Think like a user researcher to level up job hunting, problem solving, collaboration and more
Ways, questions and scenarios to help you think like user researcher no matter your role
Often not enough questions are asked. Nor does not think from the other person's perspective - your audience or user. Here are some areas where you can change immediately how you work with people. Ultimately people think about themselves or what they want to achieve. So if you think about their agenda and fit your message within it, it makes things go along much easier. Thinking and working like a user researcher means a few different things. Understanding your user (stakeholder, team member, hiring manager), understanding what they are trying to achieve, and figuring out what they are concerned about. Thinking like a user researcher is about collecting data, turning it into insights and using those findings accordingly. The sky is the limit! You can ask the right questions in almost any situation. For example, organising something with a friend, planning a holiday with a loved one, or meeting someone new. It is about being very user-centric and being good at listening.
🔎 Characteristics of a good user researcher that you can embody
Be curious about a person or situation, take a learners mindset
Listens carefully, to what is said and unsaid
Knows that sometimes what people say they like and what they actually use or need can be conflicting
Looks at all forms of data
Works in iterations
Does a good amount of desk research
Applies a lens of being analytical
Thinks about the user and user-centric experiences
Looking at things objectively and taking yourself out of the situation
👋 Finding a mentor
Very often I see people say “I want a mentor”, or “will you be a mentor”. What is missing is that by doing this you are asking from your perspective. Focusing on what you need rather than understanding what the other person needs. Some well-known or popular figures get completely inundated with requests and a time-poor. Take time to first get to know this person, and find what they have already written and spoken about. Then assess if you really want them as a mentor or if everything you can learn is already accessible.
Ask yourself these questions:
Does this person have skills I want to learn?
Does this person conduct themselves and their work that I find is admirable?
Can I be finding the answers to these questions myself from simply googling or searching online first?
What can I offer someone who is giving their time to me?
Ask your prospective mentor along the lines of:
What goals might you have from mentoring someone?
Does the person have an interest in helping people in this specific area?
How do you prefer to communicate?
What would you be comfortable with?
How much time do you have to spare?
How can I best prepare for our sessions?
What could I provide in return? What might you need some help or input on which I could provide some assistance?
Make sure you put the effort into answering these questions and take note of these answers. Then work with these responses or answers accordingly. Some of these would impact your initial message and introduction, how you might work together and expectations.
💰 Job hunting
If you want to know why are you not getting much traction with your job applications it is worth pausing. Then take an analytical look at how you are applying for roles. Resist doing the same thing over and over again. It may seem easier to just apply to 100+ jobs with the exact same method and hope for success "spray and pray". However doing so could lead to unnecessary disappointment leading you to feel less confident about the ability to do the job. Take an experimental approach. Review critically what does not work, adjust and move on.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What would a hiring manager or recruiter be looking for? Am I highlighting that first?
Is this organisation looking for something particular I should be highlighting? What can I be offering to this company that differentiates me from others?
Am I communicating what is essential for a person to decide whether to move forward with me or not?
Does my resume/portfolio/sample work highlight the total range of my skillset?
Is my work easy to understand and read?
What attributes do other people who work at this company already have?
Do I know what the going rate or salary band is for this role?
What qualities am I looking for in a role?
What are my own non-negotiables or do not want in a role?
Ask a recruiter or hiring manager the following:
What differentiates a good from an excellent candidate?
How much time are you spending reviewing each application?
What are some specifics that you are looking for?
What could I do to improve my odds?
What is my application missing?
What would you highlight or emphasise?
When taking onboard these responses make sure to implement some of these into your resume, portfolio, and application.
🤝 Communicating with stakeholders
In an organisation, everyone has their own OKRs, KPIs or goals they want to achieve personally. It is important to understand each of your stakeholders' goals or priorities. Tailor your message to them and their style. Some of them may be under more pressure or have a lot of visibility.
What is important to highlight?
What does the stakeholder want to know?
How can I make something easier to understand?
What format works best for this stakeholder?
Is the stakeholder big picture or detail orientated?
What does this person pay attention to?
What is this stakeholder trying to achieve? What goals or timing do they need to meet?
Ask your stakeholders or try to figure out:
What format works for them?
Who should be there?
What are they going to do with the information?
What timeframes are they working within?
Do some decisions need to be made quickly based on this information?
Once you do communicate whatever you need to with your stakeholders follow up with them to see their response. You could even ask more questions to iterate. I find, “what would you like more of?” and “what would you like less of?” really helps gather feedback rather than “what did you like” or “what did you not like”?
Photo by Hadija Saidi on Unsplash
🤔 Problem-solving - or understanding a problem better. Key for good Product Managers or Product Designers
This would be a helpful approach for anyone but especially for Designers and Product Managers. Use this if you are tasked with working on something new, or are trying to improve something. The questions and principles could relate to solving a problem at home, with your neighbour or community, or anything.
Have I found all the inputs or context I need to have to move forward? What is the user trying to achieve?
What is the team trying to achieve?
Are there standard ways of approaching this? Is there a reason this doesn’t work or needs to be done better?
What is some industry information available about this problem?
What have users said about this in the past?
What has former users said about this?
What have others in the organisation tried to do about this problem?
Is this enough information to make an informed decision or is more research needed?
Is this risk big or small?
Will the impact be big or small?
Ask the other party/parties or try to find out:
What are you trying to achieve?
What is the problem or challenge?
What is your inspiration or ideal situation?
What have you tried?
What are your workarounds?
Bringing in other sources of data also helps. There is a good set of B2B or SaaS questions you can also use and also adjust for your particular situation.
🤩 Sharing or presenting your work
We are inundated or bombarded with attention grabbers from the time we wake up. Your audience has other things grabbing their attention. You will be competing with notifications from their phone, Slack, family commitments, their own work goals, stresses and countless other things. Sitting in yet another meeting might mean waning attention, focus and energy from your audience. A good researcher knows that the important thing is not putting sole effort into the project itself. Although the research should be done as rigorously and robustly within reason. The key thing is having your research be consumable and usable.
What is the audience’s motivation?
What do they already know?
What are they interested in? Are they more high level or need to know details?
How are they going to use this information?
How is it going to impact the audience?
When is a good time to show them this work?
What parts do I need to influence or emphasise?
What is my own goal in sharing this?
Ask your stakeholders or think about this on behalf of your stakeholders:
What format would suit the stakeholders?
How does the team consume and collaborate on information?
Who should be invited?
What is the ideal delivery date and what are the dependencies?
Similar to communicating with stakeholders, figure out what works and does not. Adjust things for your audience. Observe what method, and style resonates.
💳 Getting promoted or requesting some resources/sponsorship from your manager
If things do not work out the first time, still persist but try different approaches. It could be the fiscal quarter you brought this up does not have the budget. Or the management team was trying to handle another bigger thing and do not have the ability to think about it. Sometimes it is timing, priorities, or something else you may not realise or know at the time.
Do I know my manager’s goals and does this align with that?
Have I done my own research on the company policy and the ROI (return on investment) for the team?
Are there skills that the team is missing I could bring back to the team or add value?
Do I know what communication style works best for my manager?
Do they like the slow lead-up or introduction to something or do they make decisions on the fly?
Ask your manager:
What information do you need to have in order to decide about this?
What are your concerns?
How or when should I communicate this with you?
Who else needs to support or approve this?
If things do not work out the first time, still persist but try different approaches. It could be the fiscal quarter you brought this up does not have the budget or the management team was trying to handle another bigger thing and do not have the ability to think about it. Sometimes it is timing, priorities, or something else you may not realise or know at the time.
📚Recommended reading or listening
How to Win Friends and Influence People - this book is highly recommended by others in Product Development.
Adam Grant often talks about thinking like a scientist.
S2 E8 The Super Power You're Not Using - Greg McKeown - Gain influence by speaking in terms of the other person’s agenda (9:57)
Root cause analysis - the approach is similar to what was mentioned above to help you understand the situation.
Thinking like a researcher can benefit you in many situations, not just the ones listed above. To sum it up, it is approaching things with a learner's mindset and being curious, asking questions, and listening a lot. It is also about making adjustments when things do not work and seeing what resonates and keep doing it. Treating every person, team and organisation as very individual. Once a conclusion and the clear findings are there, communicate things within the agenda, preferred method or motivation of your audience.
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