How I got 2 UX Design Jobs during a Pandemic

How I got 2 UX Jobs during a Pandemic
Picture of Eric Abrom
Eric Abrom

UX Design Leader and Mentor

What happens when you fall in love with a place? You get a job there, duh! In other words, let's talk about how I got two UX design jobs during the pandemic. First, a little backstory. My wife and I stayed in Austin for a few days before the pandemic started, and I fell in love. (Not with my wife, that already happened a while back! I'm talking about Austin.) I was convinced we should move there. It just felt so right. After a lengthy discussion, my wife said she'd only agree to move to Austin if I got a job there. Well, she should have known better because… Challenge Accepted! (Neil Patrick Harris voice)

Job #1

After doing some research, I applied for a job at a small company specializing in HR tech. They called me back, and we scheduled an interview, but a few red flags went up right away. Bright, bright red flags.


They didn’t seem to know where UX design would fit in. They weren’t sure who I would report to. Heck, they didn’t even have an in-house graphic designer!


It turned out that they were trying to cobble together an app by contracting a graphic designer in another country to work with their director of marketing. I asked them some questions. Let’s see if you can guess the big problem with their development process. Was it:

  • No user research
  • No user testing
  • No unicorns on staff

If you guessed all of the above, you’d be right! They had done no research on what their users wanted, no testing to see if they were on track. They basically were running off a bunch of unverified assumptions.


It was pretty strange, but I thought maybe this made sense since they weren’t really UX people.


I decided to continue with the interview process, and by the time I completed the third (third!) interview, I was starting to get some answers.


The Difference Between What and Why

This company was very gung-ho about quantitative data, but they couldn’t integrate that with qualitative data at all. The disconnect was very frustrating because they didn’t have the “why” to anything. They could see what their users were doing, but they weren’t talking to users and asking why they were doing it.

As to what they wanted from me… it turns out they wanted me to work on making their UI beautiful. Their UI was pretty wonky, so I understood that. But I’m a UX guy, not a UI guy. Yet another disconnect!


Red Flags to Green

Remember when I mentioned those bright, bright flags. Since I was really motivated to work in Austin, I kept turning the red flags I saw into green ones. I started justifying everything I was uncomfortable with about this job.

I decided I was willing to take on this basket case of a company – even though they wouldn’t be paying much more than I was already earning. After all, I figured I was the right man for the job. So I accepted their offer, convinced that I really could help this company change its dynamic through the power of UX design. I mean, UX design is pretty magical!

But boy, oh boy, was I wrong. Because I never even had a chance.

My wife and I started working on our plan to move. So many logistics! But she raised some questions that got me thinking, so I did a little more research. The salary this company was offering was not comparable to similar jobs in the area. If they weren’t going to pay me enough to make a move to Austin worthwhile, was this a good idea?


The Final Straws

I asked them to renegotiate, but that started a weird chain reaction. The company began trying to haggle in the entirely wrong direction! They offered me remote work as a contractor, part-time with part-time hours. Then IF I moved to Austin, they would make me a full-time employee.


If that doesn’t make sense to you, same here. I honestly couldn’t believe it. My wife was willing to move to Austin for this job, I was working towards uprooting my family for this job, and now they were trying to reduce what they’d offer me and take away full salary or benefits. This was basically the opposite of what I was looking for. And it was a complete reversal of what they had offered me.


After that, my heart just wasn’t in it. With a bit more haggling and counter-offers, I had to tell them that this job was not the right fit for me. But that’s okay because there was also…


Job #2

On the chance that it would work out, I decided to apply for a different job. Happily for me, this one is now my current job. True, this job was in Atlanta, not in Austin. But now that I’d had this strange and ultimately disappointing experience with Job #1, this other company stood out in all the right ways by comparison.


First, they had reasonable expectations about what work could look like during the pandemic. They were willing to start with remote work, but not in a way that would negatively affect my pay or benefits.


They didn’t make me sit through multiple interviews with people who didn’t even seem to be paying attention. (For Job #1, one of the interviews was derailed by an interviewer who randomly left to take a personal call!)


The company atmosphere was clearly more organized. They seemed actually interested in my portfolio. And most importantly, I felt I could be myself during the interview and presentation. Here were people I could talk to and let my personality shine through, who appreciated my professional abilities. That made a very positive impression on me; who woulda thunk it?


I went with the choice that felt right in my gut! A choice that my wife and I could both agree on. Atlanta it is!


The Gut Decision

Sometimes it takes a minute, but deep down inside, I can usually sense when something is a great – or terrible – fit for my family and me. Looking back, I’m so thankful I’ve landed where I am.


It would have been a colossal mistake to relocate for a lousy job just because I liked a different city. Not every location in the world has the same opportunities, and that’s okay! I love talking to people about this and helping them figure out what might work for them on their UX journey.


Right vs. Shiny

These days I’m working with a team that values open communication, where we all can challenge each other and work together to benefit the entire business. Being a part of a team with similar skills means I don’t have to be the sole person responsible for research, design, and advocating for users. It also means I can keep learning from other team members.


There are a lot of great opportunities for me here in Atlanta, GA. I’ve become a lot more aware of what’s available and who I can connect with here now that I have stayed by choice.


Sometimes the things we think are better are just the shiny, apparent choices. But be glad if your plans don’t always work out because, in my experience, the totally unexpected option can pleasantly surprise you. With hard work and a bit of luck, you might end up like me: in a different direction that turns out to be the best. (If you need a different perspective on that, I’d love to talk to you.)


What’s the moral of the story? Don’t move to Austin because you had a fun weekend there. And don’t ditch your less apparent options. Because what’s obvious about being a unicorn, let alone an ugly one?


Do’s and Don’ts


  • Stick to your gut and make the decision that makes the most sense for your family.
  • Watch out for red flags, and don’t turn them green like I did.


  • Compromise yourself for any company
  • Jump through for anyone; if it’s not the right fit, don’t force it
  • Take the first job that comes your way; there is always something better

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