Finding a UX Job – In a Recession

We’ve all heard the lines – if not delivered directly to us, delivered to someone we know:

“We’re tightening our belt right now, and User Experience is not core to our business model”

“We’re taking the interface in a new direction, and we need fresh eyes to do that.” (and then they hire someone at half your salary)

“The product managers have learned so much from you, they’re going to take over your role.”

Whether you’ve been laid off, or you’re just looking to move on, job hunting for UX people in a recession is HARD.

Eight months ago, my employer (at the time) and I mutually decided it was time for me to move on.  I spent two months looking, and in the end I found what I love to refer to as a “pony” job – the perfect job in the perfect company, working with the perfect team.  I’ve never been happier.

Unlike the dot-com crash of 2001, when there simply WEREN’T any jobs out there, there are still plenty of UX openings for the taking.  I still get 3-4 emails a week from recruiters who have opportunities that are great matches, in my area.  The challenge comes from the fact that there are a lot of really excellent candidates out there, hunting for good opportunities.  The competition is stiff, my friends.

But it’s not hopeless.  If you’re in the job market, expect to be looking for around two months.  If you’re not picky, possibly only one month.  I applied to 93 total positions.  I interviewed at about a quarter of that.  I got several offers, but it was important to me that I find the RIGHT place, not the first place.

Whether you’re looking for the perfect job or just a paycheck, here are a few helpful hints:

Job Boards

Post your resume on every single one you come across.  Update it weekly.  I don’t care if all you are updating is your skillset or one word in your description.  Every time you update, you get bumped up in search results.


I’m not going to enter the debate about one page or multiple pages.  Do what you think is best, there.  However:

  • Have a list or grid of skills.  Not sentences, phrases.  Example:  graphic design, user interviews, heuristics
  • Forget the “goal” – that’s an outdated relic.  Instead, have an introduction that describes what you can do, and how long in total you’ve been doing it.  It’s like a two sentence cover letter.
  • Treat your resume like an Information Architecture project.  What’s the most important info?  Make that very prominent.  What’s next?  Put that nearby.  Etc.
  • Include all your contact info on your resume.  Recruiters will tell you to take it off, but the job board resumes should have it.
  • Include a link to your portfolio.   If you do ANYTHING, people are going to want to see samples of your work.


A lot of people feel recruiters are like used car salesmen.  Honestly, some are.  However, I’ve had fantastic success with particular recruiters and I swear by them.  I like them so much that I keep touch with them for years afterwards, and refer friends.  Build relationships with some good recruiters and they’ll take great care of you.

  • Reformat your resume however the recruiter asks you to, for them.  You don’t have to use that format anywhere else, but the recruiter knows his clients the best, and he knows what they are looking for.
  • Insist that your recruiter tells you every company/position they submit you to.  Bad recruiters will send your resume to positions you don’t fit, and it reflects badly on you.  Plus, if you then submit your resume directly, the hiring manager will only remember that your name is associated with something negative and you’ll hit the round file.
  • Communicate with your recruiter.  Think of them as your advocate.  Or your best friend, or your bodyguard.  Whatever it takes for you to treat them like a partner.

Social Web

Use your friends and your social networks.  Announce that you’re looking, unless you’re doing it in secret.  Talk to everyone.  Go to networking events.  Do side projects.  Offer free advice, consultations or etc.  Word of mouth is invaluable, and nothing gets you an interview faster than some impressed acquaintance saying “I know this amazing person…”

Also, momentum is a great thing.  If you know people with similar skillsets, ask them to pimp your resume out when recruiters reach out to them.  I regularly pass on resumes when recruiters touch base with me – it helps the job seeker and the recruiter.

Keep Upbeat

I know this sounds weird, but the more positive, cheerful and upbeat you are, the better your chances are.

As a job hunt drags on, you can start to wonder, “What’s wrong with me?  Why don’t I have 10 offers and a bidding war yet?  Am I unemployable?  Am I outdated?  Are my skills too weak?”

Don’t fall prey to this way of thinking.  It shows through in your body language, your written communication, and it even causes you to make bad choices about where to apply.  Keep your eye on finding a “perfect” fit.  If you haven’t been hired yet, it’s because you haven’t been exactly the right fit, not because you haven’t been good enough.


Try to find out as much about the people you are interviewing with, how long the interview will take, and what you should bring before you ever go in.

  • Take a printed copy of your resume AND the job description when you go.
  • Take the time to read the website, try the product, and get familiar with the company you’re interviewing with.
  • While you’re doing that, come up with three questions about the company or product that dig deeper in than their website, FAQ or press materials go.
  • Dress nicely, but not TOO nicely.  There’s nothing wrong with asking how you should dress for the interview.  Especially with dot com companies, wearing a suit might lose you the job.  They might decide you’re too stuffy.
  • Be prepared to answer some canned questions.  Think through the answers ahead of time so you aren’t caught off guard.  Do an internet search on interview questions and you’ll find a ton of lists.
  • Be prepared to do a test project.  This isn’t free work for the company, so don’t get irate.  They aren’t going to use what you’re doing, unless they’re really unethical.  They just want to get a sense of what it’s like to work with you.  Be pleasant, flexible and fast and your skills will speak for themselves.

Be Ubiquitous

Unless you’re looking for an entry level position, your potential employers are going to Google you.  Be found.  Blog posts, forum comments.  LinkedIn profile, facebook profile, livejournal.  Make sure you’re everywhere and that everywhere you are reflects your professional persona.  You want potential employers to know you’re not going to embarrass them, and that you’re respected and passionate about your profession.

There’s no magic wand that will fix the economy and make our 10% unemployment rate go away.  But at least for UX people, the situation isn’t as dire as it was eight years ago.  Chin up, carry on, and go find that “pony”.

Today’s Glossary Term:
A/B Testing –  this is a process by which you create two versions of something, either slightly different or very different.  You then serve up version A to some of your users, and version B to the rest of your users.  This is, of course, simplifying the concept, but you get the idea.
A/B testing can answer little questions like “does a red button or a green button encourage conversion?”  It’s invaluable, but it takes some infrastructure to set up unless you have…

Today’s Interesting Link:
Google Web Optimizer – GWO is a free (for now) tool which lets you do A/B testing without building an enormous infrastructure on your own.  It’s not going to tell you everything you might want to know, it’s not going to be as convenient as having a home-grown system, but it’s nearly immediate, and it’s darn easy to use.

Today’s Usability Quote:
“Perhaps the most difficult thing an artist has to do is evaluate the quality of his own work.” -Peggy Hadden

Today’s Music To Design To:
Boards of Canada was introduced to me by an artistic genius and all-around neat guy a few years ago.  You can’t go wrong, with Boards in your headphones.  It’s downbeat, but happy, musical but not lyrical, and energetic without being thumpy or making you anxious.  It’s good driving music, and great for those long hours coding.
Download some MP3s or
Buy a CD

What a Technophobe Can Teach Us

“If it was easy, how would it work?”

I recently finished a usability study on the golden path of my employer’s website.   Our primary demographic is mothers, aged 25-45, who shop online.  Mostly, I test within this demo, though I like to include people from outside the target with every round of testing.

This time, I had the pleasure of testing with the mother of one of our founders.  She’s older, midwestern, and completely computer illiterate.  When I say completely, I’m not exaggerating.

And she was invaluable.

It’s important to test within your demographic.  You want to make sure that the people who are most likely to use your app or website CAN do so.  However, you should make sure to test AT LEAST your golden path on someone who’s completely unfamiliar with computers and the internet.

Why?  Because it will uncover all your assumptions.  For example, have you assumed that people know what the cancel button will do?  Have you assumed that people know how to enter their name in a form?  Have you assumed that people know how to choose a file from their computer?

You may not have to design your site to cater to a user who is that extremely novice – however, you had better THINK about the person.  It’s fine to make assumptions and draw lines, but it’s crucial that you know you’re doing it, and that you understand why.  After all, ubiquity is the holy grail of any brand – and if your app is ever going to be widely adopted you will eventually have to serve the technophobes.

Even standards (which I evangelize at every opportunity) aren’t enough if you’re designing for the whole planet.

It’s worth noting that your testing techniques may need to change for the computer-wary.  I recommend sticking to in-person methods, because if they’re illiterate already, figuring out a remote method is just going to make them uncomfortable.  Give extra reassurance, because they’ve probably never done anything like this before and they’re going to feel like a fish out of water.  And be willing to skip testing advanced features – just walk through the basics.  Advanced features are for advanced users, don’t whomp your novices with them.

One thing you’ll notice when testing with internet newbies:  when you ask them what they expect, or what they’d like, or how they’d like something to work they’ll draw a blank.  They have no experience from which to draw expectations.  Instead, I ask the question “If it was easy, how would it work?” and I get them to dream.

Test with technophobes.  They will teach you more than you can imagine, even if they aren’t the people you design for.

Today’s Glossary Term:
focus group – A method of gathering user feedback.  Gather 6-8 users in a room together, for an hour.  Have a list of questions for the users.  This method is great for learning how people talk about your product, how they feel about it, and how they interact with each other in regards to your product.  Focus groups are great for testing ideas and concepts, and not great for testing specific single interactions or detailed workflows.  Focus groups are a great way to gauge the social impact of your product idea, too!

Today’s Interesting Link: – this is a fantastic mental playground, and it gets the imagination going.  Where do you think user interfaces are going this year?  The next five years?  The next fifty?  How about five hundred years from now?

Today’s Usability Quote:
“If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research.” – Albert Einstein

Today’s Music To Design To:
You have to be careful when you’re listening to BT, or you’ll find you’ve designed something awesome and forgotten to eat, sleep or exercise for three days. It’s that kind of music; energetic, inspirational, and melodic enough to lull you into a creative coma. I highly recommend the album ESCM, which is available on CD.
Buy the CD or
Buy some of his MP3s