Ask 10 user researchers how they broke into the field, and you’ll probably get 10 different answers. The truth is, there is no single path to a successful research career. However, if this is a goal of yours, you need to understand how to appeal to hiring managers by creating an exceptional resume and portfolio, nailing an interview, and leaving a lasting impression.
Optimize Your Resume and Portfolio
Every research project is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a resume. Instead, you should—while remaining honest about your experience and qualifications—align your resume with the position you are applying for. Ensure the hiring manager can clearly see that you are excited about that particular role and why you are a good fit. If you find an open position that is a leap from your previous positions, don’t shy away as long as you have the underlying skillset required.
At Tetra, we often see UI designers applying for user research roles. That is perfectly fine as long as your resume highlights how the research-related work you completed positively impacted the outcome. Research is inherently interdisciplinary, so it’s not necessarily a downside to have experience in other fields, and is quite often beneficial.
Including clear data points on the impact of your research will make your resume stand out from the crowd. For example, you could state that user engagement increased by 20 percent based on changes that stemmed from your research. This demonstrates your ability to communicate the value of research in general as well as the value you can bring to the team.
For entry-level researchers, sharing a portfolio of work done in school can significantly augment your resume. Even if it’s not specifically requested, you can make your application stand out by including studies of the work you’ve done and detailing the problem, method, process, and impact.
Ultimately, remember that hiring managers are looking for demonstrated skills, not simply experience. And in addition to research skills, soft skills such as empathy, communication, collaboration, and exceptional storytelling ability are essential. Nearly every job description in any industry calls for strong communication skills, but in research, there is perhaps nothing more important. This is because researchers need to able to communicate with a wide range of people, including participants, engineers, designers, and CEOs. It’s imperative to demonstrate that you understand how to cater messaging toward each audience.
Nailing the Interview
Excitement about the position is the most important thing we look for when interviewing researcher candidates. You’d be surprised how many people are ill- informed about the role or company or even sound bored during the interview. In addition to asking about your experience, we also want to see how applicants communicate. We often look for candidates who take the initiative to go into specifics about projects and explore interesting tangents without being prompted. This shows that they understand the important aspects of the project and how they can uniquely contribute.
And, understand that it’s OK to take a beat before answering a question. It’s much better to say, “Sure that’s a great question. Let me take a moment to think about that,” and give a thoughtful response than it is to rush into a careless answer. This ability to be contemplative and deliberate helps interviewers identify candidates who have the qualities of a good researcher.
Even if you had an excellent interview and the right qualifications, it’s crucial that you follow up with the interviewer. It doesn’t have to be extensive, but make sure you send a thank-you email that includes some bullet points from the conversation and highlight your excitement about the position.
If you have gone through several interviews and do not receive an offer, don’t be too discouraged. It’s a good sign that you made it that far in the interview process. The hiring manager saw you as an excellent candidate, but perhaps someone else was a better fit based on their experience, skills, or personality. Remember to never burn a bridge. Instead, send a final thank you and feel free to ask how you can expand your skill set, improve your resume, or hone your interview style. You want to leave the company with a good impression, as you never know when another opportunity might arise that you would be perfect for.
There is no one way to get a job in user research, but if you take your time, have enthusiasm for the work, and are prepared, you have a much better chance of impressing hiring managers.
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