Hiring for UX: An Interview with Jesse McBride

For this assignment, I interviewed Jesse McBride, a Senior UX Talent Manager at UX Hires. In order to prepare for my own job search, I wanted to gain insight into the hiring process to see what I could improve upon as I send out resumés and go on interviews. Jesse shared his thoughts about the UX field, things to avoid when applying, and gave some good advice to keep in mind when interviewing for positions.

Hannah: Alright, so you are the Senior UX Talent Manager at UX Hires, and I was hoping you could talk a little bit about your role and responsibilities in that job.

Jesse: So we are a sister company to Motivate Design, so part of my role is filling jobs internally at Motivate Design. It’s in-house project-based recruitment, and then I’d say 80-90% of our time is spent on agency-style recruiting. So we help other companies fill UX/UI related roles. And that’s kind of like on the percentage of the first year’s income basis, just like any traditional agency would do. So we split our time between that, and it’s mostly connecting with candidates, building pipelines, managing funnels with different employers.

H: Do you also have experience working in UX?

J: A little over a year ago I was in tech recruiting, and the reason I came to UX Hires was because I wanted to become a UX Designer, fell in love with the field. Took a class at GA, read some books, you know did my research and stuff. I found after I got recruited into UX Hires to be a recruiter, that I really enjoyed the people aspect and the recruiting aspect, but I loved doing it from the UX standpoint for such a niche field. So I did study some design, I am very aware of the process. I’ve put rough wireframes together and stuff like that but I’m not a designer.

H: And what do you think is the most important thing for somebody entering the UX field to know, or to think about, or to prepare for?

J: Understand what employers are looking for, and the different types of employers. You know, you have your start-ups, and you have your larger companies, and agencies. So understanding what they want you to do, because people hire to make their lives easier. So know what you need to do to go in there and make their life easier. Unfortunately, people who have visual skills, who can put together prototypes and wireframes like that, high-fidelity, have a leg up just because they can do more. Unless it’s a role that really highly values research and all the core research stuff, and if you’re doing that then good. But yea, understanding what the employer is really looking for and setting yourself up for success by addressing those points.

H: Yea, I know in my own job search, I’m finding that it’s a really broad field. There’s the design aspect, and the information architecture structure aspect, and the research aspect, user testing. And each company has their own language for what they call the position and what that position covers. How do you navigate that, or find candidates that fit these different titles that aren’t all uniform or consistent?

J: Yea, there’s so many different titles, and a company will say ‘We need a UX designer’ and it’s clear that they need a UI designer that knows what UX is maybe. But what was the question?

H: Like how do you find the right candidate for the right position even though there’s that vagueness, and people don’t necessarily know what to call what they’re looking for.

J: Right, right, so when you get on the call with a manager you go through, and kind of talk through what they need exactly, what their resources are currently, what their plans for expansion are, and stuff like that. So once you figure out kind of their roadmap and what the deliverables need to be for them then you can tell them ‘Ok you need someone who can do research and information architecture, and then you also need a visual designer.’ Or you need a UI designer that focuses in UI but kind of knows what UX is, but you don’t have a heavy research aspect to this because XYZ, you have a lot of validation, whatever. So kind of working through it and understanding exactly what they need and then going out and finding people who have that skillset.

H: So just drawing it out from them, to see what they mean by what they’re calling the title.

J: Exactly, and sometimes they don’t want to hire two people so they try to fit everything into one role, so it’s tough.

H: Can you talk a little bit about the trajectory, do you start with the company that has positions to fill? Or do you start with the candidate who has skills? Where does the process begin?

J: For us, it’s companies that need positions filled. And we go from there. Obviously, we’re very niche so we kind of focus on making sure that the match is right, that the candidate will grow in this role, that they have the right skillset, and the right cultural fit and all that stuff like that. So we don’t really throw spaghetti at the walls here, it’s not that kind of model. But we do start with the companies that have roles.

H: Ok, and something you just mentioned I was going to ask about, how you think about if the person is going to fit with the culture of the company. Because it’s one thing to have the skills but how are they going to mesh with the feel. How do you assess that, or what kinds of questions do you ask?

J: Cultural fit is a sticky word because sometimes people assume that that means color of your hair or if you’re a hipster. And that’s unfortunate, but I view cultural fit more as the type of management style you thrive in. Do you need to be micromanaged? Are you a good independent worker? Are you a natural leader? And will this role allow you to let that shine? There are also communication styles that can speak to cultural fit. But yea, those are kind of the defining factors.

H: Ok, so you kind of talked a little bit about what you look for and how you match. What is the biggest mistake somebody can make when they’re applying for their job? Whether it’s in their portfolio, their interview…

J: Yea I was talking to somebody last night actually and he was sending out 35 applications a day.

H: Oh, wow.

J: Yea, it was a huge amount. One of the biggest mistakes people can make is not tailoring the specific approach to the specific job. It’s sort of like walking into a bar and just giving a half-ass attempt at talking to 30 girls, or 30 guys. If you’re going to send your resume and a cover letter, whatever it is, portfolio, it should speak to what they need. And you’re actually acknowledging that you looked at the post and know about them and whatever. Really tailoring your approach is big because you’ll get cast aside from the get-go if you don’t do that. Good candidates are missed out in that process.

H: I also saw online that you’re involved with UX Labs, and was hoping you could talk a little bit about that, the kinds of events you have and workshops.

J: Yea, so the UX Lab is a meetup group that is designed for UX designers or researchers or whatever, that want to network, build their skills, be part of the community. The types of events we host are kind of sectioned into three parts. There’s hands on events where we have start-ups come in with actual design problems, so we’ll have user testing or wireframing or whatever it is for the specific thing the startup wants to focus on. Those are collaborative, break into groups sessions. Then we have panel sessions which are geared toward a specific subject, we’ll have a couple panel members and a moderator. And then we’ll have like networking events.

H: Is it free to join?

J: Yea, it’s free to join. Sometimes the meetups will cost five bucks or a dollar just to cover drinks and stuff. Sean, who actually works here is one of the organizers. We have about 4 organizers here. We broke out to San Francisco recently and Boston, so we’re now in three cities, so that’s exciting.

H: Yea, that’s great. So to be a little bit selfish here — I’m graduating in a month with a Masters in Library and Information Science with an Advanced Certificate in UX, and I’m just wondering where do you see that degree fitting into that field? Having a more academic and theoretical background in UX versus going to General Assembly and taking classes. When you’re looking at candidates, how would that degree frame up?

J: I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit confused with the Library Sciences and what that is and how it speaks to it, maybe you could elaborate on it?

H: Sure, it’s Library and Information Sciences so some people are focusing on libraries but there are different specialities within the program, so you can focus in archives, or you can focus in digital humanities, or you can focus in UX. It is a newer program within the information sciences umbrella, but they’re trying to build it up in the academic world to prepare people for the field. I’m applying to jobs now and trying to navigate the gap of whether people in the field know that the degree is out there and trying to see how useful it will actually be.

J: Ok yea. It’s tough because you went through the program so you know exactly what it was like, but for outside people they see HCI, they see psychology, media, stuff like that and those are the things they’re familiar with, so they might not be familiar with this which — I don’t think it’s necessarily bad, especially if you label it the right way, focus in UX. I don’t think it will be negative for you, and it’s probably a little bit better than General Assembly because there’s so many people coming out of General Assembly. I think that it’s a really good program, they have a really good process that they teach, but the market is really flooded with people coming out of there. You have 30 applicants that get out of one class for the same role, and it’s like how do I choose which one. But yea I think that the fact that you have an academic Masters in something is definitely a good thing, something I would treat with respect.

H: And just try to frame it in the right way.

J: Yea I would definitely frame it towards UX, make sure it’s phrased towards UX. Maybe include a couple of courses that you took to make it very clear that it was UX. Typically they say not to list all your classes and such, so you don’t want to take up too much space, but if there are a couple classes that are very clearly towards UX that would be helpful I think, just to clarify.

H: Ok, yea that’s helpful. And then I really just had one last question, which is where do you think the field is headed. For example, how will UX be different in 5 years or what will we be thinking about that’s not what we’re thinking about now?

J: Yea, I think we’ve already seen a trend of GA and all these people studying UX and companies needing UX designers, but they don’t really need a UX designer, they need a UI designer. But then you have companies that have full functional teams that have digital and research and UX. I think we’ll start to see more of that. More understanding of what it is and how to break up the efforts and the teams and stuff like that. I also — this could be completely off — but I feel like…

H: Well I’m going to call you in 5 years to check in, so…

J: I feel like it’s going to become more accepted for UX designers to have UI skills. Because the people who have a leg up are the ones that have some visual skills. Which is kind of a shame because a lot of the people who are good at UX are not visually talented, they’re just very smart and know what people want, empathy and stuff, but that’s just a guess. I hope it doesn’t go that way. I want to see more broken up teams.

H: No unicorns?

J: Exactly.

H: Yea, I feel like, at least in my job search I’m looking more towards the information architecture and research side of things. I’m really interested in those aspects of it but when you say UX designer people assume you have a graphic design background or an MFA or something.

J: Exactly, it’s just the word designer. I think if your looking at startups they’re not going to be hiring as many strictly research people. Obviously, take that with a grain of salt. But it’s your bigger companies and agencies that will be hiring for research and information architecture.

H: Right, they’ve got it divided a little bit more. That’s good to think about about.

J: Yea, so that’s that.

H: Ok, is there anything else that you think is relevant or that I should know?

J: Yea, actually I think one of the most interesting parts of the hiring process is that people assume if the person interviewing someone is good at interviewing but that’s not always the case. The person interviewing might not really know how to ask the right questions. They might not really know how to lead the interview. They might also be a little nervous, you know what I mean, and they might miss some things. So, there’s a very good chance they could leave the interview having not asked the questions and not vetted you properly. When they go back, they’re not really weighing you properly. So I think if you’re in an interview and you have a specific skill that you know that they’re looking for, and they don’t ask about it or don’t dig into it, it’s important to ask a question to kind of guide that. That’s definitely something that’s important — I think a lot of people leave interviews with this disconnect that they didn’t reach a full productive conversation or Q & A session.

H: Yea, people don’t think as much about the interviewer’s skills. That’s a good point. This was really helpful, thank you so much. I’ll send you the link to your interview on the Pratt website if you want for you to check out.

J: Yea, that’s awesome I would love to. Good luck with the project.