So you’ve landed an interview for your dream job in UX research—congratulations! Now it’s time to prepare. This can be a stressful undertaking for just about anyone, but we’re here to help.
We’ve poured over the most common questions asked of UX researcher candidates, and consulted our very own UX researchers and career experts to determine what kinds of questions you’re likely to be asked.
We’ve boiled all of that information down into a concise toolkit that covers the core qualities employers are looking for (and that you should highlight at every opportunity), the top five interview questions, and how to answer those questions.
- Core qualities employers look for in a UX researcher
- The top 5 questions (and how to answer them)
- The final key: You’ve got this
1. Core qualities employers look for in a UX researcher
These are the core qualities and skills you want to communicate at every opportunity—both explicitly (tell them) and implicitly (show them).
Hiring managers are looking for UX researchers with:
- Knowledge of UX research methods and tools
- Experience doing UX research
- Empathic superpowers
- An analytical mind
- Fantastic communication skills
- A knack for collaboration
- The ability to do all of this under pressure (when necessary)
Keep these core qualities in mind with every phone call, every email, every interview task, and definitely for the face-to-face interview (whether it’s in-person or remote).
The best way to do this is to go down the list and make your own inventory of how you can demonstrate each these qualities both explicitly and implicitly. We’ll call this your Inventory of Awesomeness.
Think about your qualifications, your resume/CV, and all of your work experience—whether or not it’s directly related to UX research. Transferable skills matter! If you’re uncertain what experience will really count or be helpful, check out this guide: What UX design qualifications do you really need?
There’s a plethora of soft skills that successful UX professionals possess. Think about which ones you’re confident in, and which ones you want to develop further.
Know your portfolio inside and out. This requires having a strong UX research portfolio to begin with—and don’t forget to avoid the common mistakes UX researchers make in their portfolios.
All of this goes into your Inventory of Awesomeness.
Keep your inventory simmering in the background as you prepare for the interview, and let it become so familiar to you that you can draw from it without even thinking—a useful skill when you’re in the middle of the interview, killing it (in the best ways, of course) from beginning to end.
2. The top 5 questions (and how to answer them)
Will your interviewers ask only five questions? Probably not. Will they ask exactly these questions? That’s unlikely. But the questions they’ll ask will be crafted to understand a few essential things about you—and that’s exactly what these top five questions target.
1. What is your research process?
Because this question is so broad, it has a high potential for throwing you off your game right at the start. Don’t let that happen. Find a way to describe your research process in just a few sentences.
In asking this question, your interviewer is trying to gain insight on who you are as a person and a UX researcher, how you involve others in your process, what methods or techniques you know and consider, and how all of this fits with the broader company culture and team dynamics. That’s a lot to pack in! You’ll want to paint with fairly broad strokes without being vague.
Here’s what NOT to say: “Well, I figure out what the objectives are and then decide what methods are best and then get to work.”
And here are some templates to get you started on the right foot:
- My first priority going into a project is to…
- After that, I need to…
- Depending on what I find out, I’ll either…or…
- When that’s done, I move on to…
2. How would you design a study for _____?
Questions like this are easy to ramble on and on about. After all, if you want a job in this particular field, this is exactly the kind of thing you’re passionate about.
Summon all your powers of concision, empathy, and analysis! You need to quickly dissect the question and focus on the elements that seem most important to your interviewer.
When an interviewer asks a question like this, they’re aiming to learn a lot about you all at once. They want to get a glimpse into your approach and your process; they want to see your consideration of stakeholders’, team members’, and study participants’ needs.
To answer this question well, you need to have a clear understanding of your own process and an ability to communicate—briefly and accurately:
- How you create a research plan and estimate a timeline for the process
- When you choose qualitative research over quantitative (and vice-versa)
- How you scale qualitative feedback (such as categorizing/coding similar responses)
- How you make sure that the results of your research inform decisions during all relevant project stages
- Where you start your research when you’re creating a product from scratch
- Where you start with an existing product
- How you pick research methods for each stage of a project
- How you communicate with the various individuals and groups involved in every stage of the process
3. How do you communicate [topic, concept] to [specific person or group]?
With a question like this, the interviewer is looking to understand how you adapt your communication to the needs of a specific audience. How will you present findings to the VP of Product versus the VP of Engineering? How do you sell the value of UX research to various internal audiences? How will you make a complex product or concept accessible to participants in a focus group or usability test?
Forms this question might take:
- How do you communicate your findings to different stakeholders?
- How do you handle it when people are sceptical of the value of usability research?
- How would you sell the value of UX research to a VP of Product versus a VP of engineering?
- How do you present a product or concept to a group of test users who might not understand it?
This type of question can seem oddly specific in the moment. But do what you do best: break it down and address your user’s (interviewer’s) needs. What are the active verbs in the question? What kind of project does the question focus on? What people or teams or interpersonal issues are at play? Understand the focus, channel your UX researcher superpowers of empathy and analysis, and (again) draw one or two specific items from your Inventory of Awesomeness.
4. Why do you want to work at this company? How would you improve on our product?
Ever been on a date and all the other person could do was dish out compliments that could have applied to any other person in the room? Yeah…don’t do that.
While we’d question whether there’s ever a good time for empty flattery, this is especially not the time for it. Do the work and understand why you want to work for this specific company and exactly what kind of change or projects you’d want to implement there.
The best approach to preparing for this question is to do some foundational work that, ideally, you did a lot of before you even applied. Here are questions to guide that line of inquiry:
- What’s the company’s history?
- What about the company culture and values seem like a good fit to you and why?
- What products do they have?
- Which product(s) would you likely be working on? Is it interesting to you? Why or why not?
- What is really great about the product(s)?
- What isn’t so awesome about the product(s)?
- What improvements could be made and which ones would you prioritize?
- Of those product improvements, how would you design studies to explore them?
5. The possible curveball question…
You know the one. You’re never ready for it and it’s rarely what you’d expect. Given the nature of the curveball question, preparing for any specific questions will be a waste of time. But here are some examples to give you the general flavor:
- Why should we hire you rather than another candidate?
- Are you on a specific diet?
- What books do you read?
- If you could be any household object, what would you be and why?
- Can you estimate the number of people on the I-25 right now?
- What gets you up in the morning?
- How did you handle the last fight you had with a coworker?
Given the wide variation in this narrow sampling, it’s clear that there’s no realistic way to predict what your interviewer will try to learn with a curveball question. So how do you prepare for it?
Here are some general guidelines. If the question:
- Relates to knowledge, skills, or experience: Respond in the ways that seem most reasonable—based (as always) on your inventory of qualities, skills, and experience.
- Could lead to self-promotion: Balance your boldness and confidence with a dose of graciousness and appreciation for your peers/competition. Finding a balance here is important—you don’t want to undersell yourself, but you also don’t want to seem pompous.
- Is impossible for just about anyone to answer: Admit you have no clue and then give a crack at how you find an answer or make an educated guess.
- Is answerable, but seems entirely random: Use it as an opportunity to A) showcase your personality, skills, and interests, or B) simply build rapport with your interviewer.
3. The final key: You’ve got this
If you landed an interview for a UX researcher position, chances are you’ve shown the hiring manager at least some of the value you bring to the table. Enough so that they’re happy to spend time and resources getting to know you better!
Look over your Inventory of Awesomeness. Read a little more about the best ways to prepare for your next UX design interview. Do some power poses. Find a mirror, look yourself in the eyes, and breathe. You’re going to rock this interview.
(And if you don’t, you’re a UX researcher! You’ll find the points for improvement and you’ll do better on the next iteration. We believe in you.)
If you’d like to learn more about UX research and UX research portfolios, here are some resources for further exploration: