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How to prepare for a UX research job interview

Walking into a job interview is always a daunting task, and applying for UX research positions is no exception. UX research being a relatively new and not well-known field only complicates things further, as there are not a lot of resources out there to prepare an interview (neither from a candidate’s, nor from a recruiter’s perspective). Having both applied to UX jobs and interviewed candidates for my UX research team, I have learnt a thing or two about the process. Here are some tips to prepare for your upcoming UX research job interview:

1. Know what position you are applying for

I have already written about how there are many different types of UX roles and job titles, and, in my experience, it can be daunting to apply for a job position only to find out the company is looking for something entirely different. It doesn’t help that many companies out there do not really have a clear understanding of what they need in the first place. And while there are people out there who are well-versed in more than one set of skills (e.g.: research and design, research and business, research and coding), the majority will shine in only one of them. If you know that research (or design) is your calling, be careful when replying to ambiguous UX/UI job ads and always double check with the recruiter what the position will actually look like. It happened to me more than once in the past that I have applied for “pure” UX research positions and was offered a programming role instead (I’ve learnt since then that I do not really need to mention any of my coding skills in my CV anymore).

2. Be ready to explain the difference between UX and UI, and between design and research

Given how much misconceptions and overlapping terms exist in the field of UX, expect to be able to explain your background and ambitions. When I interview candidates for entry level roles, I always first make sure that they are aware of the role of a UX researcher and that that’s the career path that they want to embrace. As a candidate, you need to demonstrate your understanding of “user experience” and be able to clearly differentiate between UX, UI, usability, user research, product design and so on. Knowing about the different types of UX research is also a big plus.

3. Know your research methods

Speaking of types of research, be ready to list at least a few different research methods, briefly describe them and give an example of when to use them and why. You should not be expected to have experience with all existing UX research methods, but it helps a lot if you at least know they exist. Depending on the job you are applying to, you may be required to conduct qualitative research, quantitative research, or both, but for the majority of entry-level UX positions I would recommend mastering the art of the standard usability test (think aloud) and of user interviews.

4. Give practical examples of research

This is going to be the most crucial part of the interview: explaining your process. When I interview candidates for my team, I always give them a chance to talk about their past projects – and I expect them to go into details. Fact is, many of them do, but not in the way they should: I am not interested in the project per se, I am interested in how you worked on it. You should always start mentioning the problem you were trying to solve, and your approach towards it. Don’t tell me which methods and tools you used, tell me why. And if it did not work out the way you expected: good, explain what would you do differently now to make it better. I am interested in your thinking process, the challenges you encountered, and your learnings; not the fact that you launched a dozen surveys or interviewed 100 people. If you are applying to become a UX researcher for the first time, remember that school projects and other types of research (such as psychology, sociology or market research) can also demonstrate valid transferable skills.

5. Show curiosity where you lack experience

If you don’t have much hands-on experience, don’t be ashamed of it: we all start somewhere. Even the most experience UX researchers usually lack experience of all research methods (they are so many!), but it really helps if you are able to at least name and describe a few ones. Being able to name a few books or podcasts about UX research is a good way to show that you are serious about wanting to learn, and so does joining a UX bootcamp if you don’t have a relevant academic background or are switching careers. Just keep in mind that no amount of studying can replace real experience when it comes to conducting interviews, setting up a study, and dealing with frenetic, fast-paced work environment that characterises the IT industry.

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