So you’ve done it. You pulled the trigger. You finally decided to take the leap into the booming field of user experience design. Whether you signed up for a bootcamp or are self taught, you have learned all the methods, skills and thought processes needed to complete the product design cycle.

But what will actually set you apart from all those other new designers trying to get their foot in the door? How will you convince potential employers that you have what it takes — even just to get an interview — especially if you are so fresh in the industry?

Here is a list of things you can start doing today that will help you build up your skills, network and voice, so that when the time comes, you will have a great foundation supporting you alongside your killer portfolio.

1. Tweet

If somehow you don’t already have a Twitter account, now is the time to create one. Twitter is a great place to share interesting articles, thoughts or opinions you have on design, UX and the tech world. It will show potential employers that you have a voice and that you are up to date on the latest trends and news.

It’s also the perfect place to start networking. Start by following some of the top thought leaders in the field. Then, follow other UX designers in your area. You will now have a feed full of relevant articles to read and retweet.

2. Dribbble

We all know that Dribbble is a great place to find drool worthy UI designs. But what about having a profile showcasing your own work? In order to start uploading shots (your designs), you’ll need to be drafted (get an invite). The easiest way is to ask people you know on Dribbble if they have any spare invites. When that fails, try searching on Dribbble itself.

Once you’re in, start experimenting. Create an icon set, make an animated microinteraction or even just upload your user flows and wireframes. Having a variety of shots will showcase your versatility and creativity. And in case you run out of ideas, try out this next tip.

3. Daily UI Challenge

Alright, I’ll admit it — I haven’t actually completed the Daily UI Challenge, but it is definitely on my to do list! They send emails daily with a prompts to create various UI designs. If you are new to design in general, the best way to improve your skills is to just keep designing. Keep creating things to get all the bad stuff out of the way*. This challenge will take the guesswork out of it and give you ideas to run with.

*Also, watch this inspirational piece by Ira Glass on filling that “gap” that takes you from the way your work currently looks to a place where you’re creating things you love.

4. Write!

Writing is not at the top of my list when I think of my strengths. However, being creative in other than ‘graphic design’ helps me push the boundaries of my creativity and gives it another outlet, which is refreshing. Write about anything that comes to mind, but especially things in the design and tech world. (Medium is a great place to start writing and get noticed 😉).

More advantages to writing:

  • Show others a different side of your creativity
  • Prove that you have an opinion and are passionate about the field
  • Demonstrate that you can write well, which definitely comes in handy as a UX
  • Bonus: you will have another Google search result that will impress

5. Networking

Now’s the time to break out those people-person skills. Let’s start with the easy way first:

Virtual Networking

  • LinkedIn is the best place to start. Connect with people in your network that are in the high-tech scene (think other designers, product managers, developers etc.).
  • Join relevant groups both on LinkedIn and Facebook. Search for niche UX groups such as local ones, ones just for women etc.
  • Join UX Slack Environments. These are super helpful places to get advice, give feedback or just learn new things. They also usually have channels specifically for job posts. My favorite at the moment is Mixed Methods which is dedicated to UX research, an area I constantly want to improve in.

Real World Networking (agh!)

Let’s face it. Designers don’t tend to be the most social butterflies in the pack. We usually like to keep our faces hidden behind a screen, but as a UX designer you need to have great communication and presentation skills. So pick yourself up and try these things:

  • Events: Look for local meetups, lectures, conferences and workshops. While the content may not always be that enlightening, try to use these opportunities to meet other people.
  • Hackathons: This is a triple whammy — meet relevant people in your field, learn how to collaborate and work with developers, product managers and other designers AND (hopefully) get something new to display on your portfolio.
  • Six degrees of separation: Reach out to friends to ask if they know any other UX designers you can speak to and ask for general advice, or to give feedback on your portfolio. Ask how they got into the field and how they think you can stand out from the pack.

Get to know the people around you. You never know what opportunities await.

. Pro Bono Work

You know that friend who just told you about his crazy business idea? Maybe it won’t be the next big thing, but you can sure help him out with the UX and design of it, while building up your portfolio at the same time. Plus, you score major bonus points for having real, live work in your portfolio.

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