Tips on "breaking into" IA/ID/UxD industry for recent graduates?

30 Oct 2007 - 12:53pm
6 years ago
8 replies
1031 reads
Jay Barbarich
2007

First time I've actually created my own message here, just wanted to preface
it by saying thanks so much to all the users who make the IxDA list as
awesome as it is (which is very awesome).
Anyway, I graduated from the School of Communication, Information and
Library Studies (SCILS) at Rutgers University in May, and have since had a
pretty difficult time finding relevant work within the industry. I went
through the Information Technology & Informatics program, which focuses on
things like HCI, good design, knowing the limitations of available tools
(learned a lot about a ton of different languages), and how society in
general comes to interact with and understand technology.

Now I've read plenty of posts all over the Intertubes, and I've got a pretty
good idea of what I'm looking for, as well as what I'm in for:
1. A junior/entry position at an agency with senior IA/ID/UxD folks. I'm not
going to learn anything about my craft if I'm not working with people who
know more than me.
2. I am prepared to make coffee, photocopy, and be a gopher, all for a
meager paycheck as long as it means I will be able to do "real" IA/ID/UxD
work in the near future (earning a little bit more money would be acceptable
too).
3. Most importantly, I want to be part of an agency that really legitimately
cares about the design process. If this precondition isn't met, then there
is no good reason to sign up. Many of you have said that being an
evangelistic junior designer is a waste of good sanity.

All that being said, it seems like there is a lack of opportunity at the
junior/entry level in my particular field of interest. Maybe its because I'm
looking primarily in Brooklyn/Manhattan (trying to move there by next year),
maybe its because I'm looking almost exclusively at interactive agencies, or
maybe its because there is just a general lack of interest in "training" a
newbie. I don't know. I've interviewed at 2 of NY's more reputable agencies,
mostly through the help of connections, only to be told that I'm a real good
kid (personable), my (meager) portfolio (of 90% homework) is impressive as
far as understanding the tools and procedures, but that I could use a few
months of grooming in an agency setting. Now if the people I've talked with
are being honest, it seems to come down to that problem of needing
experience without anyone being willing to give me the opportunity to earn
some.

The fact that I've been interviewed and rejected, despite not having any
legitimate agency experience leads me to believe that I: (A) Was pitied, (B)
Totally blew it on the interview, or (C) Was overwhelming in my lack of
experience. I'd like to chalk it up to (C), and if thats the case, I can't
help but wonder what the interviewers were expecting to see from me. A few
members have mentioned that they are taxed with the job of reading resumes
and interviewing applicants - is there anything in particular you look for
when you see a potential junior IA/ID/UxD? Should we all have some sort of
crucial skill on lock? Is there something that NEEDS to be in our sparsely
populated portfolio? Or is it really just about being you, having a handle
on the standard toolset, and knowing the design process? I can talk for a
pretty long time about the one, EXTREMELY simple website I freelanced over
the summer. Obtaining requirements from interviewing the owner, getting a
feel for who the primary users of the site were, wireframing to establish
design concept, etc., but again, the site is epicly simple, and I'm still
left with no agency experience.

While this post has been very me-centric, I feel like almost all of the
things the community will come up with could be extremely useful for other
recent graduates. I know some of my friends are interested in interaction
design, and I have got to assume that there will be a ton of other bachelor
degree-waving alumni rabid for work in the coming months. Any tips that the
community could offer on portfolio work, interview strategies, networking
opportunities, or just about anything else would be extremely useful not
only to me, but to the handful of hopeful job-seekers that stumble upon this
thread.

Oh, and if you'd like to take a gander at what I've got to work with, the
URL for my pseudo-resume/portfolio is http://eden.rutgers.edu/~jjbarb .
Can't wait to hear what you've all got to say!

Comments

30 Oct 2007 - 4:57pm
Jennifer Berk
2007

On 10/30/07, Jason Barbarich <myacademy at gmail.com> wrote:
> members have mentioned that they are taxed with the job of reading resumes
> and interviewing applicants - is there anything in particular you look for
> when you see a potential junior IA/ID/UxD? Should we all have some sort of
> crucial skill on lock? Is there something that NEEDS to be in our sparsely
> populated portfolio? Or is it really just about being you, having a handle
> on the standard toolset, and knowing the design process? I can talk for a
> pretty long time about the one, EXTREMELY simple website I freelanced over
> the summer. Obtaining requirements from interviewing the owner, getting a
> feel for who the primary users of the site were, wireframing to establish
> design concept, etc., but again, the site is epicly simple, and I'm still
> left with no agency experience.

You might find useful a session on IA resumes (and portfolios) that
was run by the DC area UX community. Summary at
http://olgahow.com/?p=98 , audio and more useful links at
http://livlab.com/thinkia/2007/04/audio-from-ia-roundup/ . Looking
quickly at your portfolio, the language used is very informal and
there isn't much discussion of the thought process that led to the
diagram. Showing the value you brought to each portfolio project
would let your interviewer more easily imagine what value you'd bring
to theirs.

Jennifer Berk

30 Oct 2007 - 5:28pm
Steven Pautz
2006

I'm also trying to "break into" the field. I've haven't been searching
nearly as long, but I'm having some similar experiences.

For my portfolio, I left out nearly everything I did as coursework, except
for one "ooh, shiny" project, but the remainder of my work was either
school-contexted (extracurricular stuff, but not commercial) or was for
smaller projects/teams that didn't need and couldn't justify formal (ie,
non-whiteboard) wireframes or other artifacts/communicables. So far, it
seems as though those things haven't helped my "interest or ambition in the
field" score, though. (Although they don't count as "same type of work I'm
aspiring to get", either.)

I'm working on a very large personal project to demonstrate (and practice)
process and artifacts and such. Would it be preferable to de-emphasize
several minor and tangentially-related items in order to promote one huge,
unfinished, very relevant project? Or is it more likely that I'm just not
presenting the less-relevant work effectively or appropriately? ;-)

I'm also coming from a more development-oriented background, which doesn't
seem to resonate with many people. (Anybody want
IA/IxD/UX/PHP/SQL/C++/OpenGL/OMGWTFBBQ?) In a few cases, it seemed as though
mentioning development experience actually hurt me more than it helped --
which makes sense given the number of developers who don't seem to discern
between solution and implementation. I'm steadfast in my belief that
technical knowledge can add value to design (when applied appropriately,
just like any other discipline or tool,) so I don't want to just omit it
from my resume/portfolio, but it seems as though some employers/people
almost consider it a negative.... Has anybody else experienced this?

---------------------------
Steven Pautz
seeking junior- to mid-level IxD/IA/UX/UCD work
http://stevenpautz.com/portfolio/

30 Oct 2007 - 5:49pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Oct 30, 2007, at 10:53 AM, Jason Barbarich wrote:

> is there anything in particular you look for
> when you see a potential junior IA/ID/UxD? Should we all have some
> sort of
> crucial skill on lock? Is there something that NEEDS to be in our
> sparsely
> populated portfolio? Or is it really just about being you, having a
> handle
> on the standard toolset, and knowing the design process?

I've interviewed a few "junior designers" (although I hate that term)
over the last year and here is what I'm looking for: raw talent. It's
as simple (and as difficult) as that. I bet other people who are
hiring are looking for the same thing too.

Sure, you need to have enthusiasm, smarts, and be able to talk about
your work. You need to be a personality fit for our company. You need
to have the temperament of a designer. You need to have some
experience (school or professional). You need to have something
interesting about you. You need to be well groomed. :)

But all of this is baseline. Hygiene, as it's called in product
design: what people just expect to be there. What I'm really looking
for in your portfolio is raw talent. This might be skills I don't
have, or an idea I never would have thought of. A side project that
is really interesting, or a new take on some existing product I
haven't seen elsewhere.

What it comes down to is this: I want to hire people more talented
than me, with better ideas than I have. The other stuff, bah, you can
learn those skills. If you are halfway smart I can teach you to do
decent documentation or how to write sales proposals or the myriad of
other aptitudes that come with experience. I don't care if you can
make a great wireframe as much as I care you had a great idea. Your
portfolio has to say: I am a person with good ideas and skills you
can use. I'd rather you present one mind-blowing project than two
mediocre ones. Ok, TWO mind-blowing projects (to make sure the first
isn't a fluke). :)

I might be idiosyncratic here, but maybe not. Anyway, I doubt this is
helpful ("How do I show I'm a genius?!"), but my advice is simply to
show where you shine. Demonstrate your thinking and your methods.
Talk about choices you DIDN'T take, and why. Make me think I'd be a
fool not to hire you. Because if you do, I (or someone like me)
probably will.

Dan

Dan Saffer
Experience Design Director, Adaptive Path
http://www.adaptivepath.com
http://www.odannyboy.com

30 Oct 2007 - 6:33pm
.pauric
2006

Dan: "Your portfolio has to say: I am a person with good ideas and
skills you can use."

Jason, have you thought about complimenting your portfolio with a
blog? Something that's going to demonstrate the kind of thinking
that Dan refers to.

Also, take my advice with a pinch of salt as I've worked at the same
place for the last 11 years but to your points
1)"I'm not going to learn anything about my craft if I'm not
working with people who know more than me."

Not strictly true. I work alone and am the Principal Architect for
user interfaces at a large(ish) multinational, 6000 peeps. I would
prefer to have a mentor, I'd certainly be better for it, but, its
not a requirement imho. You've got Dan Saffer on the line giving
you advice if you hadnt noticed! Leverage the cloud.

2)"I am prepared to make coffee, photocopy, and be a gopher, all for
a meager paycheck"

I met with David Malouf last week and he said something that's stuck
in my mind. If I've understood what he said correctly.. then knowing
your worth is important. If you let yourself be treated as you
describe then I fear you'll be abused. There's a balance but I
wouldnt set yourself up as someone who's seen as desperate.

I believe Dan Saffer has said in the past that you shouldnt 'work
for free' to fill out your portfolio (correct me) and I disagree
with that to an extent. I'd encourage you to look at some of the
more interesting OSS projects in places like Sourceforge and cut your
teeth there. Its a great way to balance your experience even when you
do have a job.

3) "I want to be part of an agency that really legitimately cares
about the design process. If this precondition isn't met, then there
is no good reason to sign up."

True, as long as you understand the real reason a business cares
about any particular process is its ability to make money. Following
the right principles is more important than simply being principled.

Best of luck - pauric

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://gamma.ixda.org/discuss?post=21947

30 Oct 2007 - 6:58pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Oct 30, 2007, at 4:33 PM, pauric wrote:

> You've got Dan Saffer on the line giving
> you advice if you hadnt noticed!

My advice + $1.50 will buy you a cup of coffee. :)

>
> I believe Dan Saffer has said in the past that you shouldnt 'work
> for free' to fill out your portfolio (correct me) and I disagree
> with that to an extent.

Only if you can't find paying work, and I think there is a bunch out
there right now.

And I always encourage side projects/blogs/etc.

Dan

30 Oct 2007 - 7:44pm
dmitryn
2004

Steven,

A development background is not by itself a hindrance to entering the
field (many people on this list, myself included, come from one).
However, depending on the kind of position you are applying for, it
may be more or less relevant. In an agency environment, where
ideas/concepts are usually more important than driving a design to
successful execution, a development background may be seen as limiting
your creativity. In a product development environment (especially in a
smaller company or one practicing agile development), it could be
invaluable.

I would also suggest focusing your portfolio on the practical design
aspects of projects you've worked on rather than their academic
motivation or presentations you've given on them. Do this on the first
page - never assume that a potential employer has the time to look at
your portfolio in depth. As Dan so succinctly states it, "Your
portfolio has to say: I am a person with good ideas and skills you can
use."

Best of luck,

Dmitry

On 10/30/07, Steven Pautz <spautz at gmail.com> wrote:
> I'm also trying to "break into" the field. I've haven't been searching
> nearly as long, but I'm having some similar experiences.
>
> For my portfolio, I left out nearly everything I did as coursework, except
> for one "ooh, shiny" project, but the remainder of my work was either
> school-contexted (extracurricular stuff, but not commercial) or was for
> smaller projects/teams that didn't need and couldn't justify formal (ie,
> non-whiteboard) wireframes or other artifacts/communicables. So far, it
> seems as though those things haven't helped my "interest or ambition in the
> field" score, though. (Although they don't count as "same type of work I'm
> aspiring to get", either.)
>
> I'm working on a very large personal project to demonstrate (and practice)
> process and artifacts and such. Would it be preferable to de-emphasize
> several minor and tangentially-related items in order to promote one huge,
> unfinished, very relevant project? Or is it more likely that I'm just not
> presenting the less-relevant work effectively or appropriately? ;-)
>
> I'm also coming from a more development-oriented background, which doesn't
> seem to resonate with many people. (Anybody want
> IA/IxD/UX/PHP/SQL/C++/OpenGL/OMGWTFBBQ?) In a few cases, it seemed as though
> mentioning development experience actually hurt me more than it helped --
> which makes sense given the number of developers who don't seem to discern
> between solution and implementation. I'm steadfast in my belief that
> technical knowledge can add value to design (when applied appropriately,
> just like any other discipline or tool,) so I don't want to just omit it
> from my resume/portfolio, but it seems as though some employers/people
> almost consider it a negative.... Has anybody else experienced this?
>
> ---------------------------
> Steven Pautz
> seeking junior- to mid-level IxD/IA/UX/UCD work
> http://stevenpautz.com/portfolio/
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
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31 Oct 2007 - 2:44am
Morten Hjerde
2007

>
> My advice + $1.50 will buy you a cup of coffee. :)
>

You got some cheap coffee over there :-)

This has been thoroughly researched: It takes about 10.000 hours to be
really world-class excellent at something. That holds true for pretty much
anything you do, be it sports, writing, macrame, robot racing, chess
playing, whatever. Talent in itself mainly enables you to hold out for all
those hours. I you don't have talent, you will most likely give up early.

You have to make sure you get to develop your skills doing relevant work.
Manning the photocopier while waiting for someone to discover your "true
worth" won't get you there. The big paychecks will come later.

--
Morten Hjerde
http://sender11.typepad.com

31 Oct 2007 - 7:54am
bminihan
2007

I have a similar background, and can speak a little to the reaction you get
when mentioning a development background to prospective employers (for
usability). I think it's okay to have development in your background, but
what folks hiring for usability need to know is that you're going to be
focused and happy doing usability, and aren't going to miss the development
work.

In fact, I struggled a bit with this in my last search (just landed a job at
a new company 2 weeks ago), and after a half-dozen interviews, discovered
that I really DO like the hands-on design work, and wouldn't be happy doing
pure-usability research. That's the funny thing about job interviews - you
often learn a lot about yourself even from interviews where you didn't get
the job. Never pass up an opportunity to ask someone why they didn't hire
you. Most will just politely say they have other candidates, but a few will
actually teach you something about yourself. I took a job as CTO of a
'dotcom' startup, so I get to do everything, which is exactly what I wanted
=]. Hopefully, the pure-usability positions I interviewed for were filled
with folks who wanted to do exactly that, and are ecstatic to be doing so...

Bryan
http://www.bryanminihan.com

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Steven
Pautz
Sent: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 6:29 PM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Tips on "breaking into" IA/ID/UxD industry for
recent graduates?

I'm also coming from a more development-oriented background, which doesn't
seem to resonate with many people. (Anybody want
IA/IxD/UX/PHP/SQL/C++/OpenGL/OMGWTFBBQ?) In a few cases, it seemed as though
mentioning development experience actually hurt me more than it helped --
which makes sense given the number of developers who don't seem to discern
between solution and implementation. I'm steadfast in my belief that
technical knowledge can add value to design (when applied appropriately,
just like any other discipline or tool,) so I don't want to just omit it
from my resume/portfolio, but it seems as though some employers/people
almost consider it a negative.... Has anybody else experienced this?

---------------------------
Steven Pautz
seeking junior- to mid-level IxD/IA/UX/UCD work
http://stevenpautz.com/portfolio/

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