ever had to manage a difficult employee, then you know how stressful, frustrating, and overwhelming it can be. Managers who’ve been there are justifiably gun-shy—most of us would rather reject a candidate than risk making a painful and expensive mistake.

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5 reasons why infographics are a bad idea

Many, many sources on the web encourage you to turn your resume into an infographic, so you’ll “stand out.” Here are 5 thoughts on why infographics are a terrible idea that make you stand out for all the wrong reasons.

1. A graph is a visualization of data. Your job history contains precious little data that can be visualized. Attempting to turn qualitative data into a graph only proves that you don’t know anything about data visualization.

Below is an example where the candidate has tried to put her personality traits into a graph. This fails as a graph because:

  • The data is completely subjective and unsuitable for graphing.
  • The pairs of words should presumably represent opposites, but they don’t (“steady” v. “sensitive”?).
  • A good graph should tell a story—but there’s no story here. The candidate is not even willing to commit to the qualities she herself chose for the graph, with the exception of “efficient.”
  • I can think of much more efficient ways to say “I’m efficient.”
  • The candidate’s personality traits, especially as presented here, have absolutely nothing to do with her ability to be effective on the job.

Infographic1

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My goal is to help motivated UX job-seekers present themselves more effectively so they get the best jobs they are qualified for.

Writing from the point of view of the risk-averse hiring manager, I provide insights into the hiring process, what managers are looking for, and why so many resumes get rejected.

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