The UX of hiring for UX positions

4 min read
Dan Maccarone,
Sarah Doody
  •  Jul 11, 2016
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“If I were to just see you blind, I’d think, ‘Cute kid. Next.’”

That’s how Emily Rees, Director of Talent at The Stem, described how she normally would have reacted to Dan as a candidate for an information architect position when his resume landed on her desk in May of 1999.

On paper, Dan had zero professional design training or experience and neither his B.A. in English and performing arts nor his M.S. in journalism stood out as typical qualifications for what she looked for to fill that role.

“But you were referred by someone high up in the organization, so that’s what got you the interview,” says Rees. “Otherwise, you didn’t fit what I was looking for. You got the job because of the interview.”

Rees isn’t wrong in her thinking—not then and not now as she still hires roles in the world of user experience. But as we started exploring how organizations hire UX professionals, the problem arose: What should you look for and why does that differ depending on who’s looking?

The problem is that 17 years after Dan, against the odds, landed that job, the world of information architecture has completely transformed. It has since evolved into the broader industry of user experience and is riddled with confusion around qualifications, titles, roles and, ultimately, what the right DNA of a user experience professional might be.

“To be brutally cold about it, it’s the work they’ve actually done, the experiences they’ve had professionally, and the clients they’ve been responsible for that are most important to determine whether or not you’ll bring them in,” says Rees. But that only applies to senior roles and still doesn’t define what exactly that experience is.

“Not surprisingly, hiring UX designers is difficult.”

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Initial hiring considerations

As we wrote in our previous article, The UX of Learning UX is Broken, one of the reasons it’s unrealistic to think that people can become UX designers in a short amount of time is because of how rapidly the field is changing. The constant introduction and adoption of new platforms, devices, audience habits, and more make it a challenge for experience designers to stay current. In the same way this change affects people who want to become UX designers, it also makes it more challenging for companies looking to hire UX designers, researchers, or strategists.

So in true UX fashion, we decided to go out and do some research. We talked to hiring managers, founders, senior UXers, and human resources professionals to understand their hiring processes. We wanted to identify the pain points they experience and hear about the mistakes they’ve learned along the way. We learned that, not surprisingly, hiring UX designers is difficult. But we also heard a lot of great tips, ideas, and anecdotes that we think will help anyone who is looking to hire a UX designer.

We turned the insights we’ve gleaned from our conversations into a series of principles to keep in mind when hiring for positions in the UX field.Twitter Logo

Hire people, not skillsets

The problem with focusing on skills is that it hinges too much on specific software or process. By nature, many people in the UX field have a broad range of skills—this is what makes them great at connecting the dots, developing insights, and being able to look at people and products in a holistic way. By focusing on a specific skillset, you could be completely disqualifying an amazing candidate.Twitter Logo

Amy Jackson, a UX and design talent agent based in Boston, has seen the impact firsthand. Amy has been in the industry for over 2 decades, and noted that “every time there is a change in our technology, there’s a push for designers in that technology and that pool of designers doesn’t even exist.” Think back to 2007 when the iPhone first came out. Everyone wanted to hire people with iOS experience, but there’s no way designers were experienced because it was so new. Companies were looking for skills that designers didn’t have yet.

“Hire people, not skillsets.”

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This is why hiring based on a specific skillset is dangerous.Twitter Logo Let’s face it, there is still plenty of confusion when it comes to what various position titles mean. Companies often use terms such as unicorn, rockstar, or UI/UX designer which are indicative of a larger problem—they’re focusing on a title and not the tasks.

As a talent agent, when companies ask Amy to help them find a designer, she constantly reminds them that they need to “hire people, not skillsets.” She helps the companies step back from titles and labels and has them focus on the exact problems they are trying to solve. New skillsets will always pop up as technology evolves.Twitter Logo

Figuring out what kind of people to hire is one of the biggest points of contention we found when speaking to recruiters versus those in senior UX positions.

“In my initial phone screens with people, I really like to gauge their critical thinking and understand how they solve a complex problem,” says Jon Fox, the UX and Product Design Leader at OpenX, an enterprise ad exchange company. “I don’t want to walk through [their portfolio]. I really gauge how they solve problems, how they translate complex business requirements into design, walking me through their process.”

Jess Brown, the Director of UX at Vice Media, looks at things similarly. “Beyond demonstrated skill and experience in products they’ve designed, I look for empathy and thoughtfulness in the design process,” she says. “Good UX designers can empathize with their users to design solutions that meet those users’ needs. If they don’t know who they’re designing for, good designers will ask a lot of questions to help build this understanding.”

But how she would find a UX designer to hire is different than what many HR and recruiters that we spoke to are looking for.

“For individuals who are much more senior, who have several years of experience, it’s much more someone who’s had a degree in creative design concepts and a career working as an art director or senior designer,” says Rees, which certainly makes it much easier when trying to filter through resumes.


“Backgrounds of practicing UX designers vary a lot, so there isn’t a background I’d automatically proceed with or rule out,” says Brown. “It may be an easier transition from related fields, so new UX designers may have a leg up if they have experience in graphic design, marketing, or psychology.”

“If we just look at background, we may miss out on great thinkers in UX.”

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“When I got interviews I did well,” says Shalyn Oswald, a UX/UI Mobile Designer at Bluewolf NYC, whose previous experience included working at an insurance company and slogging her way through General Assembly’s (GA) 10-week UXDI immersive program. “But it was getting the interview that was the hardest as I don’t have a graphic design background.”

Basically, just finding the right type of people is already a dissonant challenge for the variety of sides trying to hire in this industry.

“Once they come in the door, it’s really about how they think and how they can talk about both past work and be presented with a problem that you’re experiencing at that company,” says Oz Lubling, who runs product at One Drop, a mobile diabetes management platform. ”It’s not about the design—I don’t care about what they would do from an actual design process, it’s how would you arrive at it and how you’d explore that.”

Similarly, Elizabeth Osder, Head of Revenue at Lakana, a software solution and content management system for media companies, says that successful user experience professionals “can come from a creative background, a content background, or a tech background. Most of the people I have hired in the past have come from content and creative backgrounds.”

Osder, incidentally, was the person who originally recommended Dan to Rees way back when.

“Hiring based on a specific skillset is dangerous.”

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“I’ve seen a lot of people that just have come from liberal arts backgrounds, philosophy, English and have found interesting ways of getting into it,” says Lubling, who is in his second decade practicing UX after coming to it from a computer science background (he was also employee number one at Razorfish). “I don’t think the background matters all that much.”

Where it really breaks down, says Lubling, is what you’re hiring for. There’s a difference between how to hire for building enterprise applications versus a new virtual reality experience, where “maybe not knowing anything about anything would be better. Maybe coming out of a left field situation could be better.”

Fox agrees. OpenX is an enterprise platform and if an experienced candidate comes to them that has “made a bunch of agency sites, that’s going to prove much more of a challenge,” he says. “Honestly, if what interests you is doing really cool flashy sexy sites, you’re not going to be too thrilled with the work we’re doing here,” and that what they’re looking for is “a level of critical thinking that can take complex business requirements and use cases that can understand the value of different business logic and be able to create design from that.”

Not surprisingly, experience becomes a theme throughout this entire process, but so does focus. Rees echoes Fox’s thoughts, saying “it’s important for us to have people who have pharmaceutical experience because there are all sorts of regulatory and legal requirements that may not have any impact on a luxury goods product.”

“The true evaluation for designers is always in their portfolio.”

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When it comes down to it, she says, “if someone doesn’t have that experience, no matter how good their skills, they may have a learning curve that’s too steep for my purposes.”

So where do we start? How and when do we specialize? And is it ever (or even) okay to be a generalist? In the end, it takes a complicated combination of HR filters and user experience know-how to bring together the best candidates.

“We work with HR to find candidates who have experience that looks good on paper,” says Brown. “But the true evaluation for designers is always in their portfolio.”

The portfolio: Moving from deliverables to discussion

“If they’re really interesting, I might Google them and if I can’t find their portfolio, they’re out,” states Fox.

The requirement of the portfolio as the gateway into a hiring conversation is unanimous among everyone we spoke to. Don’t have a portfolio? That’s a non-starter.Twitter Logo

“Seeing a portfolio is a must for evaluating a designer’s work,” says Brown. “In a portfolio, I’m looking to assess the thoughts behind the final design decisions. What were the goals? What research, if any, informed the designs? What considerations were most important? What trade-offs were made and why?”

One of the biggest challenges in reviewing portfolios (both for UX and visual design) is understanding what the person actually did on a project. It’s all fine and good to show that you worked on a large-scale product launch for Salesforce or a successful redesign for Uber, but the real question is around what you actually did versus the rest of the team. The good news is that most people hiring don’t expect or want you to have done everything, but rather that you’re honest about what you contributed, why, and how.

“Don’t have a portfolio? That’s a non-starter.”

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UX is, in the end, just one part of a collaborative process and the idea that one person can claim credit for everything is rare and, often, untrustworthy.

All of this is because it’s just the first step. “The portfolio is to get a sense of what they’ve worked on and what the quality of that work is,” says Lubling, “It’s more a reference or a guide as to how to start the conversation. Also a good way to eliminate a lot of the people that don’t have the baseline of what you’re looking for whether it’s hard or soft. Then when you talk to them they can walk you through what that process was like.”

The most important thing to remember is that people who are hiring just want to see your work.Twitter Logo Figure out the best way for you to showcase it because before anyone ever clicks on that attachment or link in their email, they’re most likely rooting for you. They want to fill the position they’re looking for and if you’re the person who’s right for it, everyone wins. The challenge is how you differentiate yourself.

“People who are hiring are likely rooting for you.”

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“People who are coming out of agencies who are working on sexy projects probably have better portfolios because of what they worked on,” says Joanne Laipson, Head of Recruiting, Staff, and Search at The Osder Group, based in Los Angeles. “You have no idea when you see a person coming out of an agency, how much they contributed versus the whole team”

Which basically means, don’t let your work speak for itself—give it contextTwitter Logo, highlight your contributions and how they relate to your skillset and do it in such a way that makes sense for the work you’re doing.

“The format of a portfolio is less important than the content,” says Brown. “In fact, I’m fine with seeing work in a PDF or shared Dropbox—the meat of the work is the work itself, not putting it in a snazzy online format, although that’s great too!”

It really comes down to showcasing what you’re good at. “If visual design is not your strong suit but you make amazing wireframes and you really get to the heart of the problem then awesome,” says Fox. “You should focus on that. If you’re not very good at visual design, don’t show off your visual design. If you’re really good at wireframing and process flows, show me that.”

Trying to copy someone else’s style of portfolio will probably backfire on you anyway. For years, people preached to us that our resumes had to follow a specific format and, in the end, wading through a sea of carbon-copied job lists is dull and the opposite of how design and UX works anyway. Originality (and usability) can go a long way here, which is one of the major problems we ran into when discussing the plethora of excited potential junior user experience designers that are storming the industry right now.

“Don’t let your work speak for itself—give it context.”

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“Because they do a lot of group projects, I can recognize a lot of the same projects over and over again,” says Fox regarding the those who have “graduated” from General Assembly’s immersive UX program. “I interviewed someone a year and a half ago that I brought in on the strength of a project where she had done this redesign of on her own. She did research, she created personas, she broke down the use cases, and created flows. It was super impressive. I need to see students out of GA or any other program have that type of work and articulate that they know the material and that they are ready to take things on.”

You could say the portfolio itself is the first expression of how you think, how you organize information, what the story is that you’re telling about yourself. You could say that about a resume as well, but really, in the world of UX and design, you come across best through the work you’ve done.Twitter Logo And this is why every person’s portfolio can, and should, differ.

Photo by #WOCinTech Chat.

One candidate “only showed one project and he showed the 20 steps from brief to deliverable,” is an example that Gregg Bernstein, Senior UX Researcher at Vox Media, gives. “He blew them away. It wasn’t all perfect. It was all the mis-steps.”

The crux, as Bernstein alludes to above and as Lubling and Fox have suggested as well is a person’s ability to communicate the process was behind the work.

“They need to be able speak about how they went through it,” says Osder, who has held senior positions at OpenX, Yahoo, and The New York Times. “They understand they have a methodology and they can tune it to how they are working. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Talent trumps training

The skillsets and experiences people have in many other fields are very fitting for being great at UX. But when companies decide to require a certain level or type of education, they automatically exclude many people who could have been a perfect fit.

Bernstein recently experienced this. He needed to hire a competitor researcher but wasn’t exactly sure of the skillset that would be needed for that role. As a result, he knew he couldn’t write a job description with exact education requirements, certifications, or software knowledge. So instead, he focused on not what someone had previously done, but envisioned what that person would do in the role.

Along the lines of the approach in Jared Spool’s article Your Job Ad: The Start of a Great Hiring Experience, Bernstein focused on painting a picture of the future so that ideal candidate could envision themselves in the role—self identifying their unique skills with the exact scope of work that they will be doing. So who did Bernstein end up hiring? After putting out a job description that focused on the specific tasks someone would be doing, he found the person he needed. Did the person have UX training? Nope. The person he hired had a degree in library sciences—another industry with a background in organization, methodical thinking, and information accessibility. But the person’s talent and previous experience perfectly fit the tasks that needed to be done in the competitor researcher role.

“I realized that as a library scientist, she was doing the tasks I needed someone to do, but it wasn’t in the field of UX. She was researching topics, managing information, cataloguing findings, and developing insights and suggestions that would help people more easily find what they were looking for.“

Brown has a similar approach. “I often give very open-ended, almost far-fetched, design challenges for candidates to whiteboard and sketch out solutions to,” she says. “It’s less about finding an ultimate solution and more about understanding how they think.”

Indeed, both of our careers commenced from non-traditional circumstances. With degrees in literature, theater, and journalism, Dan was able to translate the skills of analysis, information organization, communication, and collaboration from those fields into what he does every day. Sarah pursued a degree in marketing because it seemed to blend her interest in design, communication, and business (and in hindsight she didn’t know that programs such as HCI even existed). However, this program combined with years of hands-on experience in graphic design, web design, and front-end development provided an intimate understanding of product development and why UX is so important—to help keep all teams focused on the user.

“Storytelling’s huge,” adds Oswald, whose education is rooted in literature as well. “You have to read through 700 pages of Adam Bede or something and think about ‘why did they do this’ and I’m like, ‘according to this point, this point, and this point, this is why they made that decision.’ This is what I do in my job, too. Because of this, this, and this, it makes sense.”

Image by #WOCinTech Chat.

Talent isn’t necessarily as black and white as adapting and applying skills from outside the industry. There are other important qualities to consider beyond them, which Brown lists as “curiosity, empathy, and an ability to problem solve. Attitude is so important to new UX designersTwitter Logo, and having a beginner’s mind coming into a problem can be an asset. Basic hard skills are important, but a new designer doesn’t necessarily have to be amazing with all of their tools and methodologies at the start. Learning these on the job can happen independently, since designers will find time to play around with new tools or products.”

The unaddressed elephant in the room here, of course, is those who actually have gone through training programs—whether it be higher education degrees or short-term boot camps that promise to cram a lot of education into a compact timeline.

Training should be thought of in 2 groups: accelerated programs versus long form programs. Short programs such as boot camps, though likely information dense, should not be considered as adequate training. Boot camps, in any industry or field, should be reframed as being supplemental to someone’s career and not a starting point.

“Candidates must be able to understand a topic, disassemble it, and reassemble it.”

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Certainly, higher education programs can be a plus because they immerse students for several years into the challenges the user experience community face every day.

“If someone falls in your lap that went to Carnegie Mellon and studied HCI formally, they’d be easier to vet,” says Lubling, but he’s not advocating it as a mandatory.

“I look at those kind of people in a much deeper technical light,” says Osder, who did the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) program at Stanford. “The psychology and research you get in those programs would be strong for a research-led person. In experience design, I would be looking for anybody with a background in improvisation as well as process driven like anthropology or sociology where there’s a methodology.”

As we’ve seen from everyone we talk to, regardless of their company size, role, or background, what matters most, to use Osder’s words, is “for a candidate to be able to understand and break down a topic, disassemble it, and reassemble it.”

The trends today around education tend to fall in quick fix programs — aka boot camps — that seem to offer a veritable pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The problems is, they only offer skills to produce deliverables without the experience to think through the complex problems a true professional needs to be successful in this industry.

Ben Congleton, Founder of Olark, commented, “the value in boot camps is to extend someone’s experience … there’s value in a Project Manager going through a UX boot camp or a Project Manager going through a coding boot camp.” In this example, the Project Manager would get a well rounded deep dive into UX so that they would be better equipped to collaborate with UXers.

The idea that a boot camp is sufficient as standalone training for a UX person is simply setting the person up for failure.

Congleton notes that if a UX candidate has been through a boot camp, then there should be evidence that they’ve done things to “go beyond a boot camp to continue their learning and show passion for the field.”

“They come in here and they have absolutely no idea how collaboration is supposed to take place,” adds Fox, describing the challenges that boot camps bring by siloing UX away from developers, project managers and other disciplines. “That definitely means that they are not equipped to take on projects.”

Longer training programs provide a more thorough blend of theory and practice. The extended duration also puts students in more situations where they’ll have to collaborate with many different types of people and stakeholders and deal with real life challenges that come up. This simply can’t happen in a shorter program. In addition to providing students with more opportunity to get hands on experience, longer programs demonstrate that someone is passionate about a field. It’s an extensive time and financial commitment to get a Masters of HCI (Human Computer INteraction) from Carnegie Mellon University or pursue the MFA in Interaction Design from SVA.

The certification question

“I can spot a UX candidate from GA from their portfolio or their LinkedIn,” says Fox. “That is not a good thing.”

Fox goes on to say that the “GA tell” on LinkedIn is that “graduates” of their immersive programs “always have their name dash UX Designer. That’s a red flag for me.”

In all honesty, the problem with certifications in general is that they don’t mean anything in the UX world (the exceptions to this, which we’ll discuss below, are much more specific than anything GA offers).

“Certifications have not mattered,” says Rees, who does acknowledge their value in other fields such as project management. “Although there are methodologies and best practices in UX, I don’t know if it needs to be as highly structured or stringent. Anyone who takes a 12 week course thinking they’re going to come out prepared for a career is being lead astray. A 12 week GA course is not going to prepare you for a career shift or a career in itself.”

At best, these short-term programs can open your eyes to the industry, but that seems like a pretty expensive eye opener when you think about the myriad books and resources out there to learn.

“I am upfront with GA grads that we can’t work with them for another couple years,” says Joanne Weaver, who has run her own UX/UI recruiting firm in New York City for the past 9 years. “We’d love to keep in touch with them. We want to have that open door—let’s keep the conversation going as you get more experience.”

Experience seems to be the main objection to these programs. Thinking back to the portfolio section and what that says about a potential UX candidate, showcasing independent thinking is so criticalTwitter Logo and when you go through a program working on the same projects with other UX people, there’s a tremendous amount of homogeny.

As Fox noted, it’s easy to spot a GA graduate because so many of their projects are group-based, resulting in repetitive projects over and over again.

Oswald says she had no UX experience going into the GA program and that before the class most of her experience was in working on sites for her band or her friends, but that she has “always been a people-watcher and empathetic over-thinker, reading a lot of books, studying reactions, etc.” This independent spirit is what got her through the GA program.

“It worked for me, but I was there almost 7 days a week,” she says, adding that while the program was eight hours a day, five days a week, she was typically there 12–14 hours voraciously working on every project the GA program could throw her way.

“I really immersed myself in it because I found something that I was passionate about it. I was like I don’t mind being there, this work is hard but it’s also fun,” she says, emphasizing that because she wasn’t working at a job and was paying a lot to be there, that she wanted to get everything out of it she possibly could.

But while she has the same certificate as everyone else that came out of the program, she admits that she is the exception to the rule. A lot of students, she says, “just didn’t take it as seriously as I did. This was in addition to whatever they had. They thought, ‘I’m just going to plop this onto my resume and have it on there.’”

No matter what you do, though, there is a common theme from everyone we spoke to that Oswald sums up: “The week long one and the claims to all that you’ll learn is absolutely ridiculous.”

Fox agrees, adding, “they set this expectation with their graduates that they are going to be able to get a mid- to senior-level job and that’s just not true.”

As we mentioned, there are exceptions to the value of certification — as there are to any rules. Many larger organizations use certifications like those fromHuman Factors International (HFI), to help gauge the seniority of their employees. While this may not be something the UX industry as a whole accepts, it’s an understandable (and stringent) process that corporations with an excessive amount of bureaucracy need to use for non-UX oriented executives or human resources teams to gauge how a person can excel in an organization.

Image: Nine Labs.

“In the case of large corporations, I can see how certifications come into play in terms of job titles and salaries,” says Jeff Gothelf, author of Lean UXandSense and Respond, “Also, outside of the United States, certifications seem to be held in a higher regard and can often lead to someone getting hired in at a more senior level.”

We still stand by the idea that this isn’t the best solution for how strong a candidate is for the same reasons why you can’t gauge a person’s intelligence based on standardized tests. A lot of the requirements to pass exams by companies like HFI are based on memorization and textbook based learning, which is antithetical to how people succeed in a field which is all about understanding humans, how they think, how they feel and how that changes regularly.

Understand who you need to hire for today

“Unless you’re going to work for an agency where you’re getting paid for the work product, at less formal environments like startups it’s more of a judgement call,” says Lubling of his experience in hiring for a variety of UX positions in wide ranges of companies. “The background in those circumstances can vary from one candidate to another.”

Bernstein noted, “The 2 qualities I look for are humility and diplomacy … you must be a diplomat.” It’s very easy to spot someone who doesn’t possess these qualities. Bernstein uses the resume as an example. A resume can either be structured in a way that shows someone is ambitious for themselves or ambitious for the team. If a resume has a lot of language about the “I” and not much about the “team” then you know the person probably isn’t very humble or diplomatic.

It’s a concept Bernstein learned from Steve Kerr, Head Coach of the Golden State Warriors. In a recent issue of ESPN’s The Magazine, Kerr spoke about the types of people he seeks to hire. Kerr says, “They’re all unselfish and committed to the team but ambitious and hardworking. I think ambition can go 2 ways. You can be ambitious and be part of the team, or you can be ambitious for your own career. I like people who are ambitious for the team.”

“When hiring, teams need to be honest about who they can support.”

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It’s also important to consider what type of person your organization as a whole can actually set up for success in the role.

In research, strategy, and design there are a lot of wrong turns we make on our way to finding the right solution. There are some constants, such as those mentioned above and that any designer must be able to check their ego at the door, but every team has different needs. A startup is not IBM. What works for Pfizer may not work for Delta Airlines; a lead UX role at Twitter could require an entirely different mindset than a lead at Chase.

Gothelf, the former Principal at Neo Innovation, spoke about how important it is for teams to be honest about who they can support. While at Neo, the team made a conscious decision that they couldn’t hire junior designers. Being a small company, Neo couldn’t dedicate time to training junior designers. Gothelf noted, “We didn’t have time to teach the craft. We needed people who could hit the ground running. We could not mentor people in the how of UX.”

Photo by #WOCinTech Chat.

This becomes a huge problem for people who want to enter the industry as newbies—no matter what their backgrounds are.

“This is a big problem in our industry. Who wants to have designers on their team that they need to babysit?” asks Fox. “I need someone to sit there with a product manager and be able to get it done. But where are they going to come from?”

Fox adds that most junior designers start in the agency world, which tends to be a great learning atmosphere for them. “They can get used to the process and get into a few firefights,” he adds. “You need to be able to adapt and grow beyond that so you can dive deeper.”

Many of the people we talked to expressed concern about the lack of transparency that companies have when it comes to what they expect of the candidate and what the company culture will be like.

“Unicorns have never actually existed—not in nature nor in the internet.”

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Gothelf comments that “where many companies fail is that they don’t communicate the organization’s value for design and the strategic impact of the design discipline. It’s absolutely missing from most job descriptions. It’ll say something like ‘You’ll work with engineers and PMs to discuss requirements’—but how does that work? Where does design really fit in the organization?”

It’s not just about being clear about how design fits into the organization. Companies must be clear about the expectations they have for candidates.Twitter Logo What opportunities will a designer have for career growth? What is the measure of success? What are expectations for leadership?

Gothelf observes that UX teams end up being quite silo-ed and roles tend to be more specific. For example, larger companies have the budget for specialized roles such as a dedicated user research team, with specific roles on that team. Larger companies are often eager to staff up their UX teams. This can be dangerous though because, as he says, “larger companies are often just trying to put bodies in seats,” which easily leads to very silo-ed teams. Often this is fueled by a knowledge that UX matters, but without a strategy in place.

“Companies must be clear about the expectations they have for candidates.”

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At a smaller company, though, there’s more collaboration and thus, a candidate with a more generalist background will be a better fit as they’ll be forced to be involved in more of the entire product development process.

“The main distinction with the smaller the team is you have more UX/UI,” says Lubling. “For example, the people I have here are people who can do everything. They typically do visual design or UX, one or the other better and I tend to help complement that.”

There is an ultimate danger to the “unicorn,” though. When a company is first starting, it may be fine to find a jack-of-all-trades, but that won’t make for a great UX designer or anything else in the end.

Unicorns have never actually existed—not in nature nor in the internet—and searching for them will lead you down a path of confusion, disappointment, and, ultimately, a lot of lost dollars.

Linda Escobar, Senior Researcher at AlphaUX, offers that she also encounters a lot of candidates who want to be perceived as being able to do it all. “Many candidates believe that the more things they list, the better they look to the hiring team,” she says. “But that’s not the case. I prefer a focus—someone who’s good at one or 2 things—someone who’s always evolving and learning, instead of chasing the buzzword of the moment.”

One last consideration. There are people who try to do everything in the internet and people who try to do everything in UX. There’s a place for the latter, depending, again, on what you want from them. And that’s where we fall into the world of UX. We are, for better or worse, generalists.

“I love generalists. My team is more generalists. I definitely believe in generalists,” says Fox. ”But I think you need to have at least one aspect that is a strong suit. If it’s going to be design, then you really need to be a good designer and understand what makes good design and be able to deliver on that.”

The industry is always changing, and the fundamentals stay the same

Hiring generalists for our team makes sense because our clients come from all different industries and require a variety of skills at a time. But the principles above apply for everyone we would talk to as well:

  • Backgrounds should vary
  • Communication skills are paramount
  • Humility and listening go without saying
  • Demonstrated problem-solving skills are a must
  • Specific education rarely comes into play
  • Certification and boot camps can be a starting point, but not an indicator of proficiency
  • Passion and curiosity are required

While the field of UX is constantly changing, the principles for finding, vetting, and hiring UX designers can stay constant. The challenge is that what sets the UX industry apart is that the thinking behind what works is constantly in flux. For an accountant, tax rules may change, but the science is pretty much the same. For a Starbucks barista, there’s a set program. With UX, there’s no true police academy to graduate from to become an officer of usability.

As those of us who practice UX graduate into senior roles, we have to remember that we and our expert peers arrived here in so many ways. We’re a strange cornucopia of individuals who keep on learning.

And god knows whoever we hire next, we’re going to learn a ton from them, too.

This post was originally published on Medium.

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