How to get a job in usability

As I write, it’s the height of summer here in the UK. The solstice has brought long, perfect days and a new crop of recent graduates, judging by the ‘can I have a job’ emails that I’m starting to get. A while ago, I wrote about “How not to get a job in usability” but today I’m feeling mellow and I thought I’d put in a few tips that were more positive.

Create a master CV then edit it

To revisit my old piece: the doomed approach is to write a generic CV and then blast it out to a massive mailing list. This announces to the whole list: I’m not really interested in your particular organisation. No good.

You do need a CV, sure, but you have to craft it for every single job that you apply for. Your master CV contains everything, right down to the tiniest qualification, the most trivial interests and the shortest bits of work experience. You carefully check that everything in it is meticulously accurate. You never, ever send the master CV to anyone.

The actual CV that you send for a job is then culled from the master CV. Ruthlessly remove everything that is irrelevant to the particular job you are applying for. Go back over the CV and insert extremely short sentences that cover any resulting gaps. Keep a copy so that you know exactly what you sent to that particular job.

Why do this? It’s common courtesy. Why should the busy person who is going to read your CV have to grind through it picking out the parts that are relevant to the job? Earn some brownie points by doing it yourself.

Tidy up your web presence

Sean Pook, a recruiter, wrote about the value of a portfolio in his recent piece “How to find your dream UX job”. If you’ve been mostly working on proprietary or confidential material, then this could be a bit of a challenge. But let’s face it, if someone is seriously thinking of giving you a job then the first thing they will do is Google you. So try it – and then check that you’re presenting yourself appropriately. Maybe you need to have a personal website or blog that gives the right image.

Use your contacts

Somewhere I picked up the tip that you don’t write and ask people for a job. Instead, you ask them if they know anyone else who might have a job. If it happens that they have a job to fill themselves, they’ll say so. Chances are they won’t – but they’ll suggest someone else that you can contact. Gratefully say ‘thanks’, ask if you can quote your initial contact when following up, and then make sure that you do follow up. Finally, for maximum brownie points, write back to the original contact and report on what happened next.

If you’re very lucky, your original contact will get interested in the challenge of helping you to find a job and will keep feeding you new ideas.

Get some contacts

Don’t have any contacts? Of course you do, if you think about it. Depending on your age, get in touch with your parents’ friends, your siblings’ friends, or your children’s friends. If you’ve ever worked with or for anyone before, get back in touch. Go to professional meetings such as UXPA. Write to people whose work you admire for some reason. Remember that you’re not asking for a job – just if they know anyone else that you could ask. And, as with the CV, make sure that each time you write a personal message that is tailored for that particular contact.


If you’re between jobs, or you know that you’re about to have the axe fall on you at a current job, then another way to build your CV, contacts and portfolio is to do some volunteering. If you have web skills or can write, then your professional organisations or groups aligned with your interests are likely to be thrilled to have you do some work for them. Treat the volunteer opportunity like a real job: commit a specific number of hours to it, have a plan to deliver something, and then make sure that you do indeed deliver.

Be flexible

Flexibility is one of the keys to landing the job you want. picture credit: (licensed under creative commons)
Flexibility is one of the keys to landing the job you want.

As Sean Pook mentioned in his article, there are jobs out there – but there are also a lot of people competing for them. The wider that you can cast your net, the more chances you have of catching something. One friend of mine, a fairly recent graduate, wanted to join a specific nationally-recognised organisation. She had to grind away at truly boring temp jobs for them for three years before finally working her way around to the permanent position that she craved – so her flexibility was in what she was prepared to do. Another friend, made redundant, did painting and gardening to fill in some empty days while he waited for his freelance business to take off. Then he discovered that he loved painting and gardening – so that has become his full-time job. Try to be as flexible as possible in the type of work you’ll consider, the pay, the location, the length of time you’ll work for. Everything, really.

Believe in yourself

When you’re looking for work, it’s easy to get discouraged. You’ll find that many emails don’t get any answers, many applications go unacknowledged, contacts say they’ll do something but then forget or get distracted. That’s not because you’re a bad person, a failure, or doomed never to get a job. It’s just what happens. Another friend was looking for a job during one of the previous recessions. He had a year of complete discouragement, and then finally three great job offers appeared in the same week. Hang in there, keep positive (somehow) and eventually you’ll get the job you want.

This article first appeared in ‘Caroline’s Corner’, in the June 2009 edition of Usability News.You may also be interested in the earlier post: ‘How not to get a job in usability’.

Picture: Dollen, creative commons