Seeing Your Ex-Hiring Manager (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, I received an invite from one of the design circles I follow about an event they’re putting up.

It’s about selling design at the corporate suite – a topic that’s notoriously difficult but very necessary especially for firms trying to prove the dollars and sense of having designers and researchers in-house.

Since this is the situation I’m currently in – UX Researcher # 2 in a charity trying to build a UX “civilization” in-house – I wanted to know how I could convince my executives that having UX research in the charity makes serious financial sense. We can always rehash the $300 million button story or the McKinsey Design Report, to be sure. But if I cannot prove the tangible value of UX research and design to the charity (a.k.a. becoming the researcher/designer who can make dollars and donations rain, etc.) they may as well reconsider why I’m there in the first place.

So I decided to keep an eye on the event until I discovered who was going to speak at that event – the Design Director who rejected me on the spot in an information interview.

The pain from the distant past started surfacing again.

Dear Catherine…

Catherine Jones (not her real name) is a design leader at one of the big banks in Toronto. She’s been tasked to breathe new life into the bank’s products by introducing an end-to-end understanding of the banking customer and using those insights to build new product lines and innovative services. She didn’t really plan on becoming a designer, let alone a design leader. But her passion for effective products and services got her to the position she is in.

She had to build a team that would do customer research and innovation design. She had to assemble a high-performing team of professionals who are passionate about holistic experiences and could translate them into new product and service offerings for the bank. She soon started reaching out to the local UX research and design groups in the city; building as much interest as she possibly could for what feels like a new field for a banking giant.

I am looking for design researchers who would like to join a new and exciting practice within [the bank]! If you or someone is interested to learn more, feel free to send a direct message here or through [].

Catherine’s message on a Toronto UX Slack group.

I was looking for a job at that time. And because I was seriously bent on becoming a UX researcher no matter what, I reached out to get a sense of what it is she is looking for and “whether I could help” (this has been my standard line during those job hunting days).

Soon, she asked for my resume and a couple more things to help picture my skills in her head. We then scheduled an 8:00 AM coffee meeting at the ground floor of the bank’s headquarters in the city’s financial district.

She started by introducing herself and how she got the leadership role despite not being a designer by training or anything. She talked about her introduction to the design world, how banks should be customer experience leaders by default, and how design research is taking root in financial services.

So far, so good.

Then, it was my turn.

I talked about my background, how I was former journalist who transitioned into UX and product design, and how UX research runs very deep in the work that I do. I wanted her to feel that she’s talking to a UX researcher, NOT a UX designer. It’s the role that I’m going for and the function she’s hiring for.

Now the fun part.

Catherine: “Could you share a story of one of your most recent research projects?”

Jem: *talks about most recent UX research project*

C: “So, what was the problem your client was trying to solve?”

J: *talks about client’s design problem and why it matters*

C: “What research did you conduct?”

J: *talks about research process, methods, “the ethnography I did”, etc.*

C: “Did you find anything surprising in that research?”

J: *talked about what I observed doing ethnography*

C: “I understand that participant observation and ethnography are very interesting research methods. But I want to know what was the value of doing those methods beyond what was simply observed on site.”

J: *talks about what the client wanted to know and how ethnography provided it*

C: “So what was the outcome of the research?”

J: *talks about the product prototype that came out of it*

C: “And what did the client do with the prototype?”

J: *talks about former client’s “different direction” but how grateful they were for the research work commissioned*

Coffee Meeting Part 1

By this time, the atmosphere was starting to turn tense. What started as an informal, exploratory chat was slowly becoming a screening interview.

She then talked about a design research initiative that she led at the bank. It was a very intricate discussion that seemed to suggest the level of expertise and rigour she demands in the design research role and how it’s more than the tactical methods but the actual impact research has to deliver (product prototypes do not count as tangible results).

She also asked about my decision-making style. I answered that I believe in driving maximal alignment between the people I work with and myself, which often means that I “check in with people frequently” to ensure that whatever ideas or research methods I have are agreed upon by both parties.

Sadly, it was becoming very clear that this conversation wasn’t going anywhere.

C: “You know, I appreciate the confidence that you bring into this conversation. It’s clear that you’re passionate about research and I can sense that in the way you talked about your project. You’re also a well-spoken person, which helps in this type of work.”

J: *I’m sensing a ‘but…’ here*

C: “As a new function, however, I need people who can truly take charge and not really need my direction or oversight in the finer, more delicate nuances of the work. It’s not that ‘checking in’ is a bad practice. But this role requires a level of autonomous decision-making I’m not sure I’ve heard in this conversation.”

J: “I see…”

C: *looks at her watch* “Look at the time. I have to run for my next meeting. Nice meeting you. Best of luck in your consulting practice.”

J: *shakes her hand and bids goodbye*

Coffee Meeting Part 3

By 8:30 AM, I was out of the building, braving once again a cold, balmy spring day at the heart of Toronto’s financial district.

to be continued…

Published by Jem

Jem is a UX practitioner who builds insightful, creative and usable digital experiences. A journalist by trade, he transitioned to digital media upon discovering its power to create compelling (longform) stories that captivate and motivate. Today, he combines both UX research and strategy to design digital experiences that people love.