I used to work in the non-profit sector. When I started thinking about switching careers, I was truly clueless about what a job in the digital or tech space might look like. I had spent almost seven years becoming familiar with the inner workings of charity organisations and the language of fundraising, and to move into something entirely new felt daunting. My fascination with how my colleagues used internal systems led me to a sideways move into a role called ‘Digital and User Success.’ But I wasn’t sure how to transfer these skills into a new sector.
I began with a visual exercise. I mapped out the elements of my current and former roles which had brought me joy. I also researched common job roles in digital and tech. Where the overlap became clear was in User Experience Design. This was my first time hearing the term and, as far as I knew, I had never met anyone that had worked in this discipline. Internet searches overwhelmed me with information, so I made a plan on where to start.
I started by mentioning UX at every chance: parties, work drinks and other social events. It was amazing how many people had partners, friends (or friends of friends) who worked in UX. From there, I arranged some chats with some brilliant and passionate UX folk who were generous enough to spend time sharing their experience with me. I tried to enter these conversations with specific questions about tangible aspects of their careers. I heard amazing real-life examples of problem-solving, how best to prepare a portfolio for interviews and the skills needed to enter the field.
I decided to embark on an immersive three-month course in UX design to kick off my career change. I acknowledge that this route is not right for everyone. But for me, it reinforced the confidence that I had the skills, tools and attitude to start a search for that first job in UX.
If you work in an industry that already embeds user-experience practices, you might instead have the opportunity to shadow someone who works in UX Research, UX Design or Product Design.
The number one way to get to know a new industry is *deep breath* networking. But don’t despair! Not every networking opportunity involves mingling with a large group of people you don’t know, doing elevator pitch after elevator pitch. Putting yourself out there can take many forms.
Slack is your new best friend. Joining Slack communities was ultimately how I secured my first role, and how I continue to meet new friends and contacts working in user-centred roles. Search for local Slack communities that represent you, your background or your field of interest.
Don’t be shy about introducing yourself in these groups. It's typically encouraged and this is your chance to make people aware of your job search. Write a brief but meaningful paragraph on your previous experience, what makes you tick, and a link to your portfolio or blog (if you have one). This might just be enough to grab the attention of someone who is looking for a candidate like you.
Slack groups often provide an opportunity to attend meet-ups, skill share and attend free talks in your area. Aside from excellent job-hunting opportunities, these events can provide those lightbulb learning moments that you’ve been looking for. I’ve found that every meetup I attend demystifies the industry a little further.
Joining the dots
As I gained more experience in UX, it became clear that there is no big secret when it comes to the skills you need to get started. Yes, there are interfaces, tools, methodologies, and platforms that you need to become familiar with. But many skills you already have are transferable. Does problem-solving fill you with glee? Have you felt driven to improve processes for colleagues? Lamented the poor usability of a new finance system? If so, you may already have the mindset needed to become a ‘UX-er’.
You are bringing a wealth of experience with you from your previous career. For example, you may find yourself working alongside clients in a field you are familiar with. Speaking the language of their sector can build trust and encourage collaboration. Regardless of sector, you may be able to draw on the empathy and familiarity that comes from working within a similar set of conditions or constraints that they are faced with. What I’ve learnt within my first UX role is that I am not starting from scratch. Every skill I bring with me adds value when creating solutions that improve user experiences.
Start your journey
If you’re looking for a new role then take a little look at our UX London jobs board. We created it to help the UX London community form the connections needed to enable the right people to find the right roles.