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How to Secure your First UX role – Q&A Session with Julie Kennedy, Daily Mail Group

As a Specialist UX Recruiter at Zebra People, I am regularly asked by graduates and entry-level candidates how to get their first UX Designer position with no prior industry experience.

 As with many different industries, the problem is finding a Junior UX role that doesn’t require 1 – 2 years experience in a similar role.

Julie Kennedy, Head of UX at Daily Mail Group, and I were chatting at a Ladies That UX event. We were discussing this very issue, so I asked if she had any advice. Julie has mentored and managed many Junior level candidates and she has helped them develop into talented Senior/Lead level UX designers.

Here she shares her tips and some stories of her own career development.

How did you get your first UX Designer role?

When I started out the title UX designer didn’t exist – Web Designer was only just becoming a job title. I was working as a Graphic Designer at Yellow Pages when they launched Yell.com with an external agency and they wanted to bring it in house. I was fortunate to get one of the tw designer roles and get trained up as a web designer.

At Daily Mail, what do you look for when hiring interns / graduates with no prior experience?

A neatly laid out CV and good portfolio are key to getting you noticed. At the interview I want to hear how they’re passionate about design and have put some time into researching the company and it’s products.

What tips would you give someone looking to find their first Junior UX role?

Be prepared to ask to volunteer in an organisation or agency. Getting experience will add to your CV and show how keen you are.

We often hear that a portfolio is a requirement when applying, but without industry experience this can be tricky to fill. Do you recommend that candidates carry out their own research / UX projects to add to a portfolio?

Yes, that’s a good idea, I’ve seen some graduates redesign a well-known interface and do some guerrilla research on it to add to their portfolio. It will demonstrate to the interviewer your ability to reinterpret a product, showcase skills and prove that you can work under your own initiative.

I understand that you hired Jason Mesut as a Junior UX Designer and he has gone on to be an influential UX designer in the industry. What were the key skills that Jason had from an early stage that helped your decision to hire him?

Yes that’s right, I hired Jason on the first design internship we had in my team at Yell many years ago. I remember he came to the interview with a sheet of button designs he’d put together in fireworks, they were rough but demonstrated how keen he was. When we started chatting Jason’s hunger to learn came over and he could talk well about the Industrial Design degree he was studying at Brunel. I knew this guy was going to go on to do great stuff and he has.

From an agency recruiter perspective, it seems like there are more graduates than there are graduate UX roles in London at the moment. Do you think that there should be more resources put into hiring these Junior UX Designers and helping to develop the next generation of Lead and Head of level UX Designers?

You’re right, there are more grads than junior roles. I’d encourage all Heads of UX teams to always have a graduate or Internship role in their team. My experience of bringing grads in has always been a positive one as they bring fresh ideas and know the latest developments in tech that they can teach you and your team about.

Can you recommend any events that you’ve attended for graduates and Juniors to go to network and learn?

I’d highly recommend the UXPA events, Ladies that UX (for female UXERS), Soda Socials and Glug as free or low budget events to go and start networking in. Keep your eye out for free events that some companies run too.

Are there any books that you would recommend?

It’s hard to write a shortlist as there’s so many good books.

A few essentials are:

  1. Don’t make me think – Steve Krug
  2. The Elements of User Experience – Jesse James Garret
  3. Mapping Experiences – James Kalbach
  4. Mobile Interaction Design – Matt Jones and Gary Marsden
  5. Lean UX – Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden

As someone who has been really successful progressing into a Head of UX position at Betfair and now the Daily Mail Group, what skills do you think are most important to succeed in this industry?

  1. Communication – Good communication skills are key, this means keeping your team informed and your stakeholders.
  2. Opportunistic – Always be looking for the next opportunity and be willing to try new things, for example if you get offered the chance to present at a meeting go for it.
  3. Adaptable – Having worked across a range of industries ranging from ecommerce to gaming and currently media, I’ve gained insights into these businesses that are all transferable to your next role. Emphasise how these insights can add value to that new role.
  4. Resilient – At a senior level you need to have a thick skin and be prepared to take a few knocks and bounce back.

A massive thank you to Julie (Twitter & LinkedIn) for sharing her own insight into how she got her first role and tips for the next generation of UX Designers.

Are you a UX hiring manager that can offer someone an internship in your team? I’d love to hear from you and put you in touch with some aspiring UX Designers keen to get started in this competitive industry.

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