top of page
Search

What the heck is going on with the UX job market?

Updated: Feb 4



Not a fan of the TL in TLDR? Check out the audio version over at my pod!


To cut a long story short, it’s a complete shit show right now. Amidst the continuing mass layoffs and hiring freezes that began in mid-2022, user experience professionals across the board are going through the wringer to secure interviews and offers, and landing a job is taking way longer than it used to. In this article, I try to make sense of what's going on in the US job market for UX roles, and what we might expect in the near-term, based on existing data sources and job seeker sentiment.


Gif of Michael Scott from the Office saying "This is the worst" with Pam Beasley in the background looking very confused


A brief history of the UX job market, 2011 to 2022


I stepped foot into the world of user experience straight out of grad school in 2011, when I joined a large insurance company to do UX research for all manner of exciting products and services cough sarcasm cough. The job market was picking back up after the Great Recession of late 2007 to mid-2009, which was excellent timing for me because it could have been much more difficult to try and find my first job a year or two prior.


While it still felt difficult at the time (I applied for about 50 qualitative research jobs in a number of sectors, not really caring where I went as long as I got a job), it wasn’t because there weren't enough jobs to go around. It had more to do with my inexperience at job searching and effectively talking about my skills and training. After about 5 months of searching, I finally received a couple of offers and the rest is history.


Since then, our beloved field of UX has experienced more than a decade of steady growth. With the tech hiring boom during the COVID-19 pandemic, UX really exploded and got a lot of hype as a viable, fulfilling, and well-paying career path. Design orgs at the largest tech companies grew into the literal thousands. Smaller companies and startups brought on their first designers and researchers, and existing teams staffed up.


There was indeed a lot of work to be done for designers, researchers, content strategists, writers, and new specializations like research and design operations. Jobs were ample, with the exception of entry level roles, which have always been scarce relative to the sheer number of new entrants coming out of school and bootcamps. It was common for candidates to get multiple well-paid offers at once and to be selective about where they decided to work. Negotiating for more money and large sign-on bonuses was to be expected. It really was the best of times.


A bar chart showing major growth in tech company hiring from 2019 to 2022

The Tech Jobpocalypse, 2022-2024


Then things took a turn for the worse. As documented by layoffs.fyi, an astonishing 450,000 tech workers (and counting) have been let go by a large roster of over 1,000 companies since 2022. My guess is that this is an undercount and it's at least 500,000, because it doesn’t seem to include some of the companies with tech worker layoffs at “non-tech/product companies”, it doesn’t include contractor cuts, nor does it reflect the trend of quiet firing related to return to office mandates.


There’s a variety of takes on why this is happening ranging from the abstract to the specific: pandemic overhiring, poor planning, a potential recession (which we've been talking about for years now), interest rates and inflation, TeH EcOnOmY (whatever that means), redundancies (mkay), artificial intelligence and large language models, a capitalist power grab putting workers in their place, shareholder interests, UX research "democratization", etc. etc. etc.). I think it's a mix of all of those things, but such a discussion is outside the scope of this post.


bar chart of layoffs from 2022-2023 from Layoffs.fyi

Looking at the peak of layoffs in early 2023, we see a month to month decrease in the number of people being let go, and the number of companies doing the letting go. I hope to see the trend continue downward, but I really can’t say for sure because there are too many factors at play. I definitely wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility that we will see another spike if Big Tech companies (Meta, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, etc.) decide to cut 10,000 people in a single day as has happened several times already.


line graph of number of open tech jobs from 2022-2024 January from https://trueup.io/job-trend

a line graph depicting a steady, gradual growth rate of UX jobs from 2018 to early 2020, a slight downturn at around the time of the global pandemic, and then a big growth spurt of 566% between late 2020 and early 2022.


The job market for tech roles in the US (engineering, design, recruiting, you name it) is as competitive as it has ever been. Thousands of UXers at all levels are out of a job and looking for a new one, and it’s likely that UX practitioners have been hit disproportionately as compared with their engineering and other counterparts. I first talked about this in March 2022 in a post written for academics wanting to transition into UXR. Academics comprised 39% of my client base in 2022. In 2023, it was just 4%, which was the result of an intentional business decision I made to pivot my coaching practice away from people who I am not able to help land a job as quickly as was previously possible, if at all.


Trends and forecasting for UX roles in 2024


So far we’ve looked at data for the overall tech job market. As far as UX, I've cobbled together everything I can find to try and make sense of the situation, with a skew toward UX research which has more discussion around it. If anyone knows of other sources I can incorporate, or angles I am not considering, please email me or send me a message on LinkedIn.


The latest available quant data analysis on UX design and research jobs (the most common specializations in UX) is from Kathryn Brookshier, a UX manager at Indeed. It shows a huge dip in the number of openings in Q1 2023 versus its peak in 2022. This analysis uses data from almost a year ago but it provides some helpful historical context for what’s going on today.


line graph showing change in UX job openings in the US from 2021 to 2023

In its 2023 State of User Research annual report based on a survey of 929 respondents, User Interviews finds that between May 2022 and May 2023, 11% of respondents were laid off, and 43% lost UXR colleagues to layoffs, in addition to other functions. 59% of respondents reported team hiring freezes during that time period, with two-thirds reporting a continued freeze with no plans to hire, and 17% reported an increase in hiring.


User research consultant Lawton Pybus recently published a fresh synopsis of UXR hiring trends and forecasting for the 2024 job market. He pulled job listings data from Indeed and found that UXR positions have decreased by a whopping 89% from the peak in 2022 to January 2024. Oof.


line graph showing 2021-2023 trend for open UX research roles

Lawton also conducted a survey with 73 UX researchers using a snowball sample to explore the need for additional support on their teams to handle the workload, and whether or not teams are hiring now or during the first half of 2024. The findings are not statistically significant, but they’re definitely qualitatively significant and helpful to triangulate with other data sources.


The results of the survey are mixed. Half of the respondents said that their teams need help or plan to hire soon, while the other half feel that they're staffed up well enough. Half said they plan to hire in the next 6 months, and half said they don't. So it's a toss up. Plus as Lawton notes, these responses reflect people's perceptions of hiring plans and the state of their organizations, which as we know, may not match with reality. I am curious to know what their perceptions would be of potential team and company layoffs.


Lawton also shared with me some unpublished, cursory search query results from Indeed, which show a drastic difference in job openings between various tech roles including UX research, UX design, product management, and engineering, with a significant decline among all four in the past 7 months. Please note that each title may include variations in the total count (e.g., UX researcher, design researcher, user researcher, etc.) Historically, the ratio of engineers and product managers to UX practitioners has always been disproportionate, with engineering being the most prevalent, and research being the least. As we can see, engineers experienced the highest amount of layoffs in absolute numbers, because there are more of them to be laid off.



And how about content design? Scott Kubie, Director of the Career Content Accelerator, alerted me to the very comprehensive 2023 UX Content Survey report compiled by the fantastic Jane Ruffino and a team of volunteers. The findings are based on a snowball sample of 243 people in 35 countries, and show that 16% of respondents reported being laid off. Across the board, people expressed concern about a range of issues regarding the tech and UX job market, including layoffs and hiring freezes, the impact of AI, heavy workloads, lack of job opportunities, and inaccessible career paths, among others.


A few notable quotes from the report that align with the sentiments of other UXers:

"When companies are laying off, why are we the first to go and what does that mean for our industry’s stability going into the future? Are we simply going to be prone to cycles of boom and bust forever or will companies learn to truly value our work?" —Director of strategy, USA 
"The layoff trend seems to be forcing people to give up the workers’ rights gains we made in the Great Resignation. How do we work collectively to protect ourselves and each other?" —Senior content designer, USA 

The general consensus amongst practitioners who are paying attention is that things are very, very bad for the UX job market across all specialties and levels of experience.


We're coming up on two years since the mass layoffs began in mid-2022, and what I’m seeing strongly indicates that things are not going well and won’t be rebounding anytime soon. It’s not just the trends and data I’ve cobbled together for this post that leads me to this conclusion. It’s also a qualitative pattern of constant, disheartening posts from frustrated job seekers on LinkedIn, conversations over on Reddit subs for UX research and UX design, and comments that pile up on posts like the one that inspired this post your’e reading. Other UX specialties are being hit hard too, including content design and operations. All that, plus my own public and private conversations with UX community leaders, and the experiences of my coaching clients who are looking for jobs after a layoff. 



A few takes from popular UX voices:


Image of Hang Xu, a Chinese American guy holding a brown fluffy dog in front of the New York City skyline

"There are more roles open now, but competition has ratcheted up so much that it may take longer to find a job now than a year ago despite seeing more job openings and fewer layoffs each week. It's also why the entry-level talent pipeline is so scary to me, in that the pipeline has been completely neglected for so long now that the backlog must be insane." - Hang Xu, Design Recruiter


Image of Kathryn Brookshier, a white European-American woman with long brown hair

"The UX job market is in the middle of an exceptionally rough patch... The industry has not reached an obvious bottom yet. Layoffs have pushed many experienced UX professionals into the job market. Roles are available, but competition will continue to be stiff." - Kathryn Brookshier, UX Manager at Indeed



Image of Frank Bach, a white European-Canadian man with short dark hair and mustache, and white circular rimmed glasses

"The economy/job market are weird right now. Companies are laying off while others are being bombarded by applicants... There are a lot of VERY talented designers out of work right now who are applying for the same roles. I know many of them and it's rough out there, so don't be too hard on yourself." - Frank Bach, Staff Product Designer at Instagram



What’s next for UX?


Anyone can make predictions for the 2024 job market, but big picture, no one knows what's in store for hiring and layoffs in UX and the tech sector broadly—except the people who are making those decisions, and that ain't the workers. Maybe we're past the worst part of the storm, maybe there will be aftershocks. Already in the first couple weeks of the year we've seen another spate of layoffs from the same companies and some new ones. The long-term growth trend of UX jobs over decades has been steady, but there's so much up in the air with the factors that have caused all these layoffs to begin with, that I wouldn't deign to predict anything beyond the next 6-12 months. I'm constantly trying to wrap my head around it all.


In addition to job market turmoil, we have to factor in the knowns and unknowns of larger social and technological trends including AI, LLMs, the upcoming election cycle, and global geopolitical unrest.


What can you do about it?


The trappings of a successful job search that sufficed before all this shit went down, like a stand-out resume, solid interview performance, a strong network, etc. They are still 100% necessary, but these days it feels like luck and persistence and being in the right place at the right time are a big component.


At a certain point it seems like there is nothing else that can be done if you've gotten all your materials squared away, you're networking, and you're being strategic with your approach. If this is your experience, please know you are not alone in your strife. It's taking more effort and time than ever, for everyone. It likely has nothing to do with you and your qualifications and general awesomeness. It’s all of the other uncontrollable factors that we really can’t do anything about.


To relieve some of the pressure and stress of the job search, focus on what is within your reach and what you can actually affect. Watch out for mistakenly internalizing a “no” on your application or candidacy as a personal flaw or failure.


Some ideas for your search:

  • Keep doing all the regular required things that in normal times would get you a job. Have a good story, craft a strong resume, prepare for interviews and case study presentations, you get the point.

  • Understand your personal priorities and goals to set some direction and know where to focus. Be strategic and organized, with every action being a good use of time and effort.

  • Know your strengths and expertise so you can position yourself uniquely within a niche, and apply to roles that will value what you bring. Perhaps you’ve done a bunch of work in healthcare or ecommerce, or have worked on a certain type of technology.

  • Apply to enough jobs and consistently, but avoid mass applying which isn’t a good use of time. Stay targeted to jobs that are the best match for your skills and interests, and where you will be positioned well versus other candidates.

  • Consider taking a position that isn't ideal but is good enough for now, whether it’s in UX or another field. You might decide to optimize for money instead of product or industry, or something where you can apply transferable skills. Maybe you don’t want to go back into the office but are open to hybrid. Getting work outside of your field, or even taking a break, doesn't mean you are a failure and it doesn’t mean you can’t come back. Personally speaking, I will have to diversify my income this year as well because my business has been affected by all of this.

  • Look into fractional, freelance/self employment, and contract work. You can also diversify your income streams between UX work and whatever other type of work you want - bartending, gardening, office administration, copy editing, flipping antiques on eBay, you name it.

  • Consider a career pivot into roles where you can apply transferrable skills. For some ideas, check out Janelle Ward's LinkedIn post about pivots into data science, market research, product management, program management, public service, and others.

  • Fill any skills gaps, or learn some new ones based on what’s in demand in the market. E.g., quantitative research methods, data science programming languages like R or Python, artificial intelligence, etc.

  • Networking is still very important. I'm talking about reconnecting with people and nurturing those relationships, building new ones, and staying targeted. Reciprocal is better than transactional, but people understand that networking is part of finding a job so it’s ok to reach out and ask for an informational interview. You have nothing to lose in doing so and the worst that can happen is they say no or don’t respond.

  • Be findable on LinkedIn with an updated profile and green “open to work” headshot banner. Help people help you by posting publicly about your search. If you’re open to it, post on LinkedIn to share your expertise and perspective on hot topics, which may catch the eye of a hiring manager. Building a reputation can benefit your career, but no, you do not need to become a ThoughtFluencer TM.

  • Use your time and energy wisely. For example, posting or commenting on LinkedIn can be helpful if your feed is curated to your interests and you’re getting something out of doing it (new information, connections, job leads, etc.) Endlessly scrolling and liking stuff may not be as valuable.

  • Don't go it alone. Find community, connection, and accountability with fellow job seekers, whether individually, in a small group, or a professional group on Discord, Slack, etc.

  • Watch out for bootcamps, courses, coaches, and other programs that are preying on people’s fears and desperation for jobs to sell stuff. More on that below. Also, there is no such thing as an ATS-friendly resume, so don’t waste your money on that garbage either, and watch out for people sharing job search advice who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Instead, follow recruiters or other vetted voices.


You can find more ideas and perspectives on this LinkedIn post where I asked people to share advice on how to get a job in this market based on what worked well for them.


Addendum


The origin of this article is yet another recent LinkedIn post I wrote a couple weeks ago in which I advised people who are interested in a UX career to take careful consideration when signing up for career programs like bootcamps, training, and career coaching.


As I began collecting and incorporating the above data for this article, it blew up into a lengthy tome, so I decided to split it into three parts. I’m currently finishing up the second one which entitled “Why UX bootcamps, training, and career coaching can’t help you get your first UX job in 2024.” The third will be called "We can do better: a firm request to UX career service providers as we plan for 2024 and beyond". Stay tuned for these on the socials or my newsletter.


Special thanks to Lawton Pybus, Michael LeVan, Robin Rubinstein, Josh Pierce, and Zara Logue for providing your insightful feedback on my drafts.




bottom of page