Hiring good talent in this gig economy has changed the way that candidates are approaching their job search. I have found it interesting to watch the changes in user experience professionals’ resumes. That means our tactics for finding candidates has to change as well. In a previous post, I mentioned how, here at Dupla, we hire for “how” user experience professionals do their work as much as “what” they produce. It is easy to overlook the “how” part because the “what” is so visual and salient. How a professional manages all the moving pieces it takes to ship a project is hard to capture in a two-page resume or portfolio.

When we look at hiring new talent, we also consider “how” they have progressed in their user experience career. Better than sheer time in the industry, the “how” discussion tells us where in their career a candidate really is. Until now, most of these ideas have been tribal knowledge for us. This post is my attempt at putting our ideas on paper.

Caveat

I recognize that these behaviors are fluid and an individual grows through fits and spurts and not a smooth linear path spread equally across skills and behaviors. Additionally, for this post, I collapsed the behaviors across both Design and Research disciplines. At Dupla, we consider the disciplines two-sides of the same coin. To us, the difference between Design and Research is more about what part of user experience a person is most interested in. Finally, the following lists are typical behaviors we expect to see per level of maturity.

Skills vs Behaviors

We define skills as those activities’ professionals do to create their deliverables. Skills are important and necessary for the delivery of products and services, but skills can be learned and improved with training. The behaviors below are acquired via the engagement in widely varied experiences. Some professionals can go through their entire careers and never mature in their experiences. Others can rocket through them because the right opportunities have appeared in their path. Determining the level of maturity of a candidate is vital to ensuring that both you and your new hire will be happy at the end of a project. It is also very different than asking about the amount of time a candidate has had in their discipline.

Junior user experience professionals

There are too few organizations looking for junior professionals, and if you are one of those organizations skipping these resumes, you are doing your organization a disservice. These are usually the most hungry and ambitious professionals out there. They are optimistic to a fault and their enthusiasm and energy are almost always infectious. They can be a positive influence on the organization and grow to a valuable asset when managed correctly. Furthermore, when we talk to hiring managers, most think they want a more senior professional, but their need is really for a junior role.

Pros;

  • New professionals can execute on a well-defined plan and do so with enthusiasm and optimism.
  • Since they are new, they seek new learning opportunities, which means they are always looking at the newest tools and methods which keeps them on the cutting-edge of upcoming trends.
  • Untouched by poor processes, negativity, or failures, they enthusiastically attack every project and seek ideal outcomes.
  • They know they don’t know anything, so they are willing to listen to criticism and grow.
  • They still want to build great products.
  • In their eagerness to please, they are happy delivering anything that the organization needs to ensure product success.
  • Being new to the field they have not developed any bad habits or attitudes.

Cons;

  • You should expect them to apply tools and process by rote. They are challenged by any variability in processes.
  • As you probably expect, they need mentoring because they are not very adept at looking at their work critically from multiple angles. Although an anxious personality may have critical paralysis and be over-working their deliverables too.
  • They rely on process to produce outcomes, so they are challenged by too many workstreams that are running simultaneously, but at different places in the process.
  • They see ambiguity as negative and something to fear.
  • Other people in the organization can influence their opinion because they cannot defend design decisions by themselves. (This is also known as “designing by committee”)
  • At the same time, because of their ambition, they may be territorial about user experience. (e.g. They will listen to everyone’s opinion about the user experience, but they will want to incorporate it all themselves).
  • Typically, they will take more time to reach the same design as more experienced UX professionals and tend to over-complicate the challenges.
  • They present multiple design solutions to product problems but struggle to offer a definitive position.
  • They are challenged to make the right trade-off between the user experience needs and the product technology needs (or as our head of design puts it “Swims near the surface”).
  • Generally speaking, they have limited skills in organizational politics, so large initiatives are out of scope for them.

Mid-level user experience professionals

These people tend to be very career-focused and already honed their craft. In terms of skills to create deliverables, they are on par with senior-level professionals.   We frequently see organizations post senior positions for which a mid-level UX professional would be better suited.

Pros;

  • Given a product timeline, they can create a plan to deliver the necessary user experience pieces at the right times.
  • They are still developing a diverse tool kit to bring to bear on a product/service, so they are right on top of design trends.
  • They are capable of owning the user experience for an entire feature.
  • At this point, they can hit short timelines for a well-defined space with acceptable designs.
  • Typically, at this point in their career, they understand the trade-off between the UX needs and the technology needs.
  • They have already seen UX trends come and go and have probably followed one or more to failure at least once. This allows them to be more discerning in their evaluation of design trends they follow.
  • They are a fire and forget resources and can manage their timelines and directives with little oversight.

Cons;

  • They are still “failure adverse”, so ambiguity is still seen as a risk and viewed negatively.
  • Tend to avoid self-criticism for many reasons, frequently it is because they worry that showing their design trade-offs shows where their designs are weak when in truth all designs have pros and cons.
  • Although they are a strong advocate for design decisions, they do not know how to effectively argue their position with the proper respect for the business and technology needs, which can create tension with other disciplines.
  • These professionals still rely on process to define what work they should do and when.
  • Unfortunately, their concentration on honing their craft means that they do not yet incorporate business needs in their plans and are unsure or unaware of how the business needs interact with UX, and technology needs.
  • Their process is still rigid, and they struggle to respond to a sudden change in priorities, which can cause friction.
  • They still struggle with the balancing of user experience and organization politics.
  • They may have become jaded and negative if they see too much compromise from the UX side of product development.

Senior-level user experience professionals

As user experience “owners”, the senior professional will work across disciplines to align the business, technology, and experience goals into a cohesive, compelling story. They can take on initiatives that are fraught with ambiguity and create a path to success across releases. They think about systems and processes that remove barriers to success.

Pros;

  • These professionals can own the user experience for an entire product.
  • They can create and manage a multi-release UX plan that encompasses over-arching themes and carefully considered improvements, one release to another, towards a “north star” vision.
    • In situations where user experience is a differentiator, they can contribute to the overall product vision/position.
  • Typically, they have much more versatility with the tools they can use and when they can be brought to bear.
  • You can expect them to advocate for good design without creating tension with other disciplines.
  • Senior-level people can clearly articulate the flex points in their UX process and can weigh the consequences of those compromises, objectively.
  • They see ambiguity as an opportunity.
  • People at this level think deeply about an issue and can see more of its facets.
  • You can expect people at this level to deliver great designs on tight timelines.
  • A senior-level professional can think about and develop systems that can flex and change scope with a project to ensure consistency from one release to another.
  • They can understand the trade-off between user experience, technology, and business needs and can advocate for the optimal balance for all three.
  • Their confidence shows as they are self-critical which means their deliverables are more likely to be on-point, sooner.

Cons;

  • Many senior professionals become dissatisfied doing low-level, basic user experience tasks for long periods.
  • Other disciplines might see them as being too high-level because they are concentrating on product vision too much.
  • The organization needs to be willing to act on their input because they usually have expectations they have input on product-wide decisions.
  • Many senior professionals have developed a style of working or settled on specific tools which can make them less flexible.
  • Despite their high functioning skills and because there are typically so few senior-level professionals in the organization, they can easily become overloaded and try to take on too much.
  • Along with their desire to have a product-wide impact, they will want to be reporting at a higher organizational manager. This aids their ability to gather insights across disciplines and organizations.
  • Some senior-level professionals can become jaded and lose their enthusiasm.
  • Most organizations do not need very many Sr. level professionals so the growth for this role is hard to define.
  • Finding the right initiatives for their experience maturity can be a challenge. There may be times where a project needs junior-level work but has to pay a senior-level professional. There just may not be a need for senior-level thinking.

I know that this does not map to every professional out there. People are complex entities, however over time, we have seen quite a bit of consistency. I know of one organization that has hired and fired multiple designers in a single year due to miss-matched expectations. I hope these points can prevent your organization from using the wrong criteria to find the wrong candidates. Let me know if you think I have neglected some important behaviors. Alternatively, let me know if you think these behaviors are way off base. I wish I could say every hire we have made is a rock-star, but that is not true. We are always looking to improve our practices.