Over the last decade, there has been a significant rise in demand for user experience design roles, and with it, UX research (UXR). But despite this high demand, it’s been an arduous task to break into the user experience research industry – especially if you’re a recent graduate looking for entry-level roles or you’re transitioning from a different career path with an unrelated degree.
Why you should consider a UX research internship
As you’ve probably experienced firsthand, there is a catch-22 that frustrates aspiring UX researchers. Almost all job openings require you to have work experience, however, you can’t gain that work experience without a job – And round and round it goes.
Internships help you break that cycle.
They are a great way to gain much-needed work experience and decide if you want to continue on the career path or not. Plus you have the possibility of going through the intern-to-employee feeder funnel and landing a full-time position.
Nevertheless, with more people turning to the limited UX research internship opportunities, you will face some competition.
So how can you put yourself in the best possible position to get the role?
How to get a UX research internship role
In addition to sending in your application, there are some steps you need to take to maximize your chance:
1. Know what recruiters look for
Information is key. Knowing what recruiters look for in candidates will help you tailor your resume, portfolio, and other materials for better positioning.
Nikki Anderson, Founder of User Research Academy, advises:
“Look at 100 user research job postings and scour the responsibilities. I found the most common to be conducting research sessions, usability testing, note-taking, recruiting. Then I tried my best to make my previous experience sound as relevant as possible in this context…”.
She shares more of how she got into user research in her Medium article.
So go through LinkedIn, Indeed, and other job boards to get information on UX research job descriptions, as well as the skills required. It gives you a sense of the skills to highlight, the case studies to showcase, and gives you a better idea on how to arrange your work materials before applying.
2. Prepare your job materials
After finding out the requirements, it is time to put together your resume, research sample, and projects.
Resumes are necessary to give recruiters a glimpse into your educational background, coursework, experience, and related skills.
While it’s normal to feel there are not enough relevant experiences to include on your resume, there may be past projects or coursework you can adjust to highlight some keywords. These include your ability to collaborate with people, your leadership or public speaking skills, knowledge of UX Design or Project management, Data analysis or market research experience, and so on.
But don’t tell half-truths. Your resume may get you an interview, but your ability to defend it will determine if you advance to the next stage or not.
Since you need internships to help you build up your case studies, hence your portfolio, you can fill your current portfolio with school and personal projects. It communicates your familiarity with the processes, eagerness, and interest in the role.
Portfolios are great for showcasing your case studies and skills, but they should not be over-prioritized. Most UX researchers who got in through internships found their resumes to be just as important – if not more important than portfolios.
Savanthi Murthy, a UX researcher at FanDuel, reflects on her internship search:
“I’ve realized over the past few years that your resume is critical. It might be even more essential for research roles. I used to think the portfolio was more critical. It is — but usually only after you have landed an interview.”
- Cover letter
They are a great way of showing recruiters that you want to intern at their company, and that you’re not just putting your eggs in multiple baskets – even though you very well might be. Shhhh!🤫
There are opposing views to writing cover letters for internship applications. Some find them helpful, while others don’t see the point. But if you choose to write a cover letter, it could help you sell your skills directly to the company and show your passion.
- Research Sample
A research sample is a short document usually about one page in length to highlight the research aspect of any one of your case studies. You could break it down into a brief overview of the problem, the solution, the strategy implemented, execution, as well as other vital information. You can then include a link to its corresponding case study and attach the document under ‘Additional information’ when sending in your applications.
3. Reach out to other UX Researchers
John Donne’s famous quote “No man is an island…” is true in every aspect of life, even career-wise. Just as we can’t exist in isolation, we also can’t climb up any success ladder alone.
To increase your chances of getting an internship, reach out to your fellow UX researchers and other people in the UX industry. Join communities, attend meetups or workshops, and expand your network. You could learn valuable things from any of your interactions there, get professional advice, a referral, or even build lifelong friendships.
Here are some fantastic communities for UX Researchers and other UXers.
4. Apply early, Apply smartly
A quick keyword search reveals that ‘UX research internship’ is a highly searched seasonal phrase. Most aspiring UX research interns plan for Summer and Fall internships. So if you’re planning to get ahead of the crowd, begin early.
Stalk the websites of the companies you want to intern at, keep an eye out for openings, and apply immediately when they pop up. You could also reach out to their hiring managers and ask when such roles become available.
Don’t wait till your portfolio is ‘perfect.’ Perfection is a myth.
5. Prepare for interview questions
While different companies’ interview processes may vary in the number of stages, their questions don’t vary as much. Knowing what interview questions and challenges to expect can help you be well-prepared and give you an advantage.
You could face general interview questions like:
- Tell me about yourself and why you’re interested in UX research?
- What are your strengths as a UX researcher?
- Name the research methods are you familiar with, and which is your preferred method?
- What do you know about our company?
- Which past project did you find the most challenging and why?
You can also check out these UX research internship interview questions by Google and Facebook.
On the other hand, UX research challenges often involve working with hypothetical situations. The goal is to find out how you approach problems, your knowledge of research methods, and how your thought processes work.
Generally, the interviewers are aware you might not have actual work experience. So beyond your knowledge, your passion and a positive attitude go a long way in securing an offer.
6. Post-Interview follow up
After the interview, there could be a lull as you wait for their response. Don’t be afraid to follow up on your interviewers during this waiting period. It is helpful to remember they are employees as well, with deadlines that could keep them busy or cause them to forget for the time being.
Put your mind at ease. Send that email.
Building your UX Research Portfolio
Creating portfolios can be considered a necessary evil in any career field. You have to push through the frustrations to get it done.
So to make life a little bit easier, here are a few tips to keep in mind when building yours:
- Know who your audience is, and design your portfolio in a manner that highlights the information they need.
- Have at least 2 projects you can showcase. If possible, they should be different to show your range.
- Summarize your findings for easy scanning.
- Mention your mistakes, failures, and lessons learned.
- Let your personality show. Give your portfolio a personal touch.
- Lastly, check other experienced UX researchers’ portfolios like Jules Lee and Emily Alter’s for inspiration.
For more tips on building your portfolio, the Nielsen Norman Group, a leader in the user experience field, gives their top 10 recommendations for UX research portfolios.
UX research internship openings 2022
LinkedIn, Indeed, GlassDoor, Jooble and SimplyHired are some top sites to find the latest UX research internship opportunities.
Also, UX research communities, such as User Research Collective on Facebook are a good resource for finding hidden internship opportunities.
Never say never
Securing an internship or a job is hard. Most times, it may seem like you’re stuck in a cycle of rejections and all you want to do is give up. But rejection is a stepping stone to success, so maximize every one of them.
Get better at interviews, learn more related skills, embark on personal or volunteer projects, follow the latest industry trends and developments, blog about your journey, or make informative videos. You may be surprised to discover just how far these deliberate decisions would take you.
You might also want to add another UX skill to your portfolio – working with online UX research tools, such as UXtweak. We have a whole bunch of usability testing tools that researchers love and use! Get familiar with the methods, launch your first study and analyze the results. Register for your free UXtweak account and start testing today!