We invited Emma Howell, UX Designer and Research Lead at cxpartners, to take control over the People for Research blog for a day. Emma has decided to write a blog highlighting how UX researchers and user recruiters can harmoniously work together to get the most out of participants in user research or usability testing. According to Emma, it all starts with regular communication and a great recruitment brief.  

Good recruitment is absolutely vital to good research. If your recruitment is flawed, then everything else that follows on in your research project is flawed too. To get the right participants, you’ll need a good relationship with your recruiter. And the bridge bringing your worlds together is the recruitment brief.

Yet writing a clear and concise recruitment brief that articulates to your recruiter who you need…that can be really challenging.

So what can we do to make sure that we ask for the right people and communicate clearly with the recruiter? How can we make sure that the recruiter feels confident? And how do we get the best out of our relationship with each other?

📅 More than two weeks before doing your research

1. Give your recruiter a call

Let’s imagine we are working with a company called Snow Bookers and need to speak to people that book ski holidays with their friends. Give your recruiter a heads up to let them know that you have some research coming their way. Don’t worry about the specifics just yet.

We try to do this as soon as we get a research project in because:

+ This gives the recruiter time to prepare.
+ It is a perfect time to ask them any questions and to get their advice.

2. Nail the details about the type of people you want to speak to

Now you need to start thinking through the details for the people you want to speak to.

Think about any specific activities, behaviours or equipment that would be informative. For Snow Bookers, we may be interested in package bookers and people that book everything separately.

Think about the frequency of the activities/behaviours/equipment you are interested in. For Snow Bookers, it may be people that spend months researching their snow holidays, those that book last minute and some people that fall in the middle.

Think about the level of expertise that you want your participants to have. For Snow Bookers, that may be people that have been booking ski holidays for at least five years and those that have booked no more than two ski holidays ever. Plus a few that fall somewhere in the middle.

Accessibility – make sure that your recruitment is inclusive and diverse. With Snow Bookers, we would want to talk to some people with mobility issues. They will have very specific needs from a ski holiday that should be covered in our research.

If testing something digital, what type of device are your users likely to access it on? Does this matter for your project? On our Snow Bookers project, we may want a mixture of people that book holidays on both laptop and mobile.

Consider the context of their interaction with the thing you are testing, e.g while on the move vs stationary and in the office. This may not be relevant for all projects.

3. Write your recruitment brief

Your recruitment brief is the document that you will share with your recruiter to tell them who you want to speak to. This is the place where your two worlds will meet. We want to make sure that this is a gentle fusion rather than a painful collision.

Over time, we’ve learned the things that are most helpful for us when planning the research are also the things that help the recruiter out the most:

Context – It can be tempting to leave out the background to the research and why you want to meet with users because it can feel irrelevant and a waste of time. Imagine getting a research brief but not being told the objectives of the project – not helpful!

“Giving context to your project gives you and your recruiter a vital shared foundation for your project.”

Remember, the more they know and understand about your research, the greater confidence they will have when recruiting for you. As well as making life easier for your recruiter, it will limit them to only contacting you for the most vital stuff.

When and where you’re testing – This is surprisingly easy to forget amongst the planning of everything else. Your recruiter needs to know where they are sending your participants – directions and a map can win you points! They will also need to know what time each session starts and ends. If you’re not sure on your session times just yet, that’s ok. At the very least, let them know how much time you need between each session.

Exclusions – If there are any people that would not be useful to speak to, this is a really good place to call it out. For our Snow Bookers project, it may be that we are not interested in people that have only booked through one agent in the past.

It’s worth asking your recruiter for advice on who you should exclude based on your brief. We’ve found that good recruiters will exclude people who work in the same industry or have too much knowledge of UX, as standard. This all helps to save you time when reviewing potential participants and stops you wasting a test slot.

Segments – On most recruits, you will split your participants into segments based on behaviours and attitudes. You need to define what characteristics and traits define your segments. For Snow Bookers, we may include things like the following:

Segment 1: Lead organisers
Book group ski holiday every year; confident booking, know exactly what they want.

Segment 2: New bookers
Only booked one holiday before; like help and support from booking agent

Interesting information – These are details that are not especially important to your recruit, but may be useful for you to know before the session (e.g number of children). You can use this information in your session to warm the participant up with small talk before the research begins. This will help to put the participant at ease and make them feel comfortable talking to you. We’ve found that this can lead to more productive and insightful sessions.

Incentive – The idea of an incentive serves a few purposes. Firstly, it is to reward the participant for their time. Secondly, it helps them to cover any expenses they incur from taking part in your research. Finally, it can really help to make sure that people turn up for their session.

Different groups of people will have different expectations for what their time and effort is worth. Subject matter will further influence what is an appropriate incentive. It is worth talking to your recruiter well before you put together your recruitment brief to get their input into what would be an appropriate incentive for your project.

📅 Two weeks before you are doing your research

4. Send over your brief and give your recruiter a call

Take the time to chat through your brief with your recruiter – it’s a good time for them to feed into your brief and help you finalise it.

It’s surprising the number of ways that your specifications can be interpreted, which has the potential to lead to a ‘not quite right’ recruit. Discussing the brief gives the recruiter a chance to ask any questions and time for you to talk through the aims of your research. This saves time later as it gives the recruiter more confidence and insight to make decisions about potential participants that they may have otherwise had to contact you about.

5. Updates during the recruitment

It’s worth deciding with your recruiter at the start of the project about the amount and type of contact that you want through the recruit. We tend to find that an email every few days with an overview of potential participants for us to review works well for most projects.

“It’s worth seeing the recruitment brief as somewhat fluid – you may find that certain bits will need tweaking as you learn more from the recruiter about the people you are trying to find.”

Embrace this as part of your research process, as your recruiter is likely to be in touch with a lot of people and may be able to gather some useful insights. If you have allowed more than two weeks for the recruitment, you should start to see participant profiles from the recruiter at least a week before the research. Getting updates ahead of the research allows you to tweak your test plan to make sure that you are getting the most from each of your participants based on what you learn about them.

📅 After your research

Reflect on how it went with your project team and your recruiter. What worked well? What could you have been done differently? What can you do in future to make the recruitment process smoother for both yourself and your recruiter?

Final thoughts

Good recruitment takes consideration, thought and planning from the researcher. It takes the ability to offer good advice, empathy and good questions from the recruiter. And it also takes, from both the recruiter and researcher, openness and clear communication. We’ve found that it is worth the time and effort for the quality of output that we get from our research.

Emma Howell is one of the authors of “Researching UX: User Research”, which she wrote with James Lang, UX Research Lead at Google. The book, launched in November 2017, focuses on how to design the user research process to better understand your audience. You can find it here



If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or

At People for Research, we recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner up with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.