How to Transition into UX Design and Land Your First UX Job: the Roadmap
Follow this clear roadmap to successfully transition into UX. Discover what employers look for in UX candidates and how to leverage your hard and soft skills to land your dream job.
Michael Lapin
Founder & CEO, Beginex

You’ve decided to follow your passion and pursue a UX career. But once you have the basics down, you might feel a bit lost on where to go next. To help you in this process, we’ve created this high-level overview of the UX career transition roadmap, which will help you become a highly attractive UX candidate that employers really want to hire. If you want to get more in-depth about each step, you can request access to our free 2-hour training video or visit our virtual event recordings page with videos about specific steps for this career transition that offer a ton of clarity.

Read on to discover why the old way of switching careers doesn’t work well, the competencies you actually need to get hired, the roadmap overview of the key steps, and the most common mistakes to avoid.

The old way for switching careers and why it doesn’t work that well in UX

For many people, a UX career transition process ends up being way longer, more frustrating, expensive, and stressful than expected because they follow an old conventional approach when trying to make their career transition. 

After deciding to pursue a UX career, they get enthusiastic, invest lots of money and time in studying the basic theory and concepts, and doing hypothetical projects, maybe even quitting their jobs and missing months of pay.

After they are done with learning, they start their job search, apply to lots of companies, face tons of rejection and realize that companies don’t want to hire them because they don’t have the experience or the qualifications most employers look for. Only then will they start trying to figure out how to become more marketable to land their UX role. 

Even if they manage to get a UX job in the end, people following this old way waste many months (or even years), spend tons of money, face the opportunity cost of months of missed salary, can accumulate significant debt, and deal with lots of stress and frustration that can even cause negative health impact.

This is why we’re proposing a new better UX career transition strategy that will enable you to land your UX job in a more efficient, more affordable, and less frustrating way.

Know what you want and start with the end in mind

The first crucial step to approaching your UX career transition is to start with the end in mind. Letting go of the conventional approach and taking a moment to think from the employer’s perspective to understand what exactly you need to be highly hirable and how you will get there will save you a lot of stress, time and money. 

When looking for a new member for their UX team, employers typically want a candidate who can hit the ground running, solve their specific problems and bring value to their company. Once you consider these expectations, you can formulate a strategy that validates you and ultimately wins them over. 

Just like the UX process suggests, our team at Beginex decided to get real world input and perform extensive research on determining what makes a highly desirable candidate. 

Beginex is a part-time UX career accelerator with real mission-driven client projects that helps people build real experience and transition into the field without quitting their day jobs.

To make sure our grads land jobs at places like Google, SiriusXM, Facebook, Coach, and other well-known companies, we interviewed and analyzed hundreds of candidates to identify who had the most success in getting hired faster – and why.

In addition to that, here’s some research we conducted to gain the insights and create this simple roadmap:

  • Interviewed over 30+ employers/hiring managers to understand what they are looking for in candidates.
  • Analyzed UX job postings to identify common employer requirements. 
  • Ran over 70 events that hosted both candidates and employers, where we interviewed both sides to find out what works best from each perspective.

A simple framework for how to get where you want to be

Here’s a quick overview of the roadmap that covers the attributes of a highly hirable candidate and has helped a lot of people land their first UX roles. For the purposes of our roadmap, think of this product analogy:

View your skills and experience as a Product that you are offering. View your job search as Marketing & Sales. Here is a quick overview of the key competencies you’ll find in each phase:

Learn & Build (aka “Product Building” Phase):

  • Hard UX skills: A solid foundation of technical UX skills.
  • Softer skills: Includes team collaboration, client management, presentation, and communication skills that you can actually show on your resume and portfolio. (These crucial skills are listed in almost every single job description.)
  • Real experience: You can expect this requirement in almost any job description as well, even the entry-level ones. This is usually the most important criterion for many employers.
  • 3+ case studies: Effective UX case studies are typically quite long and comprehensive and tell a story (and not just show the deliverables). Focus on the process and quality, not on the number of projects. (We recommend having two case studies with real clients to have a competitive advantage in the job market and be highly attractive to employers.)

Marketing & Sales:

  • Strong portfolio that showcases your product: Portfolio that showcases your 3+ case studies, skills, and experience.
  • Resume and online presence that tell your story: A detailed and well-structured resume and a LinkedIn profile. 
  • UX interviewing and storytelling skills: Develop these skills before kicking off your job search.
  • Mastery of effective job search strategies: Study the UX hiring process, and the different interview stages, and practice as much as possible.

As you may have noticed, this is a pretty simple high-level framework. However, you would be surprised how many people totally miss the key points covered above while trying to make their UX career transition.

Four Key Steps in Your UX Career Transition Journey

Now that you understand what you need to become a highly hirable candidate, we’ll take you through the framework and the key steps in your career transition journey.

If you focus on following this roadmap, you will gain what employers actually look for when hiring, and you will land your first UX role much faster than the majority of your competition (and avoid a ton of frustration in the process).

Step #1 Learn the UX basics

First, you need to learn the essentials. This entails understanding the main design principles, the key phases and methods of the overall UX process, the deliverables for those phases, and doing some exercises to produce them. To help you do that, you need to start learning some of the main tools such as Figma, Sketch, or Adobe XD.

Knowing UX fundamentals is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more than simply learning the key principles of UX research and design. You need to have a strong “product” (your skills and experience) that employers will really want. 

While this article delivers a high-level overview of this UX career transition roadmap, you can learn more about the “Learn UX Basics” step by checking out the article we wrote specifically on that subject on our blog or watching this virtual event recording.

Step #2 Practice and grow

This phase is much longer than the basics. This is where you cultivate and deepen your hard and soft skills with “learning by doing.”

It is strongly recommended to have at least three comprehensive UX case studies to position yourself as an irresistible hire. Your portfolio needs to demonstrate how – and more importantly WHY – you took certain steps in a project. Showcasing three or more solid case studies demonstrates your skills and experience and will set you apart from the competition. We highly recommend having at least two case studies with real clients to get the validation that employers require, even for entry-level positions.

Once you have a good grasp of the hard UX skills, you need to foster your soft skills, crucial for your growth and for becoming a highly hirable candidate. The core soft skills include:

  • Empathy & curiosity
  • Team collaboration
  • Client & stakeholder management, interaction, understanding business, and justifying design decisions.
  • Presentation
  • Facilitation
  • Communication, influence, and persuasion

You may think hypothetical projects are enough to get you hired (and, occasionally, it can be the case) but in order to become a highly attractive UX candidate and prevent wasting many months of your time, you need to work on real projects, which will build up your experience.

Step #3 Create top-notch job search assets

A compelling portfolio can make or break your chances of getting hired for a UX role. If you have three or more case studies showcased in your portfolio, which include your process and tie to the experience inside your resume - you should be in a good shape. While the portfolio is typically the most important asset for a UX candidate, the resume is crucial as well because it is often used as the initial ‘filter’ by many employers during the hiring process. Remember to ensure that in addition to having great content, your resume is also well-designed.

In addition to portfolio and resume, you should also have a solid online presence, such as a strong LinkedIn profile.

Step #4 Master UX job search and interviewing and then kick off your search 

Before kicking off your job search, we recommend that you prepare and obtain a clear understanding which UX job search strategies are actually effective, how they work and master those. Understanding the different search methods and which ones are likely to work best will help you allocate time wisely and make your search more effective and much less frustrating.

During the job search, we recommend that you spend not more than a third of your time applying on job boards. It is typically much more effective to focus on networking and building relationships in order to find roles and generate referrals. Conducting informational interviews with industry professionals is one of the best ways to do that (The 2-Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton is a great book on that). Also, ensure that you have a top-notch online presence (LinkedIn, especially) to get interest from recruiters. Furthermore, identify the roles and industries where your past experience may help you stand out. 

It is also key to study the hiring process, understand its key stages and gain strong UX interviewing and storytelling skills before diving into job search.

To improve your skills, it is a great idea to write out your answers to the common interview questions and practice outloud, do mock interviews and even record yourself on video.

Try to master all the common UX interview types, such as background and fit, behavioral, whiteboard and take-home design challenges and portfolio presentations. It is also wise to study the psychology of persuasion and influence and prepare a compelling personal pitch.

Follow this overall roadmap, put in the effort and focus on gaining what employers actually look for, and you will have a much smoother and faster transition into the UX field than most of your competition.

Putting it all together

Now that we’ve covered the key steps, let’s tie them to the career transition framework we introduced earlier in this article. The first “product building” phase of the framework covers the first two steps in your journey, learn essentials and practice and grow. The second marketing and sales phase includes the last two steps, creating assets and search prep and execution, as illustrated in the diagram below.

3 Most Common Mistakes To Avoid

Before you start your journey, remember to avoid these most common costly mistakes:

  1. Building a product that is not strong enough to attract employers
    If you fail to develop your skills sufficiently or don’t have enough experience, then marketing and selling your product is not going to be effective (even if you are a great marketer).
  2. Not learning the science behind marketing and sales
    Having skills and experience and applying to lots of jobs is not enough. You have to learn how to market, sell, and position yourself as an attractive candidate to employers. If you do not put enough effort into learning about effective job search strategies, navigating the UX hiring process and practicing a ton, getting hired will take much longer, if it happens at all.
  3. Failing to identify and fix the roadblocks preventing you from getting hired
    Instead of repeating the same tactics, take time to figure out which area prevents you from getting hired. Whether you need to build up your skills, gain more experience, or figure out how to nail the interviewing process, identifying and focusing on the key roadblock will ensure that you get to your goal in the most efficient way.

Key takeaways:

  • Start with the end in mind
  • Ensure you have a solid product (your skills and experience)
  • Understand high-level UX process and learn basic concepts
  • Practice and “learn by doing” (a lot)
  • Build solid hard UX skills with hands-on project-based learning
  • Cultivate strong soft skills
  • Build up real experience
  • Have 3+ sizable UX case studies (ideally, 2 of those with real clients)
  • Create irresistible job search assets (strong portfolio, a resume that clearly demonstrates skills and experience and online presence)
  • Ensure your portfolio showcases your process
  • Master UX job search and interviewing, and then kick off your search

To help you navigate the UX career switch and land your first job, we have also created a comprehensive 2-hour free training video. The training covers the UX career transition journey steps above in much more detail and will help you understand how exactly you can become a highly marketable candidate, avoid the common costly mistakes and master your UX job search. You can request access to the free training here.