Hiring Top UX Talent

March 9, 2013 — 3 Comments

Every company I’ve spoke with in the past 6m-1yr has mentioned that they just can’t find, much less hire, top UX talent. As one of the aforementioned “talents”, I’d like to share some advice to help companies with their recruiting efforts.

Hiring Do’s

1. Bone up on the terminology

I know there are a bunch of acronyms in the field, UX, UI, UCD, IA, IX, XD, etc.. but you wouldn’t think of just posting an add for a “Developer”, you’d take the time to specify that you want an experienced Java Developer with JSP, Spring, Soap and MVC experience. 

2. Understand the space

UX isn’t graphic design and it isn’t web design and it isn’t (just) making wireframes. An experienced UX practitioner will guide you from research to product launch. They should be part of your strategy team, not brought in at the tail end of the design phase to tidy up the wireframes. 

If you are hiring a consultant, they should want to be part of your team through  launch (and afterwards too). UX isn’t about a hand-off, it is a cornerstone of your project’s success.

3. Skip posting on the generic job boards 

Every qualified (and unqualified) designer I know is too busy to be pouring over the job boards. Reach out to leaders in the UX field and ask for recommendations. Try the UX groups on LinkedIn or the industry specific associations like the UXPA. 

4. Pursue the best fit

Since it is already a tight market, might as well shoot for the stars. If you have a big data visualization project, seek out a UX designer who is passionate about data visualization (like me). Research those designers and try to win one for your project. 

I am more likely to work with a company who takes the time to look at my portfolio before calling, just like they would expect me research their company if I was pursuing them. 

5. Request a portfolio

A UX designers portfolio might not be flashy like a creative director’s will be, but it should showcase their process and deliverables in the context of a projects success. 

6. Do due diligence

I have been suckered in by a gorgeous portfolio more times than I would like to admit, only to find out later the person was only tangentially involved in the project. I have now learned to ask these questions:

  • What role did you play in this project?
  • How long were you involved (2 of the 6 months, start to finish, still working on it)? 
  • Who else was on your team?
  • What process did you use? 
  • Can I contact your creative director, team member, manager, client, etc… for a recommendation?

7. Know the nuances

If you are creating enterprise applications, a UX designer with web site experience probably isn’t a good fit. Look for someone with enterprise and BtoB experience. Conversely if you are working on a mobile app based on community building an enterprise UX designer won’t have the background of experience you need.

There are also specific roles in the UX field, like UX researcher. This is a vital role, but don’t expect your researcher to be a top notch mobile designer too (and vise versa). I have built our my team to have complimentary skills and we pair up based on the product space, and specific project needs.

8. Take a test drive

If the candidate doesn’t have a case study in their portfolio  take a small problem that you may have already solved and ask the candidate how he would approach it as the UX designer.*

*I am not suggesting you try to get free design work as part of the interviewing process, just test the designer like you would test a programmer. 

Hiring Don’ts

And now what not to do

1. Use a recruiter that has no idea what UX is

I have dozens of examples of being contacted by a recruiter who is hiring for a high level position but doesn’t know what UX is. They either think it is something to do with development or graphic design. Hard to have a conversation with this person…

2. Use a recruiter at all

Just got an email yesterday from a company that I would love to work with, but the recruiter suggested I would be great for their UX design as a “junior designer”. Seriously? Conversation over before it even started.

3. Offer 1/2 the going rate

A major hardware company called me a couple of months ago about a UX director role. They are “re-imagining” their whole user experience from soup to nuts. I was intrigued until we discussed the $$. They were paying 1/3  of the going rate. 

4. Think the ‘X’ in UX stands for seXy

So you’ve followed all these pointers and have top talent on the phone or across the table, don’t blow it by telling them you want to design a “sexy” app. The X stands for Experience, and the U for Users. 

The only way to blow your users socks off is to talk with them , get in their heads, and craft an experience that improves their life. Unless you are in the adult entertainment business or fashion, your users are not looking for “sexy”, they  are just desperately hoping for something that makes their life easier or more enjoyable. 

5. Want to start tomorrow

Again, every qualified (and unqualified) designer I know is booked, so please, please PLAN AHEAD. Bare minimum the candidate will need two weeks to wrap up their current project, more if they are leading it. 

But even more importantly, unreasonable timelines are a red flag for any project. I am forever perplexed by companies that call me and want me to start “yesterday”. It typically means the whole project is going to be run poorly and subject to knee jerk decisions during critical phases.

Wrap Up

My recommendations are similar to many other lists already out there, just scoped to the field of UX and my own personal experiences. And remember tip #3, I’d be happy to refer you to designers who might be a good fit for your projects, so reach out to me.

3 responses to Hiring Top UX Talent

  1. 

    Hi Theresa,
    In general I agree with your comments. Especially with the comments re. recruiters. Being myself looking for a more interesting opportunity, I’ve “met” them in bucket loads. Most of them are totally clueless about what modern Web work involves and just trying to fill a requirement (quantity vs. quality). At the same time, I would argue that some of the hiring managers are also rather unaware to what UX stands for. Talked to a few who are thinking UX = wireframes, or UX = ~ UI since these are sort of “overlapping” each other, etc. Some companies think having a UX dev on board is the latest “cool” thing to have.
    One comment I slightly disagree with is re. Linkedin. From my experience, looking for jobs there (at least through their user groups), is rather useless. Recruiters discovered them too and use them to the full extent of allowed spamming. Yes, you can follow companies you would be interested in working with and contact their own recruiters, but at a point that doesn’t offer any advantage over job boards since the same openings will show up there too. Maybe I’m missing something with L, but that’s my experience so far.

    • 

      You are right about hiring managers who are just learning about UX, but that is a great conversation to be engaged in since you have the opportunity to educate them about the value an experienced UX practitioner can bring to their team or project.
      As for LinkedIn groups, I still recommend that hiring managers look to these groups to identify possible UX talent, then research prospects who could be a good fit for the position. Or they can post a question about a specific UX challenge, or ask to connect with members who have experience with a specific vertical or process.
      Thanks for your comments!

  2. 

    Thanks for your reply Theresa,
    Yes, it is a great conversation topic. However, from my experience everything inevitably slips very quickly into “skills” and how much of this or that you know, or what’s the “wireframe program you use and why not this one we use”, etc. About L, I have some mixed feelings. Apart from my experience with recruiters, I wonder how these people who frequent the groups and engage in discussions, many times similar to what you see on Twitter, or Quora, Github, or other boards, have time for this?! I’m not sure how a hiring mgr. would get a lot of traction there unless he spends a lot of time too. And talking about time, time for me to get to work! :) Best regards.

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