“Recruitment is the number one cause of headaches in research projects.” If you work in user research or user experience and recruit your own users for research or testing, you know that this quote from Emma Howell and James Lang’s book ‘Researching UX: user research’ reflects the complexity of most user recruitment experiences. The evolution of participant recruitment inspired us to, once again, talk about the topic at User Research London; but, following the talk delivered by PFR’s Jess Lewes at last year’s event, this time we ran a longer and more practical workshop to share basic recruitment tools and tips with the attendees.

Our goals:

  Learn why you need a recruitment brief

  Practice writing a screening questionnaire

  Consider appropriate platforms for recruiting your users

  Practice how to communicate with users in different contexts

PFR’s Business Development Director Jess Lewes started by sharing a bit of user recruitment history, and how the increasing complexity of the projects the People for Research team works on are moulding the way we work and how our company is growing.

user recruitment

The brief

During the workshop, our team asked the attendees to apply their used-centred mindset to the recruitment process and consider how they could be more user-centred when planning the research. The first essential tool you need to have is a recruitment brief:

“If you are working with an external recruiter it goes without saying that you need a brief. However, even if you are not working with an external recruiter, there are a lot of benefits to making the time at the start of the process to define who your user group is. This doesn’t just mean picking from a list of personas. This means thinking about how you will source these people and considering if they are the type of person who is likely to put themselves forward.” – Jess Lewes

A brief will protect your project against misrecruits and drop-outs, the two most common pain points in user recruitment, but it will also help you:

  To define what you are recruiting

  Ensure all stakeholders agree

  Lay the foundation for writing a screener

  Confirm information for participants

  To start the recruitment process

user recruitment

The screener

Next, we talked about the second tool every user recruiter needs: a solid screening document that will help you find the suitable participants for your project.

A good screener will help you identify the right participant, prepare the user for the session and get informed consent (this means giving the participant enough information to make an informed decision about participating, and covers the current data protection legislation, informing participants that their data will be shared with a research team and allowing them to make an informed decision about participating).

During the workshop, Jess shared three important tips to help you build a robust screening questionnaire:

user recruitment

The panel

PFR’s Digital Marketing Manager Maria Santos took over the second half of the workshop to talk about how to build and manage a panel of participants, as well as how to recruit suitable users from it. Over the last three years, People for Research developed its own marketing team, which is currently responsible for most of the communications with potential participants and all members of our online communities.

Having an in-house marketing team is obviously an advantage when managing multiple online groups of users across different platforms, but there are also challenges – the main one being that we operate in a niche industry and can’t turn to an established authority to find answers to our problems.

user recruitment


At People for Research, we have our own database of active participants (one of the biggest in the UK), with whom we engage on a daily basis as our first point of contact for most recruitment projects. With most of our projects, we go to our database first, but when our panel can’t provide the participants we’re looking for, we turn to free find.

user recruitment


Often, these two recruitment tools complement each other. At the start of all projects, we determine our goal, the challenges and the results we want to achieve and then plan how we are going to use our panels and free find tools to get there. The second half of the workshop focused heavily on giving the attendees the tools to identify the challenges in their own projects, plan the recruitment process and the method used to get to the results.

The session at User Research London also focused on providing tools to communicate with participants and mirroring different approaches while dodging bias and assumptions. At the core of it all are, of course, ethics and empathy and being able to identify the motivations of the user.

If you want to find out more about recruitment, with a focus on vulnerable audiences, we have an online guide that you can read or download for free here.

Also, let us know if you’ve heard about an event that would benefit from this workshop – drop us an email on or a tweet @people4research.



stacey hirstIf 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.