Your First UX / ID Job -- Q from the HCI Class of\'09.

8 Mar 2009 - 12:25pm
7 years ago
1 reply
686 reads
Scott Berkun

My first UX job was doing usability work on Windows 95 and Internet Explorer
1.0 back in 1994.

Looking backwards I wish I could have given myself the following advice:

1) Pick your manager. Early in my career I made choices that put the role
and the project ahead of who I'd be working for. It took years for me to
figure out I was happier, more effective, and grew more only when my boss
was a good manager. A good manager will hire good people, will set clear
goals, will teach you what they know, and will set you up to be happy (e.g.
kick ass). A mediocre or bad manager, even on an amazing project will make
you and everyone else miserable. I'd think hard about this in my interview
loops, and even if given an offer I'd ask to speak to 2 of my potential
manager's reports, plus use my network, to get as much of a sense of my new
manager as possible. I might ask for an extra phone conversation with my
possible new boss (and if refused, I'd be very very worried. If I can't get
their attention now, before I sign, I doubt I'll get it later). If given two
different offers, I'd weigh the two bosses heavily in the equation.

2) Pick the company not the project. Projects get killed more often than
companies do. Taking a non-sexy job at a great company gets you inside,
gives you a safe start, and after 6 or 12 months you can find your way to
the next cool sexy thing. But if you sign on to a great project at a lousy
company, and the project is cancelled, you're screwed.

3) Look to learn. It can be tempting to pick jobs where you are the only UX
person. It seems more powerful and influential, which might be true. But you
have no one to learn from or grow under about your trade. In interview loops
ask yourself "what can I learn from these people?" If your career is just
getting started, what you learn in the next couple of years might define the
next 10. In all cases look to find a mentor in the industry, someone who can
give you outside feedback and pointers who is not a co-worker. A good
mentor's perspective increases how much you learn from every situation you
find yourself in.

4) Stay in touch with your fellow graduates. The network you've formed in
school is tremendously valuable. It's hard to see it when you graduate, but
those are industry contact points that are harder to create later. Facebook
can be handy for this: make a "graudates of U of M HCI" group or something.
Do what you can to stay in touch periodically, meet up conferences, etc. It
might take a few years but I guarantee this network will give you advantages
in the future.


Scott Berkun

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at
[mailto:discuss-bounces at] On Behalf Of
Jonathan Cohen
Sent: Saturday, March 07, 2009 1:59 PM
To: discuss at
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Your First UX / ID Job -- Q from the HCI Class

Hello world,

HCI grad student here. As my fellow students and I near graduation and
explore all the different kinds of opportunities out there, it would be
extremely helpful to learn about your entry-level interaction design

What was your first ID job? Generally speaking, is there anything you would
have liked to be different? Which experiences were most beneficial in the


8 Mar 2009 - 12:44pm
Caroline Jarrett

To the job-seeking persons, especially new grads:

You might enjoy my column "How not to get a job in usability"

(and it might resonate with a few hiring managers as well)

Caroline Jarrett

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