Career changer in the UX industry

Guest contribution by | 05.05.2022 | Processes & methods | 0 comments

How does a career change into the UX industry work?

How do I become a user experience (UX) designer? I asked myself this question in the middle of 2020. I was underchallenged with my job at the time and was looking for a new challenge. Today, after 1.5 years, I am unfortunately still asking myself this question despite various further training courses, workshops and reading extensive specialist literature. Not least because in this country it seems that not only certificates and references are the ultimate in every application, but also good old professional experience (at least 2-3 years) must not be missing. The only difficulty is when you want to gather just that in order to get your foot in the door in the long term. It’s a classic dilemma that I’ve only been able to partially resolve so far.

“And what do you want to be someday?” – “Career changer!”

Career changers are no longer a rarity in today’s professional world. The shortage of skilled workers that has prevailed for years is practically forcing companies to look for workers from outside their field and train them themselves. According to a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation, there are ever greater career opportunities for career changers and a study by the video recruiting provider Viasto found that 38 percent of all employees are already working in a professional field that does not correspond to their original training.

The proportion of career changers is particularly high in the media and business sectors and the comparison portal gehalt.de was also able to show on the basis of 3,608 data records that most career changers are to be found in the media environment or in press and online marketing departments. Also interesting: every third employee in the field of PR and online marketing originally comes from the humanities, social sciences or economics. With this background knowledge, it comes as little surprise to me in retrospect that I switched to marketing after my foreign language studies and established myself there more and more over the years. It seemed like I was predestined for a career change, especially since with a degree in the humanities you feel at home everywhere and nowhere.

Since my first career change was comparatively easy, I was highly motivated and optimistic about my next industry change. I wanted to take the plunge again – above all to develop myself further, to expand my professional profile and to build up a new mainstay. If only I had known what to expect…

A lateral entry into the UX industry is not uncommon

Of course, I didn’t go into this completely blind. Before I ventured into this career path, I read books and experience reports to find out whether this job was for me at all and whether I had the necessary basic requirements.

According to the internet, a UX designer must be

  • creative,
  • analytical,
  • empathic,
  • communicative,
  • curious,
  • flexible and
  • passionate.

In addition, one should be able to think holistically and always act in the interest of the benefits, even if that means going toe-to-toe with stakeholders & co. every now and then. In addition to the typical soft skills, a UX designer should also know the common UX standards, have programming skills and a basic understanding of visuals, master marketing basics and be able to use UX tools and design programmes.

This list suggests that candidates from the graphic design, media design, communication design, front-end development or marketing sectors have an easier time slipping into the UX industry. And indeed: according to gehalt.de, 22 percent of UX employees are computer scientists and 18 percent are trained designers.

With this background information, my chances of making it as a UX designer were not bad at first glance. Even if you consider that UX is still relatively young in this country and that there are still few courses of study or training places. Currently, at least, the industry seems ideal for career changers. So in 2020 I started further training to become a UX designer¹ in the hope that an employer would give me a chance afterwards – for a low salary, but what the heck. After all, years of apprenticeship are not years of mastery. I was also optimistic because my lateral entry into marketing had once gone relatively smoothly.

Not good enough as a career changer?

After my advanced training, I cheerfully started applying for various junior UX design positions or student trainee positions in the field of UX. I soon found out that I didn’t have the professional experience for the former and was too expensive for the latter. That was one thing above all: sobering.

With every further rejection, the feeling of not being “good enough” increased, and the shame of my supposed failure was also mixed in. A classic vicious circle that every applicant knows. Uncertainty is inevitable, especially if you also want to move into a new sector as a career changer.

Nevertheless, I continued to apply, diligently read professional literature, took part in individual workshops and even actively wrote to freelancers to work for free and thus gain practical experience. But nothing happened, except that the frustration grew. Eventually, I couldn’t take the pressure any longer and applied for the good old marketing jobs again.

Of course, every now and then the question still pops up in the back of my mind: Did I give up too soon? How long would I have had to hold out and get rejections before I finally got a chance?

After advanced training is before advanced training

Despite the sobering experience so far and the return to my old job, I didn’t want to completely deviate from my new path. So I decided to do an apprenticeship in graphic design alongside my job, also with the teeny hope that this background would increase my chances as a career changer. At the end of the day, it is my personal impression that designers, graphic designers or programmers have a better chance of becoming UX designers than marketers, although many sites claim otherwise.

Does one give lateral entrants or newcomers a chance at all?

The many job advertisements on the internet looking for a UX designer are crammed with requirements – first and foremost the classic professional experience. From “first practical experience” (whatever that means) to 5 years, everything was there. Of course, this inevitably raises the question: Do they even give newcomers a chance? In my experience, no. I had the feeling that it was precisely this “I’m new to the scene” stamp that I ended up with.

In my opinion, there is a lack of training and trainee positions, because these seem to be scarce in the industry. In addition, it seems as if many companies are looking for a UX designer to solve the chaos that has been caused so far or to fill a gap. Of course, you can’t have a beginner there. There is also an amusing article on this topic from the UX Collective that I highly recommend: Please give junior UX designers a chance.²

Why career changers are an advantage for companies

Career changers may still be seen as a second choice rather than an opportunity. Yet the supposedly unfamiliar professionals have a lot to offer:

  • Starting with their high motivation to perform and their motivation to learn new things.
  • In addition, they bring new perspectives and unbiased views on things that already exist, as well as a broad range of specialised knowledge from outside the sector.
  • Another factor in favour of lateral entrants is their gratitude for the opportunity offered, which in turn can lead to greater loyalty.
  • Moreover, by promoting lateral entrants, companies strengthen their corporate culture and versatility and ultimately actively combat the shortage of skilled workers.

 

Conclusion

So what do you need as a career changer in the UX industry?

Many articles on the internet say that you need empathy, creativity or analytical skills, among other things, for the UX industry. In my experience, what you need most as a career changer in the UX field is:

  • A lot of patience,
  • perseverance,
  • a thick skin
  • and the willingness to learn new things
  • and to take detours.

In addition, a pinch of imagination and creativity can’t hurt to find new ways to reach the desired goal. Because let’s be honest: the classic path to becoming a UX designer does not yet exist. That’s probably why the job is still a mystery for many people, just like it is for me.

Was it therefore a bad idea to take a lateral step into the UX industry? Definitely not, because many things from the field can also be applied in marketing or in other industries and are thus an enrichment for any job.

 

Notes:

[1] Meine UI-/UX-Weiterbildung
[2] Please give junior UX designers a chance

Other sources (in German):

In diesen Bereichen gibt es die meisten Quereinsteiger
Berufswunsch Quereinsteiger
Produktbezogene Jobs im Porträt: der User Experience Designer
UX-Designer – ein Job, der die Zukunft gestaltet
Quereinsteiger – wertvolle Arbeitskräfte

Franziska Tietz has published another post on the t2informatik blog:

t2informatik Blog: The right tone in UX writing

The right tone in UX writing

Franziska Tietz

Franziska Tietz

Franziska Tietz is an online editor, blogger and UX designer in training. For a long time, she wrote web texts for small and medium-sized companies as a copywriter and content manager before launching her own blog project in 2020. On her German blog “How to UX“, she regularly deals with selected user experience topics and also reports on various training opportunities in the industry.