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Posts from the ‘Career’ Category

A UX Researcher’s New Year’s Resolutions

New Year

Flickr: RLHyde

Try new things

In 2013, I’ll try new techniques instead of relying on the same routine research activities. For each project, I’ll step back and think about what research activities make the most sense based on the situation. Trying new things and inventing new techniques keeps things interesting.

Work faster

This year, I’ll do some things faster, to be more agile and lean where possible so that research continues to be included in projects. We’ve done a good job of selling clients and project team members on the value of including user research in projects. The remaining hurdle is that it often takes longer than they would like. There definitely are areas that can be sped up.

Work slower

In 2013, I’m going to use the time I save on working faster to spend more time on the activities that provide the most value. Some things shouldn’t be rushed. Analysis of research data, for example, is the most important, but least understood part of user research. No one ever seems to understand what analysis involves, how long it can take, and how important it is. In 2013, I’m going to fight for the time needed for analysis and do a better job explaining what it involves, why it takes so long, and why it’s so important to give it the time needed.

Get better participants

In 2013, instead of aiming high and settling for what we’re able to recruit, I’m going to create better screeners and spend more time making sure that the people who have been recruited, match the type of people we want to get. I’m going to be especially careful when clients are doing the recruiting of their own customers, employees, or members. I’ll give them better instructions in findings and recruiting people, and I’ll evaluate the types of people that they’ve scheduled.

Publish and present

In 2013, I’ll continue to publish articles in UXmatters and elsewhere. I’ll try to present at a conference. Publishing and presenting are great ways to share your knowledge with others in the field. For more tips on publishing and presenting, see my series of articles on Publishing and Presenting in UXmatters.

Attend more UX events

In 2013, I’ll attend more local UX events. In Philadelphia, we have a very active CHI group, PhillyCHI, but I always find it difficult to get motivated to go out after a long work day and attend their events. Every time I do attend, however, I find that it’s a great way to meet others in the field, and I always learn something useful.

Read more

In 2013, I’d like to read more UX-related books and articles. That’s easier said than done when you’re really busy at work. And after a day practicing UX, it’s difficult to get motivated to read UX in your spare time. Usually, I want to read anything else. Fortunately, a great trend in UX books is towards shorter, more practical books that can be read quickly (for example, the Rosenfeld Media books).

Be thankful for what I have

It can feel good to complain and think about what could be better about your job, but I find that I often don’t think about how good I have it. I’m doing a job I enjoy, that’s challenging, and usually interesting. In 2013, I’d like to focus more on the positive and appreciate what I have. If I find that I have only complaints and nothing to be thankful for, I’ll know that it’s up to me to change things.

Those are my resolutions. I hope I can achieve most, if not all of them, in 2013.

Amateur Job Interviewers

Flickr: joelogon

Because asking questions is one of the main things I do as a user researcher, it often amazes me that I’m not better at interviewing job candidates. But a job interview is very different from a user interview. In a job interview, you’re trying to assess the qualifications and suitability of a person who’s actively trying to impress you and may not be telling you the full truth. You’re constantly making judgments. That’s completely different than a user interview, in which you try to remain impartial and neither you nor the interviewee has a vested interest in the outcome, besides trying to understand the person and the tasks he or she performs.

I’m an amateur job interviewer. Expert interviewers, such as the hiring manager and the recruiter or HR person, have the most at stake in interviewing the candidates. Amateur interviewers are usually potential co-workers who are there to assess the qualifications of the candidate and how well the person would fit in with the company.

Most interviewing advice focuses on how to interview with experts, but they don’t give you much insight into the minds of the amateurs. Here are a few things to know about amateur job interviewers.

They’re busy and your interview may be a hassle

Amateur interviewers are often busy. They get a meeting invitation to do a job interview and they accept it without thinking. They may then forget about the interview until a few minutes beforehand. So it’s likely that your interview is an interruption in their workday, which may affect their mood. They may just want to get the interview over with.

You may interview with someone who has been called in at the last minute

Since people are busy, last minute cancellations are common. Project work usually takes precedence over job interviews. So the person you were scheduled to meet with may change to someone else at the last minute. That person who was called in at the last minute is probably even less prepared to interview with you.

They may not have read your resume

Amateur interviewers may take a quick look at your resume when they first get the meeting invitation, but they have probably forgotten the details by the time of the interview. Often, they simply glance over the resume just before or during the beginning of the interview. “Tell me a little about yourself,” is often the first question because they haven’t read your resume.

They don’t necessarily know how to evaluate you

Amateur interviewers often have no interview training. They’ve been on job interviews themselves, but they don’t always know what questions to ask or how to evaluate the responses. Other than trusting your gut opinion, it’s often very difficult to judge someone from just a 30 minute interview.

It’s safer not to make a decision

Since it’s difficult to judge people, it’s often safer to either reject a candidate or recommend additional interviews. Sure, there are clear times when you feel that someone would be a great fit for the job and times when you definitely feel that a candidate should be rejected. But very often, the decision isn’t that clear. In those cases, it may seem safer to turn a candidate down or recommend additional interviews.

They may not want to hire someone

Unlike the HR person or the hiring manager, amateur interviewers may not want to hire another person. They may see an additional employee as a threat. If you appear to be too good, they may feel threatened by you – that you will surpass them or compete for promotions and attention. The interviewer may not see the need for additional employees. You may be seen as someone who will take away their work.

They don’t know the big picture

HR people and hiring managers know about all the candidates that have applied. They’ve likely read the resumes and picked out the best people to interview. They know about the level of talent that their job posting has been attracting and can judge between the possible candidates for the job. Amateur interviewers rarely have all this information. So it’s difficult for them to judge the one or two people they’ve interviewed, because they can’t compare them to the other options.

They won’t take much time to look at samples

Work samples are helpful, but busy people have very little time to look at work samples outside of the interview itself. This is especially true for writing samples, which take more time to read and evaluate.

They may be uncomfortable asking difficult questions

Amateurs are often not comfortable asking tough questions. That may sound like a good thing, but just because a question isn’t asked, doesn’t mean that the question isn’t in the interviewer’s head. Often the biggest doubts about hiring someone seem impolite to ask, which doesn’t give the candidate the ability to address those issues.  For example, “You have no experience in this field, so how do you think you can succeed in this job?” is a great but difficult question to ask. If it’s not addressed, that doubt will still linger in the interviewer’s mind and may be the reason to recommend not hiring you.

How to make the most of an amateur interview

By knowing what an amateur interviewer is thinking, there are a few things you can do to make the most of one of these interviews:

  • Bring extra copies of your resume to hand out to interviewers who don’t have one.
  • Ask them for their name and what they do, since the person you interview with may not be the original person scheduled for the session.
  • Prepare a good summary about yourself when asked, “So, tell me about yourself.”
  • Present your best self, but don’t be too good. You don’t want the interviewer to feel that you’re a threat to their job. You want them to picture you as a friendly co-worker, not a ruthless competitor.
  • Ask the interviewer questions about him/herself, the job, and the company. Most people feel much more comfortable answering questions about themselves and the company rather than asking questions. Amateur interviewers are often the best sources of information about the job, the people who work there, and what it would be like to work for the company.
  • Even if you’ve already asked all your questions of previous interviewers, ask the same questions again with the person you’re currently interviewing with. You don’t seem prepared if you don’t have any questions to ask.
  • Conduct your own assessment of the amateur interviewer. Would you want to work with that person?
  • Bring work samples to show during the meeting. It gives you something to talk about, taking the burden off the interviewer. Also, it’s probably the only time the interviewer will have to look at them.
  • Make sure you address the important points about why you would be a good fit for the position, and proactively answer any possible doubts. The interviewer may be relieved that he or she doesn’t have to ask these uncomfortable questions, and you may relieve their doubts. It also shows that you have good judgment and gives the impression that you’re honest and realistic.
  • Thank them for taking the time out of their busy schedule to interview you.
  • Send a brief and informal thank you email after the interview.

And lastly, remember that once you get the job, someday you’ll end up as an amateur interviewer too. So remember what the situation was like on the other side of the interview table.

Caring for Your User Researcher

Affectionate dog

Affectionate dog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a user researcher. Treat him or her well and you’ll have years of effectively designed products. This guide will help you in the care and nurturing of your user researcher.

Feed your researcher well

  • Research days are often very busy and unpredictable. The most important person to consider on these days is not the clients or other observers; it’s the person who has to remain sharpest – the researcher.
  • Make sure your researcher is well fed and has enough time to eat meals. This will provide the energy needed to concentrate on the research session.
  • You may remember the meals, but don’t forget the snacks. If everyone else gets cookies, make sure you save some for the researcher.

Avoid burnout

  • Research is often very mentally challenging. It’s easy for your researcher to get burned out, and when that happens, he or she can’t operate at top form, which could mean missing things or not asking the right questions.
  • Don’t schedule too many sessions in a single day. Four to five usability testing sessions and three or four field studies are about the maximum before burnout sets in.
  • Provide enough breaks between sessions, and allow your researcher to relax during those times.
  • Don’t fill the break times with meetings or discussions with clients. Provide time to rest the mind. Your researcher may need to step away and have some alone time.

Provide variety

  • Most researchers don’t want to do the same things all the time. If you don’t provide enough variety, eventually he or she will seek variety by going to another company.
  • Provide variety in the following aspects: clients, platforms to work on (websites, intranets, mobile devices, software, products, service design, etc.), research activities (usability testing, unmoderated studies, field studies, etc.), and types of people to work with.

Let your researcher run free

  • Don’t micromanage your user researcher. Trust his or her judgment.
  • Provide input on what you want to learn from the research, review the research plan, but give your researcher the independence to make the final decisions on how to accomplish the research goals. Remember you selected your researcher for his or her expertise. Listen to it.

Provide enough time to do quality work

  • Ensure that your researcher has enough time to plan the research and analyze the results.
  • Understand that your researcher will often get very interested and involved in the results and will want to produce a thorough deliverable. If there is time, allow for this.

Give praise and recognition

  • Like most people, your researcher will appreciate praise, recognition, and rewards for a job well done.
  • Your researcher will appreciate it when people take the user research seriously and appreciate the findings.

Let your researcher out to play with others

  • Your researcher will often interact with users, but otherwise, research is often a solitary activity that can get somewhat lonely.
  • Encourage your researcher work with others on the project team, such as designers and developers, to provide a more well-rounded perspective of their work and to give them a first-hand insight into the research.
  • Don’t exclude your researcher as soon as the research part of the project is completed. Keep your researcher around to use his or her valuable knowledge in the design and development phases.

Encourage your researcher’s development

  • Encourage your researcher to keep up with developments in the field by reading books, reading blogs and other Web resources, and attending events.
  • Encourage him or her to publish, present, and attend conferences and other industry events.

By following these guidelines, you should have a long and healthy working relationship with your user researcher. Good luck and have fun!

 

New article: Career Advice for User Researchers

I just published a new article in my Practical Usability column in UXmatters: Career Advice for User Researchers.

As I approached the ten year anniversary of my first job in usability, I started to reflect on all the things I’ve learned over the years. Originally, I was going to distill the main lessons I’d learned over those years into an article tentatively titled, “Ten things in Ten Years.” Well, I never got around to completing that article, and the ten year anniversary passed. Eventually, the idea evolved into career advice for people new to user research, and I finally got around to publishing it around my 11th anniversary in user research.

The article covers a lot of practical advice for people considering a career in user research, including the following topics:

  • Do you want to be a User Researcher, a Designer, or both?
  • Who do you want to work for?
  • What type of employee do you want to be?
  • Why type of projects do you want to work on?
  • What value does the company you’re considering place on user research?
  • Where does the company you’re considering draw the line between research and design?
  • What is the prestige and reputation of the company you’re considering?
  • Does the job title matter?
  • Where do you want to work?
  • How do you break into the field?
  • Do you need a portfolio?
  • How to cultivate your online presence.
  • What to do once you have a job.

Read the entire article at UXmatters: Career Advice for User Researchers.

Attend a Conference

CHI 2012, Interaction 12, IA Summit 2012, and UPA 2012It’s conference season again. The time is approaching to submit proposals to present at the major user experience conferences for 2012. Submissions for CHI 2012 are open, and the UPA 2012 and IA Summit calls for presentations are coming soon. If you’re just interested in attending, registration for most of these conferences is months away. But it’s still a good time to start looking into conferences you want to attend and to prepare to convince your employer to pay for them.

After not attending conferences for a few years, due to the recession, I attended and presented at UPA 2011 this year. I learned a few things, caught up with former colleagues, met some new people, and rekindled my passion and interest in user experience. It was a great experience that reminded me of the many benefits of attending conferences.

Benefits of presenting at a conference

Even better than attending a conference is presenting, which provides a number of benefits.

  • You get to contribute and share your knowledge with the user experience community.
  • It increases your visibility in the field, and people think of you as an expert on the subject you present.
  • It looks impressive on a resume.
  • It’s impressive to people in your company and to clients.
  • It’s a good way to network and meet others. People who attend your session often come up to you afterwards to ask questions and to talk about your topic.
  • It’s a good ego boost. You feel good that so many people are interested in what you have to say and in getting your feedback. It builds confidence and makes you want to speak again.
  • You often get free or discounted conference registration. And most companies are more likely to pay to send you to a conference if you are presenting rather than just attending.

Benefits of attending a conference

Whether you present or not, there are also many benefits of attending a conference.

  • You learn new things. Regardless of how many years of experience you have, at a good conference, you learn a few new tips and techniques. As an experienced professional, you may have less to learn than someone new to the field, but I find that I pick up at least a few new things that I may not have thought of on my own.
  • You hear new perspectives. Working with the same people all the time, it’s easy to get caught up in your usual way of doing things and to forget that there are alternatives. Conferences are a great way to hear how people at other companies approach problems differently. You may not always agree, but it’s interesting to hear other viewpoints and methods that you wouldn’t normally hear.
  • You get inspired. Taking a break from your normal work routine and surrounding yourself with a roomful of user experience people talking about important issues in the field is inspiring. I find that a good conference is rejuvenating and recaptures the interest that I had when I first started in the field.
  • It’s a great place to network. User experience is a small field. You often run into the same people that you’ve met at previous events, former coworkers, and clients. Since so much networking is done on social media these days, a conference is the place to finally meet people in person.
  • It helps your career. A conference is a great way to see what other companies are out there, what other people are doing, to see who is hiring, to network with those who are hiring, and to even interview for jobs. Most conferences facilitate job hunters and companies looking to hire with job boards and interviews at the conference.

Event listings

If I’ve inspired you to speak at or attend a conference, the following sites seem to have the best listings of user experience events:

Find UX Events

Lanyrd

HCI Bibliography Events Calendar

Johnny Holland Calendar


What to Do When You Have Nothing to Do

There’s definitely a sweet spot in terms of the amount of work you do. Ideally, you have enough work to keep you busy, enough variety to keep you interested, and enough time to do quality work, without sacrificing your personal life to meet deadlines.

But for most people, there are times when work slows down. At first it’s nice to have a break for a few days after being incredibly busy. You catch up on emails, read articles that you’ve been meaning to look at, file expense reports, clean up the piles of paper on your desk, and other administrative things. However, too many days with nothing to do can be unnerving. At first, you may begin to feel restless and bored. The days crawl by. After a few more days, you may begin to question your worth and feel guilty about having nothing to do.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are a number of things to keep you busy when things slow down at work. These things will make you feel useful and give you a sense of purpose, will make your employer think that you’re doing something useful, and will help your career.

Learn something new

Especially in the field of technology, you never stop learning. No matter how experienced you are, there’s always something new to learn. It’s important to keep your knowledge up to date with new developments in your field. That’s hard to do when you’re busy. So down times are the perfect time to catch up on your learning. This can take several forms:

  • Read articles in professional journals, online magazines, blogs, and other Web sources. If you follow the right people, Twitter is a great source of links to the most interesting and relevant user experience articles.
  • Research other user experience methods, technologies, and processes you can use. Look into new research and design tools.
  • Catch up on the latest user experience books. If you haven’t looked at what’s out there in a while, you’ll be surprised by the number of new books. Look on Amazon or publishers’ sites, like Rosenfeld Media. But be careful not to read a book at work. That makes it a little too obvious that you’re not doing real work.
  • Attend professional training.
  • Do Web-based training through an online source such as Lynda.com.
  • Look into conferences that you might want to attend, and use this time to write up a justification of the benefits of attending to convince your company to pay for it.
  • Conduct your own research study in an area that interests you.

Share your knowledge

A lot of people overlook the fact that they have a lot of knowledge and experiences to share with others. When you’re not busy, it’s a great time to reflect back on your work and write down your insights and experiences from your recent projects. Many of us don’t do this because we think we don’t have anything interesting to say that hasn’t already been said before. But if you sit down and brainstorm, you’ll be surprised how much you have to contribute. Some ways to share your knowledge with others are:

  • Write a blog.
  • Write articles for online magazines such as UXmatters, Johnny Holland, Boxes and Arrows, etc.
  • Write articles for professional journals or association magazines.
  • Prepare a paper, presentation, panel, tutorial, or workshop for a conference.
  • Present at a local professional association meeting like CHI or UPA local chapters.
  • Present to an internal group within your company.

Work for yourself

When you’re not working on other people’s stuff, work for yourself. Most of the learning and sharing activities I listed above will boost your career, but here are a few additional things you can do. Be careful about doing these things at work, however.

  • Document the work you’ve done by working on your portfolio, preparing case studies (for your company or for yourself), and created scrubbed work samples to remove client confidential material.
  • Manage your Twitter profile: look into additional people to follow, look through the list of people you currently follow and determine if there are some less useful people you should remove, and do some tweeting yourself.
  • Review your LinkedIn profile and update it. If you haven’t looked at LinkedIn in a while, there are many new features you can add to your profile. See if there are more people you should connect with. Write recommendations for people you think really deserve it.
  • Look into other professional associations you can join and local events you can attend. If you’re really ambitious, you can look into ways to volunteer in local and national associations, such as organizing and helping run events.

These things can keep you busy, make you feel useful, and are a good way to keep your skills sharp and advance your career during what could otherwise be a boring and painfully slow period. When the work eventually picks up again, you’ll be glad that you used you free time wisely.

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