How can I position myself to get a UX Research summer internship in 2020?

Hi Ala, so sorry for the late response! So, I studied sociology at UCLA, and while I was there, I got interested in UX. I took a few UX courses and determined I was more interested in the research side rather than design. However, not having any formal UX experience, I didn’t feel prepared to apply for jobs. 

I started working in nonprofit fundraising, specifically in database management. Still, I had some interest in UX, so I applied to a few UX-related programs. I ended up choosing the Northern Michigan University Master’s in Human Centered Design & Engineering, which I will start in September. 

I guess what I’m wondering is how I can position myself to get a UX Research summer internship in 2020. I am planning to work part-time while pursuing my Master’s, but I’m having trouble finding research-related positions, so I’m struggling to balance finances and building my career. I’m planning to take quantitative and qualitative UX research methods courses in my first year, but other than that, how can I make myself a competitive candidate? 

Thanks so much!

Anna C.
Database Coordinator

Hey Anna, this is a difficult question, all the more so, because it’s open-ended. Also, any job search is sensitive to market influences. Over the years I’ve built up a comprehensive, research heavy system for finding your next job or role. Let’s start with tactical, then zoom out:

Where to apply

I suggest you find people on LinkedIn that you want to emulate. Begin with a keyword search for UX, human centered design and human computer interfaces on LinkedIn. In my case, I’d look for Product, picking a leader I respect:

Once you have established a list of key people you’d like to emulate, you can research what companies and career paths they have taken to achieve their goals. This puts you in a position to replicate or, at the very least, learn from their experiences.

Then, develop a list of companies to consider, along with a list of possible roles available in the job market, as well as a list of those individuals that may be willing to answer questions regarding the specific roles in which you have an interest:

What can level you up in the meanwhile

It almost always comes to a combination of people relationships, demonstrated capability and professional experience. You’re making a switch, so your professional experience is lacking and is academically heavy. Let’s start with the first two: 

Demonstrated Capability

There are two aspects to capability: perceived and real. Perception is everything, so take the time to watch Youtube videos of UX researchers – write down the lingo, the ideas they struggle with, and practice talking like them in front of a mirror (yes, really!). By showing up as someone that sounds like they’ve been in the industry, it creates a form of empathy that otherwise may get lost. You already accumulated experience and skills throughout your education and life – the idea here is to frame it in the right language.

Do projects. Pick one or two projects, either by joining startup-weekend crews, a few university buddies that want to try something out or by starting one on your own. Doing a project is critical – do it as if you’re freelancing, take it as seriously as you can because it’ll allow you to speak to it at the interview. Not sure where to start? How would you design a popular product today if you could restart it? What about improvements to an existing one? Mock it up, figure out the research, talk to people about it – do the whole thing.

People relationships

Find people that already work in the field and build relationships with them (don’t “network”). Use to find relevant groups – make sure they’re small venues. Your goal is to have good conversations with those attending, and this doesn’t happen in large conferences. I could go on and on about how to build relationships, but the most important bit is to be empathetic and curious – ask questions, care about what others care, it’s a skill.

Another approach is what I call the Coffee-Calls. Your goal is to uncover what the companies value most for research internships – one of the most effective ways to discover that is to invite a few hiring managers or senior managers to coffee to learn more. When I first started I developed this habit and template, I think it’s still effective and tweakable to your case:


The good news is that you only need one opportunity, and when you have that opportunity, you’re golden. What you face now is the most challenging part, but once you get through it, and you will, it tends to get significantly easier.

I plan on creating a course around the system that I’m sharing with you here. Let me know if I should circle back with you when that happens.

Hope this helps!

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