UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 958 February 14, 2013

Improve Your Odds when Hiring for UX

We’ve all seen the flurry over the past several years of both agencies and corporate entities investing in hiring UX talent. (To spare definitions, I’ll let “UX” equate to anything from information architect to researcher to interface designer … it’s just easier that way.)

This has created a whirlwind of opportunity for creating better products, services, and experiences, but has also presented a steep challenge in finding and attracting the best UX talent. Having been a hiring manager for UX, I’ve seen how it currently works:

The Existing Hiring Model

  • Become overloaded with internal/client demand for “some good UX”
  • Make the case for a new hire to management team
  • Tweak existing “UX Designer” job description (or one you found online)
  • Post, pray, and wait
  • Breakdown and call a third-party recruiter
  • Post, pray, and wait

Sometimes stars align and you find a UX gem with the skills that match your needs. Sometimes you don’t. When you don’t, then you work long hours with your coworkers to make up the difference. You delay work you would like to begin or forgo new opportunities you would like to undertake.

In the interest of saving you late nights at work, here some tips for optimizing your UX talent acquisitions.

Nail the Requirements

As with the solutions UX professionals help create, you need to know what you are planning to build and the true role of the user within the environment: aka, “The Requirements.” What I often recommend is looking for parallels between the typical first round of UX requirements for your product or service and a UX job description:

Know your nice-to-haves

If the project needs HTML, research methodology, advanced Axure prototyping, expert Photoshop, app experience, PHP, etc., think about what you really need out of this person. Is there a possibility of finding all of this in a single warm body? Which skills are the most prioritized features of the job?

Ditch filler material

Most UX folks are investigators and discoverers at heart. If an opportunity is defined and relevant, we are happy to investigate and learn more. We tend to skip over words like, “make a difference, leading edge, connecting people.” Spend more time clearly defining the job (and role) and the internal support structure to appeal to your audience. Take half of what you wrote for the job description and then use half of that. Offer only the details that are important to identify the person and define the job expectations.

Name the product well

I saw a recent UX job post for, “Director of Ridiculously Amazing User Experience”. Of course, I wouldn’t necessarily expect that to be the actual title (and please, no ninjas, gurus, or evangelists) but I’ll admit, it sounded interesting. I clicked.

Nail the Role Internally

Most of the UX people I know are brilliant and multi-talented with minds like Einstein, the business acumen of Henry Ford, and the passion of Van Gogh. But what role or roles do I need them to support in my organization, at this time, on these specific projects? What will they actually do during their workday? Here are some of the most common “officially, unofficial” roles I see that are worth sampling and thinking about internally before posting the job.

The Idea Person

The person or lead who creates a new product or service from an existing user/business challenge. Highly capable of working in the realm of the unknown opportunity and assuring stakeholders, this person is akin to a creative director.

The Insurance Policy

The person that works collaboratively across business, technical, visual, marketing, etc. to ensure that the experience doesn’t degrade because of politics, budgets, and strong personalities. This person thinks hard not only from a design perspective, but on project, business, and technical levels, mitigating risk.

The Dog and Pony Show

When the ideas are baked, it’s time to present. This person is highly comfortable in challenging stakeholder meetings and has the ability to “sell-in” the direction of the team by aligning strategy, users, and goals with a best-in-breed solution and selling it hard.

There are many more: the Researcher, the Director of Buttons & Screens, the Intranet Declutterer, etc., but I think you get the idea.

Nail your Delivery

When thinking about your UX job requirements, think about the unique and specialized roles this person will actually fill. Honesty is the best policy and it’s important (and fair) to set clear expectations for the job to ensure a good match.

Think visual

You’ve clarified the role ... great, but how do you attract interest? There are an increasing number of jobs available, so what sets your post apart to a more discerning UX recruit? Try and think like a UX expert: part analytical, part visual; left brain, right brain. I’ve seen an increasing number of job requirements represented by an infographic. Who doesn’t love a cool infographic?

Think about how you could break the job post into something more visual and FUN: the breakdown of a day (including copious coffee breaks), percentages of specific skills (HTML) or tools (Omnigraffle) used, average tenure of your design team, number of happy hours, apps/websites/products your company has designed, etc. Check out what E*TRADE is trying on their Pinterest board! Post pictures and videos of your real design team in action (not those stock art people at the whiteboard), your company events, and your work in the community. Be real. Be authentic. Be visual.

Be social

Would you go to a happy hour, walk up to someone you don’t know, and say, “I’m hiring! Looking for UX Designer, great company, good benefits, four years experience, innovative culture ...?” This is what most UX recruiters and hiring departments do on social: blast jobs. Social recruiter training at our company, Tenfold Social, advocates that recruiters not do things on social (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) that they would not to in real life.

Engage with people and candidates

Start by building relationships. Find out what interests people in the UX community and begin to create a pool of passive UX followers that you can later leverage because you have created a more personal and social connection. Get out there! Participate in UX groups, share articles, and help advertise local UX events. Increase your networking skills, not your job posting skills. The UX talent you need will often be the passive candidate, not necessarily the active jobseeker!

Connect with the UX talent you already know

The beauty of LinkedIn is that you not only have access to your first-level connections, can also look at their second-level connections! Have you connected to everyone within your organization? These are the individuals that might surround themselves with the UX talent you are trying to recruit! We all love employee referrals but it’s often your job to help springboard them!

Generally speaking, you should always connect via LinkedIn with candidates early in the recruiting process. Even if a candidate isn’t the perfect fit, they might be ideal down the road or one of their connections may be the right match!

Leverage your brand/geography/local culture

I’m often told (and at times have said myself) that UX practitioners are a migratory flock, only flying between the Bay Area and New York. They simply don’t exist in great abundance elsewhere. Of course, we know there are plenty of opportunities all around this great planet, so leverage your company brand and location to attract talent! San Diego has surfing and warm weather. Denver is close to the mountains. The South has down-home cooking. Sell your location !

You also want to ensure that your brand is well-defined through career channels (pages, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). Always include an authentic and honest representation of your company and your UX design team on these pages!

Down the Straightaway

Here are a couple more things you can do to improve your odds at finding a successful candidate

Help the class of 2012-13

The economy is challenged, no doubt. It’s tough for those graduating college to find full-time employment. I’ve had great success with hiring junior-level designers from accredited universities and colleges. It’s a great way to give a well-deserved graduate experience, and it allows your organization to begin developing long-term employees! You can help them grow professionally, refine their UX deliverables, teach them how business works, and develop their presentation skills because most are eager and excited to learn! Look beyond just internships (paid is always nice) and consider creating junior-level roles as well.

Have a UX Ambassador

You need to have someone in your organization who is a champion of UX. It could be the UX Director, the CEO, the Chief Experience Officer, the Design Director, the Product Lead; it’s less important who they are than what they say, do, and influence. They read UX articles, engage with the UX team, and truly value and respect the role of UX within the organization. In short, it’s like sports recruiting, but they sell UX. You need this person to help land top recruits. If you don’t have that person, begin to develop someone (or yourself!) to become that person!

Conclusion

Hiring for UX is no simple task, but it doesn’t need to be an impossible mission. Define your goals, refine your UX hiring strategy, and innovate as you go. If you’ve seen anything that works for you, take a moment and share it!

 

Image of horse race courtesy Cheryl Ann Quigley/Shutterstock

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Greg Zapar is a digital expert with 15 years of business strategy, technology, UX and multi-channel design experience. His client list includes industry leaders such as Apple, Microsoft, Kia Motors, Mazda USA, Reef and Wells Fargo. He currently serves as COO of Tenfold Social, a social media training company for recruiters, jobseekers and business professionals. Feel free to connect with Greg on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

 

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Comments

44
62

Very relevant article. I am a Ux professional with a research based masters degree, and over ten years experience in the field. I was recently in a job search, and encountered many of the things you describe here. In fact, by far the majority of postings and interviews I took part in were subject to one or other of your "issues" mentioned in the article. Especially pervasive is the coder / graphic designer / Ux professional rolled into one syndrome. Hopefully, with time, industry standards and appreciation for true user experience will evolve past the current pedestrian definition going around most companies. Great article !

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Thanks for this article UX Magazine and Greg! I enjoyed it throughout and it made me think about a lot of the things I was seeing too.

Here's my reply to your article from a practitioners perspective and feedback from my UX Design Peers and colleagues.

http://www.wecanonlybethefuture.us/experiencedesign/intheworld/hiringux/

Keep up the great work on UX Magazine and the Didus Project!
Lance

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I recently became more aware of just how rare it is to be talented in the front end 'graphic arts' portion of web design AND having actual experience and knowledge of how to wire it all up too. I have always found the Photoshop and Illustration (wire-frames portion) of a web project to be easier, so I always pushed myself (actually insanely hard) to learn and become proficient in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. That doesn't mean I actually understand how to sell myself to a potential client or employer. That I find more difficult than coding or advanced photoshop skills. I am looking for a good long term situation where I can grow, explore responsive UX design, and make ends meet (at the very least). I can't imagine it should be all that hard to find work, if I look in the right places.

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@ErikF I think you summed it up well with..."they first need to know what it is". That was really the overall idea of the article...if you can't define what it is...at least from your company point of view...the chance for success is limited. In that sense, it's not much different from a product/service and nailing the requirements. I think it's important for a company to be honest, authentic and open internally to articulate their "actual" hiring needs and a clear representation of their organizational culture so that they hire efficiently, achieve goals and set up employees for success.

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"If the project needs HTML, research methodology, advanced Axure prototyping, expert Photoshop, app experience, PHP, etc., think about what you really need out of this person. Is there a possibility of finding all of this in a single warm body? Which skills are the most prioritized features of the job?"

I think this section could use a little more detail on what to actually expect when looking for UX. Maybe some of your examples above are mean to be things that aren't UX.

If a company is looking to hire a UX person and they have emphasized and included:

- Expert Photoshop
- PHP
- HTML
- Wireframes
- UI design

They have already failed. I think they need to reevaluate their needs and do some research on the ROI of UX. There are far too many job postings that have a fundamental misunderstanding of what a UX role should entail. There is far more value in the cognitive end of the spectrum down in research, personas, detailed information architecture, and overall experience strategy. Looking for a web-designer (html/css) that is also a visual designer (photoshop and illustration) who is also skilled at the real aspects of UX is a mistake.

The proliferation of the UX job description that is 30% UX and 70% Interface and visual design is something that is only hurting companies and job seekers. UX is not the implementation of design. If a job description has the slash – UX/UI – or any other over emphasis on the dime-store expectations that UX is wireframing, prototyping, and visuals, run.

Hiring manager and recruiters "post, pray, wait" because they're posting job descriptions that turn off most seekers that understand UX. If they want to improve the odds of hiring good UX, they first need to know what it is.

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@wharrell I hear you and I've seen it firsthand...but in the long run, those might not be the right opportunities for you if it's not really understood or managed well on a company level. There are a lot of companies that "get it" and a lot that still need to improve both their interview practices and overall candidate experience. That said, I see a lot of opportunity for those interested in organizational "UX management" evolution...hiring, management, product evolution, internal championing, creating process, creating opportunities, etc...versus individual contributions only. The good news is there are a lot of opportunities around on every level and many problems on all sides to solve...and *that* is our bread and butter!

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Next, can you do an article on improving your odds during the UX interview? I've walked away from several without a backward glance because the UX professionals interviewing me didn't have a discussion guide ... or a clue. Hey hiring managers: we're expert interviewers and researchers and we have high standards.

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Definitely need some help for the interview process for UX.

While I can quantitatively evaluate quality of coding for developers and to an extent design skills for designers, the UX applicant is a harder nut to crack. If their portfolio is lacking details, how can I seem them demonstrate analytical thought?

For other positions, we usually assign a small project to final round applicants (i.e. writing a blog for our inbound marketing team, create a PPC strategy for the direct marketing team, etc.). My thought was to have them redesign a page from a bank, university, or ecommerce site. The process itself would be the piece I'd analyze: did they sketch, use wireframes, research public user data, strategize for the future. If they come back with just a pretty UI and no reasoning, I'll know I might have found a good designer but not a UX one.

@wharrell, do you have any pros/cons you've seen in past interviews?