101 ways to get into
Are you interested in becoming a UX researcher, but you’re not sure where to start? Well, I’d like to help you out.
Luckily there is no shortage of useful and legit advice out there from all kinds of people who’ve successfully gone into the field and who know what they are talking about. On the one hand, the proliferation of accessible information and perspectives is a really good thing.
But there’s also a lot of garbage and noise, a lot of myths and misinformation, a lot of people who talk about their individual experience as though it’s the reality for everyone, and really just an overwhelming amount of stuff to sift through, and no one has the time or energy for that. Strategy, efficiency, and prioritization are essential.
I’ve been asked about how to get into UXR a thousand and one times, which is why I decided to put together this compendium of 101 tips, methods, actions, and important things to keep in mind for efficiently, confidently, and successfully making your way into UX research.
I created this resource based on 13 years of being part of the design community as a UX practitioner (2011-2020) and career coach for hundreds of UX professionals since 2020, as well as ideas from respected leaders in the field.
What about the current state of the UX job market? Is it still a viable option considering the impact of the mass layoffs in the tech sector on job availability?
The short answer and unfortunate reality is that due to the glut of talented and experienced UXR practitioners who are struggling to find positions, people wanting to go into UXR are finding it nearly impossible to stand out and transition into this field.
Before mid-2022 when the mass layoffs in tech started ramping up, it was pretty doable to transition into UXR from academia and other fields without direct UX experience as long as you had transferable skills and a solid professional story. UXR has been hit especially hard by the layoffs, which has resulted in a drastic change in the ratio of available UX jobs (low) to people looking for work (high).
Even if now isn’t quite the right time to make this happen for yourself, I strongly believe there is benefit in preparing yourself to effectively make the transition into UXR once the job market gets better (when that is remains TBD).
The 101 ways
First things first, you don’t need to check off every single item on this list! Pick the ones that will work best for you based on your unique situation, background, and goals.
If anything is true about making the transition to UXR, there is no one path, no single approach, no individual background or training requirement to get your foot in the UXR door.
It’s like going to a buffet where you put together a plate of the foods that will provide you with satisfaction and nutrition according to your needs, preferences, and goals. They are all different means toward the same goal, and each person’s journey will vary. And you can probably check off a bunch of them to start!
Hopefully it goes without saying that the most important thing is to be strategic and selective with how you spend your time and energy, and not over-index on any particular category or activity.
For example, if you have an advanced degree in social sciences, you probably don’t need to take more courses in research methods. Instead you can pick up a couple of books to fill your knowledge and language gaps about design and business. If you are moving from design into research, you are already solid in the former, so take a course or develop a project at work to practice your research skills and get some case studies for your portfolio.
Part of being strategic means creating an intentional plan of action with prioritized, concurrent activities that work toward your goal. Some activities, like networking, should be ongoing, while others are one-off boxes to check and move on, like getting your resume squared away. They all carry different weight in terms of importance and impact.
The 101 items are broken down into 7 themes:
- Process, mindset & reflection
- Education, training, & self-directed learning
- Gaining experience and building skills
- Career assets / professional materials
- Strategic job search
- Networking and community
Ready? Here we go! (and feel free to make a copy of this document for easy access and editing)
Theme 1: Process, mindset & reflection
- There is no one path into UX research, and you can get into it from just about any background or discipline. What you bring to the table is super valuable and unique! Keep this in mind as you go through the process and especially when you face any self doubt about your background or skill set.
- Assess whether you’re ready to enter the world of UXR. If you aren’t, then you’re not going to feel very good about your job search or how you present yourself professionally. If you find that you’re still trying to answer the question, is UX the right path for me?, then don’t start the process until you’ve answered it. You may end up winging it beyond an acceptable threshold, which will lead to poor results. If you have the fundamental required skills, enough transferable experience, a solid understanding of research in the context of design, and you know enough to intelligently talk about UXR, then you’re probably ready to get your materials together and start applying.
- Think of the time and money you spend as an investment in your future. You may decide to take part-time classes, quit your job, or spend tens of thousands of dollars on a degree, but it literally pays off. I invested $100K into my education and training (BA, MA, plus living expenses, while also working jobs), and I was able to pay off every last cent within five years of starting my UXR career. Good compensation is a benefit of working in tech. I’m of the belief that smart time and money investments, which may hurt at the time, are worth doing.
- Some amount of self-doubt is likely to pop up. It’s because you are new to this field and you have to start somewhere. You’re not lying or faking it, you're not an impostor; you’re doing what you need to do to get your foot in the door, and there is a lot to learn and overcome in the process. One way of thinking about this, which Debbie Levitt talks about here, is that you are new and working hard to make the transition, so of course you are uncomfortable. You’re still learning! You may feel like you don’t belong in this field, but that will go away as you gain experience, build your confidence, and figure out how to make the transition. Most people working in research today probably felt some kind of self-doubt when they got started, and even possibly for a while after that. I sure did! And you don’t need to know everything.
- You are in a liminal phase, a temporary state of “betwixt and between” (shoutout to anthropologist Arnold van Gennep), defined by discomfort, challenges, learning, and shifting identities. It’s all part of the process, and it’s a bumpy road, but it’s the only way you’ll get from A to B.
- Know why you are doing this – be confident that this is the right path for you to pursue. Determine if your personality, motivations, values, goals, and personal and professional interests align with what this job is all about, and the context you will be working in (government, non-profit, for-profit, etc.) Be clear on what’s driving you and make decisions based on what you care about and the kind of life you want to live!
- Maintain a growth mindset and always be learning, iterating and improving. You will have to learn a lot and experiment a lot to make the transition successfully.
- Keep track of your progress and accomplishments, both big and small. Know what your success metrics are and acknowledge and celebrate progress and success in all its forms. Share this with others! And celebrate the wins!
- Write and reflect publicly about your job search ups and downs, like on a blog, Medium, or Linkedin. You’re not alone in this, and others will appreciate your insights. Sharing publicly creates community and builds confidence, and gets you and your name out there!
- Don’t take anything personally in your job search – like a quick rejection after applying, if you get ghosted, if someone on LinkedIn doesn’t respond to you, or if you don’t get the offer after what felt like a successful interview process. It almost always has nothing to do with you as a person, but it’s more about compatibility. Definitely take time away from the search to process, breathe, and clear your mind so you can jump back in with energy and motivation. And always ask for feedback in case the company is willing and able to offer you tips on what could have been better (and what worked well).
- Try not to make assumptions about literally anything in your job search because it will just drive you crazy. If you do your final interview, and the recruiter hasn’t emailed you back after a few days, it doesn’t mean you didn’t get the job. If you get a quick rejection for a job that’s the perfect fit for you, and you have a really good resume, then it was likely out of your control. Sometimes things take a while, people go on vacation, etc.
- On the topic of control, the unfortunate yet kind of comforting reality is there are so many things that are out of your control behind the scenes which cannot be understood. Focus on what you can control - the quality of your materials and interview prep, and let go of the things you cannot have any impact on, like other candidates.
- Join or create a learning, accountability, and support group of people who you know, like, and trust, and who are in the same boat as you. Leave behind any mindset based in competition, channel collective energy into mutual uplift, and celebrate it when people make it past the finish line! There is more to be had in community than in competition.
- Practice real self-care because this is an emotionally involved process – take breaks, exercise, do what makes you feel good.
- Persevere. Commit. Develop strong emotional intelligence for this process and for your future existence within a team and company or with clients. This shit is hard. Know that with proactivity, knowledge, experience and practice, you will find the right job, and the right job will find you.
- Iterate on your process and approach as you learn and develop. Try new things and if they don’t work, try something else.
Theme 2: Education, training, & self-directed learning
- Do your due diligence to understand what the discipline of UX research actually is. What is the purpose of this work in the context of design and technology, and what does it look like? What are the required responsibilities and skills (planning, recruiting, research design, methods, validity/rigor, data analysis and synthesis, reporting/deliverables, and making recommendations)? If you can’t answer these questions, don’t proceed into your job search. Otherwise you won’t know how to position yourself, create good materials, or fill your knowledge gaps.
- Decide if you want to be a qualitative specialist, quantitative specialist, or a mixed methods researcher, and tailor your learning plan and professional materials accordingly. At minimum, make sure you understand what the other specialties focus on (key methods, research questions, etc.), and how you might collaborate with these practitioners.
- Figure out what you know and don’t know, and create a learning plan using books, podcasts, webinars, Youtube, etc. – there are lots of recommendations out there, but you can start with this comprehensive list from Lade Tawak. That said, you don’t need to learn everything and that’s impossible anyway (I see people who go overboard trying to absorb every piece of information about design and UX they can get their hands on, which negatively affects the overall job search process). Figure out what is enough to get you from A to B, and start with what you are most interested in (pick 5 things instead of 50 things). You aren’t going to be expected to know every single thing. No one does. People know that you have a lot to learn as someone new to the field.
- Take courses or training (academic or non-academic) in social sciences, research methods, business, design, or other relevant topics, based on the areas you identify as part of your knowledge gaps.
- If you are studying social sciences, take a course in the design or business department. If you’re studying design or HCI, take a course in social sciences, psychology, or research methods. Multidisciplinary education provides you with a more well rounded perspective.
- There are multiple ways to train up, but consider getting an advanced degree in a social sciences or other human-oriented discipline (e.g., psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics, linguistics, history, economics, liberal arts, information sciences). An advanced degree can help you become an expert in the methods and theories of qualitative and/or quantitative research, design, and human behavior. A master’s is good enough for secondary education – you do not need a PhD - but if you have one, that’s great, too. You will also make more money with an advanced degree. Again, this is just one option for education. It is a time and money investment, and the amount we have to pay for schooling in the US is bullshit, but as I mentioned previously, I see it as an expensive investment that is well worth it for candidate competitiveness and pay over time.
- If you’re thinking about doing some non-academic training or upskilling, check out some non-academic offerings like Curiosity Tank (my top recommendation for UXR training because you get to do a real project), Rosenfeld Media workshops, User Focus, and EPIC for courses in ethnographic and qualitative methods. These are just a few examples I’m familiar with – there are plenty more out there to explore. Lawton Pybus put together a helpful resource for assessing training options, and spotting red and green flags and determining which program is right for you.
- Before you do any classes or training, determine if the educator or program is reputable by evaluating credentials, expertise, experience, brand, measurable outcomes, etc.) Look for reviews on LinkedIn, Reddit and other sites. Talk to people who attended the program to get their perspective. There are soooooo many options out there with a wide range of approaches, quality, etc. and some are great while others are not so great.
- Have a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of user experience design. Some of my favorite books on these topics are The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett, and Alan Cooper’s About Face and The Inmates are Running the Asylum, three highly underrated and rarely discussed books that I would choose over The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman any day. If I were hiring and knew you had read these, you would be on my short list. Having an understanding can give you crucial context and fill knowledge gaps.
- Understand key research approaches like foundational/generative/exploratory research, evaluative research, and summative research, as well as what kind of questions they help answer, and the methodologies you would use to answer those questions. Some good resources for this are - Margaret Roller's Applied Qualitative Research, Sam Ladner's Practical Ethnography, Observing the User Experience by Goodman and Kuniavsky, Usability Testing Essentials by Barnum, and Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal.
- Learn about concepts and theories behind human behavior from disciplines such as anthropology, psychology, human-computer interaction and sociology, humanities, etc., which can give you a good foundation for research design and data analysis.
- Not only do you need to know how to do rigorous-enough research, but you also need to be able to make actionable recommendations based on what you learn, and help your team understand how to use that information to make decisions and solve problems. This may be a shift for academically-trained researchers who have done research to build disciplinary knowledge and theory.
- Understand how to triangulate different types of data sources and research insights (e.g., surveys, interviews, analytics, social media listening) to paint a more valid and accurate picture of what you're trying to learn about and the questions you’re trying to answer.
- Be very purposeful with your learning plan when it comes to both the in-class education and the hands-on practice. Try to find a robust program that will teach you what you need to know in the classroom, and provide opportunities for practice. Many bootcamps, short workshops and online courses don’t have this applied component and may just be surface level and not realistic to what it’s like to do this work in real life.
- Learning the language of design and business helps you translate your experience, speak intelligently in interviews, use appropriate keywords in your resume, and so many other aspects of the job search process. Some random examples that come to mind are metric, mental model, accessibility, usability, iterative research and design, etc.
- Understand the basics of the technology you are likely to be working on – for example, hardware (e.g., wearables, mobile devices), and platforms/operating systems like Android, iOS, web, desktop, etc. You don’t need to know how to code or build the actual technology. But if you’re applying to a cloud software company, a SaaS company, a company that does VR/AR, learn about that product/technology so you can speak to it in interviews, and go into the job well-prepared.
- Product strategy. Content strategy. Accessibility. Branding. Marketing. Front end development. Agile. You don’t need to be an expert in All The Things. As you gain experience, your knowledge and understanding of research, design, and tech will skyrocket! That’s what researchers are great at - jumping in and learning new domains, cultures, languages and processes. If you lack certain experience, communicate your potential and ability to learn quickly, and your interest in growing into that particular skill.
- Have at least a basic idea of key UX roles (i.e., people who you will be working with) and what they do – e.g., product designer, developer, product manager, content strategist, etc.
- Attend meetups, webinars and conferences – access to these has greatly expanded due to the shift to online interactions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Talk with people of all levels of experience about their day-to-day roles, responsibilities and challenges. This includes people who are newer to the field.
- Read about other people’s career journeys into UX to get a sense for the wide variety of paths and how they got in the door. Here are some posts from Tatiana Vlahovic, Jen Romano Bergstrom, and this one on my old blog with short interviews with three practitioners. My current blog also has some posts on this topic. You can also check out podcast interviews, LinkedIn profiles, website portfolios, etc.
- Find one or more mentors through your network or through free mentorship programs. Paul Derby has some great tips for how to approach this, including the excellent recommendation of seeking out multiple casual mentors instead of just one formal one. Find a list of free and paid mentoring services here.
- Have conversations with early-career UX researchers who have been in their jobs for only a year or two, an addition to experienced practitioners. They will have a fresh perspective on what it takes to get into UXR and will more than likely be delighted to help you out since they probably got a lot of help themselves!
- Read through design blogs from major tech companies to learn what it’s like to work on a product design team. A few to get you started: Adobe xD, Airbnb, Google, Uber, Vox, Invision, and Spotify.
- If you are in academia as a student or professor, learn as much as you can about the differences between academic and non-academic work culture and environments so you can more easily make the shift, interview effectively, and avoid total culture shock.
- Through your learning, you will come across a variety of ways of doing research because of the diversity of researcher backgrounds and disciplines. While there are definitely important practices and processes, there really is no one right way of doing things. There is a lot of creativity and adaptation involved, especially within everyday workplace constraints.
- Don’t stay in learning mode forever. Practice just-in-time learning, which means staying focused and intentional with how you spend your learning time. Take action as early and often as possible to put your learnings into practice to grow your skills.
Theme 3: Gaining experience and building skills
- Create an inventory of everything you have done in school and at work, including projects, key responsibilities, accomplishments, and impacts. Use this to identify transferable skills, make connections to UXR and your future role, talk effectively about your work, identify knowledge and learning gaps, and know what kind of experience you need to gain.
- Conduct a professional SWOT analysis of your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats to identify gaps in experience and skills.
- If you’re an academic, let go of the unhelpful binary of “real world experience” and “academic experience”. Your academic projects and non-UX roles are experience! Pro bono or volunteer projects are experience. It doesn’t matter if you got paid or not, and it doesn’t matter if you did it in the context of your education or working in a non-profit, government, or business. What’s important is framing your experience and skills in a way that resonates with UX and design.
- Find an internship, apprenticeship, or assistantship to get hands-on experience and mentoring. A lot of internships are for current students or recent graduates only, so pay attention to that detail. You may also consider being part of a Hackathon, or pitching a paid or pro bono project to a non-profit or even a friend or family member with a business.
- Consider applying for roles in Research Operations to get your foot in the door of UXR. This can act as a stepping stone if you feel you aren’t qualified for a full-on research role, or if research roles are hard to come by. Many people switch into UXR after being in an operations role for a bit.
- If you are currently employed in a non-research role, build in opportunities to practice research within your current set of responsibilities. If you run a business, do some usability for your product or website. If you’re an educator, do some evaluative research for your course materials and classroom experience. If you’re a designer, do some research as part of your design process.
- Shadow UX researchers in your workplace and ask for informal coffee chats to learn about their work. Talk with them about the possibility of collaborating on a project.
- Conduct some usability heuristic reviews to build your knowledge of UX design best practices. It’s a good skill for your resume and can be easily done on your own, on a product or website of your choosing.
- Get experience with project management and logistics because that’s a big part of the job of a researcher – e.g., recruiting participants, scheduling, budgets, planning, etc.
Theme 4: Career assets / professional materials
- Document and reflect on your educational and professional journey so you know how to talk about yourself and your perspective, and position yourself to show what sets you apart from other researchers (you might call this your professional brand). What is the storyline, the thread that ties it all together? Then infuse this story into every touchpoint of your job search process, from your resume and LinkedIn to each interview conversation you do.
- As a new entrant, your resume will probably be no more than one page, perhaps a page and a half for those with a good amount of relevant experience (yes, academic experience is experience!). You do not need to have more than one resume if you are applying for the same type of roles, as long as your keyword coverage addresses variation in job descriptions. But it’s ok to customize them a bit if there’s a good reason to do so, e.g., if you want to emphasize a certain experience that relates to the company you’re applying to.
- Emphasize specific and qualitatively/quantitatively measurable accomplishments and outcomes when possible. Impact comes in many flavors, from product changes and business goals, to process improvements and positive effects on team culture. Some things cannot be quantified and that’s ok!
- Avoid a traditional, lengthy academic curriculum vitae. Don’t use academic jargon in any of your materials. Speak the language of UX and match its written and visual communication methods.
- Resume real estate is limited, so focus on the important stuff (skills, roles, responsibilities, accomplishments and impact). Ask yourself, what does my audience really need to know about me? What will get them interested enough to give me an interview? Use that as a filter to decide what to include. Every. Single. Piece. Of. Information. Must. Serve. A. Purpose.
- Don’t be afraid of the ATS. Literally just don’t worry about it at all. Everything you've read out there is misinformation spread by people who want you to be afraid that if your resume isn’t designed to “beat the bots” then you won’t make it through. And then everyone else picks up on it and takes it at face value, so the myth gets spread even further. An ATS (and there are hundreds of them) is nothing more than a software that keeps track of applicants. When you apply to a job, your info goes into the ATS so people can look at it and decide if they want to move you forward. It’s not an AI bot that judges your resume and decides to virtually shred it and send you a rejection email. A person will virtually always look at your resume. There is nothing to “beat”. You just need to have a resume that matches the job description’s keywords and requirements, meaning you need to be qualified for it (again, shoot for 80% of requirements). I know all of this from doing a lot of research into how these things work and by learning from reputable recruiters on LinkedIn.
- All of your professional materials (e.g., resume, cover letter, website, LinkedIn, portfolio, etc.) work together in a brand system, so make them consistent and design them so that they are complementary while serving their unique purposes in the job search process. Always think of your audience and what they need to know about you right then and there so they can make a decision and get their questions answered.
- If you decide to write a cover letter (not always required), tailor it to each job description, team and company. Don’t just use a generic template and replace the company name and role. People can tell! Look at it as a persuasive essay to communicate why you are the best candidate for the job and what sets you apart, while not being redundant to your resume. If you’re super jazzed about a particular job, I say go for it even if it’s not required, because it’s an extra opportunity to get people interested in you.
- For LinkedIn specifically, make sure your profile is up-to-date and completely filled out. People look at your LinkedIn if they are intrigued by your application or even your LinkedIn headline. Your LinkedIn profile is also one of the first results that shows up when someone does a Google search. A robust profile also raises you to the top of LinkedIn searches by recruiters looking to fill roles. Turn on the Open to Work feature (there is a back-end one and also a public-facing one).
- Ask people you have worked with for written recommendations and skills endorsements for your LinkedIn profile. There is nothing like a lovely testimonial about what it’s like to work with you and the impact you have had! You can offer to write one in return to help boost their profile.
- While it’s not essential, I recommend getting a LinkedIn Premium trial (or subscription) if you can afford it, once you are actively applying for jobs. You can see everyone who has looked at your profile (e.g., recruiters or hiring managers), get job application stats, get extra InMail messages, and have more visibility with recruiters. You also get access to LinkedIn Learning to explore different topics in UX if that’s of use. If you know someone who works at LinkedIn, ask them about getting one of a handful of free Premium subscriptions they can give away each year.
- You need a portfolio. Two versions actually - one for people to look at as part of your application (either a PDF or a website), and another one that’s more built out for a longer presentation of your work. And yes, it does need to have decent visual design (i.e., minimal text, visualized concepts) because effective communication and storytelling is an important skill, and this is how you show you have that skill. You can find free, well-designed templates on sites like SlidesGo, Canva and Google Suite.
- Have a few solid case studies to choose from that showcase your best work. That’s all you need on your website or for your portfolio, and you only need 1-2 for a presentation (typically you only have about 40 minutes to present, so you’ll likely only get through one large project or two smaller projects). You can change them up based on which ones are most relevant and which showcase your experience.
- There are tons of articles online that talk about frameworks to use for case studies (I posted a few at the bottom). The goal is to tell a story of the process and outcomes while showcasing your skills, approach, decision process, and how you think about your work. And to answer the question, does it look like you know what you are talking about? Your research findings are less important than the “how” and “why” of your project, and how you got from A to B.
- You do not need a website, but having one adds credibility and can be a valuable part of your suite of professional materials. It’s an easy way for people to learn more about you beyond what’s on your resume or LinkedIn. If you don’t have a website, a strong LinkedIn can suffice along with a PDF portfolio for applications.
Theme 5: Strategic job search
- Have a strategy! What does this mean? It’s the opposite of a list of things to do and a half baked plan. It’s a very intentional set of prioritized activities that work together, make the most of your time and energy, have the best return on investment (ROI), and help you achieve whatever goal it is you set for yourself (i.e., get a UXR job). Assess where you’re at regularly to see if you need to pivot.
- Be proactive, not passive/reactive. You are the one who creates your future opportunities, and you have a lot more control over the process than you might think. Jobs will not just come to you if you haven’t set a foundation and strategy for yourself and aren’t taking regular, consistent actions that you assess for impact and tweak when things aren’t working. What’s your timeline? What are your exact actions, and how often are you doing them? How are you learning and connecting with people? What do you need to prioritize and deprioritize?
- Pick a lane! Pick one kind of job and focus on that, rather than a smattering of different jobs, otherwise you will double, triple or quadruple your efforts.
- Don’t apply for every job you come across – this would be like swiping yes on every profile on a dating app. Rather than treating it like a numbers game (trying to date everyone or apply for All The Jobs), be picky and go for jobs that really resonate with you to put your time and energy into, and the ones that are the best fit (i.e., you meet about 80% of the requirements). Also think about which ones are you most excited about, which ones have the most potential, and which ones are aligned with your values and overall career goals.
- If you have non-UX experience in a particular domain, e.g., healthcare or education, consider seeking out jobs within those fields. Your background will help differentiate you from others and be a value-add to your technical skill set.
- If you are in school, are getting a certificate, or have a job, begin planning and preparing for your job search. Don’t wait until you are done to get the ball rolling and set yourself up for success when you’re in the thick of it.
- Create saved searches with email notifications for jobs of interest, using filters and keywords for location, level, company, etc. LinkedIn is a great place for this because virtually all job openings get posted there.
- It is also worth checking niche job boards like EPIC, local meetup groups, email listservs like Google Design & User Research, Slack channels, etc.
- You will benefit from following UX people on LinkedIn because they post jobs they are hiring for or that are on their team. It gives you a direct connection to that person to DM them privately about the opening.
- Companies use a variety of job titles that largely mean the same thing or have a fair amount of overlap, so consider these for your job search alerts: UX researcher, user researcher, customer experience researcher, employee experience researcher, design researcher, qualitative researcher, quantitative researcher, mixed-methods researcher, ethnographer, design strategist, and UX strategist.
- Job title levels also vary, so it’s important to actually look at the requirements – e.g., some entry-level jobs don’t say “junior” in the title – to see if you are a good fit.
- Take any “years of experience” requirements as a fluid reference point – focus more on what you actually know how to do, skills match, and how you can meet the needs of the role, and communicate this very clearly in your career assets.
- If you are open to contract roles, or are having a hard time finding a full-time role, connect with design- and tech-focused staffing agencies for contract work (e.g., 3, 6, 12, 18 months etc.) There are some good agencies out there, but watch out for recruiters who seem shady or pushy, who don’t understand what they are looking for, who pressure you to take a job, or are trying to lowball you. When in doubt, ask someone else for their opinion, and follow your gut!
- Hire a career coach (like me!, or one of many other coaches who focus on UX careers found in this directory) for help with your job search process.
- If you send someone a resume directly or get an internal referral, make sure to also apply within the company’s system so your information is in the ATS. A referral through an official internal process usually means you will move to the top of the resume pile, but you don’t get extra points just because you know someone, unless that person ends up providing some additional information about you to the hiring manager that tips the scales.
- If you don’t have a referral or connection, please still apply! Your resume will still get looked at. Plenty of people gets jobs without a connection or referral.
- Keep track of all aspects of your job search, including companies, referrals, interviews, contact info, links, general notes and status. Save all job descriptions in case they get taken down. This will help you stay organized and is a resource for identifying patterns and successes (e.g., number of interviews increases as you get better at pitching yourself, get your resume into shape, or after you complete your LinkedIn profile).
Theme 6: Interviewing
- Be prepared for the typical interview process, although it may vary from company to company. Typically you will first speak with a recruiter for an initial phone screen to see if you pass muster for key requirements and verify that sound like you know what you’re talking about. Then you will likely talk to the hiring manager or a team member next, followed by a group of people and some additional one-on-ones with a variety of people (e.g., researchers and designers, and possibly product managers).
- Do research on the people you’re going to interact with in the interview process to better understand their backgrounds, perspectives, and what they might ask you about. You may end up having a connection in common, went to the same grad school program, or some other commonality you can bring up.
- Research the company just enough to understand what they do and their business goals, and explore the product they sell (if possible) in case you get asked about it or want to mention it. The more you know, the more informed your responses will be.
- You may be asked to complete some kind of research activity as part of the interview process. For example, you may do a live mock interview, research planning exercise, or whiteboard session. Know how to approach each of these.
- Practice interviewing and presenting with others, or record yourself and watch the video. Get feedback from people who do the job you are applying for rather than your friends or someone who doesn’t know anything about UXR. Even better, find someone who has been involved in the hiring process.
- Formulate answers to behavioral questions (e.g., tell me about a time when…”). You can create a spreadsheet with the questions and your responses for easy organizing. Come up with examples you can discuss using the STAR method – Situation, Task, Action, Result.
- Have a solid answer for the ever-important “tell me about yourself” question. A simple and effective framework is talking about your present, past, and future - what you do now and your expertise, a bit about your background/journey, and why you’re interviewing for the position/what attracts you to the company.
- You will definitely have to answer questions about your technical research skills (research design, methods, sample, etc.) Check out this list of questions asked during interviews with Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook, as well as this compilation from interviews I did earlier in my career.
- Showcase skills like communication, collaboration, problem solving, solutions-focused, conflict management, and leadership (preferably through examples rather than hypotheticals or generalizations). It’s better to show and not just tell. You don’t need to list these things on your resume either.
- Have a list of good questions to ask your interviewers – e.g., how do researchers collaborate with product teams? What will I be working on when I join? What are some challenges the team is currently facing and how do you think I might be able to help? Ask questions appropriate to the individual - e.g., a hiring manager versus the recruiter. Figure out how to ask questions that also impress the interviewer because they are well thought out and go beyond the surface.
- Remember that you are interviewing them too! You don’t want to take just any job if the role or company really doesn’t suit you and your goals. But you have to know what you really want in order to assess the opportunity. Vetting your future manager and their management style is especially important.
- Do a retrospective after each interview – think about what went well and what you can improve for next time; ask for feedback from recruiters and hiring managers. It’s uncommon for them to share any due to time constraints and legal policies, but sometimes it happens.
- It’s a nice practice to send a thank-you note on the day of your interview or the following day, reiterating your interest in the role and why you’re the best candidate. Try to make it actually interesting and meaningful for the recipient by mentioning something you learned in the conversation, or asking a follow-up question if appropriate.
Theme 7: Networking and community
- Networking - i.e., connecting with people, nurturing relationships, and creating community - is essential for an effective job search and general professional success. Don’t think of it in the traditional sense of awkwardly approaching random people to ask them for things – think of it as establishing genuine relationships through engagement and community participation, which will lead to opportunities in the future. Start with first-degree connections, look for people with the same background or school, and try to get introductions, but don’t be afraid of a cold email or DM on LinkedIn. See if they have written anything publicly, like a blog or LinkedIn post, or have been on a podcast or done a talk, and mention what you liked about it when you message them.
- Use LinkedIn to share your ideas, experiences, perspectives and resources – this attracts people to you and organically builds your network; also post comments on other people’s content, including industry leaders!
- It’s easy to think of other people applying for jobs as your competitors – and they are in the sense that they, too, want a damn job, and this is the system we live in. Instead, consider them your colleagues and community, as people you can support and learn from and commiserate with. You may even consider creating a cohort or accountability group with regular get-togethers and peer feedback, or a Slack group for sharing resources.
- Show gratitude to people who help you through reciprocity and gratitude, which builds goodwill and helps you stand out from the many others who aren’t considerate. Take the time to thank someone for their help, and keep them updated on your progress. Little things like this build relationships and create future, unpredictable opportunities. Don’t ask people for favors or referrals if you don’t know them or haven’t worked with/chatted with them. And you may never get a response from people you reach out to, but that’s likely because they are too busy, don’t check their messages, get too many inquiries, etc.
Interested in getting help with your job search?
Check out amysantee.com to learn about my career strategy and coaching services for UX professionals.
Bonus! 10 ineffective ways to get a job in UX research
If you try any of these and they work, please let me know.
- Body swaps, deep fakes, cryogenic freezing
- Psychics, tarot, crystals, magnets, essential oils, tin foil hats, bleach injections, ear candling, ionized jewelry, hexagonal water or knocking on wood
- Matrix neck port
- Phishing, pyramid schemes, multi-level marketing
- Become a serial killer who captures UX researchers and makes a suit of their skin, then stand in front of a mirror and ask, “would you hire me? I’d hire me. I’d hire me hard. I’d hire me so hard.”
- 25 years at the Black Lodge
- Writing “ecneirepxe resu” in blood on a mirror while snowed inside a haunted mountain top hotel
- Networking on Grindr, OK Cupid, Ashley Madison, FetLife, etc.
- Excessive puns or sarcasm
Additional resources from our community of UX experts
Breaking into UX Research: Ideas from our UX Community – Paul Derby
UXR bootcamps & alternatives for learning the craft - Lawton Pybus
The Practical, No Nonsense Guide to Starting a Career in User Research - dScout
Aona Talks - excellent series of Youtube videos on being a UXR
Beta Grace: Interviewing for UX Research Positions – Grace Stoeckle
Applying for a UX Research Job – Laith Ulaby
The (Non-Traditional) Way to Break Into UX Research – Emma McCabe
Taking the Leap: How to get a research job out of grad school – Judd Antin
The 4 biggest challenges to starting a career in UX – Sophia Prater
So, you’re going to be a user researcher: top tips to get you going – Leisa Reichelt
I want a UX job! How to make a career change into UX research – Lauryl Zenobi
How to create a UX portfolio without UX experience | Inside Design Blog
45 UX Portfolio Tips | IxDA San Francisco
How to ace a UX research portfolio presentation – Miles Hunter
How to wow me with your UX portfolio – David Travis
Storytelling for a UX research portfolio – Nikki Anderson
Delta CX Youtube Videos on UX Careers – Debbie Levitt
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