5 Powerful Tips for International Students to Start Off a Career in UX

When I first moved to Canada a couple of years ago, I knew nobody in this country or in the UX industry.

Not to mention adapting to day-to-day life, I had to adapt to the job market and hiring process here — which are very different from that of Korea. I often felt overwhelmed because I was new to everything and probably I was “too” different.

I wanted to share 5 perspectives I took to encourage myself, which led me to land my first UX job in Canada. I believe these are going to be powerful tips for fellow international students who are striving to start off in UX:

  • English is not my mother tongue, and that’s completely fine
  • Being a newcomer gives me a perspective that others miss
  • My non-Canadian experience and education counts
  • Having a different cultural background makes me a better storyteller
  • Expanding my network assimilates me into the industry

1. English is not my mother tongue, and that’s completely fine

I learn languages quickly and don’t have a problem having conversations in English, but it’s never been my mother tongue.

This concerned me since I believe being a UX designer is not only about logical and strategic thinking but also about how I phrase the story to convince my audience.

Could I explain my thought process and rationales as lucidly as native English speakers?

My answer is, probably not!

However, communication skills are more than just the words I choose. Most of the skills are transferable between languages such as nonverbal communication, friendliness, confidence, empathy, and feedback.

I may not always choose the best words and I often experience the feeling of having the word on the tip of my tongue especially during interviews or presentations. But I still am a strong communicator benefiting from the transferrable communication skills, which I can apply to any language I speak.

2. Being a newcomer gives me a perspective that others miss

As a newcomer, I observe in detail things that everyone is overfamiliar with and I come up with a long list of questions.

How does it work? When do you do that? Why don’t you do it in different ways? What makes you do that?

Being surrounded by a new environment made me take a step backward and question why all the time. This led me to analyze the problem and critically evaluate the current solution. Critical thinking is one of the principal skills for UX designers, and being a newcomer made me inadvertently practice it every day.

I believe one of the reasons companies hire interns or junior-levels is because they want fresh eyes. As a newcomer and a junior-level UX designer, I thought having a different perspective would be my selling point in the job market.

3. My non-Canadian experience and education counts

What if they don’t count my Korean work experience and education?

This was one of the concerns I had. As a matter of fact, some of the job postings explicitly asked for “North American” experiences.

However, the majority of the companies I was interested in cared about my experience and education regardless of where it was. They might never recognize the company I worked for or the university I graduated from, but it didn’t affect the stories I shared during the interviews. As long as I could talk about what I learned from my academic background and work experience, the companies were happy to have a discussion about them.

Note: It still took some extra effort since my previous works were not built in English. For example, I translated every single screen of the mobile application I worked on to put them on my portfolio and present them during the interviews.

4. Having a different cultural background makes me a better storyteller

As an international student with a different cultural background, I always had to customize how to phrase my story in a way that works the best for each audience. I often came across occasions where I wanted to transfer stories between Korean and Canadian culture. Whenever this happened, I realized the power of cultural context and the undertone of cultural norms.

Wait, this person doesn’t know the context of X, so I have to start by explaining Y. Probably briefly mentioning Z would help?

This made me gauge the background knowledge of the people I talked to, and think of what I can omit and include to explain the story efficiently.

But why does storytelling matter in UX? Being a UX designer includes, but is not limited to, being a great storyteller — how I bring up the UX improvements to developers, convince product managers with each design phase, and present my work to stakeholders. My experience in talking to different audiences from each culture certainly enhanced my storytelling skill.

5. Expanding my network assimilates me into the industry

As mentioned in my previous article, I have been spending an extensive amount of time networking on LinkedIn — which I especially recommend to international students.

Expanding my UX network meant more than having someone that could give me referrals. It meant that I came to build support groups in this industry. At every phase of my career, I have been bumping into different struggles and challenges. What makes me feel safe is that I always have UX peers to talk about it and ask for advice from.

When I was seeking jobs, being rejected by many companies made me skeptical of myself and my skillsets. Conversations I had with many UX designers encouraged me to continue what I was doing, and here I’d like to quote one of them:

I’ve seen many talented people getting rejected. But they always landed the jobs they were meant to land. It just takes time.

Becoming a newcomer to a country and an industry at the same time is challenging, lonely, and isolating. Getting to know more UX peers assimilated me into the industry quickly, making me feel that I belong here.

Why did I write this article?

What motivated me to write this article is the people who reached out to me after reading my previous article about LinkedIn networking. Most of them were international students, and I was happy to hear that my article was inspirational to them. So I decided to write more about my approach to UX job hunting from the perspective of an international student.

I know there are many obstacles when seeking jobs as a newcomer. But rather than being trapped in what I cannot change, I wanted to focus more on the upsides of my situation. I hope this article helped you to discover the upsides of being an international student, and carry on your journey.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment on this article or reaching out to me at gleamwtr@gmail.com or LinkedIn.

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