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Resources: UPA 2006 Idea Markets

What are 5 things you wish recruiters knew about User Experience?

Activators: Laurie Lamar, Consultand and Karyn Young, IBM Software Group

Thought Starter Questions

  1. When you look for work – how do you explain what you do? To savvy employers or recruiters? To less knowledgeable folks?
  2. In your experience, are some user experience roles better understood than others? Usability, interaction design, information architecture…
  3. Would recruiters benefit from knowing more about these roles?
  4. What’s the most important thing to teach recruiters and employers about your profession?
  5. Have you been approached by a recruiter or employer? Did they understand your role? What do you wish they had understood better?

Executive Summary

Even in locales that boast large numbers of User Experience jobs – for example, parts of California and the Northeastern United States – some employers and recruiters are more savvy about User Experience hiring than others. As in any new field, User Experience practitioners have varied backgrounds and job titles. Thus, less-knowledgeable employers don’t know how to find User Experience practitioners, or what to look for.

Suggestions from this Idea Market:

  • Job-seekers should be prepared to explain the qualifications for a user experience job to a recruiter in terms that the recruiter can understand, and to distinguish among the various User Experience job titles. In particular, job-seekers should carefully explain the terms “Human Factors,” “User Interface,” and “User Experience.”
  • User Experience leaders within a company, should consider working closely with their HR department when hiring new employees or contractors. User Experience leaders can help HR specify the job description, post it in the right places, screen resumes, and participate in interviews.
  • UPA may consider:
    • A well-publicized, central job bank for all the User-Experience-related fields and job titles, including usability. If such a job bank exists, the Idea Market participants were not aware of it.
    • A simple “cheat sheet” to help educate recruiters. The cheat sheet (if it does not already exist) might list common business problems and, to diagnose and resolve those problems, common user-experience-related approaches and roles/job titles

      To confer credibility, the cheat sheet should be visually well-designed. Job-seekers and employers should be able to customize it before sharing it with recruiters, since user-experience job titles vary by locale and hiring company.
      Note: unlike the other suggestions, this idea comes from the activators (Karyn and Laurie), and was not suggested by Idea Market participants.

Discussion Details

Recruiters and employers seemed to fall into two rough groupings. Given that an Idea Market is not a bona fide research study, we’re summarizing into these groupings in order to simplify the discussion. (Note that all the Idea Market participants were from the United States.)

The more knowledgeable recruiters and employers used familiar terms, such as Interaction Designer and Interface Designer, for job titles and roles. These recruiters knew what they were looking for and could ask good questions during the job interview like, “What is your favorite design? What is the worst design you’ve seen?” These companies understand the methods and limitations of usability, know how to formulate questions for the interview, and actually understand the answers that job-seekers give.

The less knowledgeable used less specific descriptions and weren’t able to interact during the interview as well. They used a “checklist” approach in the hiring process and just asked basic questions, often without understanding the answers. It was stated that the companies behind these recruiters or interviewers don’t care who they hire, as long as they spend their headcount allocation. Less knowledgeable recruiters tend to ask marginally-related, tool-oriented questions such as, “do you program in Visual Basic?” or “do you use Photoshop?”

A couple of the people we spoke with were User Experience leaders, seeking new hires, in companies where the Human Resources department was not knowledgeable in User Experience and didn’t have the time to learn. These leaders took matters in their own hands and did much of the recruiting themselves by improving the job descriptions, determining where to post the job advertisement, filtering resumes and interviewing. This was well received by the Human Resources staff. The User Experience leaders felt they were able to hire better employees than they would have otherwise.

The people we spoke had many desires for what they wished recruiters and employers knew:

  • “User Experience work is not an art or science, it’s a craft with methodologies and techniques that are codified and repeatable”
  • We choose from a toolbox of User Experience processes and deliverables to suit the problem at hand; each has advantages and limitations.
  • We don’t just do heuristic reviews after the design work is done. “Bring us in early or it is too late to fix the problems” and “don’t just ask me if the colors are okay.”
  • We have broad backgrounds like a PhD in Rhetoric or a background in anthropology, human factors, or psychology. We can have many different kinds of training and fulfill many roles in a company.
  • We aren’t programmers or software engineers or software developers or visual designers.
  • When you publicize User Experience job leads, please post them to User-Experience-related websites and mailing lists.

Interestingly, when describing their own work, few of the Idea Market participants directly tied their role to business benefits. When asked how they explained their value to non-savvy listeners, participants typically responded like this:

”I help make it easier for you to apply for health benefits online.”
“I gather customer feedback so our products are easier to use.”

By contrast, responses like this were rare:

“I help businesses reduce costs and increase profits by making products easier to use.”

Job titles reported by Idea Market participants

  • Usability Analyst, Engineer, Specialist, Testing Coordinator
  • User Researcher
  • User Interface Engineer, Intern, Designer
  • Interaction Designer
  • Software Engineer
  • Business Analyst

Several participants from large companies noted that their HR department strictly limited the number of official job titles. Thus, User Experience work might be deliberately lumped into a “business analyst” or “software engineer” job family.

Other terminology:

The term “User Experience” seems to be common with some employers, but not others. It was reported that some recruiters use the term, but don’t really understand it. One Idea Market participant felt that this term may sound like non-rigorous “soft science” to hiring engineers.

The terms “User Interface” and “Human Factors” were reported to confuse some recruiters.

Common terms for services that recruiters and employers were reported to request:

  • "Focus groups” (whether the company actually needed focus groups or not)
  • “Design review,” “expert review,” “just tell me what is wrong with these webpages”


One underlying thread from this Idea Market is that companies who understand user experience and usability are more effective recruiters. These companies tend to have well-defined job roles and titles that can be used in the recruiting process. Companies with well-defined roles also seemed to know what questions to ask during the interviewing process. The companies that were unclear on the value and purpose of User Experience struggled to recruit in a way that was effective.

Practitioners seeking User Experience jobs should be alert to the possibility of misunderstanding – recruiters may ask for one thing, but really want another. Job-seekers must also be prepared to explain the differences among the various User Experience job titles. When interviewing for User Experience positions, job-seekers should be alert for cues about the recruiter's level of knowledge about the job. Don't assume the recruiter understands how to guide the employer to the “right fit” for the job, even if the recruiter seems to use the right buzzwords.


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