August 15, 2023
Making a career transition to UX research
Alice Lyall, User Researcher at Ki Insurance, outlines how she transitioned into UX research.

By Alice Lyall

In this article, I will outline my experiences transitioning into the UX Research field and some helpful, practical tips (which worked for me) for those looking to make a similar career leap.

User Experience, or UX, is a really exciting field that has become more prominent in most businesses over the last decade as the value of the work is better understood. This increased prominence has meant the field has grown significantly in recent years as companies look to give their teams the resources they need to succeed.

This growth has meant many people who didn't begin their careers in research have entered the field. This has been a massive boost for the research community as it brings together many people from different professional backgrounds with a wide variety of skills.

My journey

I now work as a User Experience Researcher in fintech, having transitioned into UXR (UX Research) a little over a year ago. My background was in Psychology at university, before four years of working in market research.

Having made this transition, I wanted to share some of my experiences in the hopes that some people looking at a similar move in the future might find it helpful in forging their path into UXR.

So what steps did I take to land my first UX Researcher job?

1. I developed foundational knowledge of UX by consuming information

It goes without saying that UX Researchers need to have a good understanding of UX, and coming from market research, I had a limited understanding to begin. At first, I was mainly concerned with digging up as much information on UX as possible.

I consumed countless articles about UX, read books, watched videos online, and even enrolled in some online at-your-own-pace courses for more structured learning.

Of course, when taking in this much information, it can take effort to remember everything. So, I tracked these resources in a single document so I could return to them easily. I extracted and noted down just a few insights from each resource to ensure I absorbed the information rather than just consuming it.

2. I broadened my experience with different research methodologies (especially qualitative)

Something else that aspiring UX Researchers need to have is research experience. One of the significant advantages of having a market research background was I already had knowledge of, and experience in different research methodologies within a business context. Whatever your background may be, find the transitional skills.

Whilst many roles in UXR are mixed methods, and there are indeed dedicated quantitative UXR roles, the UXR field is much more oriented towards qualitative research in general. Therefore, if you lack experience in qualitative methodologies, try and get more experience in qualitative research.

I was fortunate enough to gain exposure to various qualitative methodologies (interviews, video diaries, contextual inquiries, etc.) whilst working in market research, despite being in a quant-focused role for most of my time.

3. I learnt about various methodologies and when and why to apply them

Choosing the right methodology for a research project is crucial for a UX Researcher (as it is for any researcher). As an aspiring UXR I tried to familiarise myself with different methodologies by reading up on them, but I also developed this skill by brainstorming research plans with other researchers when getting involved in proposal writing.

Even if I didn't necessarily end up working on these projects, I learned about different methodologies available to use and understood how and why other researchers employed them.

4. I built up an understanding of the product/ design landscape and how research fits into that

Knowledge of UX and experience working alongside Product teams are often skills that need to be added in those coming from a background like mine. Even after developing that foundational knowledge of UX through consuming information, I still felt I needed an understanding of the wider context.

To be a good UXR, you really need to understand your stakeholders, who are mostly Product Managers and Designers. To gain this understanding, nothing beats actual work experience, however, this is tricky for aspiring UXRs.

So, to get this wider context and an understanding of one group of future stakeholders (Designers), I took a ten-week course in UX Design. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to everyone, however, I felt that this course was really great for me as it gave me insight into UX Design as a whole and showed me where research plays a part in that.

I preferred a UX Design course over a UX Research course as I already had the Research skills, it was the context that was missing for me.

5. I tailored my CV for UXR positions

Having decided to take the plunge and start applying for UX Researcher positions, I tailored my CV to the UX Researcher role. This meant highlighting my research experience across different methodologies, including qualitative and quantitative, and my new UX qualifications.

6. I applied (and got rejected)

UX is a notoriously difficult industry to enter, and entry-level positions are few and far between. Junior UXR roles are even more elusive than junior UX Designer positions.

However, I believe it is still important to be selective in the roles one applies for. I quickly realised in my search for a new role that sole researcher roles were not right for me as a newbie to UX, I needed a team of researchers to work in and learn from in my first UX role.

7. I spent time preparing for interviews

Then to prepare for interviews, I scoured the internet for articles and videos specific to interviewing for UXR roles to get some tips and an idea of what to expect.

Whilst companies differ in terms of their hiring process, most do ask for a presentation of at least one research case study. So I spent a lot of time preparing this document, ensuring I highlighted the process I followed and the tasks I personally undertook, rather than focusing on the insights themselves.

Of course, as I would with any interview, I also prepared a list of questions before the interview to better understand the role, team and company I would be working in. I particularly like this part of the interview process as the interviewee can control the conversation, having prepared questions beforehand.

Eventually, I landed the role I am currently working in as a User Experience Researcher, and I have been in this role for almost a year.

I hope that by sharing my own personal journey into UXR this can help people who may be interested in making the transition themselves, whether that may be from a Psychology background, a market research background or another field entirely.