Recruiting UX Ain’t Easy – A Headhunter’s Tale

September 6th, 2011
Published on
September 6th, 2011

Knowing your stuff isn’t necessarily enough to land your dream job. Those in charge of hiring UX professionals are concerned with a number of other factors; don’t let it catch you off guard.

Note from the Editor: Though we recently discussed the ins and outs of UX job hunting, it’s not everyday we get to hear things from the perspective of the recruiters. Here, Ad Carpenter of the recruiting agency iDream Talent tells it like it is.

Hunting for UX talent is nothing short of finding a needle in a haystack. For the past three weeks, the iDream Talent team hunted high and low for talented User Experience professionals (e.g. UX practitioners, researchers) that fit the personality profile and technical expertise sought after by our clients. New to the industry, we operated by utilizing many of the same resources available to any company looking to hire UXers: LinkedIn, Facebook, personal networks, referrals, job boards and postings, alumni networks, career service centers. We had trouble finding what we were hunting for. A lot of trouble.

Why was it tougher—scratch that, toughest—to find a UXer compared to other positions we recruit for (specialized dentists, web designers, etc.)? When we do find candidates, many never respond. Others make outrageous demands for what they think they deserve in their next position, without any knowledge of the marketplace or the supply and demand of talent. But of all the scenarios we encountered, two things became painfully apparent: job boards aren’t working and UXers are bad at marketing themselves.

Bold statements? Definitely. Is there truth to them both? Absolutely.

The Times, They Are A-Changin’

Job boards are no longer working. In the words of a former professor of mine that headed Signals Intelligence at the National Security Agency, job boards are a perfect example of the increasing problem of “signals versus noise.” In the Information Age, we are suffering more and more from too much information (indigestion) versus too little (undernourished). With job boards placing your resume into a large and ever-increasing database, it is harder for recruiters and hiring managers to find the “signals” (the right candidate) among all the noise (the thousands of applications we’re not looking for). Want to stand out? Job Boards are probably not your best bet.

Second, recruiters and businesses are shifting their paradigm from an “either/or” type of recruiting to an “and.” In the past, whether head hunters and recruiters were searching for physicians or web designers, an individual with expertise and experience trumped personality and the importance of culture almost every time. Thanks to Jim Collins (and his book, Good to Great) and several other authors and researchers, businesses now understand that the personality and the so-called culture-adding ability of an individual significantly impact profitability, productivity, and sustainability, among other healthy characteristics of a successful organization. We’ve hence moved from recruiting expertise or personality to demanding expertise and personality.

For UXers, this means that it’s not enough to cite the laundry list of programs you know or the several projects you’ve successfully completed in your field. We want to know more: who are you? How do you influence others? What makes you come alive? Do you have a pulse and personality?

Believe it or not, more and more of our clients now require that a candidate pass the “Vacation Test” before we submit them as a viable choice. If they are not someone you’d like to spend a few days on vacation socializing with, then you do not pass Go, regardless of your expertise and experience.

Differentiate Yourself

With that said, we’re left with the natural question that UXers must face: how do I market myself better and get great career opportunities?

Keep your options open. Take an active approach to your professional development by constantly looking for new opportunities. Individuals that actively form relationships with recruiters will be at an advantage to their peers. Recruiters, while seldom UX experts, hold a unique 10,000-foot view of the industry, of changing business needs, and of how your job may change in the upcoming months and years. Maintaining contact with them and asking what you can do to remain competitive will put you far above the crowd. Consider it an extra resource and take advantage of it—it’s free!

But maybe keep your porcelain rabbit collection on the hush-hush.

Show some personality. Are you a little weird and nerdy? Have a secret hobby like collecting Star Wars figurines? Take time to feel out the recruiter and when appropriate, use humor and your humanity to engage the recruiter and hiring manager. Take time to uncover their interests and tie in your own. Rather than word-vomit the list of applications, programs, and knowledge you’ve ascertained, add some flavor to the conversation by reminding us that you, too, are human. Lists are forgotten, but stories and details tend to stick.

And that’s how I see it…

In short, UXers face a great opportunity to differentiate themselves from their peers when it comes to career development, advancement and landing that dream job. While the first inclination may be to hit up the job boards and list your expertise, personality, relationships with recruiters, and leveraging your networks will remain critically important. If you’re top UX talent with a great personality, recruiters are hunting for you.