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What UX Research job interview cycles look like today
Perspectives from UXR hiring managers and job-seekers
If you’ve interviewed for at least a few different UX Researcher (UXR) roles, you’ve probably noticed some common themes.
Most begin with a phone screen, involve some level of interaction with the hiring manager, and include some kind of work sample test. But what other activities is one likely to encounter, and which activities are more unusual? And, if folks interviewing for a position had their way, what would the ideal interview process look like?
Getting a bird’s eye view of the typical process can better prepare job seekers for those activities. And understanding both candidate preferences and how other organizations find the best candidates for UXR roles can help hiring managers evaluate their own processes.
So we designed a study to paint a picture of how the UXR interview experience unfolds today.
Our study and approach
To get as comprehensive an understanding as possible, we used an exploratory-sequential mixed methods design.
That began with qualitative interviews, using a semi-structured format that covered the entire interview cycle from end to end. Through these interviews, we spoke with both hiring managers and job seekers to capture their perspectives and experiences. We then transitioned into a quantitative survey to gauge the prevalence and impact of the issues identified during the interviews.
Using a rolling recruit method, we sought volunteers to participate in the survey through various channels, including social media and word-of-mouth referrals. Remarkably, it attracted a response far surpassing our expectations: we heard from 160 participants, consisting of 56 hiring managers and 104 job seekers. The enthusiasm and passion this topic evoked was evident in the extensive open-ended comments respondents shared.
Throughout the process, we also conducted secondary research, drawing from industry-specific resources and broader academic literature to ensure we asked the right questions and captured the breadth of the topic.
Let's take a look at what we found, starting with the activities selected during the UX Research interview cycle.
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Which activities should be included in the interview?
In our survey, we asked hiring managers to outline their interview process, specifically identifying the activities used at each stage.
We found the initial phone screen was a widely recognized and common starting point for interviews. Computer/virtual interviews, where candidates respond to preset questions via webcam recording, though less prevalent, were also typically employed early in the process.
The next most commonly observed step involved one-to-one interviews with hiring managers. This clusters together with other frequently chosen activities, including technical interviews, behavioral questions, portfolio reviews, and additional one-to-one interviews with members of the research team.
Other less frequently used activities occurring later in the process included panel interviews, where multiple members of the hiring team interview a single applicant, and alternative options to the portfolio review, such as whiteboarding activities or take-home test projects. Additionally, one-to-one interviews with members of other teams, such as developers or product managers, are occasionally conducted to assess cross-functional collaboration.
Overall, six key activities were widely favored and frequently part of UX Research interview cycles: initial phone screens, one-to-one interviews with hiring managers, technical and behavioral interviews, portfolio reviews, and panel interviews.
We presented the same set of interview activities to job seekers and asked them to indicate their preferences, expectations, and any activities they would be reluctant to participate in or that would cause them to remove themselves from the process altogether.
When these responses were juxtaposed with the activities hiring managers reported using, we found broad agreement between both parties with minimal differences in absolute ranking. Job seekers expressed lower expectations for, and enjoyment in, the activities at the lower end of the rankings that hiring managers were likewise less likely to include.
Having examined the activities that both hiring managers and job seekers prefer, let's consider the duration of the interview cycle.
How many interview rounds and activities?
A strong consensus emerged when job seekers were asked about the ideal number of rounds in an interview cycle: over 80% of survey respondents expressed a preference for a streamlined process of two to three phases.
Hiring managers selected an average of 5.5 total activities, although we didn’t ask any direct question about how those activities might be combined in distinct interview rounds. Nevertheless, open-ended comments suggest that these activities often are consolidated. As one hiring manager respondent said: “Some of these were combined into one, so I would not want to give the impression that there were 8 interviews… more like 3 rounds.”
Some interview cycles, particularly in Big Tech companies like Google, have gained a reputation for their extended duration. Yet even in these organizations, there’s been a trend towards shorter cycles in recent years. According to author Laszlo Bock, who served as Google's Senior Vice President of People Operations, hiring at Google in the mid-2000s could take up to six months and involve as many as 25 interviews. Time spent on each hire, he stated, has since been reduced by approximately 75%.
Surprising alignment on interview structure
We didn’t necessarily expect the broad agreement we observed between hiring managers and job seekers on both the number and types of activities they preferred to see in UX Research interviews. Upon reflection, we suggest three key reasons that might explain it.
First, both hiring managers and job seekers have a vested interest in the outcome of the interview process.
Job seekers face the prospect of either securing employment or needing to continue their job search elsewhere, while hiring managers aim to find the right candidate to fill the role. The shared stake in this outcome drives a common understanding in the interview process.
Furthermore, both hiring managers and job seekers value the opportunity to assess and demonstrate competency.
Hiring managers seek to evaluate a candidate's abilities to determine their suitability for the role and gauge the potential they bring. Similarly, job seekers aspire to showcase their skills and capabilities, eager to prove themselves in the context of the specific role and organization. This shared desire for competency evaluation could manifest in the activities they selected during the interview cycle.
Lastly, every hiring manager has been a job seeker at some point in their career, which gives them a firsthand understanding of the job-seeking process.
This perspective allows them to empathize with candidates and recognize the importance of fair and comprehensive evaluation methods. This shared experience contributes to similar preferences and the desire for a rigorous yet fair interview process.
The bottom line and next steps
There’s a common narrative about job interviews that portrays hiring managers and interviewees as conflicting forces, pitting their interests against each other. But is that in fact the case? We wanted to see what the data has to say about the current state of UX Research interviews:
Six activities were particularly popular: initial phone screens, one-to-one interviews with hiring managers, technical and behavioral interviews, portfolio reviews, and panel interviews.
There was consensus that interview cycles should be streamlined into approximately three major rounds, which reflects broader trends in the industry towards less time spent per candidate.
Ultimately, hiring managers and job seekers share some mutual interests in the outcome of the hiring process and desire to demonstrate and uncover competency, which is strengthened by their shared experiences going through interviews.
Despite these shared preferences, our research also revealed potential friction points within the actual interview process itself, starting with its early stages.
In the second part of this series on our findings — to be published later this month on— we’ll take a deeper look at those pain points and explore strategies for creating a more effective and mutually beneficial UX Research interview process.
These findings were first presented at UXPA 2023 in Austin, TX.
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