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The digital revolution is here. As San Antonio companies become more focused on tech, design, and marketing, opportunities for work in user experience (UX) grows. Candidate portfolios are more important than ever. Local talent agent Jacob Laubach shares his top tips to help land your dream job, right here in Military City.

Jacob Laubach

Jacob spent the past six years working with TEKsystems to help connect San Antonio companies with the right folks in design. As a self-described jock, Jacob never considered himself a “creative” and often felt awe for designers he would meet as a talent agent. Despite feeling out of place, his intrigue prevailed. He pursued learning all about the intricacies of design and design thinking. 

When Jacob speaks about UX, it’s impossible to miss the passion in his voice. This is somebody who thinks about design a lot. It’s no surprise either, Jacob’s role at TEKsystems provides him with a front-row look into the field. He has spent years observing and studying the qualities, skills, and knowledge that the top candidates show before getting a job. 

Whether you’re a design veteran or just getting started, Jacob’s experience grants him some interesting and valuable insights. Here’s what he wants you to know:

Portfolio, portfolio, portfolio

Jacob focuses heavily on candidate project portfolios. He believes the portfolio is the main way you represent yourself as a designer. He said, “Your portfolio can answer a whole lot of questions without you having to say a word.”  It helps hiring managers and interviewers understand your capabilities in the most practical way possible.

Candidates with impressive portfolios get interviews. Jacob finds that the most successful candidates show their work, citing the old math class proverb. He urges candidates to show off their design chops by describing the process, reasoning, and business value of their projects in their portfolios.

He wants to see you outline the specific design problem and describe the people affected by it. Talk about team coordination details and design phases. Express business value through data, research, and deliverables. Deliverables are reports, plans, designs, products, and other things made for clients or stakeholders as part of the project and need to be included in portfolios. Answering the “why” behind your design choices should take more space than a thumbnail, or a short single page—show your work!

Impressive portfolios always stand out, regardless of your experience level. If you’re just getting started, you may worry you don’t have enough work to show off in a portfolio. Jacob recommends students and entry-level candidates go volunteer and help nonprofit organizations with design problems. With these projects, there is less pressure and more room to flex your design muscles. Jacob finds that real world experience is always more valuable to hiring managers than academic work alone.

Everything else

Your portfolio is everything, but it’s not everything. Candidates should have a strong understanding of basic design concepts as well as human-centered design (HCD). Be confident enough to develop your own idea of what HCD means to you. Interviewers and clients alike want to hear your concept of HCD. Jacob said you can do this by consulting mentors, following UX influencers and exploring your own experiences.

Jacob notes that a lack of hard, technical skills like coding or accounting usually doesn’t disqualify. Being able to “talk the talk” of coders and businesspeople, however, proves to be critical. Jacob is a fan of implementing UX principles in situations not typically associated with the field. In this case, he advises designers to be “UX conversationalists”. That is, try to implement design thinking principles and terminology into your vocabulary and awareness.  He said adding terminology and principles of design thinking to your skillset helps. This way, you know how to meet people on their own ground. 

Jacob says UXers should “consider the user above all” when thinking about their designs. He said being empathetic for users is key to being a designer. Alongside this, successful candidates express empathy with their teams, stakeholders, and users. Empathy also tends to develop coachability. Jacob describes coachability as the capacity to take and act on feedback. Great designers own this capacity. They encourage and accept valid criticisms, taking action when needed.

San Antonio needs you

Jacob has a lot of interesting things to say about design. He’s excited for the future of the field within San Antonio. Companies once described design as “making it look pretty.” Now they spend vast sums on design and research. Around the city, companies are beginning to understand the incredible impact great design can have on their bottom line. 

Jacob cites a growing need for design workers in San Antonio. He notes that designers are leaving cities like Austin and California to work here. So, get that portfolio up to speed with your latest work. Companies and organizations realize they need you.