How To Get Hired As a UX Designer (In ASEAN)

During the last eight months, I have had the privilege to be one of the hiring managers for an outstanding customer experience team in the ASEAN region (specifically in Kuala Lumpur). This ongoing practice is enabling me to get some useful insights into customer experience hiring processes not only from the designer point of view but also from the other side – from the business & management standpoint.

I want to use this chance to help the growing community of local UX / CX designers to increase their chances of getting hired by offering some general advice on the three most common issues I see almost daily.

Don’t Compose Your Portfolio Of Visuals Only

Problem: Quite a considerable number of digital designers like to showcase large quantities of various graphics / UI / branding design samples, but they rarely combine them with relevant contexts, descriptions or narratives.

Solution: Portfolios like these provide precisely zero value to hiring managers from a UX perspective. It could be suitable if you are applying for a job in an advertising agency as a creative designer but in terms of user experience - visual examples themselves showcase pretty much only your artistic qualities.

Every good design should come together with a story about the journey, which led to its creation. Business owners need to know what kind of value you are bringing to the table. Did you achieve to decrease a drop-off rate of an e-commerce site with your unique user interface solution? Did your excellent user experience solution increase digital adoption of a product? Did your superior interaction design improve a user flow inside a product, so users are now able to achieve their goals more seamlessly?

These are the things that matter. Choose your best projects and package them into a delightful story or case study, where you explain your role in a project, the problem you are trying to solve, the solution you achieved to create and what kind of impact your design made. Ideally, do not forget to back up everything with proper UX metrics to strengthen your arguments.

Focus on showcasing your value as a designer. Utilizing a case study approach instead of showing a collection of UI samples without any context is the right way how to do that.

Know Your Role And Core Strengths

Problem: I want to focus on everything - research, ideation, information architecture, testing, prototyping, visual design, branding etc.

Solution: Field of user experience design evolved into a broad range of disciplines over the last couple of years. It is almost impossible to be master of all of them. Of course, reliable and highly efficient design teams usually consist of generalists and specialists, but it is essential to truly understand what is your role, which are your core strengths and where you feel the most comfortable - and thus where you can have the most significant impact.

Try to shape case studies and stories in your portfolio around this. So for example, if your previous working experience was being a researcher and you want to continue in that direction in the future, or you are a highly skilled visual designer with interest in prototyping, don't be hesitant to highlight these in your portfolio. In case you are a generalist, you are most likely not expected to have in-depth knowledge in each of user experience design disciplines since your core strength (probably) lies in a comprehensive understanding of all of them and you are enjoying building bridges between specialists.

A portfolio built following these suggestions will also make life much easier for headhunters, HR folks, hiring managers or design directors, because they will be able to accurately identify who you are as a designer and find the most fitting job & role for you with ease.

But make no mistake, even though you could be an extremely talented specialist, it is vital to understand the whole user experience game; otherwise, you will have a hard time working hand in hand with your (design) colleagues.

UX design is a complex process which covers a lot of different areas of expertise, knowing your core strengths help immensely.

Showcase Only Your Best And Most Recent Work

Problem: Presentations with 50+ pages with a vast amount of different content, most of it entirely irrelevant to the job application itself, including project samples from 10 years ago.

Solution: In the most world's design markets, when you are applying for any role in UX, it is the best to choose 3-4 of your most remarkable projects and highlight only relevant information to the specific job position you are applying for.

E.g. As a researcher - showcase the knowledge of your users, their problems and their environment. As an interaction designer explain how you guide the user to an intended outcome gently and intuitively. As a visual designer focus on aesthetics of the product and show how your amazing user interface solves users' pain points, increases adoption rate etc.

Also, keep in mind that most of the hiring managers are interested only in your latest work, generally not older than three years. There is no need to show your first ever project (unless it was something extraordinary); it will most likely hurt your chances of getting hired.

There is also an added benefit to shorter portfolios - most people will be paying attention to what you want to say. Going through lengthy, chaotic portfolios is never pleasant, which decreases hiring chances dramatically (some might even see it as a sign that you are unable to identify core ideas and the most valuable parts of your design).

Note: It would be good to mention that there is a difference between online and offline presentations. Online case studies should be shorter and on point, and the in-depth case studies full of details are much more suitable for presentations in-person where you usually have more time to elaborate further.

Extra Tip: What If I Have Never Worked In UX Before?

Problem: I have just graduated (or worked in a different field) and want to pursue a career in UX, but I have never done any "real" UX project before, so I have nothing to exhibit in my portfolio.

Solution: Make-up a case study. Fabricate a brand, a company (or even use a real one) and showcase your passion and strengths this way. You don't need to get hired to be able to show your value and UX skills. You can choose a company which you know, and where you can identify critical problems, and solve them with your design (using research, interaction design, visual design or a content strategy - up to you). Don't be afraid to fail; there is a good chance something like this will significantly influence people that are making hiring decisions in your favour. It also demonstrates your motivation and dedication - perks which are relevant anywhere in the world.

One of my old UX made-up case studies with a focus on visual design can help serve as an example. (Photography: Costarellos.com)

Keep Your Head Up

Sometimes even a superstar designer gets rejected. It's not always only about your hard skills - finding a good fit for a team is usually all that matters from the hiring manager's perspective.

Even if your fabulous design skills are apparent, it could be a situation where it is just not the right fit for a company in terms of personality, culture or thinking. There is no need to take this personally as rejection might be the best decision for both sides. We spend a lot of time at work after all, so it is crucial for a designer and a business to be comfortable working together.

Adapt & Improvise

As designers, we tend to be creative and adaptable in almost all situations. Having that in mind - I would like to end this article with a simple remark - all tips and suggestions mentioned here do not have to be followed precisely like this at all the times. There will be circumstances where you will have to change your approach to meet a specific goal, so always leave some room for experiments and improvisation.

And do not forget to let me know if some of these recommendations helped you or if you have any further questions - I am always open to any sort of discussion when it comes to design. Cheers!

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More than fifty UX hiring sessions inspired this article.

600+

ASEAN's ten member states form an economic powerhouse. Over six-hundred million inhabitants and steadily increasing consumer demand is making it one of the most intriguing markets for UXers.

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According to the recent LinkedIn research - UX design is amongst the five jobs currently enjoying the highest demand in the market with a great future outlook as well.

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