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Recruiting for User Research: there's got to be a better way!

When conducting one-on-one user interviews or usability tests in the past, I've noticed clients often seem to feel protective of their users. As a result, they try to take on the responsibility of recruiting so they can provide oversight and try to keep budget down.

This is almost always a mistake.

UX researchers know what they're doing, and leaving it to the experts saves everyone a lot hassle. By trying to take it on yourself, you're likely to get overwhelmed by unfamiliar tasks. I've even seen clients give up on the process entirely when recruiting became too daunting.

But what if, as a non-UX researcher, you're tasked with recruiting users for a test or study? Fear not! Finding users doesn't have to be an overwhelming task. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you embark on the recruiting process.

Get buy-in

Getting buy-in from folks who can help champion the cause internally is crucial for successful recruiting. If you need a developer to add code to your website to collect candidates, it will be a lot easier to do if the director of technology is on your team. Consider giving a general presentation on the importance of UX research to key stakeholders who will help you fight the good fight. If you’re working with an agency or partner to do your research, bringing them in to explain the value of what you’re doing can lend weight to the message.

Know your user

This may sound silly, but if you don’t know who your users are, how can you possibly recruit them? Whether you’re looking at a whole new audience or trying to give your existing customers the best possible experience, clearly defining the audience up front will make your life much easier down the road. We typically identify different user groups via persona-creation exercises. This helps us humanize the folks at the other end of the keyboard, and we continue to circle back to our personas throughout the research process.

Don’t recruit your users

Obviously you need users to do user research, but do you need your exact users? Tools like UserTesting can help connect your usability study to real-life candidates who fit your users’ demographics. You write the tests, define things like location and age, and UserTesting provides the interface for administering the test. Once complete, you’ll have a video of each session in which the users narrate their thoughts as they complete the tasks you’ve set.

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Let users recruit themselves

We love using Ethnio as a screening tool to recruit people who’ll take the time for a user interview. While you certainly could add your own form for candidates to sign up, the beauty of Ethnio is that it handles the heavy lifting of scheduling interview times and has advanced screening customizations so you can select when and on which pages the screener will appear.

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So if you’re only interested in folks who looked at both socks AND birthday candles on your site, you can get super specific (related: what's your deal birthday socks? I didn’t even know they were a thing). Ethnio will even coordinate incentives such as Amazon gift cards if you’d like to thank your users for their time. 

Use the lines of communication you already have

If you need to access your existing users, look to the channels of communication you already have established to do recruiting. Your organization’s monthly newsletter, Facebook, and even direct access at points of in-person interaction can all be used to connect with your users.

Plan ahead

Timing often causes the most trouble during this process, so start thinking about the best ways to recruit users for your particular needs the moment your project kicks off. Seemingly small tasks like adding code to your website for a screener or getting a work order submitted for a testing tool can take time, so the sooner you map out the tactics you’ll be using, the better.

With all the tools out there today, there’s no excuse for skipping user research. As the saying goes, perfect is the enemy of good. User experience research can and should be an iterative process, so don’t let your fear of the unknown stop you from learning something about your users. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part.