How Does a New Grad Get Started in UX?

31 Mar 2010 - 8:13pm
6 years ago
4 replies
1575 reads
Posted in:
Phil Downey

I'm in my last year of Honours Computer Science at Wilfrid Laurier University, and I'm wondering how I can "break into" the UX industry in Waterloo. Most of the job postings I've seen for UX related roles have been for people with at least 3-4 years expierience in the field. How do I get started?

Currently I'm employed by Manulife Financial as a part-time Interaction Designer on a small internal team of 7. Before my current role, I was basically doing George Jetson's job - watching information flow by, watching for things that were peculiar, and pressing buttons to keep the process going. My current role didn't actually exist until I informed the project lead - a friend of mine - that they really needed someone to come in and spend some time on their interface.

The project is being developed in C# .NET, and in my spare time I had been teaching myself how to put theVisual Studio Forms Designer through its paces. I whipped up a quick demo of how you can make interfaces scale to fit different monitor sizes to show the project lead I was capable, and they ended up creating the role and hiring me for it. However, since getting the job I've learned a lot about the technical aspects of creating interfaces, and even went so far as to bugging teachers at WLU to create a User Interface Design course which I completed in the fall of 09.

That said, I find when I read requirements in the job descriptions for these UX roles, I'm not sure I could adequately preform the tasks for the role. I'd like to think with my Interaction Designer role with Manulife I've got my foot in the door, but I'm finding it hard to take the next step.

Does anyone have any suggestions?


1 Apr 2010 - 12:56pm

Sounds like you're off to a pretty good start, Phil, though I can understand the difficulty in taking the next step. As someone with hiring experience in the field, I'd say your passion for design and UX should get you in the door, at least for anyone who's open to the possibility of hiring someone who's not already very experienced.

Once you're in the door, however, you need to demonstrate that you have some IxD/UX chops. IMHO, this absolutely requires a portfolio of some sort. This job involves craft, so you need to show craftsmanship. Take a look at your past work and pull out examples that show what you've done and how you did it: sketches, screenshots, documents, reports... even rough notes might cut it. You mentioned learning a lot about the "technical aspects of creating interfaces", which I assume means coding or using development tools. You'll need to show some design work as well. 

If you don't yet have any design work to show, then here are some ideas:

  • Spend a few evenings sketching new concepts for something in your current job.
  • Hook up with one of the many startups in Waterloo region and offer to help with some UX work. Be honest about your motivation in looking for experience; you might find that people are willing to pay you something, despite just getting started. A good place to meet folks is Startup Drinks Waterloo.
  • Start blogging and Tweeting about UX-related stuff. It'll get you on the radar.
  • Get to know the other members of IxDA Waterloo! This month, we're starting a regular habit of heading out for drinks afterwards, for some informal chitchat.


Hope this helps somewhat!

10 May 2010 - 5:27pm

Hey Phil,

I was in a similar boat a couple months ago. Being fresh out of college and trying to get started in a new field is always a challenge.

Some advice that worked for me:

-Include an online portfolio demonstrating your UX work (content audits, heuristic evaluations, personas, user flows, annotated wireframes, sitemaps, prototyping, usability testing, card sorts, contextual inquiries, affinity diagrams, etc). Definitely show any design or programming work that you might have. The most important thing that employers want to see is how you think and operate and that you take the user, business req, design and development limitations into consideration throughout a project.

-Find a mentor. I know IAI ( has a mentor program available to it's members.

-Keep sending out resumes/cover letters-don't become discouraged or frustrated

-Display a passion and willingness to continue to learn and grow


-Network with fellow UX'ers both online and in the real world

-Get in contact with people at agencies - not even to say "hey hire me!" but just to sit down and pick their brain. From experience, approaching people by "hey i was going to be in the area Tuesday and was just wondering if you had time to get coffee and talk" has worked well for me.



12 May 2010 - 5:29pm
Phil Downey

Thanks for the suggestions, both of you. I'm glad to say that I managed to get a 18 month contract doing Interaction Design full time for the same project as my previous role. It's not the ideal position but its a start, and hopefully once the contract is up I can start looking around for other IxD positions!

I'm definitely going to start work on a portfolio, and work on your other suggestions as well. Thanks!

14 May 2010 - 8:37am

Congratulations on landing the IxD contract, Phil. That's great news!

Syndicate content Get the feed