Meet El: From Administrative Assistant to UX Designer at McGraw Hill

Prior to UX Academy, El Bernatovicz was working as an Administrative Assistant at a healthcare company. Now, they’re a UX Designer at McGraw Hill and loving ev…

Team Designlab
Team Designlab
Jun 8, 2021
Min Read

Prior to UX Academy, El Bernatovicz was working as an Administrative Assistant at a healthcare company. They had recently been laid off and, during that time, realized that they didn't actually want to do admin work for the rest of their life. 

“I wasn't excited about admin as a career, and it felt limiting,” El says. “I wanted to be able to have more freedom and growth potential.” 

So, they decided to change careers, and began asking all the right questions: What were the things they actually wanted to do? What tasks gave them joy? What did they derive meaning from? That’s when they discovered the discipline of UX design. 

“I wanted a career that was creative, challenging, process focused, and that allowed me to work on a team. I like sitting down and trying to figure out the best solution to a problem, and making things easier for people. I wanted a people-centric position,” El says. 

UX design seemed to be the perfect fit for El. They already had a background in fine arts and graphic design, as well as storytelling. So they decided to take the plunge. 

El’s Designlab Learning Journey

“I chose UX Academy because of the affordability, mentor support, and career services. I liked that it was a program that focused on both UX and UI. I loved that I'd come out of the program with a complete portfolio, ready to apply to jobs—that's what I was really looking for with a design program, and I was so impressed with the sample portfolios I'd seen. I felt that Designlab would give me a strong base to change careers with.” 

El used our preparatory course, UX Academy Foundations, to test if online/remote learning was a good option for them (as they had struggled with online learning in the past) and ultimately decided it would work out well. Through completing Foundations and finding the 1-to-1 mentorship particularly helpful, El knew they would learn a lot through UX Academy and felt comfortable moving forward.

“UX Academy felt like a wild ride. About halfway through, COVID hit and I was struggling a lot. I lost my job, and I was also dealing with personal stress and mental illness. It made working through the capstone projects difficult. However, I appreciated the flexibility that Designlab offered, and I was able to move to the part-time track, just to give myself more time to work through things,” El says. 

“I was paired with an incredible mentor, Alan, who really pushed me as a designer and prepared me professionally. We practiced interacting with stakeholders, presenting and defending my work during each call. I felt prepared for pretty much every interview question that was thrown at me, and ultimately, I felt confident thinking on my feet and articulating my design decisions.”

El has some great advice for those entering UX Academy and seeking a career in UX design...

#1 Find opportunities to work collaboratively

“UX Academy is only going to give you so much. I've found the biggest gap in my resume/experience was working with a team, collaboratively on projects, and working with actual stakeholders giving feedback and design restrictions. While those were transferable skills, I definitely encourage people to reach out & build their networks. Find projects that you can work on collaboratively with other designers, and that give you some real-world experience. I felt totally prepared for the job hunting stage, but it's the one thing I wish I did more of.”

#2 Introduce yourself and expand your network

“When it comes to graduating, and looking for your first position, I'd say you get out of the job search what you put into it. Reach out to people on Linkedin and in Slack groups. Try to connect with other designers. I heard nothing just applying to jobs, and that was really discouraging. Once I started reaching out to people and getting my name in front of those who were making the hiring decisions, I started to get more interviews.”

#3 Tweak how you’re presenting yourself 

“I'll be honest, job hunting sucks, and I don't think there's many people who actually enjoy it.Figuring out what works for you, while still getting you the results you're looking for, is key to making the job search sustainable. I thought I was a failure because I spent months applying and not hearing anything back, but making a few tweaks to how I was presenting myself really made a difference.” 

#4 Don’t be afraid to ask for help

“Also, just in general, don't be afraid to reach out for help. Everyone in the community is so kind and supportive. It helped knowing that I had that safety blanket when I was struggling. It's not easy to do this. It's not easy to change careers, and learn a whole new skill set in a few months. It takes a lot of time and effort and it's hard. So be kind to yourself. Know when you need to take breaks and step back. It's okay.”

Working with McGraw Hill

El’s hard work during their job search was rewarded when they found their dream position as a UX Designer at McGraw Hill on the Hexagon UX Slack group.

They wanted to get a better idea of how the UX process worked in the company, so they reached out to the person who had posted the job on Slack. El shared their portfolio and asked a few questions about the culture and how the work happened at McGraw Hill. The contact was very kind and gave El detailed responses as well as some very positive feedback on their portfolio.

The interview process went as follows:

  • Started with an initial phone screen, then an interview with the manager. During that interview, he said they would be moving on to the next phase. 
  • El then had two interviews with the design team, one was a portfolio review with two designers on the team, including the designer that they had reached out to on Slack. 
  • They then had a second interview with some members of the design team, who conducted a brief whiteboarding exercise. 
  • After those interviews, they received a call with an informal offer later that week.  

“Things are going really well at McGraw Hill so far! I'm working on some challenging products, and am learning so much about the company, and the way UX works in the thick of things. Even the little things are learning opportunities. I'm really happy with the way things shook out, and the risks that I took,” El says.

El’s currently working on a team of about 15 or so designers for the Digital Product Group at McGraw Hill. Each designer works on 1-2 scrum teams, which connect to the development side. Overall, they say it's a very collaborative environment, both between designers and the dev side. 

The goal of this team structure is to build collaboration between UX designers and implement common systems and increase consistency. For the most part, they’re working on developing and implementing solutions to problems, in the second diamond of the double diamond theory. 

El is a UX Designer on the team, so they’re working on the Open Learning Remedy scrum team. Even though they’re a new designer, and new to the company, they started working on projects almost immediately. 

“The biggest perk for me is the flexibility. The team works remotely and across the US, so I have a lot of openness in the hours that I work. Being able to work remotely is also a huge perk. It also might sound a little strange, but I've never had as generous of a PTO policy, as well as some of the basic perks like benefits and insurance. It might not be the most glamorous or exciting, but those basic benefits mean a lot when I've never had them before. It makes it feel like a real job,” El says.

Some of their current projects have been creating and updating Sketch libraries to maintain a design system, which has been a challenging and fun project. They’ve also created user flows for adding existing products, like a flow that makes it easier for teachers. 

“Outside of work, I like doing hobbies that make me seem a bit more like a grandmother than I'd care to admit, like knitting and baking. I also spend a lot of time in online roleplaying communities, and playing indie tabletop rpgs (think Dungeons and Dragons, but not just adventuring). I also have a rescue dog that I love, even when they’re being a little idiot and begging for whipped cream,” says El.

Throughout the next year El is looking forward to continuing working and growing as a UX Designer. 

Connect with El on LinkedIn and check out their portfolio.

Does your current position feel like a dead end? Consider exploring our career-changing UX Academy program and diving into the exciting and fast-growing field of UX design.

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Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.