Breaking into UX Research as a junior

November 10, 2022
Rose Meredith

There's a never-ending number of articles about individual experiences in the creative world, all giving different perspectives and points of advice on how to be successful and achieve fulfilment in the industry.

It seems everyone is striving to be a leader, a master of their field, or perhaps even creating their own path into a new innovative job role. However, it feels almost impossible to find an honest reflection on what it's like to be a junior in the office.

For the most part, you'll find an abundance of lists which define the ‚must-have skills' to get an entry-level job or pointless preparation material for the dreaded interview day. What I'm yet to see is a glimpse of a day-to-day junior role and getting started in the industry, so I'm sharing my experiences and reflections here.

Finding a job: Keeping an open mind

To start, you need to secure a job, and to do that you need to be proactive. It's unlikely you will be handed a job at junior level without any effort on your own behalf. I applied for many different roles from the moment I started my master's degree ‚even roles that weren't in the research space since I considered any design job beneficial to gain experience.

Around 3 months later I managed to secure two jobs, one which I found on Indeed and the other, the job I am in today, I found via networking on a university trip to the Code Computerlove office.

Two very different ways of finding a job, both with their pros and cons, but seeing the actual space and seeing real people face to face really had an impact on how I felt about the role and fuelled my ambition.

The interview: Attention to detail and self-belief

After I attended the talk at Code, I decided to message the head of research after applying online, and after some discussion, I got the opportunity to interview.

The interview process was well-structured into 3 sections; an initial phone call, then having to present a portfolio of work, and then completing a task related to the role. My advice would be to attend prepared but not scripted.

The portfolio contained two projects end to end, which showcased as many of the skills, topics, and processes that I thought were relevant to the job role as possible. An example of the type of project work I displayed can be found here.

I spoke through them in the way you would present back findings to a client and focused on the process more than the outcome, which seemed to be received well and allowed the panel to ask more specific questions about decision-making.

The task was to create a research plan against a brief. Despite being told that it was a simple task that could be done on paper, I tried to make the plan aesthetically pleasing and logical in design. Though this was not necessary, nor suitable for the task's weight in the real world, it's the details that get noticed.

The job role was actually for a senior, but because I displayed character traits that the panel valued, I managed to secure a junior role instead.

If you take anything from this article, it should be to be persistent and proactive in your search; once you're in the room, anything is possible.

Working as a junior: Getting stuck in

When you start a junior role, you should be continually learning and developing; it's not helpful to sit in a corner all day taking notes you'll never review. You should trust yourself and expect your team to push you out of your comfort zone.

As a junior user researcher, this meant facilitating interviews and tests, presenting findings to clients and the wider team, and having a strong enough view that advocating for the user felt genuine and informed. All of this has taken time and effort to practise, but I have been lucky enough to feel safe and supported in trying and occasionally failing.

Your job as a junior is to absorb information and practise your skills within the discipline until you're confident enough to do it alone, so asking questions, getting involved and trying, failing, and learning is essential parts of the process.

Never be afraid to admit what you don't know

Coming from a university, with very limited experience in the industry, it's easy to think you're qualified enough to push forward without support, likely because you feel that you will look less professional if you ask for help.

The truth is the exact opposite; I would argue that over 50% of my knowledge and work style have been developed from advice and coaching from people in the workplace.

Experienced members of the team likely want to support you so they can gain trust and confidence in your ability while you're learning. It makes for a better culture, opens the floor for feedback and gives others a chance to practise their coaching.

This also means getting better at receiving criticism; this was never a strength of mine before getting a job in the industry, but knowing it comes from a good place is helpful. Remind yourself that the intent will always be an improvement ‚nobody intentionally wants to hurt your feelings.

Asking and taking advice also develops relationships, which means when you are nervous, you can call or text your fellow cheerleaders at work to calm your thoughts or air whatever it is you're worried about.

Levelling up

As the first few months pass, you should be considering the next steps of your career but be aware of what you need to improve to get there. If you don't know then you should ask!

Promotions don't come simply because you want them; asking your team how you could improve, and looking at the standards around you should guide you on how to move up to the next level.

It may also be useful to note that you should strive to perform and behave at the level you aim to be at ‚this way you can practise and evidence your skills without having to second guess if you are suitable.

I've seen many blogs about not working harder than necessary, and only doing what is required, but if you're serious about progressing to the next level, that's not great advice.

Lastly, gratitude. As a junior, you should be grateful for the opportunity, not because you haven't worked hard to achieve what you have, but because somebody has taken a risk by trusting you.

Enjoy your time as a junior and remember your main job is to be a sponge, but remember that learning never stops, and that's what makes this such an interesting path!

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