User research is a growing area of the tech industry as more organisations are seeing the need to understand user needs at every step of developing a product or service. It’s exciting to see our field grow!

Because of this, we’ve recently hired some more user researchers here at dxw and in doing so, we’ve read a lot of CVs. We thought it might be useful to give some pointers for those of you thinking of applying for user research jobs in the next little while:

There is no set career path for user researchers

The great thing about user research is that it’s a field that’s accepting of many disciplines. Our strength rests in that diversity of backgrounds. Here at dxw, our team consists of a digital sociologist, a Human-Computer Interaction specialist, a human factors engineer and a former content and product manager. In the past, I’ve worked alongside psychologists, marketing graduates and civil servants.  We have all come to user research because we have a desire to make digital services work for everyone.

When hiring new staff, we look at your background and think about how your skills might complement the broader user research skill set. So don’t be afraid to apply for a user research job if you’re not from one of those backgrounds, but do highlight how your skills could be transferable to user research. Most of these are soft but vital skills, such as interviewing, active listening, writing and presenting research findings.

Speak the language: public sector, commercial or third sector?

Consider pitching your CV differently for each sector. If you’re applying for a job in the public sector (or an agency like dxw that works with the public sector), you’ll need to demonstrate that you understand the principles of public sector digital. The Digital Service Standard and the Government Service Manual are really good starting points and are freely available for you to read up on.  

Commercial and start-up organisations usually expect a bit more detail about meeting targets and the performance of the product you worked on. But for public or third sector jobs, we focus on meeting user needs, rather than meeting KPIs. If you’re wanting to transition from corporate to public sector, go the extra mile and describe how you met user needs rather than business objectives in previous roles.

Not everyone who reviews your CV will be a user researcher so help them out

At dxw we have a flat hierarchy so any one of the team are able to review your CV. This means that your CV may be reviewed by a user researcher, our head of operations or a delivery manager. Although a user researcher knows what ethnographic or heuristic research methods mean, many people reading your CV won’t because they don’t know research jargon. Show empathy to the user – in this case, the people hiring you – and consider writing ‘interviews’ and ‘observation’ rather than ethnography (pro tip: ethnography is a rather vague term anyway).

Don’t be a slashie. Be a user researcher

Do you remember that scene in Zoolander where Fabio wins the award for best actor slash model (and not the other way around)? It’s ok to have a background or skills in coding, design or product management, but be sure to pitch yourself as a user researcher.

An example, I was recently reviewing a CV for someone who was applying for a user research job and I looked them up online for examples of their work. They described themselves as a user researcher on one platform, a product manager on another and, a designer on yet another. From our perspective, this looks like you haven’t quite committed to the discipline.

Demonstrate how you see yourself working in our team.

One of the long-held mottos at GDS is that ‘user research is a team sport’. Earlier I mentioned soft skills, and these skills come into play not just in working alongside users, but with the people who will need to work with your research to prototype or iterate services. How will you communicate your research to developers and designers? Similarly, how will you take the iterations they’ve made on the service and conduct further research on them? When you describe your previous work, make sure to let us know who you worked with. This helps us know that you can fit into an interdisciplinary team. Which brings us to our next point:

Communicate your research, don’t just give us a laundry list of research methods.

When describing your previous work on your CV, it’s vital that you describe the project, the methods, the team and the outcomes. This should ideally take 4-5 lines of text per previous role. A laundry list of research methods that you used on the project isn’t really helpful for us to determine why you used them and how they worked. Tell us the narrative of the work you did. You get bonus points for telling us what stage of the agile product cycle you worked in so we can understand the context of the project.

Make sure your CV is a good user experience

The layout is the first thing I notice when reviewing CVs. If you’re applying for a user researcher job, you are applying to advocate for clearer, simpler user experiences. A readable and uncluttered CV trumps an over-designed one every time. If your CV needs to go over on to another page for the sake of readability, then so be it.

CVs with complex design patterns often get chewed up and spat out by APIs which send your once-perfectly designed CV through to our recruitment management tool, Workable. By the time we come to review it, it’s really difficult to read.

Any questions or any other tips for user research CVs? Drop us a note in the comments.

Fancy joining us to work on some great projects and to make public sector services better? Then we’d love to hear from you! Upload your CV here

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