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Navigating the UX Job Market in a Changing World: 4 Tips for Success

Leaders from UX, product, and research ops share what it takes to thrive professionally.

Job seeking is rarely easy. Doing so in the midst of world-shaping technological developments (👋 AI), political uncertainties (over 50 countries hold elections in 2024), and tighter budgets for all companies (big and small)? Well that can feel downright disheartening.

As a result, many UXRs, research operations folks, and product managers turn to communities like Learners, Re+Ops, and Mind the Product. These groups offer support, advice, and a sounding board as folks look for new roles or ways to advance in current ones. We recently brought together the leaders of these communities—Alec Levin, Holly Cole, and Emily Tate—for a discussion on how research and product professionals can land a job and grow in the ones we have.

Here are four recommendations to help you job search smarter (and with more self-care).

This article is based on a panel from our user research event, YouX. Stream every session on-demand here.

1. Developing your career requires developing business know-how

The tech world is trying to rebalance after a few major shifts: seemingly unlimited capital to start businesses that has now come to an end, the unexpected downturns brought on by the global pandemic, and AI’s still-unknown impact on our work processes (and world). 

The companies we work for are trying to stabilize so they can chart a confident path forward.

Being part of that path will require new skills: 

  1. Taking on projects deemed “valuable” from the start
  2. Executing quickly so as to deliver findings on-time
  3. Tracking the impact of our work across the organization
  4. Continuing to amplify and market the value of our work internally
This is an important moment of self reflection—an opportunity. Challenge yourself to start thinking about your work in business terms: dollars and cents. Ask how your work is materially improving the business, helping it to grow. The system, the business, is telling us something. It’s up to us to stop, listen to it, and react accordingly. ~Alec Levin

A lot of this might feel new to UXRs and ReOps folks, but it is the way most functions within a business must operate if we want to create visibility and buy-in around the importance of this work. This means talking about research in dollars, time, revenue, and growth—language that resonates with budget holders and leaders.

This could look like listening more actively at all-hands, reading financial reports or statements, or even reading business or industry news about your sector or company. Internal partners outside of product like accounting, finance, or legal might be worth a coffee date to conduct informational interviews. Eventually, the language and motivations of the business will start to make sense alongside the work and projects you’re supporting.

I'm a researcher by nature. I'm empathetic by nature. I didn't wake up wanting to talk about sales revenue, ROI, or profits-and-losses. It's a skill that I've had to learn as in my last few roles. And so although it is uncomfortable at first, there is value in learning these different types of languages. It is a muscle that we can learn. It is just like learning any new skill. ~Roberta Dombrowski

Making that connection and weaving it into your work will greatly improve your potential for impact.

2. Prepare for longer searches and unpredictable processes

This is currently a hiring market—which means companies can be choosier about the candidates they contact, select for interviews, and ultimately hire. 

We need to be prepared for inconsistencies in hiring timelines, roles appearing and disappearing from boards, and other signs of influence from the demand-side of the market. (Of course, this is not to excuse these behaviors, but a reminder of the preparations job-seekers need to make.)

If you're looking right now, you might look for a long time. You need to be prepared for that. You need to run your house like a business, but understand that this is not you. This is not you—this is the current market.
Reframe, turn this into your job. Do it with other people because if not, you're going to get discouraged and that really destroys your self-worth.  Get a group of people who are also looking for jobs, share tips, meet regularly, go through your application materials, have them help you iterate your next presentation. ~Holly Cole

Longer wait times, wider searches, and less feedback may all be consequences. It is important not to take these developments personally; they are not a reflection of you the candidate, but rather the wider market adjusting to the demand and need of insights teams.

3. Showcase your skills, if not your experience

For many aspiring UXRs, PMs, and ReOps folks, it can feel impossible to break free from the vicious cycle of low/no experience leading to being passed on for roles—further reducing opportunity to gain experience. But there are other ways to showcase design, research, and project management skills. 

In this climate, many job-seekers will have to create their own “experience” opportunities, building out their portfolio from self-sourced roles. 

Some ideas include:

  • Volunteering for businesses, locally or online
  • Part-time or contract positions
  • Self-directed work with public readouts (on social, in communities)

Although these opportunities may not be realistic for everyone (for obvious financial reasons, unpaid work may have to occur in addition to a paid position), they offer chances to build the core skills that companies use to select candidates (regardless of the role). Namely, they build and showcase the ability to manage projects, distill useful insights and recommendations from research findings, and justify methods or approaches.

Communities are popping up across platforms like Slack, Discord, and LinkedIn that cater to specific roles, industries, and geographic locations. There may be opportunities to help someone with a project, attend a meetup, or just practice a skill you see mentioned. 

I think it's especially important now, to be able to articulate your value, to connect the dots between stakeholders’ work and what you’re doing, the value you’re providing—doing that for them. Grasping the nuances of this or that stakeholder and tailoring your approach. Hitting the points they care about! Always developing those communication and reporting skills. ~Emily Tate

4. Build bridges—not walls—for more impact

It’s not “PMs vs everyone else.” Product managers  are also feeling the pressure from industry leaders to justify the need for their positions within companies. Conversations around democratization or distributed research should focus on the benefits of bringing more folks into contact with user research and design thinking principles; feuding over who gets to “own” research will only result in a worse experience for customers and employees alike.

Any product manager who has worked with a really good researcher knows that we could not replace them. A lot of PMs haven't had the opportunity to work with a really good researcher, so they're doing what they can to take on the principles of customer feedback. We want to understand. We wanna live in the problem space for a bit and rather than jumping straight to solutions. ~Emily Tate

Product managers need user experience researchers. Researchers need PMs to help bring the business case of their work up the hierarchy. It would be far more productive to have conversations around how teams are structured (e.g., should researchers be embedded on product and design teams as opposed to an agency of their own?)  than trying to decide an ultimate and final research arbiter. 

The more time human insights pros spend collaborating on projects that solve customer problems—as opposed to fighting over whose research is “right”—the more influence and relevance those pros will experience. 

One of the missing pieces is a quality relationship with your stakeholders—trusted partnerships. If stakeholders don't trust you, they're not going to bring you into the conversation when they haven't figured things out: what they’re anxious about, what might not work. Part of your job as a UXR  is to create those relationships. If you have that, then you can really achieve your potential as a researcher. ~Alec Levin

More career development resources

Ben Wiedmaier
Senior Content Marketing Manager
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