Getting into UX: Facing rejection and next steps
As much as I cringe over the misuse of the words “dream job” for all its connotations of corporate rainbows and butterflies, last week I interviewed for a job that could only be described as one. It was for a new grad product design position in an industry that I cared a lot about. I sat in my musty dorm room for two days preparing portfolio slides and reciting S.T.A.R. responses to questions about my behaviour in the face of conflict. If not for my sudden and immense craving for a poke bowl, I would have stayed there all weekend.
Perhaps that was my first mistake. Maybe I should have done a lap around Waterloo Park to re-centre my brain.
On Tuesday, I went into my three hour interview and three days later I was rejected.
First, let yourself be sad 🥲
It is generally agreed upon that there are five stages of grief. The five stages can describe a whole bout of very human experiences: losing a loved one, ending a relationship, or — getting rejected from a dream job.
Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance
I was immediately hit with the first four. It was not intense, but all I wanted to do was order takeout and re-watch episodes of my favourite comfort shows. Schoolwork and deliverables piled up because I simply could not focus on anything else. Instead, I pressed play over and over in my mind on the questions where I fumbled, scrutinizing the various ways I could have answered differently or been more prepared.
Objective of this post
It’s normal to feel any of the above, and over the last four years of applying to internships, I’ve learned I will inevitably get over it. So in that moment, I gave myself a break and let my mind ruminate as it pleased.
But apart from getting over it, the challenge is learning to grow from it as well. Currently, I’m in the midst of acceptance and in this post, I’ll describe my reflections and what I plan to do moving forward.
And just like grief and breakups, everyone deals with rejection differently, so I’ll also be providing input from friends (all 4th year UW students) in design and tech.
Once the ruminating died down, I focused my energy towards schoolwork for a week. This was necessary because I had deadlines, but also refreshing because it took my mind off the job search for a while.
Once I was ready, here’s what I’ve been doing:
1 — Re-evaluate your UX portfolio
If you got an interview, chances are your portfolio already attracted the attention of a recruiter. However before any stage of applying to a design opportunity, it’s always a good idea to re-evaluate the contents of your portfolio. Here are some good resources written by other authors if you need a refresher!
- 5 Ways to Improve Your Design Portfolio Today — published in Design @ Meta
- Designing a More Effective Portfolio — published in Shopify UX
2 — Apply to more jobs
This is a given, but I find it’s hard to find the motivation to apply when I’m freshly rejected.
A wise man somewhere once said that applying to jobs is a marathon, not a sprint. It is easier for me to apply to a couple jobs a day rather than 50 at once. That way, when the dreaded and mandatory “Why do you want to work for X company” question comes up in an application, I feel less overwhelmed. I’ve begun dedicating just 20–30 minutes a day applying to jobs.
“It’s okay to feel sad because you might have really wanted something and that’s a completely normal human emotion. Use this as the motivation to try again!”
3 — Ask for feedback
This is the easiest way to receive objective feedback on your interview, but ultimately most recruiters will either not provide this at all, or provide some vague semblance of it.
I didn’t get feedback from this particular company, but still, it didn’t hurt to ask.
“Ask for feedback after an interview (most recruiters don’t give feedback, but it doesn’t hurt to try). Also try getting feedback from other designers like (1) asking friends or (2) booking time w/ people on Cofolios can be really helpful if you don’t know what to improve.”
4 — Reflect on your interview, objectively
Because I couldn’t get feedback, it was up to me to figure out what went wrong. This is easier said than done because most of the time I come out of an interview with little to recall from it. What I remember most vividly is usually embarrassment, or responses where I rambled with no end in sight.
I’m doing my best to critique my interviews objectively, without the emotional attachment. In order to better explain what I mean by this, I’ll provide an example from my latest experience.
[The situation] This was a final round interview and I had the option to present a design challenge I had completed for them prior to the interview or a standard portfolio presentation. I felt more confident presenting the latter, so that was what I chose.
[The mistake] Looking back, this was probably a mistake. First, my standard presentation was work I did for a startup, which was very product-oriented and didn’t align with the typical design processes at a more established company. Second, the company I interviewed for had a product that was highly visual but the work I presented from my portfolio was not. At the time of choosing my presentation format, I didn’t believe in my visual design abilities so I wasn’t comfortable presenting my design challenge, which was a more visual task.
[The emotional response] Upon first realizing my mistake, I thought of all the ways my interview would have been more successful if I had presented my design challenge instead. I should have been more confident in my design challenge because it was vetted by the recruiter and hiring manager. I was angry at myself for choosing the wrong presentation format.
[The objective response] The anger wasn’t uncalled for. However, to take an objective stance meant to be easier on myself and learn from the mistake. My objective reflection on this experience is the following: If possible, learn about the company’s design process. Read blogs. Follow the design team on Twitter. Listen to podcasts. Then, align my presentation to fit the type of designer they are looking for.
It’s probably a good idea to document your revelations somewhere too!
5 — Write down better responses to the questions you fumbled over
Despite the trauma, there were a few questions asked by my interviewers that I remembered. These were both technical questions asked after my portfolio presentation, as well as behavioural questions asked during my collaboration interview. I’ve written them down so I can better prepare for them next time.
6 — Remember that each interview will prepare you for the next one
It’s challenging to prepare for the next interview because it’s easy to take difficult experiences from the past and use them to predict future outcomes.
i.e. Why should I invest so much time into my next interview if I’m just going to be rejected again?
But this is just the classic gambler’s fallacy. It’s a mistaken belief that the outcome of past events will inform the outcome of future events. Preparing for an interview now will probably result in less time spent in the future.
Despite all this, I know there is still a chance that I will not get the next job, or even the one after that. There are so many random variables involved in a job search that sometimes the reason a candidate doesn’t get a job is just because some other candidate did one other tiny thing better.
“Rejection is redirection! But actually every time I was sad about getting rejected, I ended up accepting an offer later that better aligned with what I needed at the time to grow as a designer and in life!! This might even manifest in unexpected ways.”
For me, moving forward from rejection is accepting the randomness to find some solace in it, but also figuring out the actions I can take to do better next time.
“Don’t tie your self worth to getting interviews or jobs. Different companies have different values so not all companies should be weighed the same. As much as a company is looking for the right fit, so are you!”