The UX researcher career path is a fast-growing, in-demand occupation. The demand for UX researchers is expected to grow by 45% from 2016 to 2026. In this blog post, I’ll explore the steps you need to take in order to land your first job as a UX researcher. This post will be most useful if you are just starting out and have no experience at all. But even experienced professionals might learn something new!
1. What is a UX?
UX (user experience) is the process of improving user satisfaction by improving the usability and accessibility of a product. It’s commonly split into three stages:
- User Research – understanding your target audience and their needs and how they currently solve their problems
- Design – creating products that satisfy those needs via an effective design
- Testing – ensuring the design actually solves the problems via user testing
It’s important to note that UX research should not be confused with market research. Market research is used to understand the size of a market and the potential opportunity for products in that market. It’s also about understanding how likely people are to purchase your product.
2. What is A User Researcher?
UX researchers are professionals who make sure the user’s experience is optimal. It’s their job to gather insights about people analyze them in order to make decisions that ensure great usability and accessible design. UX research is based on an academic discipline called HCI (human-computer interaction) which focuses on understanding users, their behavior, and the technology they use.
Hiring managers typically look for three qualifications in user researchers:
- A bachelor’s degree in a related field such as computer science, psychology, human factors, and engineering;
- Relevant job experience of 1-3 years; and
- Experience conducting UX research (e.g., coursework, internships, and/or previous jobs).
3. What does A UX Researcher Do?
User researchers perform many different tasks:
- Conducting user research (e.g., conducting interviews and focus groups) via moderated sessions or remotely online;
- Observing users as they interact with products (e.g., watching them in their natural environment using the product);
- Synthesizing and analyzing findings (e.g., organizing data into personas and storyboards) and presenting them to key stakeholders; and
- Performing competitive analyses (e.g., evaluating competing products).
Additionally, user researchers might work with UX designers to translate insights from research into actionable design recommendations.
4. UX Researcher Salaries
UX researcher salaries vary widely by geographical location and experience. On average, a UX researcher earns $61k and can expect an annual salary increase of 5%. Salaries range from $36k to $90k, according to PayScale.
5. How to Become a UX Researcher?
There are no formal paths into this role. The best way to transition into UX research is by pairing your ability to understand people with an interest in design and usability.
Here are some steps you can take:
1. Get an undergraduate degree in HCI or a related field
If you already have a degree in a different field, consider obtaining a minor or double major in HCI. If you didn’t study HCI at school, don’t worry! I studied Mexican literature in college but learned everything I needed to know about conducting UX research online via coursework and classes.
2. Start building your UX portfolio
UX researchers typically have a strong portfolio, which is a collection of UX research examples you can show to potential employers in order to demonstrate your abilities and interests in the field. The best way to start building your portfolio is by participating in online research communities such as UserTesting, AnswerLab, WhatUsersDo, UserZoom, and 450group.
These sites are free to use for anyone who wants to get involved. You simply need to apply for a testing slot after you’ve signed up.
There are also paid-for research communities where you can gain experience in moderating sessions (e.g., Moderately, UsabilityHangout, Creately, American Graphics Institute ).
3. Find a mentor
Mentorship with someone already working in user research is invaluable for career development because you can find out about the industry, have your questions answered, and learn new skills directly from someone who does what you want to do. Try reaching out to UX professionals on LinkedIn or Twitter and ask if they can help you out as a mentor.
6. What Skills do I Need to Become A UX Researcher?
To become a UX researcher, it’s essential to have strong communication and observational skills, an interest in people and design, and the ability to synthesize data from research sessions with coworkers.
You need to be a good speaker and writer, but also comfortable with online research tools such as Qualaroo, HotJar, UserTesting, SurveyMonkey, or Zoom.us.
You should have a deep understanding of design principles and be able to critique designs from a UX perspective–although it’s okay not to have formal training in this area, the ability to learn the principles on your own will make you more valuable to an organization.
7. UX Researcher Resume Tips
The UX researcher resume is a little different from other types of resumes. We’ve compiled a list of the best resume hacks to help you to get your job applications noticed:
1. Keep it short – a one-page maximum resume. No more than that, and recruiters won’t bother looking at it.
2. Lead with impact – it should immediately be clear what you did and why it was important to the business.
3. Quantify everything – if you can quantify your impact, that’s great! How many users did you interview? What percentage of them were satisfied? How much did you increase your team’s productivity?
4. Don’t forget the soft skills – UX research is about understanding people, so make sure to include all of your interpersonal skills in your UX Researcher resume. For example, maybe you were an effective collaborator or had good influencing skills.
5. Add a summary section at the end of your resume – this is an opportunity to really stand out! Make sure it’s concise (two lines max) and that it includes key accomplishments.
6. Keep it simple – recruiters are busy people, so make sure they can read your resume quickly and easily. That means sticking to one or two fonts, easy-to-read font sizes, simple formatting, and bullet points instead of long paragraphs.
7. Employ keywords wisely – recruiters are looking for specific skill sets when they review your resume. You can use keywords to signal that you have them by using the right words in your resume summary section at the end before you list your experience.
8. Quantify your experience – a lot of user researchers who apply to jobs online don’t have a huge amount of experience, so you need to make it stand out. Use numbers (i.e., “50%” instead of “a lot”).
8. UX Researcher Career Path
UX researcher roles are very versatile and can be found across many different industries. Below I’ll give you an overview of the UX research career path in three major fields: 1) Tech (software), 2) Marketing, and 3) Nonprofits/Government.
User experience is a crucial part of creating successful products in the tech industry.
UX researcher roles often begin with an internship or junior position. They can then progress to mid-level UX roles, which include conducting user research, making recommendations based on findings, and managing stakeholders. Finally, they can become senior UX personnel who oversee teams of researchers.
UX roles in marketing focus mainly on understanding consumer behavior and building products that will help to achieve the business goals of a company. Companies typically hire recent grads to conduct surveys and interviews, map user journeys and make recommendations about improving the UX based on their findings. With more experience, they’ll become involved in User Experience Strategy and the research component of product ideation.
In these kinds of organizations, you’ll typically start out conducting interviews and making recommendations based on the findings. With more experience, UX researchers take a managerial role where they oversee a team of researchers.
9. The Job Outlook for A UX Researcher
UX research roles are currently growing in number, and the demand for qualified UX researchers is rapidly increasing! It has actually been reported that 30% of companies cannot find qualified people to fill their positions. Jobs for user experience professionals are projected to grow by 17% (much faster than average) from 2016-to 2026. This growth is mainly driven by an increase in user research activities as a result of digital disruption and the need for companies to compete on user experience.
10. Best Colleges to Study to Become A UX Researcher
Some of the best colleges to study UX research include:
- Carnegie Mellon University – ranked #1 for Industrial/Organizational Psychology
- Drexel University – ranked #7 for Visual and Performing Arts
- MIT – ranked #2 for Physics
- University of Michigan – Ann Arbor – ranked #5 for Computer Science
- University of Minnesota – Twin Cities – ranked #7 for Physics
- Cornell University – ranked #8 for Industrial/Organizational Psychology
- Stanford University – ranked #1 for Computer Science and Statistics
- Columbia University in the City of New York – Ranked #2 for English Language & Literature
The UX research field is fast-paced and constantly evolving. As more industries utilize the power of design to increase customer satisfaction, there will be a growing need for qualified researchers who can understand human behavior on an intimate level. If you’re interested in this career path, make sure that your undergraduate education includes coursework in psychology or sociology. In addition, it’s important to build up your portfolio with experience by volunteering at local nonprofits or community centers as well as interning with tech companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, or Apple during school breaks from college. The best way to get started? Find a mentor! Reach out to someone who has been working in the industry for 5+ years and ask them if they would be willing to take you on as an intern or assistant. Creating these strong connections early on will help you break into the UX research field – and establish a rewarding career in which you can help change people’s lives through design.