Thinking of a career in the competitive realm of UX design? You’re not alone. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms a rising tide of opportunities for UX designers across the country. But with so many professionals vying for attention, how do you ensure you’re not just another name in the pile? It’s time to double down on the twin pillars that can make or break your career: a standout resume and a compelling portfolio.
To help you launch your UX career, we sought the expertise of Max Gerdes, executive director at Motion Recruitment. With nearly a decade in recruiting, Gerdes has honed his last four years on a team adept at connecting UI/UX designers with roles in both startups and corporate giants in the Fortune 100 list. His expert tips and insights will be sure to help you stand out from the crowd in a tough market.
Resume vs. portfolio
For a UX designer, the resume acts as the crucial first impression. As Gerdes highlights, “The resume is the first point of contact when a hiring manager or recruiter is looking at a person’s background.” It provides a snapshot detailing the designer’s employment history, responsibilities, accomplishments, education, and skills. Beyond this initial overview, the resume’s structure emphasizes specific skills, educational qualifications, and a summary of the professional background.
In contrast, the portfolio offers a comprehensive insight into the designer’s creative journey. “It contains case studies that address UX design problems, showcasing everything from wireframing to visuals,” notes Gerdes. This deeper dive allows hiring managers to appreciate a candidate’s unique skill set and the tangible value they offer. Portfolios prioritize in-depth projects that shed light on specific employment experiences, enabling potential employers to understand the full spectrum of a designer’s expertise.
How to write and organize a UX Designer resume
Clarity over creativity
You might be tempted, as a creative, to make your resume intricate with design elements. However, Gerdes cautions against over-embellishing. He says, “While visually amazing resumes stand out, if they compromise the user experience—the whole point of your career—and make it challenging to understand a candidate’s background, they defeat the purpose.” The focus should always be clarity.
The ‘F’ layout
In terms of layout, Gerdes recommends the ‘F’ structure. Start with your contact details and a concise, professional summary at the top, followed by education, certificates, tools, and both technical and soft skills on the left. On the right side, in the ‘body’ of the resume, expand on your experiences and job descriptions, making it visually appealing and easily digestible.
Summary and buzzwords
The initial summary is your elevator pitch. Gerdes suggests incorporating years of experience, significant milestones, and relevant buzzwords. “Specify whether you’ve catered to B2B or B2C user bases, elaborate on the industries you’ve been part of, and highlight platforms you’re proficient in.” It’s also recommended to emphasize your involvement in the end-to-end design processes.
Tools and soft skills
While highlighting proficiency in tools like Figma is beneficial, Gerdes underscores the vitality of soft skills in the UX field. “UX design revolves around human interaction, empathy, and understanding,” he notes. As such, incorporating communication skills and emotional intelligence is crucial.
Quality trumps quantity. Rather than a lengthy list of roles, focus on the depth and relevance of your experiences. Gerdes advocates for specifying responsibilities, achievements, and, most importantly, the tangible impacts you brought to each role. Detail the user bases you designed for, the platforms you utilized, and collaborations, offering a comprehensive view of your professional journey.
How to build a UX designer portfolio
Visual impact and user experience
First impressions are pivotal. As your portfolio’s landing page is often the first thing the recruiter will see when they open it, it should be both visually impressive and functionally smooth. Gerdes emphasizes, “This portfolio represents you. It’s all about UX.” This means the [landing] page should seamlessly transition as users navigate, with a visually appealing design, and most importantly, provide a comfortable user experience; it’s your job, after all!
Creativity within structure
While portfolios offer designers a chance to get creative, it’s essential to maintain an intuitive structure for everyone, including those unfamiliar with UX design. Gerdes mentions that the formatting should be such that “any non-UX person can understand how to navigate.”
‘About Me’ section
A blend of personal and professional insights in the ‘About Me’ section helps humanize your profile. Gerdes notes that he enjoys “understanding who this person is, in and outside of work.” Integrating aspects like hobbies or fun facts can resonate with viewers on a personal level, offering them a broader perspective on you as an individual.
Organizing and writing case studies
Each case study is a journey, starting with the problem or challenge and progressing through the design and research phases to the final outcomes. “You’re telling a story here,” Gerdes mentions. Highlighting team size, primary responsibilities, research methodologies, wireframes, and the project’s final designs paint a comprehensive picture.
Choosing which projects to include requires contemplation. For those newer in the field, Gerdes suggests leveraging “personal projects, schoolwork, or freelance gigs.” He advises seasoned professionals to “pick the one you’re most excited to talk about.” Additionally, showcasing a range of projects from different industries or domains illustrates adaptability, as he emphasizes, “People like to see problem-solving skills in different industries, different domains.”
Visual and textual balance
An effective portfolio has case studies that balance the written content and visuals harmoniously. Gerdes believes visuals are essential, especially wireframes and user journeys, but the written content must be clear and concise. It should guide the viewer through the design decisions and processes without overwhelming them with details.
Collaborations & interactions
Detailing your collaborations can make your case studies richer. Gerdes notes the importance of showing “how you work with product management, how you hand things off to developers,” and the various stakeholders you interacted with during the project.
Layout considerations and final touches
Ensuring the portfolio is easily navigable is, well, your job, and should be prominent in your digital portfolio. Whether it’s tabs or scroll-based navigation, the transitions should be smooth. Gerdes also recommends keeping it updated, stating, “You never know when you’ll find yourself looking for the next role.” Including essential links like LinkedIn and a direct ‘Contact Me’ section can also enhance accessibility.
Crafting your story
It’s clear that while talent is essential, presenting that talent effectively is just as crucial. Resumes need to be sharp, comprehensive, and immediately understandable. On the other hand, portfolios should be a profound reflection of one’s depth in the craft, showcasing each phase of the design journey. Gerdes’ insights from the hiring frontline show that standing out isn’t about overwhelming with too much information but rather crafting a narrative that combines clarity with compelling details, striking a balance between professionalism and personal touch.
So, UX designers, as you sculpt your credentials and prepare to make your mark, remember: in this era of skyrocketing user expectations, your presentation tools—the resume and portfolio—are pivotal. The key to career success lies in narrating a story that resonates, engages, and, ultimately, gets you that coveted spot in your dream role.
Photo: Welcome to the Jungle
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