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Responding to Misaligned Recruiting Messages

Enterprise UX

Designing experiences for people at work

A column by Jonathan Walter
June 21, 2021

It’s happened again: you’ve received a LinkedIn message or an email message from a recruiter who is attempting to interest you in the open position he’s trying to fill—or has asked whether you know of anyone who might be interested or qualified. But the message or its accompanying job description has just made you cringe. Perhaps a company was looking for a unicorn to handle both UX and development duties. Maybe the job description specified that a candidate should have a degree in “Computer Science or similar”—yes, this recently happened to me. Or, perhaps the desired qualifications are for skills that have nothing to do with the field of User Experience.

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Don’t just delete the recruiter’s message or ignore it. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a new position, you have a unique opportunity to educate recruiters—and, by extension, the hiring managers and UX teams with whom they work. Recruiters can play a vital role in responsibly developing the field of User Experience. Unfortunately, ignoring recruiters’ misconceptions further perpetuates faulty narratives about the function and purpose of User Experience, which, in turn, contributes to the vicious cycle of UX immaturity in many companies—possibly including yours. In this column, I’ll provide some tips on how to respond tactfully to the incongruous recruiting messages and job descriptions that you might receive, focusing on the following scenarios:

  • inappropriate qualifications
  • seeking a unicorn
  • confusion about User Experience versus Customer Experience

Inappropriate Qualifications

A few weeks ago, I received a LinkedIn message from a recruiter who included a job description for a “UX/UI Manager”. To my dismay, the educational requirements suggested that someone with a background in computer science, information technology, or a related discipline would be qualified for a UX/UI Manager position, as Figure 1 shows.

Figure 1—Educational requirements misaligned with UX design
Educational requirements misaligned with UX design disciplines

After taking some calming breaths, I responded with the following email message:

Dear [Recruiter Name]

Some companies looking to hire UX or UI professionals seem to have the attitude that such disciplines require commoditized skillsets that any technical professional could adopt—especially when they specify educational requirements in computer science or information technology. The implication is that they would be leading a team of technical professionals. I recommend that you ask the hiring manager to revise the educational requirements to specify a degree in UX design, human-computer-interaction (HCI), visual communication design (VCD), or a related subject. Plus, a UX Manager would lead various professionals within the field of User Experience, which might include disciplines such as UX design, UI design, user research, and UX design operations.

By leaving these qualifications as they are, you potentially risk alienating qualified candidates, come across as uninformed, and ultimately, reduce your ability to place candidates in the companies you represent.

If you encounter a similar situation, feel free to borrow or customize this email message.

Although I don’t always hear back from recruiters, in this case, I received a reply stating that the recruiter would share my feedback with the hiring manager. If you run into a similar scenario, remember that taking the time to respond to inappropriate recruiting messages and job descriptions could help other UX professionals to land positions that align with their skillset, at a company with an evolving understanding of User Experience. Thanks to you!

Seeking a Unicorn

Sadly, the myth of the unicorn persists in many companies that believe a developer or engineer should also handle UX or UI design responsibilities. Recently, I received a job description from a recruiter for a Web Application Developer position because the recruiter felt that my background and experience aligned well with the job requirements. (They didn’t!) As Figure 2 shows, not only did the job description describe inappropriate qualifications but also further devalued the disciplines of UX and UI design by suggesting that any technical professional should be able to perform those functions.

Figure 2—Job description with design and development responsibilities
A job description combining design and development responsibilities

As you can imagine, this job description touched a nerve, so it was tempting to write a combative response. However, as I described in my UXmatters column, “Writing for Action,” such messages seldom achieve the results we want. So I instead responded with the following message:

Hi [Name],

[The Client or Company Name] should avoid conflating the disciplines of UX and UI design with the disciplines of development or engineering. An attempt to combine them into a single role devalues both of these disciplines. I understand that hiring two people might be infeasible given budgetary and other constraints, but [The Client or Company Name] might run the risk of coming across as uninformed and unintentionally offend candidates who might be qualified for either role. This job description also projects an undertone that UX and UI design are commoditized skillsets that any developer could adopt.

Again, you are welcome to borrow this message if you find yourself in a similar situation.

If you want to be even more helpful, suggest some actions that the recruiter might take. Arming recruiters and hiring managers with the right information could pay dividends to other designers—and even developers—down the road. Here’s what I added:

I suggest that you recast the role as almost entirely development focused. Rather than recruiting UX professionals, state that you’re seeking a user-focused Web developer who has the front-end development skills that would be necessary to help bridge the absence of a qualified UX professional. Knowing how to style components from a design library is a far cry from conducting up-front qualitative research, identifying user journeys and their painpoints and opportunities, and redefining user workflows. These skills require the candidate to have intimate knowledge of interaction design, information architecture—including hierarchy and navigation—and aspects of UI design such as color theory, typography, and color-contrast accessibility (WCAG) standards.

I received a reply from the recruiter stating that she would go back to the hiring manager and discuss this feedback. Did they end up making a change? I don’t know. But I consider their response a measure of some success because, while they might not have made changes to this job description, they’ve received feedback that could inform the next job description they post for a similar position. Plus, most recruiters do not work with only a single company. Many are freelancers or work for staffing agencies, so taking the time to educate them could pay future dividends to the numerous other clients with whom they engage—and, by extension, to our peers within the UX community.

Confusion About User Experience Versus Customer Experience

Customer Experience (CX) roles are becoming more prevalent as companies move to Software as a Service (SaaS) models that better facilitate and streamline annual recurring revenue (ARR). However, there’s a great deal of confusion between the fields of Customer Experience and User Experience. A recruiter recently sent me a job description for a CX position, shown in Figure 3, indicating responsibilities and skills that had little to do with the field of User Experience.

Figure 3—CX job responsibilities, desired skills, and experience
A CX professional's job responsibilities, desired skills, and experience

In his CareerFoundry article “UX vs. CX: What is the Difference?” author Cameron Browne describes the following key difference between User Experience and Customer Experience: “User experience designers focus mainly on a user’s interaction with a single product, while customer experience designers are focusing on the consumer’s experience with the organization as a whole. Keep in mind that the user UX designers are studying is not always the consumer or purchaser.”

While I’d argue Browne’s point about UX designers’ focusing mainly on a single product—a UX designer could design many products or services as part of a larger system—he’s correct in pointing out that the CX journey is broader and that the user isn’t always the same person as the customer or purchaser, which is common in enterprise software. Customer Experience is multifaceted and could encompass brand perception, customer loyalty, market analysis, and many other facets that diverge from the field of User Experience. Professionals with marketing, finance, and sales backgrounds typically have different skillsets from UX professionals. While it’s certainly feasible for a professional to move between User Experience and Customer Experience—and it’s appropriate that people in each of these fields should work closely together—it is helpful to educate recruiters on the differences between these two fields so they can attract and retain the most appropriate candidates.

If you receive a similar message or job description that’s more suitable for a CX professional—especially if there’s no obvious corollary to User Experience—I suggest that you cite Browne’s description and recommend that the recruiter connect with professionals who have backgrounds and skills that are appropriate for the position.

Is it possible that the right position might have found you, even if a message was slightly mistargeted? Of course. People make career jumps all the time. However, it’s still helpful to provide such feedback to recruiters because it grows their knowledge, which can benefit other recruits in either of these fields down the road.

Conclusion

You’ll always receive some recruiter email messages and job descriptions that don’t align with your level of experience, your specific discipline in the field of User Experience, or your career goals. Of course, there are sometimes egregious misalignments between job descriptions and the qualifications of the professionals to whom recruiters send them. If you encounter scenarios that are similar to those I’ve described in this column, I encourage you to take a step back and look upon them as opportunities to educate recruiters, as opposed to fodder for your recycle bin.

As UX professionals, we must often carry the additional burden of having to educate people on what we do. The field of User Experience is still immature in many companies so you should expect this. Over time, this situation will improve. However, it behooves us to accelerate this education process and foster UX maturity in organizations whenever possible. In the future, our UX peers are more likely to hear about job opportunities that actually align with their skills, experience, and qualifications. Recruiters hold an important place in the advancement of UX maturity across the industry. We help our entire profession when we help recruiters increase their knowledge of User Experience. 

User Experience Team Lead at Rockwell Automation

Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Jonathan WalterJon has a degree in Visual Communication Design from the University of Dayton, as well as experience in Web development, interaction design, user interface design, user research, and copywriting. He spent eight years at Progressive Insurance, where his design and development skills helped shape the #1 insurance Web site in the country, progressive.com. Jon’s passion for user experience fueled his desire to make it his full-time profession. In 2013, Jon joined Rockwell Automation, where he designs software products for some of the most challenging environments in the world. In 2020, Jon became User Experience Team Lead at Rockwell, where he balances design work with managing a cross-functional team of UX professionals.  Read More

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