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Mateusz Razniak

REAL UX help wanted! – why recruiting UX Designers is such a drag…

Getting the right candidate to fill the open ‘UX Designer’ position at your company can be painful. Currently, the job market is full of people calling themselves ‘UX Designers’ (or something similar) but the number of potential candidates that actually live up to the title is much lower. The second reason why companies struggle so much with recruiting UX is the fact that there is much confusion about who a UX designer is and what their responsibilities are.

UX job description

It’s quite common that UX Designers are often mistaken for graphic designers, programmers or both. Despite the fact that the current job market doesn’t give us clearly defined borders between plenty of digital product design positions, it is possible to define what we, UX Designers, actually do.

To put it simply, UX designer in your team is the person that is responsible for defining the project vision based on user research, UX knowledge and business input. That is to say, UX designers are the people you work with when you, as a business stakeholder or proxy stakeholder, try to conceptualize the product you are trying to create. And what’s important – the product doesn’t even have to be a digital one.

UX Design is about the psychology of using things (it’s not an official definition but I’m trying to be as clear as possible) so it doesn’t really matter if you’re trying to design an e-commerce website or a… bicycle. You can include UX Designers on board in both cases and they will help.

At the end of a certain product development cycle, the UX people in your team will also validate the ideas you all come up with via user testing methods that will ensure the usability and the overall quality of the created product.

So more or less, this is what a UX designer does and what you should look for when you’re planning to hire one.

What’s the problem?

In recent years, we have noticed an enormous increase of interest in UX. The ever-growing number of articles, videos, whole blogs and social media posts became huge enough to grab the attention of many companies that before the dawn of this UX golden age didn’t really pay much attention to this part of the design field. Sadly, not many of them understood the concept itself.

Hiring UX Designers became trendy and that leap started a wave of overzealous recruiters flooding LinkedIn inboxes of people that at least remotely were related to a blurred concept of a UX Designer. This correlated with an even bigger wave of people who tried to rebrand their careers and become UX Designers. Not all of them understood the concept of UX as a human centred design process and it caused a lot of  confusion and uncertainty around an UX Designers skillset.

All this led to a complicated job market where potential employees don’t always possess the skills needed to be a UX Designer and employers are not certain about who and how to recruit or even worse, they try to enforce unrealistic visions of Full Stack UX/UI/Graphic/AngularJS Design-Developer unicorns.

How can I hire a real UX Designer?

The situation may seem chaotic but a little bit of patience and know-how should work a treat when hiring an actual UX Designer.

First and foremost, define if the candidate you are looking for is a UX Designer. As already mentioned UX Designers are often confused with graphic designers and sometimes even developers.

Ask yourself a basic question: “Do I need a UX Designer?” Try to imagine that person being the human centred design evangelist that through workshop, user research, design iteration and validation drives the product creation process along with business and tech stakeholders. Is this the person you are looking for? Nope? Then, double check what you want from a candidate you are looking for as it is highly possible you are not looking for a UX Designer… or maybe you should hire one but you’re getting the concept wrong?

The CV & Portfolio

There’s a couple of things worth keeping an eye out when reviewing CV’s and portfolios.

First of all, if someone sends you a portfolio on Behance or Dribble full of hi-fi mockups that are pixel perfect representations of a digital product, there is a big chance that you are NOT dealing with a UX Designer. A UX portfolio should be focused on the well-thought process and the “why” of things not on hi-fi deliverables. If someone provides something other than that it can’t be considered as a UX portfolio.  To sum up: case studies are a big “YES”, hi-fi mockups are a big “NOPE”.

Secondly, look at the CV of the candidate (well, that’s kind of obvious) and try to check a couple of things:

  1. Skillset – if the CV emphasises things like “HCD”, “User Research”, “Usability Testing” that’s good. If somewhere high up the skill list you see things like “Adobe CS” or “Angular JS” sitting up there all alone without the “HCD” and “Usability Testing” that’s most likely not so good.
  2. Workplace – check the candidate’s previous companies. Maybe, they are known in the UX industry for delivering high quality design? If not, check their home page. Do they write anything about UX on their blog? Does it make sense? Does it fit your understanding of what UX is all about? Check out who else worked at that company and what their LinkedIn profiles tell you? Are those people Full Stack Unicorns? Developers? Visual Designers? Or maybe T-shaped UX specialists you are looking for?

The interview

I’m a huge fan of workshop-like recruitment interviews. Especially, if you are looking for uxers, it’s stepping out of the HR box and trying to do something different.

Besides, the most obvious stuff like talking to the candidate about their processes, decision making and the “why” in those decisions, you can always save some time for a sort of design activity. Try to be original. Ask the candidate something like: “How would you carry out a UX research process for a product that is the next generation of a city bicycle? Tell us about some methods you would use and why you would use those particular ones.” If you’re talking to the right candidate you’ll get an answer that will outline a human centred design process tailored to the business reality the candidate should enquire about. Easy, isn’t it?

What if you’re already taking the extra step and invest some more effort to invite all candidates to a workshop? I suspect that after the initial CV and portfolio screening the number of candidates left won’t be that big so doing a sort of assessment centre shouldn’t be a huge problem.

Confront the participants with whiteboards, markers, post-it notes (designers love those) and see how they solve problems, how they work within a team. Do they have the UX leadership approach you should look for? Can they provide the added value you expect?

Community

It’s probably the oldest trick in the book but trying to aim at people that are active and respected UX community members looks like a bulletproof hiring solution. The bad news is that probably these people already have jobs they are happy with.

Don’t worry, there’s a different approach you can take if you’re an employer looking for some UX Designers. Try to listen to the community and understand what they’re talking about. This will get you on the right track to hire people that have the same mindset as community leaders. The good news is that there are many talents that just don’t participate in the community so much, you just need to notice them when knocking on your door.

Find those great names on LinkedIn or Tweeter and follow what they’re writing about. This kind of research should enforce your understanding of the UX world and increase your chances of hiring great UXers.

Practice what you preach

If you’re an employer looking for UX Designers and you validated that uxers are the people you want to hire, make sure you are the company a UX Designer wants to work for.

Embrace the Human Centred Design process, incorporate the work culture, methodologies and tools and most importantly, tell UX Designers you need them and not someone else.

Even if currently you don’t have any uxers among your employees start with hiring one person that will kick off UX at your company.  Try to give them a free hand to build a UX team or support them to act as a UX team of one.

To sum up

The current UX job market is a bit messy and the confusion comes from both the employer’s and candidate’s side. Due to various reasons, some of which were highlighted earlier in this article; it’s hard to successfully finalise a UX recruitment process. On the other hand, employers are often the ones to blame for not really understanding who or what for they are hiring.

To cut a long story short, you should be vigilant and open to the community of uxers as they provide guidance that may be used as a source of information about who and on what basis one should hire. Moreover, try to be critical about your recruitment assumptions, challenge what you think you know and maybe put some design thinking into your next UX head hunting 🙂

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