Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Interviewing for UX Research Positions

After contracting part-time for Shoefitr for 5 months (or so), I decided it was time to get back on the horse and try applying to jobs again.  This time, revisiting my cover letter and résuméI could see exactly where to trim the fat and concisely explain my relevant experience.  I now know the language - I can comfortably talk about testing a low fidelity vs. high fidelity prototype, speak with confidence on doing research with a big budget vs. no budget, and I have an artillery of tools I can reference.

I applied to several jobs around the end of August/beginning of September.  About two to three weeks later, I was speaking with four companies at once and setting up interviews.  I was referred to two of the companies.  For one, I saw on LinkedIn that my friend knew several people at this company, so I reached out to him, he made an introduction, and my résumé got forwarded without ever applying formally.  I had never done this route before, but it worked out pretty well!  The companies I applied to were a consultancy, a pre-IPO startup, a recently acquired startup, and a larger company.  In hopes that this will help someone who might be applying to jobs now, I'll go ahead and talk about the general interview processes, but I won't name any names.

Almost all of the interviews followed this general format:

1) Recruiter reaches out in an e-mail and schedules a 30 minute "screener call"
  • These calls typically involved me explaining my research background and I talked about why I was interested in the company.  It's definitely good to ask questions during this phase.  Not all of these "screener calls" were with the recruiter.  A couple were with members of the team I was interviewing to be hired on to.  
  • A note on recruiters - some are knowledgeable about the position they are hiring for, and some are not.  It can at times seem like they are speaking another language and you are not talking about the same job.  Don't be discouraged - press on and talk about how your experience is applicable.  You will at some point talk to someone more knowledgeable about the job. 

2) Two hour on-site interview 
  • For most of these, I spoke with groups of 2 or 3 for four 30-minute sessions.  For some companies, I had one-on-one 30-minute interviews with individuals.  

3) Final round on-site interview
  • I came back to interview with more people whom I hadn't met yet.  These were usually all pretty similar to the first on-site.  Most of them were about two hours.
  • One of the companies, the consultancy, had me come in for an all-day final round interview.  I did a mock usability test, analyzed my results, created a PPT presentation, and presented to a group of people.  This one was exhausting!  I was also taken out to lunch and had a meet and greet with almost everyone in the company.

That was the general process and schedule.  Below, I'm going to talk about other things that happened during interviews and give some advice and tips.

Debriefing with Recruiter/HR Person
  • For most of these interviews, the last person I met with would be the recruiter or the HR director.  This is the time when they would ask me how I was feeling about the company, if I had any concerns, and they asked me what my salary requirement was.  
  • For the final round interviews, when I met with the recruiters, I mentioned that I was interviewing with several companies.  This put a fire under them to get back to me quickly!  

Interview the Company
  • Don't forget that you are interviewing the company as well.  Some of the companies were highly organized and gave me a detailed schedule of who I would be meeting with and when.  
  • Many made sure that I was "checked on" and that my interviews were not running long.  You could tell that my time was valued and respected.
  • For one of the companies, however, despite getting a detailed schedule, I was left in a conference room for 40 minutes and not checked on.  I had to go to the front desk (on another floor) to ask the receptionist what was happening.  Then I was interviewed in a conference room and we went 30 minutes past the scheduled end time.  At no point was I asked if I needed to be somewhere else or if I was okay on time.  SAD FACE.  

Cover letters, attire and courtesy e-mails
  • COVER LETTER: For each job I applied to, I tailored my cover letter extensively.  This is more simple to do than it sounds - read the job posting and try to speak to it specifically.  Think of examples of how you've demonstrated whatever the posting has asked for.  Get a real sense of what it seems is important to the company and emphasize those things.  One of the job postings I read said that people who work at that company are a little bit weird.  I literally added in this sentence: "I would love to sit down and discuss the details of my diverse research history and also measure exactly how weird I am."
  • ATTIRE:  I find that a safe bet for interviews (for women) is to wear a dress.  It's not too casual and you can still show that you have some personal style.  I wore a dress or skirt with a nice top and cardigan for many of the interviews.  For a few of them, I wore red jeans and a nice white top, with cute flats.  I justified wearing jeans for the companies that were startup-y and I knew that everyone interviewing me would be in jeans.  For the tech industry, you don't generally want to wear a suit.  Know your audience.  For the consultancy, I wore slacks and a nice top for one of the interviews, because they are client-facing and seem to dress up at work.  
Here's what I wore to several of the interviews.  I just put this on now, so my hair isn't did:

  • THANK YOU: After each round of interviews, I sent thank you e-mails to whomever I met with.  I asked the recruiter for the e-mail addresses, or if I could send my thank you's through the recruiter.  

Questions I was asked during the interviews
  • Tell us about a time when something wasn't going right at a project and you had to be flexible
    • This was the most common question I got.  I personally am not good at remembering examples of situations like this, although I know when doing Trial Consulting, I had to be flexible constantly.  So I didn't pick the *best* example, but instead the most recent.  
    • I talked about when something didn't go right at a project and what I did to adapt.  I also talked about debriefing after the project and what I could have done better.  Employers really want to hear about how you've learned from past experiences!  
  • What's your process for doing research?  
  • If we had X question that we wanted to answer, how would you go about researching it?
    • If there's not enough information, make sure to say "I'd want to get more information first, so I would meet with X to try and define the research question more specifically."
  • How do you keep up on the latest trends in the field?  What blogs do you read?
    • I rattled off blogs I read and I mentioned a specific one I like a lot, Dana Chisnell's blog, because I like that she specifically tells you HOW she does her research.  
  • What tools have you used?
    • I spoke about using Skype to screen share and iShowU to record a screen.  I also talked about tools I know about and would like to use but haven't because we haven't had the budget.  And I brought up using TaskRabbit for recruiting.
    • It's also good to talk about tools and skills you want to learn more about.  For instance, I spoke about how I'm interested in learning more about wireframing and design.

Questions I asked during the interviews
  • What are the challenges that this position faces?
    • You want to find out the real dirt about what is good and bad about the company.  You can also ask "tell me one thing you like about your job and one thing you would like to change."
  • Is the company bought in on research?
    • It's a good idea to find out if half your job will be convincing stakeholders about the value of research.  If the interviewers are asking you what the ROI (return on investment) of research is, then they might not see the benefits of research yet.  If you do get asked that question, try to talk about how research saves time because you are getting it right the first time, and time is money.  Research leads to better products and better products lead to more profits. 
  • What's the culture like?
    • This is where they start telling you about some of the perks, hack days, team outings, etc.
  • What's the work/life balance like?
    • This was something that was important to me! 
  • Can you tell me more about how the role takes in to account the needs of other stakeholders in the company?  
    • Will you be working with just the designers?  Or, will your role be more cross-functional?
    • Try to gauge the "politics" involved in getting research done.  In the end, are you just doing the research that the top stakeholders want you to do?  
  • Basically, just make sure you have a lot of thoughtful questions to ask!  Think about what is important to you and make sure you ask those questions.  Like I said before, you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.

Timeline of the entire process:
August 22 to September 4: Applied to jobs
September 14 to October 5: Interviewed
October 9 to October 12: Get offers and negotiated.
October 12: ACCEPTED A JOB!

I'm happy to announce that I accepted a job at Yammer.  I'll be starting the 29th (barring any unforeseen changes, and given that my background check doesn't yield anything unsavory).

If anyone out there has other advice on interviewing - what you wore, questions you were asked, etc. - please feel free to comment!


  1. Great post! Appreciate all the details you shared about your experience. I recently wrote a similar post about my adventures in design research interviewing, focused on the types of questions I got in different interviews. You can check it out at

    PS I found out about your post via Steve Portigal.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience Grace and congrats on the position with Yammer! ^ I met Steve too!

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  4. Very helpful, Grace.
    I have been doing behavioral research in academia for 10 years and going to be interviewing with YouTube next week for a UX researcher position. I am quite nervous about my FIRST industry interview. I am very confident with my research ability, but I ain't sure what they want/need. Any tips (in retrospective account)?

    1. Sorry for the late reply, just saw this! Hope your interview went well!

      So in retrospect, I found out that my team at Yammer really appreciated that I was honest about what I knew and what I still wanted to learn more about, since I was new to UX Research.

      Other things that I have learned since then and in interviewing researchers at Yammer:
      Depends on the company, but at Yammer we appreciate concise research "reports" - a short PowerPoint deck or a TL;DR of what was found in the research, or maybe even just a few bullet points of key findings. In interviewing researchers, we try to suss out if they will be able to be concise and persuasive when delivering research. Sometimes we can figure that out by their portfolio and their research deliverables. Otherwise, we just ask them questions about it.

      Another thing I've learned since then... you wouldn't believe how many people come to interview that have never tried out the product or don't have a very good reason for wanting to work here. It can be really obvious sometimes that people are just trying to move to San Francisco. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the product and maybe even do some quick research of it beforehand with friends/family.

      Also, it took me a couple of interview rounds to figure out what I was doing.

      That's all I can think of for right now. Once again, good luck!

    2. Grace, thanks for your post, it was really helpful. JSP, I'd love to know what your experience was like applying to UX Research roles. I just finished my Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience and am starting the process now myself. I would love to speak with you more!

    3. Grace, I appreciate your insights and valuable feedback on your interview experience. I am also new to the industry and have a face to face with Google next week. Thank you so much!

  5. Hi Grace! Thanks so much for this helpful blog post about UX research jobs! I'm going through the interview process at a startup right now and I'm really nervous about the final round. I have to come up with a research strategy, do a mock usability test, analyzed my results, and present! You mentioned you had to go through the same (intimidating!!) process for one of your interviews. Any advice on how to prepare?

    1. Hi Mary,

      So sorry to get back to you so late! I don't check this blog too often anymore. How did your interview go? To be honest, I don't think I did very well on that type of interview where I had to do a fake usability test and then present findings. So much pressure!

  6. Tks very much for your post.

    Avoid surprises — interviews need preparation. Some questions come up time and time again — usually about you, your experience and the job itself. We've gathered together the most common questions so you can get your preparation off to a flying start.

    You also find all interview questions at link at the end of this post.

    Source: Interview Questions & Answers:

    Best rgs