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I’m Adrian, a graduating student in Singapore. For the last semester of my tertiary education, I took up a UX internship at UXArmy in their Singapore office. My target for this internship was to understand the real-life people aspects that are important in User Research. An important aspect for great research outcomes is getting the right participants. To get the right respondents, research recruitment is a vital step.
At the start of my internship, I was nervous and clueless as I had no prior industry experience - this was not something that we learn in school. I only managed to do some self reading on the internet to get a better understanding on what “Research” recruitment is about before my first day of work.
Over the course of my internship, I got familiarised with the research recruitment projects and got hands-on about how things work in real-life. Also having the opportunity to interact with clients that helped me gain the many real life experiences which I would not have had otherwise. As my internship is coming to an end and this little piece is to serve as a reflection to what I had learned at UXArmy, about research recruitment.
Understanding Requirements from Clients
Right at the start of a research recruitment project, it is important to understand the clients requirements in detail and as clearly as possible. This step essentially is one of the main pillars of any user research project. The researchers at Clients’ side would share details like the criteria they are looking for in a participant, timeline of the research, as well as a brief description on what the research is about. Upon receiving this information, internally we would discuss to make sure we understand the requirements, as well as to convert those requirements into our own understanding.
Sometimes, clarifications were required with clients and a set of “online” Screener questions was prepared. I even ended up challenging the Client requirements and that helped them to think deeper and sharpen the requirements. Uncertainties could pop up along the way as the Client can introduce a new requirement or change one, so it is always good to anticipate some changes.
Gathering Interest of People
The next step of the process after understanding the requirements is to receive the interest of people who could be participants for this research. During this step, a campaign and a qualification survey is launched. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the interest was secured only online. Gathering of responses from interested people will usually start coming in after a day or so. Sometimes this qualification Survey is run within the UXArmy Panel itself.
Even though there are many responses to a campaign, the recruitment criteria needs to match. Self-reported details provided in the survey might not be fully reliable. In shortlisting we select those that we deem may be a match for the research. A good practice in this process is to create a Google Spreadsheet (or you can use Excel too :-) ) and list down the shortlisted participants with their contact details. This is to allow me and my colleagues to keep track of what’s going on and to ensure that everything is managed neatly to prevent confusion and overlap of efforts.
In discussion with the team and the Client side researchers we’d come up with the Screener questions before calling the shortlisted people. Through my experiences of conducting recruitment, I feel that phone screening is extremely important.
Firstly, it helps to identify and clarify if the participant is a perfect match apart from the information provided in the initial Screening survey, by asking them certain questions depending on the research topic.
Secondly, during the phone screening itself, it is important to listen carefully and determine if the participant is articulate or not, so that we can filter those that are not out. This is to ensure that the participants are of good quality for our clients research.
Recalling some of my interesting instances of Screening respondents over the phone, it puts some smiles and also brings some frowns.
In one of the instances, I was looking for participants that redeem rewards using phone applications. During the online qualification survey, a number of people stated that they do redeem rewards. However, in order to verify if it's true or not, I had to conduct a phone screening call. Over the phone, I asked them for more information, such as what are the applications they used to redeem their rewards, when was the last time they redeemed a reward and also what were the things that they have redeemed. If they are able to clearly give an answer and elaborate on it, it allows us to verify what they said are true and reliable.
On the funnier side, I once had a phone screening call with a lady. During the call, when asking her questions, she was very open and kept on sharing her personal stories with me after every question. Usually 10 minute is all I need for the screener call, but the call ended up almost an hour long, as she couldn’t stop sharing her experiences with me, even when I tried to cut her off politely. This was the first time I encountered such a funny situation, as normally people would just answer the questions and only elaborate a little bit more.
However, despite having screener questions, that was a rare occasion when phone screening did not work well, especially with some smart participants who managed to fudge their responses. During the interview the participant changed their answers or provided different information, causing confusion to the client researchers. For instance, on the phone screening a specific participant told me the last time they redeemed Rewards a week ago, but during the research they mentioned it was actually 2-3 months ago.
These feedbacks were given by the researchers after the research, which shocked me when I encountered it. Subsequently when it happened again, I got frustrated that people don’t match what they said during the phone screener and provided something different during the actual research itself.
From this, I learned that despite having additional measures to ensure clarification and authenticity, having exceptionally rare situations like people fudging information and changing up later are unavoidable. It may not be necessary that people are intending to lie. It could well have been that my question wasn’t to the point. Such instances are usually very rare, people are generally good and they do not lie as far as your Screening question is clear and precise.
Scheduling and Management
After calling the shortlisted participants and gathering those that we feel are a perfect match to the clients criteria. We would share the list of participants with our clients, to let them know so that they can select the ones they want. They would usually take a day or so before letting us know the selected confirmed participants.
At this stage, we would send out emails to seek confirmation with the selected participants, to check on their availability and to confirm their schedule for the research study. Scheduling a matching time of researcher and participants is a step that must be done with good care to avoid dropouts or disappointed respondents.
Scheduling of consent, technical check and signing of any non disclosure agreements (NDA) are also done. But this varies based on the type of research and client needs, as some of these checks are not always necessary, such as signing of NDA.
One Important Tip for this step is to always keep the clients informed and updated on the progress of the recruitment, this is to ensure that they know what is going on and what to expect. Working with shared documents works to be a great option.
Having back-ups for every recruitment project is very important, as I had some experiences with a participant either not able to make it due to their schedule or backing out last minute due to a personal emergency. If a participant were to back out last minute, it would hurt the research - imagine the research had planned 6 participants (3 each HDB, 2 private apartment and 1 landed house owners) but ended up interviewing one less Private apartment owner.
Rarely in interest of Research, Clients might reject a previously confirmed candidate right before the research day. This is a hard situation to handle from an emotional perspective. After having confirmed a participant was odd but I had to take the bitter pill.
In the case where we already have back-ups ready, we would share those along with the list of participants shared with our clients, so they can select from the available back-ups. It is always important to secure the agreement of clients on any change of participant.
People are busy with their own lives! So upon settling the schedule and managing both the participants and client availability for the research. We would send out reminders and Calendar invitations on email right after they confirm their availability. This is so that they will remember and be kept in check on their research study session. Whatsapp/Text messages are also sent a day before or on the day itself to remind them again on the day and timing of the research.
It is important that the participants turn up on time for the session, this applies for every research study. As there are instances where participants encountered issues like having trouble with internet connectivity or forgetting about their assigned sessions, causing them to be late.
Tip - Always have a 5-10 minute buffer time before the research session, this is to ensure that participants join on time and to solve any technical problems if there are any, to prevent any delays when the research starts. Being early also helps the participant and the researcher build a rapport without eating up into the valuable research duration.
Acknowledgement and Feedback
After the research session is completed, as recruiters we would always thank the participants for their time and effort, and keep them updated about the distribution of incentives. It is also important to check in with the clients at the end of each day, to check if the session went well and if there is any feedback for improvements. This is so that we can solve the issue faced and prevent it from happening during the next session, to ensure better quality of research participants.
With all the experience gained and learnings during my internship, I feel that research recruitment can not be trivialised. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, the psychology aspects and lack of well defined processes can negatively impact the outcome of research goals. There are always obstacles here and there during the process, such as having to find participants that’s a perfect match, or having to handle last minute back-outs and to replace them.
Also, there are situations where criteria are tough to meet and recruiting these participants are extremely difficult and time consuming, which at times may exceed project timeline. Given the need to handle various situations while dealing with people, overall it was a fresh experience for me. I gained new experiences of what it’s like to work in the User Research industry and I really had fun, enjoying this 20 weeks of fruitful journey with UXArmy.
About Adrian Ng
Interning at UXArmy has helped me to grow as a researcher designer, as I got to learn new things out of school, such as the process of recruitment for projects, reading and constantly improving myself, learning more about UX, also experiencing how it’s like to work and interact with clients in the industry. I got to know more about how to communicate with people and clients, learning how to work on projects, understanding the basic requirements, as well as how to handle it with the guidance of the team at UXArmy.
Over the few months interning here, I had constant exposure to many different experiences that were not to my expectations, as initially I thought I would just be assigned to a minor task and watch how others handle projects. But I was wrong, as at UXArmy, you’ll be given lots of opportunities to learn new things, as well as experiencing how it’s like to work in the industry. Which was what I had, I was tasked to handle recruitment projects, interacting with people and clients, as well as other tasks like helping the team with the writing of articles and gathering of information for the company etc. Overall I really enjoyed the process of being exposed to the different experiences and learning of so many new things in the industry, that I wouldn’t be able to if it wasn’t for this internship here at UXArmy.
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