How do you find (and be) a good UXer?


We chat a bit about how to go about finding a good UX Designer or Researcher. Our conversation applies to Service Design, Interaction Design … all the titles! If you want the TLDW answer … well, we think you should watch. The answer(s) isn’t ground-breaking and yet so many people (hiring managers and applicants alike) downplay or ignore the importance.


Matt: Can I buy a ticket if I don't attend?

Matthew: Absolutely. I'll sell you twenty.

Matt: Oh, what a deal. Let's talk about hiring people.

Matthew: Let's talk about hiring people.

Matt: Specifically, user experience people.

Matthew: Oh, those people.

Matt: I know, 'cause there comes a time in everyone's life, you either are trying to be hired or you're trying to hire.

Matthew: We've been on both ends of that.

Matt: Which shall we tackle first?

Matthew: I think, let's talk about... Since we're, well, I don't know. It's funny because we're both kind of in the position where we're in this middle ground of we do both. We get hired by our clients, so we have to be a good UX person to be hired, and make that case, and we also work with other people.

Matt: Yeah. We hire subcontractors or collaborators.

Matthew: Collaborators, yes.

Matt: From a, let's call it a management perspective.

Matthew: Okay.

Matt: 'Cause I hear about this, I hear about both. But let's start with that one, right. So if you're looking to hire, say you're starting up a new team, you want some UX love.

Matthew: Settle down.

Matt: Love is the wrong...

Matthew: Settle down.

Matt: So you're a manager, or a director, and you're starting up a team.

Matthew: I'm a manager or a director and I'm starting up a team.

Matt: Perfect.

Matthew: Thanks. I'll be playing the role of hiring manager today.

Matt: 'Cause I've talked to people in both, the two situations where you're a experienced UX person, which makes it easier to hire, but a lot of times they're not an experienced UX person, and so they don't even know where to begin.

Matthew: Obviously in this conversation, there are going to be a lot of assumptions we're going to have to make because things can be so contextual. Where someone might be all ready to hire someone, their budget gets pulled out from under them for some reason, because the company takes a different direction.

Matt: I think, and in that case as in many cases where you're starting up a team, that whole contributor/lead or manager role is more common, because you have a smaller staff and so you, I think you have to stretch everyone, and everyone's kind of doing a little bit of everything. Versus if you're a bigger team, you can afford to have a dedicated manager-type person, as just oversight, mentorship and stuff like that. So I think as a starting point, if you're starting up a new team, the whole dual role makes more sense, player-coach or whatever you wanna call it. But to find the right person, you know, you have to do a few things. You have to assess skills, and as people say, the culture fit.

Matthew: I hate that.

Matt: I do too.

Matthew: That so much. Culture fit.

Matt: But you know, let's call it what it is.

Matthew: We want diversity, but we also want people to be exactly like us, right.

Matt: Well, I call it the personality test. I mean, you want people that are gonna, you're gonna wanna work with.

Matthew: Right, yeah.

Matt: You don't have to be your best friend, obviously, but, and that doesn't mean they have to agree with you, which is a whole 'nother personality trait, but, you know, having people that you respect, but can have good debates with, or good conversations with. I had a conversation yesterday with someone about how working with people that are a little bit different, or very different, but respectful, is actually a really good team dynamic to have, because you get different perspectives. And I think that should be weighed into anyone who's building a team or looking to hire.

Matthew: Hiring someone that you think you're gonna be able to get along with, is really important, I think. It can be somewhat easy to assess whether or not someone has the skills to do the job. I think it can be a little harder, and also it's more important, to find out, do I actually want to work with this person for the next five years, or however long? Where, I've seen both, when I've been part of the hiring process, when I've been brought in to help with interviews, or when I've led the hiring process when I've been the one hiring, or when I've been the one looking for a job, it feels like there's so much more emphasis put on skill assessment. Part of me gets it, but the other part is like, that isn't really where I'd want to, when I'm hiring, where I want to spend my time. Or not spend my time, but not spend most of my focus on that.

Matt: Right, 'cause you can assess that, again, like you said, not easily, but reliably.

Matthew: Right, yeah.

Matt: I think you can get a sense for that fairly quickly, and the personality kind of is multi-layered, because it's not just personality on the surface of hey, this is a good person, I don't mind working with him. But also, understanding their work ethic, and, are they gonna work a full day? Are they gonna produce what they say they're gonna produce? Are they gonna meet their deadlines? It could be a great guy or gal, but if you're missing deadlines, that's not gonna be a good thing. That is the really hard part to assess, is the work ethic, in my mind. 'Cause personality, I can get a pretty good read on someone if I'm just, have a half-hour, 45-minute conversation with them, and we can assess their work like, how can they, you know, what is their methodology that they like to do, and how do they actually do their job? But assessing work ethic, I think, is a challenge.

Matthew: Yeah, and it's not something where you can say, "So, you know, "if we have a deadline to meet, "would you chip in and help out?" Because of course, during the interview process, they're gonna say, "Oh, of course I would."

Matt: Right. And yeah, you can always ask questions along those lines, of like, "Well, tell me about a project "where you were running behind, and what did you do?" And you know, just hear if they can recall a story where they came through in the end, or they said, "Oh, well we missed our deadline."

Matthew: Right. Scope.

Matt: Okay. Right, right, we got skill, we shipped a year later. Yeah, you can ask those questions, and get them to reflect on their history. That's a tough one, other than, you know, talking to previous employee, employers, which you know, that's not super reliable either.

Matthew: Right. Sort of embedded in the question of how do you find a good UX/service design/product design, whatever the title may be, again, we're not getting into defining titles. Sort of a broadly speaking human-centered discipline kind of area, what makes for a good person doing that stuff?

Matt: Yeah, and I think that's something that everyone should, you know, if you're going through this hiring process, really be deliberate about. Like, understanding what are the traits that you're looking for? Like I always, not really jokingly, but I always say to people, like, if you wanna get, be successful in doing what we do, then there's two rules and you and I know these rules. It's know what you're doing and don't be a dick.

Matthew: Aw, damn it.

Matt: And satisfy those, you're gonna be good.

Matthew: I've been doing it wrong.

Matt: You're gonna go places. But no, you have to, yeah, look at some of those traits, which again are hard to assess from an interview. Like the, the quote "soft skills," which is another term I don't like, but you know, are you curious, are you passionate? You know, some of those things. Like, are you gonna be whatever the opposite of lazy is?

Matthew: Engaged.

Matt: Are you gonna be proactive in getting your work done? Engaged, yeah, are you gonna be proactive in getting work done? Again, those things, outside of just knowing what to do, it's how do you do your job? If you're a researcher, definitely, you have to be personable, you're talking to people. You have to be inquisitive, curious. You know, you have to have that mindset of you know, a good researcher, of being a detective.

Matthew: Right. Yeah, I think curiosity is one of the big things for me, where, you know, looking at it from me as the person hiring, how many questions does this person ask of me about the role, and when you're looking for someone, it's really how, how curious and how... Excited is totally the wrong word, because people's interest in the topic area or the company or whatever, can come across in a lot of different ways, but I guess it goes back to what, you know, you're the opposite of lazy, right. Whatever that is.

Matt: And another attribute, I'll say of, more about researchers but I guess this can be applied to designers, that I've talked to other hiring managers about, is what they're looking for in terms of, again, the opposite of laziness. No, the, like how quick they are to get their work done. How efficient they are, versus how detailed they are, because sometimes, you know, there's this continuum, or scale of super-detailed people, but then they don't get their work done because they're so focused on you know, every pixel or you know,

Matthew: I've work with...

Matt: every bit of data, versus the people that are super quick, but then they miss details, they miss big, you know, they miss big issues or things in the data, where they forget to design pages in their application. So figuring out where someone is along that continuum is also helpful, and I think that's another thing where you might wanna mix, not people that are missing details, but people that can kinda help each other on the team get their work done properly thoroughly, but also quickly and efficiently.

Matthew: Yeah, where my brain kind of categorizes that as sort of strategy and very detail-oriented. It'd be lovely if everybody was both able to do big-picture stuff and small stuff. Not small stuff, but focus-stuff as well.

Matt: Detail.

Matthew: But that's just not how most people function.

Matt: Right, and that goes back to my point of having a good blended team with different people with different skills, I think that helps balance everything out, and this is more in the small, the start-up world, or the small company world. Thing is they like to hire the unicorn, and they wanna hire the one person that's gonna do the research, that's gonna do the design, that's gonna do the QA testing. They might even do the code, of you know, or an end code at least. And I get people asking me that, like, "Oh, how can I find someone that's gonna do "all of these things?" And my response is usually, "If they exist, "they're not gonna wanna work here for you, for nothing."

Matthew: Right, right.

Matt: And if you find someone, and you do manage to hire them, they'll be gone in about three months to go over to the West Coast, or someone bigger that's gonna pay them more, and then you're gonna be left trying to fill their spot, and you'll have to hire more than one person. So I just tell them, be realistic, hire for the role, don't try to get it all done in one person, because it's not gonna work out, and even if you get lucky, it's not gonna last.

Matthew: Yeah, hire assuming you're building a team, rather than, because even if someone can do all that, their work is going to be better if they have someone to collaborate with. So you might as well be hiring for building a team.

Matt: I get that quite often. "Oh, how can, help me find this one person. "Help me find one person to do all this stuff." It's just not realistic. So I think we covered the hiring part. I think, I'm trying to think of what's different from what we talked about, compared to if you're the person trying to get hired, how to differentiate yourself, or you know, actually get that interview, or nail the interview and get the job, and I think we did a show about portfolios maybe, and resumes.

Matthew: Did we?

Matt: I don't remember.

Matthew: We should probably keep track of...

Matt: We've done so many, I can't. But we could always hit it again. I think--

Matthew: I don't think we did.

Matt: So let's not make this the portfolio episode, but let's just say, I'll say from my standpoint personally, I have looked at portfolios, I've looked at quite a few portfolios for when I'm hiring people. I have one for when I'm trying to get hired. No one has ever wanted to look at my portfolio. And that speaks more to most of my clients come from word of mouth and referrals, but everyone should have one and keep it up to date, so when you need it you have it. Same thing with a resume, hardly anyone asks for my resume, but I have one just, just in case.

Matthew: When you're either going to look for a position, or you're hiring for that position, I think what covers a lot of what we've been talking about with understanding their work ethic, understanding their, how they approach the work, understanding that strategy versus the detail work perspective, having at least one use case where you can do a deep-dive conversation about you know, maybe you can't share everything because of some proprietary nature of the work, and then also sometimes research just doesn't have visuals to go with it, but being able to talk through and do a deep dive on a use case, I think is a great way to get to all those points.

Matt: Exactly.

Matthew: Of, you know, this is my approach, this the kind of work I did, this is the kind deliverers we'll ask for, this is what I produced.

Matt: And even this, maybe this was a mistake, or this was something I would do differently, and here's how I handled it, because we all make mistakes.

Matthew: I made a mistake yesterday.

Matt: There you go.

Matthew: So I'm, I've hit my quota for the year.

Matt: That's right. I think that's a good point, having real stories to tell demonstrates your previous work history and your attitudes, you work ethic, all that stuff. You can pull that all in.

Matthew: As the hiring manager, you can have, or even if you're doing one of those all-day interviews where other people on the team are also interviewing, you can talk about, it's probably not in the use case, but you can say, "So, what was it like working with "the front-end developer? "Tell me about that working relationship you had with them." And that's gonna tell you, you know, one, how they feel about working with other people, because there's certainly still plenty of people out there who take the lone-wolf approach to a lot of this work, which I find continuously ridiculous. But that's an opportunity, then, to have those deeper conversations, even if it's only just one thing. So I think, from a putting together a portfolio perspective, if you can take one project and make it the most detailed thing you can, I think that would help with a lot of moving those conversations forward with the hiring manager, with the hiring team, and from the person who's trying to get the job, to really sort of showcase your capabilities as the person looking for the job, and really to help sway some of those concerns that you have as the hiring manager, of, "they seem likable but can they do the job right?" Or, "I know, I can tell they can do the job, "but do I wanna work with them?"

Matt: I wanna address one other related thing, the case of the person that wants to get a job but has no experience. Because I hear about that a lot too, so they're coming out of some other discipline, they're transitioning to UX design or UX research role, and they have some related experience but maybe not practical experience, or they're recent graduates, in which case they should have projects from their classwork that they should be able to share. But I always tell people, "If you don't have work, "do work. Make something up, make up a project "for yourself, design something, research something. "Just do something that demonstrates "that you know how to do it." And be upfront about it, never lie and say it was for a paying client or something, but just demonstrate, you know, the initiative that, "Well, I wanted to gain experience "so I learned this on my own, this is how I did it."

Matthew: Yeah, I think it's, I won't say easy-easy, but it's easy to look at your favorite app and just re-design it.

Matt: Yep, exactly.

Matthew: And knowing full well that you don't know what the business cases are for why it was that way in the first place, or whatever, but just, "This is my take on this app "and this is why I made these designs, design decisions. "I went out and I talked to ten people about this topic. "I think if anyone's ever interested "in making a product around this, "or a service around this, here are some questions "that I answered and that I think should be answered." For the research, or something like that.

Matt: Yep, I think it's great. Show initiative, show critical thinking, show some strategic thought. All that can be applied in an interview and explained, and a good hiring manager will recognize that as positive aspects, versus someone that just comes in saying, "Well, I graduated but I'm looking to learn." If you're trying to separate yourself, that's one way to do it.

Matthew: Yeah, and particularly around the people who have a lot of work experience, maybe they're in a different industry and they're coming over to ours. I'm actually pretty interested in potentially working with those people, because they've learned all the, again just, we should just stop saying soft skills. They've learned a lot of the skills that it takes to work with other people.

Matt: Interpersonal skills.

Matthew: Right.

Matt: Can we say that instead of soft skills.

Matthew: Interpersonal skills?

Matt: Yeah.

Matthew: I don't know, that's harder to say. We'll just say soft skills.

Matt: Let's call it S-skills.

Matthew: Those S-skills. S-s-s-skills. Yeah, it's like they've already gone through how to have a meeting with people, and how to negotiate for a raise, or something, you know.

Matt: Or just negotiate with a colleague, about a design direction, or anything, yeah. How to be an adult and work maturely with other people.

Matthew: Right, and those skills are the bulk of what we do.

Matt: Yes. Negotiation is a big part of what we do, and communication.

Matthew: Using Sketch of Figma is not a skill. It's a capability, but you know, it's not the core of what we really are doing.

Matt: Because as we know, the tools change quarterly, yearly.

Matthew: That's right. That's right. Shout-out to Fireworks.

Matt: Pour one out for Fireworks.

Matthew: Shout-out, shout-out to paper and pencil.

Matt: I think that's everything that was on my mind, as far as hiring goes. We might wanna do a part two eventually, if we pick up more stuff. But if you have questions, viewer, please let us know, and we can definitely talk more about it. It's an interesting topic, and like Matthew said, it's one that we're sitting on both sides of right now personally. We can talk about it.

Matthew: Yeah, and in a lot of ways, it's what we think about the most.

Matt: Yeah.

Matthew: When we're, you know, between projects or ramping down a project and starting to think about where the next project's going to be. It's something that we probably could spend quite a bit of time talking about. It would be lovely to start getting out there and talking to hiring managers, and saying, "So really, what are you doing?" And looking at people's portfolios and saying, "What are you doing here?" Let's call it, people.

Matt: Subscribe, like.

Matthew: All those things, yeah, right.

Matt: All right, are we out?

Matthew: Spread our fame far and wide.

Matt: I gotta turn my fan back on, I'm dying in here. All right. It's so hot. All right, good show, people, good show.

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