During a heated discussion on the difference between an Information Architect (IA) and an Interaction Designer (IxD), I suggested that what we do is more important than what we call ourselves. The response was that a label is an alias that carries a set of meanings. Yes, but what happens when there are two aliases that are very closely aligned? We can choose the alias we feel fits us best, but what do employers think?
As the User Experience Network (UXnet) local ambassador for the D.C. Metro area, one of my responsibilities is supporting local UX-related groups. Austin Govella, an IA colleague, thought UXnet should help get some answers to the question of what matters to employers, so we began to work on an event to gather professionals and employers to help us figure this out.
The ensuing event, titled IA Round-up, was a discussion panel and workshop where IAs, IxDs, usability professionals, and their employers came together to discuss what employers care about and what the perfect resume should look like.
The panel included three individuals representing three different types of employers: the agency, the corporation, and the small business. On the agency side, Dan Brown, principal of EightShapes, gave us a clear understanding of the agency perspective. On the corporate side, Livia Labate, senior manager of information architecture and usability at Comcast, outlined the best strategy to get a job with a large corporation. On the small business side, Michele Marut, human factors specialist at Respironics, Inc., described what she looks for. And I, Olga Howard, MC’d the event.
At the IA Round-up we found two reasons why employees and their potential employers may not find the right match:
- The terms used by professionals and employers sometimes mean different things.
- Resumes and portfolios may not sufficiently explain the work involved, or there may not be enough samples of work–wireframes, taxonomies, etc.
What Employers Care About
Employers have very specific needs and won’t spend much time trying to figure out the difference between an IA and an IxD. They just want their position filled. So while IAs and IxDs are having heated debates, employers pay attention to our resumes – that’s where semantics matter. The following key areas show how we can improve our resumes.
Paint a picture with your documentation:
Accurately describing documentation is difficult, if not impossible. It’s simpler just to show the documents themselves–they tell the story of where we started, where we ended, and how we got there. Unfortunately, we live in a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) world that usually prevents us from showing our documentation. Regardless, according to our panelists, they’d rather see a highly censored document than no document at all.
Include only what employers ask for:
This is a tricky one. Most resumes tend to include what employers ask for, but some of us add other qualifications because we’re concerned the employer won’t see the breadth of our experience.
Present a sense of purpose:
This is the number one issue we heard from our panelists. When we put everything on the resume, the perspective on what’s important is lost.
Include a job history:
Every employer wants to know what jobs we’ve had, what we’ve accomplished, and how we accomplished it. Employers are also looking for employment gaps: if there are any, say why.
Be truthful and promote yourself:
A truthful resume is not the same thing as a factual resume. When we are part of a team we should say which areas of the project we were responsible for.
Create a straightforward resume:
Personality should not be part of the resume. Instead, focus on factual information. If our experience describes the kind of skills and knowledge the employer is looking for, they will want to see examples of our work—our portfolios.
Have a portfolio online:
Although we are bound by NDA rules, we can censor as much as necessary. As our panelists said, they’d rather see a highly censored document than no document at all.
Formalize your UX portfolio:
Lack of formality in presenting a portfolio is like a photographer showing you her photographs in a pile rather than neatly stored, each in a plastic sheet, ready for easy viewing.
What employers are looking for in portfolios is HOW we like to do our work. This is really where your personality shows.
- Are you attentive to detail?
- Do you communicate clearly?
- Do you spend time only on the important aspects of the job?
Unfortunately, the portfolio is where most of us lack clarity. In your portfolio, you should include scans of sketches, drawings, and anything else you use to do your job.
Some people include odes to their heroes, and that’s ok in the portfolio. It speaks to their work and values.
UX is so new that universities have just begun to offer degree programs. Although many of us actually started in another line of work, there are established communities of practice that new UX professionals should turn to, get involved in, and learn from.
A number of skills from other fields transfer to IA, but the only clear way to understand what these skills are is to read about IA, IxD, and usability and start volunteering to do projects. The IA Institute offers a mentorship program, and UXnet is always looking for volunteers.
Once you begin working in the field, you’ll know what strengths you can present to employers. Being new sometimes makes it difficult to have an opinion about the UX conversation going on, but you have a unique perspective and that’s what matters, so have an opinion.
The question of age:
What a nervous experience it must be to be older than your UX peers and compete for the same job. If you are this person, you have years of experience behind you. You have strengths younger UXers probably don’t have, so pay close attention to the job description and play to your strengths. One example is the person who has been a manager for many years. This person can play to their managerial strengths and speak to supporting the UX team in UX work. Employers are usually willing to build roles around your strengths.
One issue raised is that some older people are set in their ways. That is to say, set in the ways and processes that were in place during their tenure. These days, things change so fast that it’s hard to keep up with new thoughts and ideas, so older folks looking to work in UX need to be extremely flexible and adaptable to different processes and cultures.
Two questions you can ask yourself before moving to UX are:
- Why are you interested?
- Given that culture is a large aspect of work, will you add to the culture?
How much are you worth?
Find out how much other UX professionals are getting paid. This will give you a good idea of what salary you should ask for. The IA Institute Salary Survey and the Aquent Survey of Design Salaries will be helpful.
How can you get help with your resume?
If you need more help, the IA Institute’s mentoring program is a good place to start. Even if you don’t find a mentor in your area, you’ll find very friendly IAI members who will help you out. You can also contact your UXnet Local Ambassador and host your own IA Round-up. This will help give you context as to what local UX employers are looking for.
For formatting direction also try using Livia’s resume template below.
123 Name St, City, ST
(000) 000-0000 | firstname.lastname@example.org | http://firstlast.com/portfolio
High-Level Summary/Goals as an IA: where you see yourself as an IA, what you like to do
Month YY to Month YY: My Title, Company Name, Location
- Two or three sentences describing responsibilities go here.
- Your favorite, proudest accomplishment goes here
- Your second greatest accomplishment goes here
- Your third relevant accomplishment goes here
(Repeat for as many relevant jobs as you want to show.)
Degree Title, YYY, Institution Degree Title, YYY, Institution
You can find Livia’s direction and template at Livlab.com.