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The UX Recruitment Struggle Is Real: How to Find Participants
Scrappy tactics for resourceful UXers
If you’re a UX professional, you've likely faced recruitment struggles... Finding the right participants often feels impossible, hindering your ability to conduct effective research no matter how perfectly designed your study is.
I've been there myself—the frustration of working on an early-stage product without users, battling organisational red tape, or hitting dead ends recruiting in niche B2B environments. The barriers can seem endless and demoralising.
Over the years, through collaborating with fellow researchers facing similar recruiting roadblocks, I’ve compiled a number of strategies to overcome these obstacles. None of these suggestions are perfect and effective right away but over time they can help you improve your recruiting process.
In this guide, I want to share the most impactful recruitment tactics I’ve learned and tried. My goal is to provide you with the tools to secure the insights you need to create better user experiences, even when participant recruitment seems hopeless.
Scenario A: Conducting Research on a New Product
I know how exciting yet daunting it can feel to undertake research on a new product without existing users. In such cases you have to get creative as many methods you've read about won’t work. Here are a few things you can try:
Identify and recruit potential early adopters by engaging relevant niche communities aligned to the product's purpose. While working on a novel live-streaming tool, I used reddit to recruit Twitch and other live-streaming tool users to better understand their needs and pain points. Their innate interest made them ideal early adopters and helped me create an early stage research panel.
Benchmark against analogous products or categories to uncover applicable user needs and pain points. For example, if your product is a productivity app, gather a group of people who use similar apps. Conduct interviews or surveys to understand their experiences, motivations, and pain points. This information can be instrumental in shaping the user experience for your product.
Scenario B: Limited Access to Users
Restricted access to end users, common in B2B products, can be a huge research blocker. However, expanding your participant pool isn’t impossible with the right strategy:
Partner with sales, account management and other teams interacting with users daily. Customer facing teams should be your allies! I once uncovered useful insights by simply interviewing our customer support team to better understand customer pain points. Leverage these connections!
Create and maintain a research panel of engaged users who opt-in for ongoing studies. Take a software development company that sells to a small pool of enterprise clients. They could create a panel of volunteer users from these clients, rotating research efforts among this pool to avoid fatigue and disengagement. This is something we did in a previous role and provided us with easy access to users on regular intervals.
Use professional panels to supplement internal recruiting. If you have a budget for user research, have a look at professional panels, such as User Interviews, UserTesting, Respondent, Askable and others. There you can find niche B2B users. Writing a good screener can help with this.
Scenario C: Overcoming Internal Roadblocks
In larger organisations, accessing users directly can be impeded by internal gatekeepers. Unfortunately, that’s something I experienced in the past and it caused significant delays in my research. Here's how to navigate these situations:
Try to understand what’s causing the roadblocks. This can help you develop the right strategy. You can do so by talking to stakeholders and the teams blocking your access to users. Maybe they don’t understand UX research or had a previous bad experience. You are a UX professional, approach the issue as a UX project!
Start small and showcase quick research wins to build credibility. If gatekeepers are skeptical, start with a small project. For example, a short usability test on a new feature can yield quick wins and demonstrate the value of your research.
Most companies collect user feedback. Analyse indirect user touchpoints like support logs to uncover insights. Even if you have access to users, Zendesk and similar platforms can provide you with load of useful information. It’s not ideal as it can be biased, but it’s a good starting point.
Conduct desk research. This involves gathering information from existing sources such as academic articles, reports, and other published materials. This can provide valuable insights into the user experience and help inform design decisions.
Conduct UX audits as a backup option when you have no other access.
I hope these tips are helpful. Are there any other strategies you’ve used? Please share in the comments.