man with briefcase and newspaper, leaning on a wall waiting
PHOTO: Adeolu Eletu

The speed at which trade schools can graduate someone with a certificate has placed thousands of people on the job market in record time. There are so many people looking for jobs, yet the bar got raised when nobody was looking. Your first job now has the expectations of a second job. It seems like a paradox. Job descriptions for junior and entry-level CX and UX jobs expect a year of experience, perhaps more. What happened?

Companies Don’t Know How to Assess CX or UX Talent or Skills

If you had to hire someone in an area you were unfamiliar with, you’d likely have no idea how to gauge if that person has any talent, is any good at their job, has learned or built the required skills, or uses the right processes or approaches. You could look at their portfolio of work or case studies, but you still might not understand what was done well or poorly, or what was skipped or skimped on.

You might try to go by education: hire the person who completed a university-level degree or got a certificate from a vocational school. You’d assume that like plumbing school, the person who graduates with a degree or certificate has been well-trained, has had some practice, and is ready to do a real job well.

However, hiring managers have started noticing that most UX educational programs are not preparing people to perform a junior-level job, even though every school promises job-readiness. Some students are graduating with little education in foundational principles, few or no work reviews (leaving them to guess how UX work is done correctly), and at times having never been the lone CX or UX practitioner on a project (but will be expected to the only UX practitioner on a cross-functional team at a real job). Many of them wouldn’t be able to give a solid definition of agile software development, yet workplaces expect them to be ready to join an agile environment.

If we can’t necessarily go by education, and nobody at the company knows how to assess a CX or UX portfolio, the easiest solution is to refuse to be someone’s first job. You’d read the resume or CV, hope to be impressed by what this person has already done in one or more real jobs, and trust or hope that they can execute UX strategy and tasks well in your work environment.

Related Article: The Dirty Little Secret About UX Master's Degrees

Apprenticeship and Mentoring Is a Rarity

UX program grads are often told to find a job that will let them apprentice, continue their training, or give them mentoring, but those jobs are extremely rare. Very few companies have set up programs for apprenticeship. Some companies’ internship programs give interns a project but very little oversight or work reviews, sometimes allowing them to build something that is highly flawed or would never work.

That’s not helping people level up. Apprenticeship isn’t, “Try this project with nobody to guide you.” Candidates expecting mentoring or training should ask potential jobs extra questions about their environment. Will you receive work reviews from mentors? Will your projects be supervised and will you receive detailed and constructive feedback?

Most companies do not want to be Trade School Part Two. They do not want to pay you to learn what they expect you to have already learned and practiced. They are hiring you so that you hit the ground running and get work done. They expect you to already be trained, especially if you received a degree or certificate.

Related Article: A Foundation in Customer Experience Should Start in College

This Changes When UX Education Improves

As long as most of the current trade schools, bootcamps and sadly, some degree programs, fail to prepare people to work in CX or UX, companies will likely continue creating a job gate that doesn’t open without previous, real work experience. When educational programs raise their quality and approach, grads will be truly ready to do an entry-level job. Hopefully job descriptions and hiring managers will also shift.