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things you need to get an IA/UX job

I’ve been working with a few new IAs recently, all hoping to get their first jobs.

Some common themes have come out of those conversations about things they need to learn or prepare, in order to get that job.

1. A portfolio, showing a range of UX activities

Mostly people know they need to do this. And even more frequently they are concerned that they don’t have enough material or enough worthy material.

Often you’ll be asked to bring a portfolio to interview. It’s worth bringing even if not asked as you may need to illustrate your answers to questions.

Make sure the portfolio covers a full range of UX activities. Even if you haven’t got professional experience doing user interviews, producing wireframes and running usability tests, you need to find a way to get something in your portfolio to demonstrate what you know. That might be academic projects, volunteering/work experience, or stuff you’ve done purely for your own development. These *may* not be rated as highly as professional experience but they are far far better than having nothing to show.

(don’t be afraid to re-do documentation as you learn more)

2. Ability to do test UX exercises

Increasingly employers will set you an IA/UX activity to complete either before the interview or on the day. Typically you’ll get a brief describing the problem and you’ll need to describe the steps/methods you’d use, propose at least a partial solution and maybe some documentation.

So you need to understand the methodology and what tools are used when and why. Don’t over agonise about the solution you propose – just make sure you show your thinking and where you’ve had to make assumptions. Also don’t over-do the detail of the documentation – if you’ve already got high fidelity wireframes in your portfolio then it may be just as effective to do sketches and very rough documentation for this “think-piece”.

3. Experience with the software

Entry level IA/UX jobs often involve taking on a lot of the effort of producing the documentation from your senior colleagues. Often what is needed at the junior level is not about what makes a successful experienced IA. Whilst employers are looking for evidence of creative UX thinking and the potential to become one of their superstars, they also want someone who can contribute in some way whilst learning and developing.

Many junior roles will inherit a set of complex wireframes in the organisation’s preferred software (Visio, Axure, Omnigraffle, Illustrator and so on) and so the preference is for someone who can hit the ground running.

The software isn’t cheap, so can be difficult to skill up in if you don’t already have access to it. Trial versions are available for some and it’s worthwhile getting these and spending some concentrated time learning how to use them and producing some deliverables.

It’s also worth finding out about the strengths and weaknesses of each package for producing UX documentation. You might get asked.

4. Knowledge of the basic design patterns

In the UX field the stated emphasis is on user research and new creative designs. In reality a lot of designs are primarily composed of reasonably standard design patterns.

You need to know these. You need to know the ordinary but basically effective patterns for navigation, search, article pages, video and so on. Norms are probably more established in web publishing and e-commerce than social media and mobile design.

You might have a great and innovative idea for doing things differently. But you need to show you understand where you are innovating from (at least in most conventional recruitment scenarios).

So explore published pattern libraries, create your own for your organisation, or just collect your favourites.

Written by Karen

November 18th, 2010 at 11:09 am

Posted in junior ia