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How to get a UX research job – Tips from industry experts

How to be effective in UX research job search? On December 15th, UXinsight hosted a panel discussion with Molly Stevens (Director of Research at Booking.com), Nidhi Jalwal (Senior UX Researcher – currently at IKEA), Dana Rankin (Senior Product Researcher at Netflix), and Bo Liu (Senior Researcher at Miro).  

Our speakers discussed UX researcher role expectations, shared tips for entering the field, building CVs/portfolios and the application process. Read on for a summary of meetup learnings about how to get a UX research job, or otherwise check out the recording

What is expected of a UX researcher?

‘There is no perfect study, there’s the study that’s perfect for the conditions that you have and the outcome you want.’ (Molly Stevens)

‘Understanding of the business decisions your stakeholders are going to make and seeing that through on the other side…When the research is done, you’re not done.’ (Dana Rankin)

Think of the 3C’s: your craft, communication and commercial awareness.

Bo Liu

However, consider that:

  • Expectations differ depending on the experience level & role

‘Something relevant especially for junior folks or people who are just entering the field is the willingness and the attitude that they have…because skills can be taught, but attitude cannot be taught.’ (Nidhi Jalwal)

‘When I think about a lead, I think about them looking horizontally across maybe different products, or teams to then start to identify themes and things at a higher level.’ (Nidhi Jalwal)

  • Titles vary between companies – ask about expectations

‘Difference in titles can actually be quite subjective…Some companies do define them differently – a lead vs. a senior vs. just a UX researcher. Some don’t even have junior and senior, they just have one title which is UX researcher… So, I would recommend to reach out and ask about what this title means in terms of hierarchy and what the expectations are.’ (Nidhi Jalwal)

  • It is not just about job description – consider unique skillset you can bring to the organization

‘We were looking for a researcher a few years ago…but then we came across this person who was really good at quantitative research…We were not even looking for quantitative person, but we were like: Great we don’t have this ability in the team. Let’s get this person in because that builds the whole team…’ (Nidhi Jalwal)

Tips for entering the UX research field

It’s a chicken and egg problem because if you want to find a job, you need to have at least 2 years of work experience. But to get that experience you also need to find a job.

Bo Liu

How to get UX research experience

  • Build up your experience in school, e.g., school research projects
  • Do internships – it is work experience & a gateway to a job

‘Obviously if you do well, it’s very likely that you get an actual offer at the end of the internship, and you will get a job.’ (Bo Liu)

  • Consider open applications. Reach out to companies to ask if they’d be open to an internship
  • Do contract or freelance work
  • Do volunteering projects. Reach out to friends/family, NGOs or startup hubs
  • Do heuristic analysis

‘One thing that I highly recommend for junior researchers is to look into things like heuristic analysis, because it’s something that they can do on their own. You can pick a pick a website and…it’s a great tool for learning, because it allows you to understand the best practices when it comes to design.’ (Nidhi Jalwal)

  • Re-frame your current experience. You don’t always need to get new experience

‘Think about how in your past projects, whether it’s at university or in your past job, you can frame it as relevant for UX research. For example, demonstrate that you already worked with stakeholders, that you are a collaborative person. You can do so, even without UX researcher title.’ (Anna Efimenko)

It’s about ‘what am I doing that is very similar to what a researcher would be doing in terms of value’, and then framing that as part of your CVs and portfolios.

Nidhi Jalwal

How to transition from academia

  • Find employers that value academic background. It may be a promising signal when others in the team have academic background. No need to hide your academic experience

‘If you leave things out like the PhD, you may be missing a team that’s like: Hey, we don’t have a PhD, we need that kind of thinking.’ (Molly Stevens)

  • Connect with people with similar background. Learn their paths into UX research
  • Be explicit about how your skills match the job

‘Show and tell what you can do, and how your skills will apply to the job…Don’t assume that because you have a given degree…that they’re going to make that connection.’ (Dana Rankin)

  • Focus on demonstrating a business mindset

‘One of the potential hesitations or perceived disconnect between academia and working in industry is the idea that maybe as an academic, your perspective is a little bit removed from business decisions and business context.

So, demonstrating that real business acumen and that we’re not just collecting data to collect data, and it’s not just because it’s interesting, we’re really trying to drive your product/business decisions, and make a better user experience.’ (Dana Rankin)

How to choose an organization

  • Join an organization with existing practice & mentors – this will accelerate your learning
  • Find a place where you can get diverse experience (e.g., agency)

‘I actually sometimes look for candidates who have agency experience because…you are usability testing a gambling site one week, and then you’re going to visit use car dealers next week, and then you’re testing accessibility for people with low vision…Every week is a different project, and you have to shift and pivot and change how you’re operating.’ (Molly Stevens)

  • Apply to organizations aligned with your values

Consider 2 things…The first one is the business model of the company. Another one is the type of industry you will be working for.

Bo Liu
  1. Business model: How does the company make revenue? How does UX research play a role there? Does it align with your values?
  2. Type of industry: Are you truly interested in the research topic?

‘As UX researchers we’re going to have hours and hours of conversation about these topics with our users. So, if a research topic does not click with you, you are not interested, it does not excite you at all, you will feel very bored, exhausted and miserable and start to question the meaning of your life.’ (Bo Liu)

Tips for UX researcher CV & Portfolio

The role of a CV is not to land a job, but to land an interview…The recruiter will make the call in 8 seconds potentially whether or not they’re going to give you a call back.

Nidhi Jalwal
  • Don’t get lost in detail. Think of your CV as the output of research synthesis

‘One of the key skills required to be an impactful researcher…is to take…all the things you’ve done on your resume, think of them as data points and distil it into this really clear message that you want to get across…

When I see a CV and it’s pages long and has every single detail that sort of says to me that maybe this person isn’t great at synthesizing, getting right to the point and having really clear strong takeaways.’ (Dana Rankin)

  • Focus on showcasing key points that you want to get across

‘Do you want to highlight that you are a qualitative researcher…that you’re really good at managing different projects at the same time…that you worked in different countries? What is the core message that you want to send through your CV?…Make sure that message is honed in on across different points in your CV…I wanted to highlight that worked in different countries, with different cultures…I used the color pink to highlight [it].’ (Nidhi Jalwal)

‘Whatever you put forward on your CV should be the kind of role that you are looking for.’ (Molly Stevens)

  • Align phrasing with the job descriptions

‘Go through different job descriptions that match the kinds of roles you’re looking for and see how they describe responsibilities…how are they framing those sentences, what kinds of language are they using, and then break down your work in similar ways.’ (Nidhi Jalwal)

‘It’s really important for me to not just see what you did, but what the impact was. I see a lot of resumes that say, ‘I did five studies’. Well, that’s great but what were their changes, what happened, what was the impact of the work that you did? I think focusing on that is a lot more interesting.’ (Molly Stevens)

  • Showcase experience that implies relevant UX researcher skills

‘For people who don’t have a lot of research experience, I would encourage them to add your academic experiences and your other professional experiences that display some of the soft skills…For example, somebody was on the debate team. This means they might be good at communication, so…there’s a direct parallel to draw.’ (Nidhi Jalwal)

  • Provide the details of your research projects in the portfolio

‘Regarding the portfolio, I think it can be a really strong tool, specifically for people who are just beginning…What you can do is just create a couple of examples of your work…It’s good to see a presentation, maybe of one project where you clearly describe:

  • What you were trying to do
  • Why were you doing it
  • How did you do it
  • What was your role in it
  • What was the outcome’ (Nidhi Jalwal)

It can literally just be 5 slides in a PowerPoint that talk about the problem statement, your methodology and what was the outcome…Short, clear, digestible form of information.

Nidhi Jalwal
  • Be mindful of data privacy

‘I have seen a lot of portfolios that are not super careful either about people’s personal information, company information, or insights. And that to me is also a red flag because it means that you’re not being thoughtful about data privacy, which is also one of the things that we deal with quite a bit.’ (Molly Stevens)

  • Have someone else review your CV. Consider hiring a resume writing service or reach out to those in the field for feedback

Tips for application process

‘It helped me to write down answers to the questions that are getting over and over again. Maybe something like: Tell me the last time you had disagreement at the workplace and how you resolve it…Writing questions down is especially helpful for people who don’t feel comfortable being put on spot or interviewing in a language that’s not their first language.’ (Nidhi Jalwal)

My father always used to say that the best improvisation is prepared improvisation.

Anna Efimenko
  • Be ready to answer why you want to work at the company

‘One question that will always come up is why do you want to work here so…always have a very good answer to why you want to work at the company that you’re applying at whether it’s an interest in the industry, product or personal connection, anything really. But don’t struggle with that question because I think that’s important. People want to work with passionate people. So, make sure that comes across.’ (Nidhi Jalwal)

  • Ask for feedback if you face rejections

‘Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from recruiters or after an interview, if you don’t get the job because I think that can provide a lot of insight as well about how to maybe pivot or reframe in terms of what those companies might be looking for.’ (Dana Rankin)

Closing thoughts

Try to not take rejections personally would be my #1 advice.

Nidhi Jalwal

Every role is a fit between the person and the place…you will find a match, though it sometimes takes a long time.

Molly Stevens

Thanks again to our speakers for sharing these helpful tips on how to get a UX research job. And thanks to those who participated and asked questions! We hope to see you at future meetups.

If you want to learn more about UX research career, check out this article with 5 tips for landing your first UX research job and job hunting tips from the Q&A with Gregg Bernstein.

Photo by Afif Kusuma on Unsplash

Anna Efimenko

Anna Efimenko (she/her)

Anna is a Senior UX Researcher and UX Research Ambassador at UXinsight. With 7+ years of UX research experience, she is passionate about designing experiences informed by data and driven by empathy.

Previously, Anna worked at Booking.com and supported multi-disciplinary teams by using qualitative and quantitative data to inform product design, strategy, metrics and data models. She is excited about mixed-methods research and collaborations with other insights disciplines (e.g. data science). Anna loves to learn and to contribute to the research community through mentorship & knowledge sharing.

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