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Hilarious & Strange: UXR Participant Recruiting Stories that You Need to Hear

UXtweak Team
•  12.04.2024
Participant recruiting is one of the most challenging task when it comes to UX research and testing… And like all the other challenging things it’s full of great stories and valuable lessons, some of which never get told.

It’s time to change that. We reached out to selected of the UX experts who conduct research on the daily to collect their stories and the lessons learned from them. Apart from that, we also distributed a Research Recruties Survey in the UX community, aiming to gather stories from a wider audience of UX professionals.

And let us tell you – it’s worth the read!

From funny encounters to relatable challenges, the stories below are packed with insights and unexpected turns. 

Click on any story to jump straight to it:

💡UXtweak's Note

The stories you’re about to read were collected as a part of Research Recruities 🏆, a project aimed to highlight and collect data about arguably the hardest part of research – recruiting participants. 

We were seeking recruiting stories, funny, relatable, strange, and full of struggle to share them with the UX community. Apart from that we ran a survey, aiming to gather some statistics about research recruiting, the way UX professionals approach it, and the biggest recruiting mistakes.

➡️ Check out the Research Recruities Survey Results

➡️ Read UX Research Recruiting Tips from 19 UX Experts [+ Checklist]

This article brings together the 5 best recruiting stories (including the top 3 winners) that we’ve collected during Research Recruities 🏆 survey and the stories from all the UX experts we’ve reached out to.

Research Recruities🏆 1st Place: Santa Enters the Study!🎅

Respondent 164, UX Researcher, 5-10 years of experience (wishes to remain anonymous)

When I was coordinating recruiting for a full research team, I worked in an office building where conference rooms had floor to ceiling glass walls – not entirely soundproof, but helpful to be able to see if remote interview participants had arrived. 

I strolled over to ensure one participant had made it to his session. This study was looking at retirees, so the participant was in his 60s, with a big, bushy white beard. He was also wearing a bright red shirt. 

I was chatting with a colleague for a few minutes outside the conference room while the interview was still going on, when an SVP walked by the — again, not soundproof — conference room. I don’t know what possessed her, but she peeked in, saw the participant on the large flatscreen, cupped her hands around her mouth, leaned in and shouted “SANTA!” Then looked almost bashful and scuttled away. 

I nearly fainted. 

So much of recruiting is trying to prevent inevitable snafus in logistics or communication, and trying to create a good experience for participants — I never thought this was something I’d need to worry about! Fortunately, I spoke to the research team later and they somehow hadn’t heard the yell, so our participant certainly hadn’t. Phew. 

Best part? The participant was, in fact, a part-time mall Santa.

➡️ Lessons learned: Make clear to folks that participant interviews are happening and we need to ensure a quality experience — or create an interview environment where people not directly involved can’t interfere with the process.

Research Recruities🏆 2nd Place: Navigating Privacy in Participant Interviews

A story from Andreea Dalia Lazar, Senior UX Researcher, 5-10 years of experience

I was recruiting travelers for a project that I was working on. The interview started with me providing the usual initial instructions (confidentiality and anonymity included). The interview was really insightful and the participant was sharing important details form their traveling experience where they also mentioned their partner. 

Everything was going great until the participant’s mood started to drop and they weren’t really eager to answer my questions anymore. When I asked about it, they mentioned they didn’t want anyone to know they have an official partner, and started to explain how complicated their romantic life is

In the end I reassured the participant that the data is both anonymous and confidential and everything they shared in the interview will not be shared with anyone else. I found this really funny at the time and packed with learnings. 

Participants may need reassurance a couple of times on various topics to feel comfortable and safe to share information with us ❤️

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

Participants, like people in general, have very different stories and needs. Always remember to listen more than speak, constantly check for non-verbal cues and make sure they feel comfortable throughout the user experiments. You never know what might be the reason they worry about while sharing their story with you 🙂

Participants, like people in general, have very different stories and needs. Always remember to listen more than speak, constantly check for non-verbal cues and make sure they feel comfortable throughout the user experiments.

Andreea Dalia Lazar, Senior UX Researcher
Andreea Dalia Lazar, Senior UX Researcher

Research Recruities🏆 3rd Place: “After two days, he threatened to sue me”

Respondent 41, Research Operations Specialist, 10+ years of experience (wishes to remain anonymous)

I once conducted research with a participant who was an IT employee, consented to the research, gave fantastic insights and ended the session amicably. 

After two days, he threatened to sue me because he got scared that I might upload his feedback video on social media even though we had stated this will be for internal use only in the consent form. 

After a series of calls over next 2 days, I briefly explained to him the purpose of the study all over again and how his content will be used and that I am happy to meet him again outside office to explain in person if that helps. He was convinced and trusted our team from thereon.

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

Keep your calm and act with wisdom.

participant recruiting stories


A recruiting story from Debbie Levitt, MBA, Lead UX Research and CXO.

When I first started in research, I was doing 30 sessions with insurance agents for the insurance company. One man was located in California, but when he got on the call, he had a very familiar accent. 

I asked where he was from, and we quickly learned that we had grown up in the same town. 

Yes, the town 🏠

His response to this was to yell (in a recorded interview call that the client might hear), “I BET I SMOKED POT WITH YOUR GRANDMOTHER!” The rest of the interview didn’t get much better. 

At one point, he asked me where I hung out in high school. I didn’t have a hangout place as I always stayed home. He hung out at the funeral home… who does that? Out of all the places in our large town, that’s where you hung out? The more he asked me about our hometown, the less we had in common, and the less we were talking about the actual interview questions.

At one point, I asked him how his insurance customers tend to use the insurance company’s website. We had learned that many agents did have a sense of why and how their customers used the site, plus we weren’t allowed to talk to any customers. 

His response was that he didn’t like the color red, and we should change it to blue. Red was the company’s brand color; it was not going to be changed. He didn’t care. He demanded that we change all the red to blue.

We ended up deciding to not share it with the client, and remove the interview from the sessions. He didn’t answer questions very well even when I tried and tried again, and I was worried about his employer hearing the interview later.

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

I learned that it’s OK to remove a disastrous interview from the set if the subject really can’t be brought back to the key topics.

You don’t want to remove someone because they didn’t say what you wanted to hear. Be very careful that you’re hearing my advice clearly!

I try to keep every session in the data, but sometimes, the session goes way off the rails, and I often don’t share that session later with the team.

Debbie Levitt, MBA, Lead UX Research and CXO
Debbie Levitt, MBA, Lead UX Research and CXO

In early 2023, we had to remove someone who showed up to the Zoom call too high on marijuana to conduct a conversation. I recently decided to not re-listen to a session I did with someone who couldn’t answer the question directly not matter what I asked and how I asked it.

5. A talkative parrot crashes a remote usability test 🦜 

A recruiting stories from Ki Aguero, UX Research & Content Strategy Leader.

So in 2022, I was testing out the in-store app feature for a major retailer. It was during one of those COVID variant surges, so I cast a nationwide net and recruited people willing to drive to their local store and connect remotely with me 💻

They started the interviews in their cars, outside the store. And when this particular tester joined, I noticed some tails wagging in the back seat; she’d brought 2 big dogs 🐶 along for the ride!

For the first few minutes of our chat, everything seemed pretty normal. 

Then, all of a sudden, I hear a completely different voice joining the conversation. The tester turns her head to the right and starts talking to something off screen, which turned out to be…her pet parrot 🦜

Luckily, the parrot didn’t have much more to add during the interview, but it made for great talk at the water cooler that week. 

Can’t say I’ve ever had such an interesting supporting cast for an interview!

✅ What lessons did you learn from it? 

Whether it’s kids, dogs, or parrots, it’s important to remember the context of use when testing digital experiences. Is the environment noisy? Distracting? If so, how can you simplify the experience even more?

Ki Aguero, UX Research & Content Strategy Leader
Ki Aguero, UX Research & Content Strategy Leader

In addition, the situation emphasized how important it is to roll with the punches. Unexpected things happen in live interviews all the time. 

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6. Back for Cash (and beers) 💸

A recruiting story from Ben Levin UX Researcher & Strategist. Managing Partner, Chamjari. 

In 2010, I was working for a small Web development company in Wilmington Delaware, across the street from one of the largest financial services firms in the US. Who was our client. We did many projects for them, and a few included some user research.

This particular part of Wilmington was occupied almost entirely by large corporations and their employees; for much of our research, which was focused on mass-market consumers, this meant we had to recruit participants for in-person testing from some distance away.

This usually went well, we worked with several firms that helped find participants, schedule them, and handle their compensation. But occasionally we had to do the recruiting ourselves, and every once in a while, we would recruit people from some of the surrounding neighborhoods of the downtown.

👉 A useful aside: this was in the late ‘00s, and as a small, scrappy kind of digital development firm, our offices were decked out like many startups of the day: open plan, office, space, lots of exposed, brick, and lots of free snacks and drinks.

Did I mention the building we were located in used to be an abattoir, very industrial, kind of chic. In the waiting area of our office were comfy, couches and chairs, retro, lighting, fixtures, and a beer fridge. 

So, late in the afternoon, towards the end of the day, one on one research sessions, I walked out to the front space to gather up our last participant.  And I was slightly used to find that she had helped herself to a couple of the beers in our fridge

“No worries, that’s why they’re there” I thought. The session went remarkably, she was cogent, focused, responsive, and helpful.

At the end of the session, I brought her out to the waiting area again to thank her, and retrieve her compensation, which we always offered in the form of a Preloaded debit card when I handed it over, her face sank

I didn’t quite gather why this was either a surprise, or a disappointment, but I thanked her and sent her on her way. It was close to 6 PM, and as I recall, growing dark.

I went back to the research room, cleaned up and sorted through some notes and some paper artifacts, when about 15 minutes later, our office manager who is still by the front desk came knocking at the door.

“She’s back. And she seems… Unhappy.”

Walking back up front, I found our last participant waving the debit card at me, insisting, “the clerk at the convenience store won’t give me change for this.” It took a bit of back and forth, but my best guess was that she had tried to buy something with the card at a nearby store, and wanted the balance in cash from cashier. Failing that, she’d take cash from us.

As it wasn’t our habit to keep any cash on the premises, I had to spend the next few minutes running around to see if any of the few remaining staff had spare cash to contribute, gathering up the $100 💰 we had typically paid participant for an hour of their time. 

Returning with a clutch of crumbled $1s, $5s and $10s, I exchanged our participants card for cash, and walked her to the door. 

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” I offered, “thank you for being so patient with us.”

“Oh, no problem,” she replied, veering from the path to the door towards the beer fridge, “mind if I take one more of these to go?”

I did not. 

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

It’s less an issue today since many payments are electronic, but keeping participants informed generally about the nature of the study and how all the ins and outs of the process will work is essential: they don’t do this for a living, we do!

Don’t assume anything is obvious.

Ben Levin UX Researcher & Strategist. Managing Partner, Chamjari.
Ben Levin UX Researcher & Strategist. Managing Partner, Chamjari.

And also: don’t park the beer fridge near the visitors’ area. 

7. When usability testing meets stand-up humor 🎤 🎭

A recruiting story from Ki Aguero, UX Research & Content Strategy Leader.

One of my first moderated studies ever was exploring search behaviors within a note-taking app. The team wanted to find participants with plenty of notes to sift through: people who would realistically need advanced search capabilities.

While one participant was using the app to organize his path to adoption, I also spoke with a stand-up comedian who shared his notes with several writing partners and used it as a place to add inspiration for their acts.

Guess he should’ve kept the interview a secret, though, because about 10 minutes into the session, new notes started showing up

😨Raunchy ones. Racy ones. Stuff that might be considered offensive or shocking in most circles.

The participant started to apologize, but I assured him that I didn’t mind. We got back to the topic at hand. But every now and then one of us would start chuckling as new notes came in, and it ended up being one of the coolest and funniest interviews I ever conducted.

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

This study was tricky; part of the recruitment criteria was that each participant needed to have hundreds of notes within their account, because the project was focused around search functionality, and for search to be something you rely on, the clients figured the user would need to have quite a few notes to sift through. 

What I learned from these interviews, in particular, is that in some cases, people pour an amazing amount of themselves into digital products

In order to complete the project, I basically got a crash course in their personalities and objectives, hobbies and hopes. This was sometimes sweet, sad, loaded with emotion, and uproariously funny! 

It was the first time that I realized the importance of making your participants feel safe about opening up

As a researcher you have to be unperturbed by the unusual or controversial, and you have to stay open and non-judgemental about different people’s walks of life. It was a powerful lesson for me, not only as a researcher but as a human being.

participant recruiting stories

8. Screening saboteurs and the research scams to watch out for!

A recruiting story from Michele Ronsen, Author, Researcher, Educator, Founder & UX Coach

2 years ago the students in my Ask Like A Pro program had their survey/screeners picked up by professional hustlers

They created a series of fake names and email addresses that correlate to actual people on LinkedIn (yes, they were impersonating people on this platform) who match their target audiences.

 They took the screeners dozens of times until they figured out the “right” criteria to participate in the paid studies. They also passed the Calendly scheduling links around and filled their calendars.

They used all typical American names, like William Jones, Annie Bernard, etc. with simple gmail addresses like WilliamJones1080@gmail, or bernarda123@gmail, etc.

They definitely did their homework in so far as learning key terms related to the topics and even changing their time zones when scheduling via Calendly!

They are all of the same ethnicity and had the same non-American English accent. One provided feedback on a feature that was not revealed yet. Another said she was in New York and it was dark out. (The student researcher was in NY too and the session was at 12noon. It was daylight. The clocks on their computers were 5 and 7 hours ahead of NY time).

One student went back to ask for identity verification and received two fake driver’s licenses from “Anytown, CA”.

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

Screening is always going to be a ‘dance’ between vetting participants just thoroughly enough, asking TOO MUCH and potentially scaring someone away, or negatively impacting your study data.

Understanding that some fraudulent behavior is driven by desperation in poor economies highlights the need for a compassionate yet vigilant approach in research screening processes.

Michele Ronsen, Author, Researcher, Educator, Founder, UX Coach
Michele Ronsen, Author, Researcher, Educator, Founder, UX Coach

9. Diving Deep into Niche Recruitment

A story from Blanche Letakis, Product Manager, <2 years of experience

I was recruiting for a very niche persona, Channel Partner. I knew nothing about this industry and for the duration of this study I was the only researcher on staff. I had to do prep work and industry research. 

I started reading blogs about channel partners, watching YouTube videos on channel partners, I just needed to understand who I was going to recruit. My first thought was, because this was such a niche persona I didn’t think the recruiting platforms would be able to actually find participants like this, so I suggested LinkedIn recruiting

Aaaand because I suggested it, I had to do it. That was a big flop

After many LinkedIn messages and no responses, I was defeated. So I turned to the recruiting sites, crafted a screener and voilà, I had 2 VERY qualified participants and was able to schedule at least one participant that same week. In fact, my whole recruiting journey took place in just one week

So even though I failed at my first attempt, I was able to spin it and successfully secure a research session by Friday.

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

When you are recruiting for a niche persona, cast a wide net and try multiple things. But always be focused on your criteria. 

💡UXtweak's Tip

Niche recruiting is always a struggle when you do it on your own and can take quite some time. However, it can be different.

To make niche recruiting easier, let professionals handle it for you! Need to recruit a very specific audience? Like 20 real-estate agents in Australia or maybe people over 75 y/o with a private investing account in UK?

UXtweak User Panel is a top choice for recruiitng niche audiences. We’ll help you find the right participants, assign you a panel expert to review the study and control the quality of each respondent, so that you get exactly what you asked for!

uxtweak user panel

➡️ Fancy some help with recruiting?

Register for your UXtweak account and start recruiting today, or talk to sales.

10. What to do when screening goes wrong?

A recruiting story from Nikki Anderson, MA, User Research Lead.

I generally dislike recruitment because it can take such a long time and, to me, feels like one of the more boring parts of our jobs as user researchers. 

So, when it came to recruiting for a travel company I was working for, I was actually quite pleased to get a pretty good response quickly. We were looking to understand people’s experiences when planning leisure (holiday) travel. 

Since I had been recruiting now for quite some time, I placed a basic screener up in between meetings and analysis of other projects. Didn’t think much of it, but was thrilled when I hit twenty people in only a few days – yay B2C recruitment! 🎉 

I went through the process of inviting them into the office, scheduling everything, sending out consent forms, and everything. I hyped all my colleagues up – it was one of the first generative studies we were doing. 

👉 The first participant finally got to the office and I sat down in the room with another colleague and with ten others watching the live stream from another meeting room. I was ready to go! I felt I had achieved all the things with relatively little stress!

I opened up with some warm-up questions and then soon dove into the topic of planning travel. I asked the participant to walk me through the last time they planned a holiday, starting alllll the way from the beginning. 

The person looked at me and shook their head, then proceeded to say they hadn’t planned the travel themselves, but their partner had. My stomach dropped and my mouth went drier than the Sahara. I had scheduled 90 minutes to talk to this person and at about seven minutes in, I had nothing to ask them.

I bumbled and fumbled around, trying to come up with questions that might be relevant and helpful to get something, but quickly realized that this person was NOT ideal. I ended the interview early, embarrassingly early, and chalked it up to unluckiness. 

The next participant was right after and I opened with the same question – and got the same blank stare and response

👀 I had forgot to ask in my screener survey one of the most important and fundamental questions for this study: had they been the ones to actually plan the travel?

Luckily I had some time after ending the second interview early and had to go through and double-check the rest of the participants, canceling some and scrambling to find replacements. 

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

This taught me how incredibly necessary it is to be so intentional about recruitment and to think through exactly what you are expecting of the participant to be able to answer and ask screener questions to set both you and them up for success to be able to give you the information you need. 

Now I am extremely thoughtful about the criteria I need from my participants and craft screener surveys that go into the exact details I will need to get from them. 

This has helped me get the right participants and get deeper/rich information that my team can use to make effective and impactful decisions!

Think through every piece of information you need from the participant and craft that into a screener question - it might mean the screener is a bit longer (try not to go more than seven questions) but it will enable you to get the right people for your study!

Nikki Anderson, Founder @ User Research Academy
Nikki Anderson, Founder @ User Research Academy

11. An interview that turned into a sales pitch!

A recruiting story from Caitlin Sullivan, User Research & Product Discovery Consultant.

I’ve worked with many B2B teams and products, and recruited my fair share of business owners as a result. The conversations with business owners often go pretty broad, depending on what kind of business they run – I often let them guide conversations at the start, and try to keep them truly conversational.

But one time, halfway through an interview, a participant asked me about my role at the company I was interviewing him for. I told him I was a consultant

Since his business was serving consultants and freelancers, he started selling ME on HIS services – and wouldn’t back down! 🤯

I’ve rarely had such a challenge trying to reel a participant back to the main topics at hand. Once his sales persona took over, it took an extra 30 minutes on the call with him to get the information I actually needed.

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

Being more “human”, and feeling less pressured to sound like a “scientist” in moments where a participant throws you off-plan can help. I’ve many times reminded myself that it’s completely okay to say something like, 'James,

I’m so sorry to do this, but I have to switch topics with you to get a few more answers or my client will kill me!' I recommend finding a few ways of guiding someone like that in the worst case scenarios that feel natural for you.

Caitlin Sullivan, Product Discovery and User Research Expert
Caitlin Sullivan, Product Discovery and User Research Expert

Also, don’t try to be too efficient when booking in sessions – it’s better to leave enough time in between user sessions to leave space for unexpectedly long conversations, and for the space to refocus after each one if someone has led you completely off plan!

participant recruiting stories

12. Balancing protocol with compassion: a sad story about the human side of research

A recruiting story from Stéphanie Walter, UX Researcher, Inclusive Product Designer.

It’s a little bit of a sad story, so, trigger warning: death. 

We were doing a longitudinal study in 3 parts, in the medical sector. The target audience was “people taking care of loved ones, who were terminally ill”. We talked to some people in phase 1. Then, we needed to talk to them again, 3 months after, for part 2.

When recruiting for part 2, we re-contacted part 1 participants. And we were supposed  to ask them, as a screener question, if they still took care of that loved one. If not, they didn’t qualify to be scheduled for part 2. If they didn’t, we were supposed to ask why, thank them, and move to scheduling the next person. 

I was a junior, and I didn’t write the script. And, the person who wrote this, clearly didn’t anticipate, that, in such a study, one of the reason why someone might not take care of a terminally ill loved one, is, because that person passed away.

I called the first person on my list, and asked the screener question “do you still take care of the loved one we talked about in phase 1?”. That person told me, that, no, they don’t. 

I didn’t even need to ask why (second screener question), they started telling me the whole story of how their loved one passed away 3 weeks ago. I honestly wasn’t ready for that. 

According to my script, I was supposed to “thank them politely and tell them they are out of the study and won’t be recontacted again”

But, how do I do that, while the person is in distress, and clearly wants to talk about that loved one with someone. So, I simply listened. We spent 20 minutes together over the phone. It was uncomfortable, for sure. But, I’m not sure what else I could have done here. 

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

This was one of my first time with participants, and it taught me that there’s no script you will be able to follow by the book. At some point, we work with humans, not machines. And humans are complex, and unpredictable sometimes. 

After it happened, we discussed with the team and reworked the screener questions to be more empathetic, in case that exact same thing happens again (it did, sadly). 

Most of the time, screener questions are trivial, to be honest. But, in certain case, depending on the study, they can bring sadness, bring back some bad memories or become triggering for participants or potential participants.

I learned that it’s important to acknowledge that, with the team, when working on sensitive topics. To get a little bit more prepared, to what might happen. You will never write a screener you can 100% follow. But, we can try to bring more empathy in there.

Stéphanie Walter, UX Researcher and Inclusive Product Designer in Enterprise UX
Stéphanie Walter, UX Researcher and Inclusive Product Designer in Enterprise UX

13. A chaotic interview with an improv actor 🎭

A recruiting story from Cory Lebson, UX Research Consultant, Leader, Speaker

Several years ago, I ran a study where one of the recruited participants also turned out to be an improv actor. This skill seemed to extend beyond just his profession. 

As he would talk about both his background and his reactions to the website, his hands would go flying, and he even stood up at one point to help explain what he was trying to say. 

While my webcam was unable to capture everything given the large amount of space he was using, I was hesitant to tell him to stay still since this seemed to be how he was most adept at explaining himself. 

I still got a lot of good video clips to share with the client.

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

Part of the fun of doing UX research is getting to meet all sorts of people. Sometimes those people may travel in very different circles and it’s so nice to get to interact when you wouldn’t otherwise have a reason to do so. 

Other times those circles may overlap, in this case, very closely and you’ll realize that while the world is a very big place, it sometimes feels remarkably small.

💡Discover Experts' Tips for More Effective Recruiting

From screening to mixing recruiting methods, dealing with no-shows and fake participants, recruiting niche audiences and other struggles – find the practical tips from industry professionals for handling your recruiting problems in this article: Research Recruiting Tips

+ a 8-step checklist to nail your next recruiting ✅

14. Tiny Oversight, Big Consequence

A story from Parker Sorensen, Associate Director of Conversion Optimization / UX Research, 5-10 years of experience

I was conducting an unmoderated study for a university within the United States. I set up all my recruiting filters except the country. This resulted in me getting responses from mostly outside the USA. 

Not only were their responses not as relevant as they were not our “look alike” audience, but the questions did not make sense to them, as universities in the USA work differently than universities in some other countries. 

Outcome: I had to scrap the first run of the test, as the feedback was not helpful. I reran the test, this time with the correct audience filters, and got great feedback. 

Learning: Thorough QA of study setup and audience setup is vital to the success of the test. It is worth the time to ensure the study is set up for success. I’m since been more thorough in QA’ing studies prior to launch, and usually launch a pilot sessions before launching all sessions. It can be tedious, but it eliminates the need to scrap and rerun a test!

✅ What lessons did you learn from it?

Take the time to 1 – think through who the audience for your study should be, 2 – plan this out in detail (I like to think “how would I filter people out / what would indicate that they are not a good fit for this study”), and finally, 3 – do a thorough QA of your study and audience setup.

Take the time to 1 - think through who the audience for your study should be, 2 - plan this out in detail (I like to think: How would I filter people out? / What would indicate that they are not a good fit for this study?), and finally, 3 - do a thorough QA of your study and audience setup.

Parker Sorensen, Associate Director of Conversion Optimization / UX Research
Parker Sorensen, Associate Director of Conversion Optimization / UX Research

15. Lost in translation: Recruiting challenges in Norway

A recruiting story from Aneta Kmiecik, Senior UX Designer, UX Design Mentor, Content Creator.

I had many different situations in my career but I think one of the most difficult was the first research I did in Norwegian, not my native language. 

I had to recruit business owners for user testing and run those sessions fully in Norwegian when I was on A2 level in this language. The target audience for this study was small and medium businesses from various regions in Norway. 

I decided to use a common approach and start by writing emails to all the contacts I got from my stakeholders. I remember writing it first in English, then translating it to Norwegian and asking my Norwegian colleagues to check it for me. It was going pretty well and I was happy to tick off another task from my to-do list until one moment. 

No one was responding.

Naturally, I started stressing out. The time was running out and I didn’t have any user tests done yet, except the one I did with my boyfriend who wasn’t in a target group. Together with my developer I quickly decided to set up a screener survey inside the app. I got maybe 5 responses from which 1 person was eager to meet for a user test 🎉

It was clear that I had to set up a quantitative testing too but it was important for me to get the qualitative data. I wanted to ask some follow-up questions, get to know the why and also meet potential customers. I decided to look around in my network and eventually got a phone number to 2 business owners. And then the fun part began!

🤯 Being on A2 level in Norwegian I had to call a person living in the western part of Norway, ask some questions and understand the answers. Initially, I thought that it shouldn’t be a problem but it quickly turned out to be a big challenge. 

Before I called the first person I wrote everything that I wanted to say on paper, just to be ready and then I made the first call. I said hello and asked the first question. The person who picked up the phone said hello and then probably answered my question but unfortunately, I didn’t understand a thing. 

I got stressed and the only question I had in my mind was “is it really Norwegian?!”. I tried to stay calm and ask some follow up questions like: can you repeat or what do you mean. 

The customer kept repeating himself and I clearly felt how he was getting irritated while I was getting more and more stressed. Eventually, I understood enough to set up a call with him for testing. This moment taught me that I had to invite one of my Norwegian colleagues to help me during the meeting. 

It turned out that this customer was speaking in a very strong Norwegian dialect called Trøndelag

How stressful was the whole testing part, I don’t need to tell you. I definitely wasn’t in my comfort zone! 

What lessons did you learn from it?

A lot! A couple main ones are:

  1. To always ask for help when you feel like together it would be more successful.
  2. To try different methods to recruit users – from talking with the customer success team, sending e-mails, to publishing a screener survey inside the app to searching for participants in your closest network.
  3. To not be afraid to try in order to improve quicker. I could’ve just forced my client to speak English but I went out of my comfort zone to speak in Norwegian. 
  4. To keep improving my Norwegian and exposing myself to more speakers from various regions of Norway.
  5. In B2B it’s common to have challenges with recruitment and not get statistically significant results

16. The product has to work for everyone: overcoming users’ fear of technology

A recruiting story from Larry Marine, Veteran UX Researcher and Strategist, Author of Disruptive Research, UX Architect. 

I was conducting usability tests in a formal lab (one way glass observation room) for a broadly described user base (pretty much anyone who would fly on an commercial airplane). 

I had done the recruiting, but the project manager told me she made some invites herself, as well. One of these invited participants really struggled to understand the test script. They were gripped with fear of the technology (a nintendo style handheld device) and afraid to do something wrong. 

I did my best to ease their fears and get them to start the testing without giving any hints or instructions. It was and remains the most difficult test participant I’ve ever had.

Eventually I was able to get the participant started with the test and they performed well after that. They even asked to play around with the prototype and basically completed the test, again, without any intervention. 

All of the observers were amazed that I could stay focused and get the participant to perform the tests. I reminded them that this product has to work for everyone, even folks unfamiliar or uncomfortable with technology. I refrained from characterizing that person as a bad user. 

It turns out that the participant was actually the project manager’s husband! Whew.

What lessons did you learn from it?

I learned two things from this experience:

  1. If you don’t maintain some control over the recruiting, you might get users that don’t accurately fit your user profile.
  2. The odd incorrect user that slips past your screening might actually surprise you and you can still learn something from them

In this one case I learned what is required to engage and guide a completely uninformed user through the product, which eventually helped design the instructional content for this product.

Larry Marine, Veteran UX Researcher and Strategist, Author of Disruptive Research, UX Architect.
Larry Marine, Veteran UX Researcher and Strategist, Author of Disruptive Research, UX Architect.

17. From basements to beaches: Surprising user testing scenes

A recruiting story from Rianne van de Rijt, UX Researcher & Designer, UXR Bootcamp Teacher.

When I was a UX Researcher doing research for an eyeglasses brand, we were aiming to recruit participants who wear eyeglasses. Usually, we use a tool to conduct unmoderated usability tests. In there, you can create your usability studies using screening questions. 

I always aim to write the questions as open and non-leading as possible. This one time we were recruiting for a study to test a virtual way for people to try on eyewear. Within this test people had to turn on the front facing camera on their phone or laptop. 

During this study, we encountered some pretty funny settings in which participants were completing the test. One participant who had a bit of the looks of an ‘Albert Einstein’ a.k.a a scattered professor. He was taking the study from a completely dark basement with a huge spotlight on his face. Which caused it to look like a mad laboratory or something.

Another participant was taking a test from a hammock, in a quite chilled and beachy surrounding. Total opposite from the first participant we looked at. It was quite interesting to see these different surroundings. And quite funny as well. 

What lessons did you learn from it?

Sometimes it can be good to outline the surroundings in which the participant should best complete the study, for example, for our study the tool needed a well lit surrounding. 

After running a couple of pilot sessions we changed our instructions for participants to check if they were taking the study from a well lit room. 

participant recruiting stories

18. How building real connections can help you recruit?

Recruiting stories from Marc Busch, Senior UX Researcher, Consultant.

1️⃣ One project with a tough timeline coincided with a visit from my mom. Since the social media ad strategy for this one was a bit slow, the panel responses were not as hoped, we had to revert to good old guerrilla recruiting – just chat up strangers (shiver). 

My mom was already in on the family business fun, so we went to a mall in Vienna (just not for shopping). After two hours, I had 2 participants fitting the criteria and consenting to participate in an interview, my mom’s count was 12! 

Since then, she is my favorite freelancer for guerrilla recruiting projects (Hi Mom, thanks so much!!)!


2️⃣ After conducting thousands of online screening interviews in a relatively small country in the heart of Europe, I have realized that coincidences happen

I have to admit I was thrown out of my script (in both senses of the word) when a test participant (which had turned their camera off, as most participants do in the first online interview) greeted me with the words: “Hi Marc, I know you!”

It turned out that I just met an old colleague, who happened to be “targeted” by the ad on a social media platform. It also turned out that he was just the right candidate for the study!

What lessons did you learn from it?

It turned out that one of the best ways to invite CEO’s of local supply SME’s to interviews is to go into their store, buy something (can be a small thing), and then start a conversation with them

After all, most CEO’s of SME’s love their clients as we love our users!

Participant Recruitment is a people’s business. You need to connect with people from diverse backgrounds, each with their own opinions and worldviews.

Marc Busch, Senior UX Researcher, Consultant.
Marc Busch, Senior UX Researcher, Consultant.

It’s important to recognize that not everyone shares our enthusiasm for UX research, or even fully understands what exactly we do (after all, it’s still a complex field to explain). Be prepared to happily accept numerous “no, not interested” responses, even when you believe the opportunity would be mutually beneficial!

19. Logistical nightmare turned into an insightful user interview

A recruiting story from Sajani Lokuge, Senior UX Designer at IFS. 

A few years back, I undertook a project that involved delving into the world of field technicians. In pursuit of valuable insights, I embarked on a virtual journey, conducting interviews with 25 professionals. 

My focus was on the workers who worked tirelessly to keep assets running smoothly in the field. However, getting these field technicians to participate in virtual interviews turned out to be quite an adventure.

It was challenging coordinating with field technicians spread across different time zones, all with tight schedules and unpredictable workloads. As I reached out to schedule interviews, I encountered a participant who, due to the nature of his job, could only commit to the interview during his break while performing a routine check at a remote wind farm.

Despite the challenges, I went ahead with the interview, and that is when things took an unexpected turn. As the technician joined the call, he was surrounded by the whooshing sound of wind turbines and the occasional clanking of tools. It was like conducting a user interview in the middle of a symphony of industrial sounds.

But here’s the twist – instead of being a hindrance, this unique setting turned out to be a goldmine of insights. 

The technician shared his experiences and challenges with an energy and passion that could only be felt in the midst of his actual work environment. We discussed his current experience and pain points against the backdrop of the very assets he maintained.

What lessons did you learn from it?

From this experience, I learned the importance of embracing the unexpected in UX research. 

What seemed like a logistical nightmare turned into an immersive experience, providing genuine and unfiltered insights into the user’s world. It highlighted the significance of conducting research in authentic contexts, even if it means navigating through unconventional challenges. 

Gaining insights from the environment where this field technician actively works proved much more valuable than merely hearing his thoughts in an office setting where he is not directly involved.

Additionally, the episode emphasized the need for flexibility in scheduling and adaptability in the research process. Being willing to step out of the conventional interview setting allowed us to uncover nuances and details that might have been missed in a controlled environment.

Sajani Lokuge, Senior UX Designer at IFS.
Sajani Lokuge, Senior UX Designer at IFS.

Want to learn more about how UX experts deal with recruiting the right participants?

Discover more tips from seasoned UX experts in this Research Recruities Collection: Best Research Recruiting Tips from 19 UX Experts + an 8-Step Recruiting Checklist ✅

Tap into the results of the Research Recruities 🏆 Survey where we asked the UX community about biggest UX recruiting mistakes and ways to overcome them.

And of course, check out UXtweak! 🐝

We offer multiple ways to make the recruiting process easier for you, including a 155M+ User Panel with quality check, an Own Database feature, which is basically a CRM for managing your participants and inviting them into ANY UXtweak study, and an Onsite Recruiting Widget, that helps to seamlessly recruit your website or app visitors for research studies!

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