Being Recruited for UX Ain’t Easy

Posted By Debbie on September 6, 2011

I just read a blog post about why headhunting for UX people is really hard, from the point of view of a recruiter. From the side of the “talent,” it’s been beyond frustrating. I feel for the recruiters, but here’s my side of the story.

All Things To All People

Some of the positions for which I apply are asking me to be things that UX people typically aren’t. Programmers. Experienced visual artists. Database gurus. I’m a UX person. I’m multi-talented, and have also done lots of art direction, which many UX people don’t do. I also have years in branding, identity, and online marketing. I like to touch the whole arc of the user experience. But I am not a coder, and I’m not the best artist I know. I’m an idea person, and I typically manage a great artist to design what’s in my head. 🙂

I wish recruiters would push clients to make better boundaries on what they think are UX jobs. I know companies would like to hire one person instead of 3, but I’d rather see you hire 2 or 3 really strong people who are amazing at what they do than to hire one person who’s great at one thing, and wearing other hats mediocrely.

Why Haven’t You Worked At Google?

Another fun one I get from time to time is that the company the recruiter is talking to is only interested in people who had UX jobs at Google, Apple, Tivo, eBay, HP, Citrix, etc… The Big Names. I’ve never worked at any of those, and am not pursuing employment or contract work at any of those.

I’m trying to think about this logically, and the conclusions I keep coming to are:

  1. That could be someone who was fired by any of those companies. How is that candidate better than I am?
  2. That could be someone who quit any of those companies. If they didn’t stay there, why would they stay with you?

You Haven’t Done This At A Big Enough Company

Some companies just want people who have worked at the Big Names. Recruiters or I send them my work, and very often, some of my niche specialties fit perfectly with what they want. I have specialties in eCommerce, online shopper behaviour, travel, and SaaS. But sometimes, the message that comes back is that the client loved my work, loved my specialties, and loved talking to me on the phone. But I haven’t worked at Expedia or Amazon, so they don’t want me.

I had another set of interviews in the UX department of a very famous Bay Area company I won’t name. What I finally got back from the internal recruiter was that everybody loved me, I’d fit right in, I would probably need very little training due to my specialties and experience, but my resume doesn’t say Product Manager on it, so they’re not sure I can be a Product Manager. My resume didn’t say Product Manager before you gave me multiple phone interviews.

Once upon a time, there was a UX person getting a job at a Big Name company, and that person had not yet worked at a Big Name company. Someone gave him or her a chance. Somewhere, there is someone with a wonderful resume that doesn’t say Product Manager on it, but is being given that role because someone believes in him or her. I’d like that chance too. 🙂

I’m fun. I’m happy. I’ve never been stuck in a cubicle. Never had a corporate job. Sure, that means my resume is a bit funky. But it means I’m happy. I do what I love for companies I love working with. I’ve never been “burned out” and I’ve never been “in a box.” I’d think this is a selling point!

Will You Stay Forever?

I had a very awkward interview at a very famous Bay Area company I won’t name. Most of the questions they asked me were if I’d stay. Forever. Make it my career. Stay for years. Yes, we know we’re only offering you a 6-month contract, but will you stay for years after it’s over? I was told they really want someone who will be part of the team, not just a temporary hired gun.

I gave the most honest answer I could: if I enjoy this job, and find it rewarding, I won’t want to leave when the 6 months are up! You’ll have a hard time getting me out the door! If the job is great, I’d be happy to stay. That didn’t seem to reassure them… which made me think that working there wasn’t great… despite the tour of the cafeteria they gave me. Evidently, the food is good! They wanted me to know that.

This story only gets more awkward when I got a call from another recruiter a few months later. They were considering me for a UX job at an agency. Who was this agency’s biggest client? The awkward company that wanted me to promise to stay forever. Sounds like they ended up hiring nobody, and then just brought in an agency. I had to decline since I just didn’t want to work with that company, not directly, and not through an agency.

I Signed No Non-Compete

One of the most interesting things about not having worked at any of the Big Names is that I never signed a non-compete. I can tell you everything I know about shopper behaviour because none of it came from secret or inside data from some place where I previously worked. When companies have told me that they are really looking to get an ex-Googler so that they can get some good info on search, will it even be legal for that candidate to share what he or she knows about Google search with you? And if he or she does, haven’t you just learned that this worker will tell YOUR secrets to his/her next employer?

Every Website Could Always Be Better, But Mine Is Not A Problem

One recruiter tried to tell me I’ll never get hired because I have a non-traditional website. She told me that I needed to make my website look like ALL the other UX websites. I asked her if that means plain and boring. She said yes. I said NO WAY. I am not plain and boring. I’m not like everybody else. There’s not reason to make a conformist website.

I also know that making my website conform doesn’t make me more qualified for a job where they really want someone who worked at Google. No website I could build will get me that job. No website I build will get me the job where they want Product Manager already on my resume. My website might as well be a reflection of me. The blue version of my website is, and the new one I’m working on will be an even better reflection of me. I’ve been very busy with consulting work, so evidently my website isn’t stopping the right client from hiring me.

What I See As the Recruiter’s Job

Recruiters may disagree, but here is what I see as the recruiter’s job: tell my story to your client in a way that makes them crazy excited to talk to me or meet me. Recruiters forget one main thing: the internet is really easy for me to use. 🙂 If I have the time, I can apply for just about every UX job or contract position in the whole Bay Area. Recruiters have few “exclusives” on these jobs. They’re all over Craigslist and plenty of other job boards. I found my current gig via Elance, and get contacted a lot through Meetup.com.

Recruiters hopefully have a personal connection where I haven’t made one yet. Recruiters can go and tell their pals how great I would be on their team, and how my specialties are going to knock their project out of the park. That’s where a recruiter can help me. The rest is me being fun to be around, and great to work with. But I would like recruiters to open doors for me, and look for gigs when I’m too busy to look for gigs.

I do not want recruiters sending me for gigs for which I don’t qualify. That company that wants a UX person who worked at Tivo, and can also write jquery and javascript? That’s not me! Why are you sending me for that! You look bad, and I’ll never get the job.

So What Can I Do To Tell My Story?

I believe the right companies will connect with me. It’s September 2011, and I’m working on rebuilding my website’s look and content. If the site is blue, that’s the old one (so give me some time!). I will continue to focus on providing UX, branding, marketing, and design consulting for startups and companies thinking like startups. That’s my sweet spot. If recruiters want to make some money off me, they should sell my sweet spot to companies who would love working with me. That’s all I’d ask of any recruiter. 🙂

And to the writer of the great blog post linked at the beginning of this one, I promise I will answer you nearly immediately. And I don’t have anything on my site about my collection of vintage EPCOT t-shirts and pins. 🙂