how-to-land-your-first-ux-role

I recently did an Instagram live session with Britney for juniors looking to break into the market. I thought I’d put my answers into an article for people who couldn’t make it.

Tom Cotterill


Me: I don’t hire for juniors very often, in fact, hardly at all. The reason is that companies should only reach out to recruiters for niche roles i.e they are finding it difficult to fill the role.

Juniors lack commercial experience, so there isn’t much which separates them from the rest so all companies need to do is post on LinkedIn and get a ton of applicants.

But I believe a junior should focus on these areas ?

  • Portfolio — This is your pitch. Make it special.
  • Online presence — Can people recognize you on LinkedIn, Medium or other channels?
  • Offline meetings — go for coffee with people, attend meet-ups.

I look at early stage folks as a package, not just portfolio because it’s highly likely the work isn’t going to help them stand out. It’s their attitude, grit, communication, soft skills etc.


  • Relying on recruiters. We work for clients, not candidates. That means 95% of the time recruiters won’t help juniors because there is no money in placing juniors. I know it sounds brutal, but don’t forget recruiting is a business. The great recruiters will always make time, even if it’s for 10 minutes.
  • Getting caught up with wanting to work for certain companies. Look at each opportunity with your next role in mind. What do I mean by that? Well, if you go and work for Facebook and work on a like button or a start-up where you’ve worked across the full end-to-end process, what do you think has progressed your portfolio more?
  • Getting too much advice or advice from the wrong people. Don’t just contact design leaders, but look at people who found jobs 1–2 years ago as THEY will have more knowledge than most design leaders. Your only focus at this stage of your career is to find a job.

  • Process.
  • Showcasing side projects, not just 3 case studies from a General Assembly course.
  • Showcase some personality.

As a new UX designer, it’s only natural that you won’t have vast quantities of work to show in your portfolio, so instead, you need to find a unique angle to stand out. Personally, when I look through junior portfolios I like to see some personality in there, even if there are only a handful of projects.

Ways to inject personality include adding any personal projects you have attempted and talking the reader through how you went from an idea to a finished solution. Even if it was a complete failure or it was part of your UX design course rather than a paid gig, show it!

For me, failing but being humble around the fact you know that you can improve shows determination, grit, and motivation. From multiple conversations with hiring managers that I’ve had on the topic of junior UX portfolios, I can tell you that they’re not expecting examples of perfect process-driven work, they want to see personality and if you’ll be a good fit culturally. The rest you can learn on the job!


I asked Scott Smallman as obviously I am not one ?

“Whenever I see someone who has a rationale for the choices they made. It’s not about being right or wrong in the approach or decision but having an understanding and ability to discuss their choices rather than just ‘doing UX’ activities is important.”


  • Too much obsession with “process”

I believe it’s an opportunity to showcase 1) your skills 2) who you are as a human being. We spend more time with our colleagues than our family, so don’t be afraid to show personality.

In an age where there is more emphasis on hiring people who match the culture of the business, a portfolio is a perfect opportunity to show that you’re a cultural fit. It’s much harder to get your personality across on a CV given that approximately 99% of CVs follow the same format.

The ultimate aim is to get hired (duh!) but maybe start to think about your career vision.

Can you take the reader on a journey?

Are you allowing yourself a higher opportunity to be headhunted? (There is a difference between headhunted and applying for a job). Top companies scour portfolios, Medium, GitHub to look for the next thought leaders.

Can you build your brand? A portfolio should be to showcase your work, but all the things you do outside of your day job for the community such as talks, conferences, teaching etc.

Have the questions in mind:

As we all know there is a lot of juniors in the market so do something that will help you stand out.

  • What makes you stand out from hundreds of juniors?
  • Why should someone give you a chance? How much grit and determination have you got?
  • What’s your 5–10-year plan? Give companies an idea of how you want to grow your career.
  • Do you look up to anyone in UX and why?

I’d rather see a junior portfolio which isn’t perfect in terms of process but rather someone who demonstrates they are moldable, teachable, likeable and enjoyable to be around.


I really disagree. You need to be targeted.

Think of a few questions such as:

Does your current work have a UX function? Can you move over? This is a perfect way because you already have buy-in from the company.

You’ve done the course, you’ve got basic knowledge. Now what?

Map out your perfect role

Three things I urge you to look at when mapping out your perfect role:

  • Career advancement.
  • Values.
  • Health/Well-being.

Career development is very important for your first role. Things to consider:

  • Is there a team to learn from?
  • A budget for courses, conferences etc.
  • Have they bought in a junior before? Was it a success?
  • Does the UX work get shipped? You want a portfolio full of end-to-end UX work that gets implemented.
  • Focus on the project, not who the company is. I’d rather work for a small product company on an end-to-end complex project than Facebook on a small microsite. Your first role is vital to get exposure across a breadth of projects.
  • UX research. If you want to be in UX, don’t go to a company who doesn’t do research or have plans to. Makes 0 sense, that’s not UX that is a user-centred UI Designer.

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