How I ramped up for a more senior research role

Earlier this year Company A approached me about a Lead UX researcher role. I wasn’t particularly looking for a new role, however there were key points which appealed and made me think, ‘why not?’

The job description and interview design challenge signalled the right things

The JD featured a few things which I wanted to do more of:

* research offline and online experiences
* be involved in ideation
* work on formative discovery questions (what should we build?), rather than just evaluation (how usable is this feature).

My second interview task involved developing a research plan to address bad feedback on images. This was broad enough to inspire and find an interesting starting point so I found myself getting immersed in it. It seemed to strike the right level of pressure and creativity for me.

My approach involved presenting a story board to show 2 streams of research:

* a design sprint focussed on evaluating and iteratively refining prototypes
* a discovery stream, using props to explore expectations in the field.
I was wary of sharing documents at this stage from past experiences of my ideas being misused by recruiting teams. I sensed that this wasn’t really an issue, which was reassuring. Perhaps being more aware of my value and being ready to boldly own it was attractive.

I outlined the pros and cons of both approaches and offered guidance on how they might be scaled down. This flexibility seemed to make a good impression.
There were a couple of promising signs throughout the process, which built my confidence:

  • peers were invited to my second interview, which signalled collaborative decision making – for me, this is empowering for growing teams
  • The head of products made time to meet me for a follow up call, where we went through my many other questions.
  • They asked me about my Lego Serious Play skills – this curiosity in a new skill made me happy

I was unsure about the building and work environment. However, the team were able to meet me again at short notice and allay my concerns – taking me on a tour of the space and assuring me about forthcoming refurbishments. This flexibility and patience made a good impression – perhaps even more than the space itself. I learnt that attitude is a value driver for me.
Setting expectations and building bridges as I left


Photo by William Stitt on Unsplash

Once I’d received an offer, I continued to ask questions around personal development opportunities, as this is something I’m passionate about. I believe that this also sets the stage for the team I’m joining, so they’re given a clear signal about what motivates me. The HR team responded with a breakdown of their skills development programme which seemed impressive overall.
Giving my notice in was a process in itself, and something I wanted to do as mindfully as possible out of respect for a bunch of great people.

I listed a concise list of drivers which had swayed my decision… making it clear that the team itself has been brilliant to work with. My feedback was motivational (keep doing this) and developmental (consider doing this), which I hope , may offer a way forwards for the team as it continues to do brilliant work. Finally I arranged 1-2-1s with close colleagues to break the news gently.. This was time consuming but felt respectful and sets the bar for future relationships in a small industry.
Relaxing, learning and reaching out, to even out the step change

As part of my transition to a more senior role, I sought out connections in the community and looked to reinforce them over drinks… this built my confidence and made me feel the immediacy of a support network. This helped me emotionally prepare.

I booked a week to go hiking. This cleared my mind and gave me new vitality. During the break, I dipped into the brilliantly accessible and practical – Think LIke a Researcher. One chapter breaks down an excellent format for stakeholder interviews which I referenced in my first few weeks of the job.

I ran a final workshop with my team – sad but sweet – on skills frameworks, on behalf of the research ops community. This offered tools for mapping relationships between teams, which I decided to try with my new team.

Using my first few months as a meta study to outline a road map for ux research

Photo by Andreas Fidler on Unsplash

I read around how other researchers had delivered value fast in a new role. This inspired me to create an internal research plan for my probation period to uncover top research opportunities and outline a roadmap for research. Tactics to support this included:

  • using day 1 to map out who to meet, introducing myself in person and setting up invites – with a clear agenda outlined – to surface top customer issues and questions
  • preparing templates to help people map their relationships to other teams and outline where customer insights are stored

The mapping excercise was a powerful way for people to externalise team dynamics, show connections and help me understand where I can gather customer info from. This revealed the many pockets of insights (not unusual for large global companies). I used sessions to introduce myself, learn more about key people’s roles and what they ‘re focussed on, their ideas on top issues and my favourite q – what keeps you awake at night.
Issues were micro and macro – reflecting how people see their working world. Themes around customer behaviours and value drivers also started to emerge, as well as a number of usability questions. The mixture of formative and evaluative questions was refreshing and exciting overall.
I shared my discussion guide with 2 other starters and set up a meeting for us to bring our ideas together. I believe this will fly the flag for how we crowdsource expertise and work together going forwards.

Pivoting on to high priority projects in week 2

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

In week 2 the team received a briefing around a high priority service related research, which is urgently needed in coming weeks. I was asked to focus on this, which was fine, as strategic work can be picked up later. It certainly helped that the project focussed on a fascinating service related question too.

Gathering past research was an effort, as insights seem to be kept on drives. To support the new project, I immersed in whatever relevant info had been sent and outlined background and context notes.

Moving fast on a new project involved:

  • reviewing communications from a final decison maker – the head of proposition . Doing this with a colleague was useful for sounding out potential research goals.
  • Immersing in past research – including insights and raw data
  • regular slack chats with our final decision maker, to discuss initial questions and validate what I’d understood.
  • framing potential research goals, a menu of potential tactics, their pros, cons and timings.
  • setting up meetings with partner research agencies
  • setting expectations on what can be achieved in a four week timeframe (high level insights and potentially videos)
  • facilitating a workshop to generate storyboards to get feedback on


Ramping up

I’ve talked about building bridges, knowing your value, learning, reaching out, planning and pivoting on that plan. There will be more challenges. Managing expectations, embedding a mindset of discovery and setting up processes are just a few.

This is exciting and energising because of the impact it can make.
I’m keen to hear about how other people have stepped up before a promotion. Where were the barriers for you? How did you psych yourself up? How did you manage expectations but stay humble and open? Where did you draw support from?

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