Following on from Part One of my blog series (here), I put the same questions to user researcher Ria Jesrani who had some excellent advice for those looking to enter into the field.
Q&A with Ria Jesrani – Junior User Researcher
What was your journey from higher education into User Research?
It was totally unplanned. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after uni, so I joined Samsung on their grad scheme because I thought it would give me exposure to a broad range of industries and job functions. I’d studied Economics at uni but I loved being in the technology sector, so it seemed like a perfect fit when a recruiter got in touch about a role in FinTech (financial technology) after my grad scheme ended. I was brought in under the vague title of “growth manager” and spent my time across various functions – product, data science, marketing. My role gradually evolved into “insights manager” where I was working closely with UX and content. This is how I discovered the world of user research.
How did you get your first user research role?
By being in the right place at the right time, and being open to the opportunities that were presented to me. I’d shown interest in the usability tests that were being run – I found them fascinating so I often sat in as an observer. The UX designer noticed that I was keen and asked if I wanted to start running it. He taught me the basics, pointed me to some resources and gave me feedback after the sessions. I’m grateful for the exposure and the mentoring; it opened doors that might’ve taken much longer to discover alone.
What was important for you when accepting your first role? E.g. salary, culture, training, career development etc.
The FinTech company were only starting to realise the value of UX during my time there, so getting approval and budget was an uphill struggle. It taught me a lot, but I often learnt it the hard way, so it was important for me that my next role be in a place that already embraced UX. I wanted to be surrounded by others from whom I could learn, rather than trying to figure it out myself.
What would you say is the best way to build up your brand and get your name out there?
Let people know that you’re interested. Find the person who’s responsible at your current company (if there’s no existing user researcher then talk to any UXer) and ask them what you can do. One of the things that I love about the UX community is how willing people are to support others in their growth. But if you don’t ask then you don’t get. It might just start with note-taking, but they’ll take notice of your diligence and enthusiasm, which will open more doors.
Would you recommend going client-side or agency for your first role? And why?
I haven’t worked agency side so I can’t say much on this. From what I’ve heard, agency-side is more pressured but more variety so you learn faster, whilst client-side is more likely to support and invest in your development because there’s more time available. The choice depends on your preference and circumstance.
How do you stay ahead of industry changes, emerging trends and new techniques?
1) Medium – I follow the design and research teams at big tech companies e.g. https://medium.com/@FBResearch as well as individuals like Julie Zhuo.
2) Newsletter subscriptions – Leisa Reichelt and Kenny Chen send a collection of the best articles they’ve read each month.
3) Books – too many good ones to list them all here. You’ll easy find top recommended books by Googling it, but I particularly like the Rosenfeld Media ones
4) Meet ups – these are crucial. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn from the experiences and mistakes of others. I also enjoy meeting other attendees and hearing about how they’re dealing with similar problems to the ones that I’m going through. It’s helpful to bounce ideas off one another – that’s how I deal with some of my hardest problem-solving.
What would you advise to someone who wants to transition to user research?
Junior user research jobs still don’t seem that common, so if you can get experience within your current company then it’s a great way to get your foot in the door. Then you have some experience to talk about at a future user research interview. UX jobs seem to have this classic catch-22 dilemma; employers want experience before they give you a job, but you need a job to get experience. Another way to get around this is with side projects; if you know anyone who runs a business, offer to do pro bono user research using the techniques that you’ve read about in books / articles. Document the process. Take pictures of workshops and sticky notes and usability tests. Write it up as a case study that you can show to potential employers to make your application stand out.
Huge thanks to Ria for offering her advice! Having spoken to both Ria and Nicole, and also from my own experience, I would say my top tips for getting your first user research role are:
- Network! Make sure you’re going to events and meet ups, and make yourself known to the companies you want to work with. Not only will you expose yourself to opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise come across, it’s great to stay ahead of research trends and emerging tech.
- Portfolio – Not absolutely necessary for a researcher on interview, but I think it will always help having something tangible to show, and really give hiring managers insight into how you carry out your work.
- Pro bono work – If you’re currently doing a uni course, consider doing pro bono work on the side to gain real world experience. For example, you could approach a company and show them the benefits that user research could bring to them by identifying pain points in their current user journey and how these could be overcome.
- Don’t be picky – Your first job isn’t going to be the one you have for the rest of your life (most likely). Find a company with the right culture and environment to support you and help you grow into the researcher you want to be.
If you’re looking to transition into user research, or are looking for your next role, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, would love to have a chat!