What hiring managers are looking for in Junior UX designers?

mentors_tips

User Experience Design is a broad field, and each organisation has set their requirements and expectations from incoming UX designers. Those expectations depend on the level of experience, of course, and there can be a huge gap between junior and senior UX positions.

I asked our design leaders about the portfolio expectations and what factors influenced their hiring decisions. I spoke to:

and found some common traits and requirements that managers look for when evaluating candidates. Check their answers to my questions below. 


How many projects do you think a junior designer should have in their portfolio?

Mike

“I would like to see a minimum of two because most companies nowadays ask you to present one or two projects, so you better be ready.

Another thing I would suggest is to add at least one more as secondary. Why? 

A few years back, while interviewing for a job, I had this project on my portfolio. Two out of three companies I interviewed complimented me on an app measuring how much water people drink. 

If you see the project, I never did that. I just had some paper notes. At the time, I wanted this to be a funny project where people see I focus on the real problem and simplify things as much as possible. But people going quickly through my portfolio thought I worked on an app.”

Colin 

“I think you should go with quality over quantity. I wouldn’t expect a junior to have more than two or three projects. If they had more, I would expect them to lack depth and process. 

Depending on the role (UI, not so much, but for UX / Research for sure), it is more a case study than a project. Shows a straightforward process outlining methods used and explaining why and how.”

James

“When looking at a junior designer, I think it’s realistic to expect at least three projects in their portfolio. 

If they don’t have any job experience, I would expect to see the final project from college and two case studies they have taken upon themselves.”


In what detail level would you prefer to see those (i.e. 5, 10 or 20 min read)?

Mike

“I want the case studies to be as detailed as possible.

I want them to have the research process, interviews, iterations and how the design changed over time, analytics, screenshots. I want to have so many details that I will be bored to read. 🙂 “

Colin

“It depends on the role, but I would prefer to see projects from 10 to 20min read for Junior UX or Research positions.”

James

“Ideally, these projects should identify a problem and show the straightforward process used to solve the problem. When reading through a project, I’m more focused on the steps they take, rather than the final project deliverable.”


Do you thoroughly read through the projects in the portfolio?

Mike

“No, I don’t. I scroll the portfolio down; I shortlist people from how the portfolio looks, how well presented and digestible it is, focusing on the usability of the actual portfolio, the images and the parts that relate to what I want to see. I try to guess quickly if the portfolio is a good match and if the person seems promising. 

Once this is done, I pick the shortlist and decide whom to bring to the interview. I dig deeper in reading the essential things. I always focus on errors, mistakes and learnings.”

Colin

“No, I scan through the entire project looking for the process. Then I go back and look for the outcomes and decisions and check certain aspects. 

At this point, I’m just looking if the person has used any design framework and good reasons for selecting methods. Also, I look to see what role the person had in the project how they work, collaborate and communicate with the team. That’s a big one for us as we work with the US daily.”  

James

“I rarely read every word but scan through the steps in the process that they took.”


Is going through a mentorship program a “plus”, i.e. would a candidate who has a mentorship program in their CV rate higher than a candidate who doesn’t? 

Mike

“I started my career working for an NGO where feedback, values, impact were super important. Since then, everyone seeking personal development has been my ally. Having someone mentoring them wouldn’t make me think that they are good, but they are people who seek constant improvement, and I appreciate it a lot. I always talk in my job interviews about things I learn from my mentors (and UX stack exchange lol).”

Colin

“Yes, for sure, anything that adds more in-depth work to the portfolio and shows passion and enthusiasm for UX would be a big plus. I haven’t come across any CV’s with this yet, so I would ask about it in an interview (if it was not mentioned).

It is interesting, as the relationship with the mentor would be very similar to the interaction they would have in work with a senior designer. This would mean taking advice and feedback and working independently. 

I would ask, “How did you make use of your mentors’ experience/advice? What did you learn from them that you haven’t learned in college?”.

James

“Taking part in a mentorship shows a level of dedication. When looking at a junior candidate, I want to see living and breathing product design. I want to see that they attend meet-ups and have a genuine interest in UX. I would love to hear someone tell me in an interview that their goal is to be the best UX designer in the world.”


How important is the general confidence of the candidate? What if he/she is nervous during the interview? 

Mike

“I think it is essential but needs to come with self-awareness. For example, knowing what you’re an expert at – and being confident about it; and knowing where you are not great at – and being insecure about it.

In interviews, I feel that designers are constantly asked to show confidence with questions that don’t have answers, solving an unsolvable UX problem (once I was asked to design a touch screen for blind people as a part of the interview).

However, I don’t think confidence is everything. I like people who don’t seem very confident and look more sceptical because I feel they are the opposite of me and are thinking. I want designers who have the attitude “I know nothing but will test everything”, but I think they fit better in large corporations where people are more specialised. Smaller companies probably prefer confident people that are easy with taking risks.”

Colin

“No, do not rule them out at all; being confident can be a good thing, but for UX, it’s more important to be empathetic and have good listening, communication and observation skills. Also, being too confident leads to an ego which is detrimental to UX.“

James 

“With regards to nerves – this wouldn’t put me off a candidate. Interviews can be scary. I think it’s important for a junior designer to keep in mind that everyone in the room has been in their position.”


 

Conclusion

And finally, the summary of everything our fantastic design leaders have said above.

About the number of projects you need to have in your portfolio – the golden range is from two to three. However, these need to be solidly written, but not too broad (max 20 min read), with a clearly outlined design process that most hiring managers will pay massive attention to.

Going through mentorship or any other similar program is a big plus. It shows you care about improving your skills and that you can work with an experienced designer and take on the feedback in the right way. 

And lastly, don’t worry about being nervous during the interview. As seen above, hiring managers definitely don’t mind it.