How to get a recruiter onboard for your user research needs

In this blog post, I am going to explain the typical process that medium and large size companies use to get a recruiter onboard, and prepare you for the journey.

Using a recruiter increases your chances to source a set number of participants for a specific date. A recruiter can also allow you to tap into a different pool of participants that are not necessarily your customers. It is an attractive proposition that can assist your research needs. Keep in mind that using a recruiter is not the only way to source participants, there are multiple ways to go about it.

Using a recruiter will assist your research needs.

Preparing a budget for research

If your organisation is new to user research, you will need to give them an idea of what type of user research you would like to do, and the cost associated with using a recruiter.
As a first step, I recommend creating a rough research program spanning over a year for a typical product team in your organisation. It will give your organisation the ability to see how many research activities you could do within a year, as well as the type of research you would like to conduct. It is not an exact science; it is just about creating a plan showing what continuous research could look like for a product team. You can also use the research plan as a template for other product teams.

Keep the research program open and simple. Here is an example for one product team; I created a table listing the 12 months of the year with the type of research activities the product team could conduct each month. To inform the research program, I recommend to check the product team discovery backlog or their roadmap; it will help you listing potential research activities.

  • January – Usability testing (n=6) – $1,300
  • February – Usability testing (n=6) – $1,300
  • March – User interview (n=12) – $3,500
  • April – Usability testing (n=6) – $1,300
  • May – Usability testing (n=6) – $1,300
  • June – Usability testing (n=6) – $1,300
  • July – Usability testing (n=6) – $1,300
  • August – Usability testing (n=6) – $1,300
  • September – Usability testing (n=6) – $1,300
  • October – Contextual inquiry (n=12) – $3,500
  • November – Usability testing (n=6) – $1,300
  • December – No activity due to the busy season

This research program is not intended to lock you in for a year; it is just an indication to help you manage stakeholders, keep in mind that your product team will likely have evolving researching needs through the year.

Writing the estimated recruitment fees (incentives included) for each research activities, will also help you talk to the people that will allocate a budget for your research, and talk to the finance team that will pay the recruiter. To get an estimated cost of research activity, give a quick call to a few recruiters in town. In Australia, a typical usability testing with 6 participants can cost up to $1,300 with incentives included. A user interview involving 12 participants could cost up to $3,500 with incentives and the researcher travel expenses included.

Getting the finance department onboard

Once your plan is ready, you will need to negotiate a budget with your company, and this can take a while. The research program will help to bring clarity and transparency when negotiating the user research budget required when working with a recruiter. It takes time and effort to negotiate a budget, but that sort of conversation gets easier as the UX maturity grows in your organisation.

When you are having that conversation, you are likely to come across someone from finance. It is important to know that a finance department has a process to do business with other company such as a recruiter. Here is a list of questions you can ask your finance department that will help you understand that process. Some of these questions will also help you find the right recruiter.

  • Have we ever used a recruiter for market research in the past? If yes, which firm did we use? Who in the company used that firm?
  • What are the typical payment terms?
  • Does the recruiter need to sign a Statement of Work? If yes, what is the process?
    I will detail why a Statement of Work might be necessary for your organisation later in this post.
  • Do you need to raise a purchase order for each research activity? If yes, what is the process?
  • Does the recruiter need to use a self-billing portal to get paid?

Finding the right recruiter

If you are lucky, another department might have used a recruiter in the past; this means that a lot of paperwork, such as the Statement of Work, might have been already done. If it is the case, you can start sourcing participant with your recruiter today. Pro tip; some organisations might think that they already did some work with a recruiter, but they did work with a UX consultancy that used a recruiter to source participants. It is not what you are after.

If your company never used a recruiter, you are now on the hunt to find one. Recruiters can be a one-man band or a medium size company; the challenge is to pick the right one. I came across recruiters who had difficulties dealing with purchase orders, or recruiters that didn’t like long payment terms. Your job at this point is to find the right recruiter that is comfortable with your organisation’s needs and processes.

To find out, you are going to make a few phone calls and ask questions to potential recruiters:

  • Have you done business with a company like ours before?
  • Do you have experience recruiting participants for our industry?
    Please keep in mind that B2B research might get more challenging, and more costly than B2C research.
  • Are you comfortable with [insert your company payment terms, e.g. 90 days]?
  • Are you comfortable with [insert self-billing software that your company might use]?
  • What is your budget to source [insert a number of participants]?
  • What is the typical turnaround time for you to source participants?
  • How do you recruit these participants?
  • Can you pay participants incentives via electronic fund transfer?
    Using this service will make your life easier because you will not need to manage cash incentives.
  • Do you provide an Excel sheet with the participant’s list when you have completed the recruitment? If yes, do you charge for it?
  • Are you happy to sign a statement of work with the company before doing any work?

Try to talk to three or four recruiters and have a feel what they can do for you. Don’t rush it, because once you have a recruiter in your organisation’s system, it takes another set of conversations to remove the recruiter from the system.

Preparing a Statement of Work

A Statement of Work or SoW is for some organisations an essential document to get the recruiter onboard. Without it, the organisation will not have the necessary guarantees to conduct business with the recruiter. In the Statement of Work, you will also find all sorts of information, such as; a description of the work done by the recruiter, an expiry date for the work, the payment terms, who to contact for payment, legal closes about protecting the participant’s personal data, etc. Don’t be overwhelmed by all of this, it is fairly standard, and you will need to help your stakeholders by answering their questions.

If your company don’t need a Statement of Work then your job is done, you will just need to forward the recruiter’s invoice to your finance department after each research activity.

If you need a Statement of Work to get your recruiter onboard, you are going to collaborate with people in your organisation that works in legal, finance, sourcing or all of them. My advice is to be patient when collaborating with these departments because you will need to explain why you are getting a recruiter to a broad range of people from different background. In larger organisations, you might even find these people in different countries.

Once you have the Statement of Work ready, your company and the recruiter will both need to sign the document before doing business together hence the need of having a Statement of Work that is simple to understand.

The first piece of work and follow up

You found the right recruiter, created a Statement of Work, everything is going to be easier from here. Some organisations might require you to create a purchase order for each research activity which adds to the list of administrative tasks that the UX researcher needs to do. At the end of a research activity, the recruiter will send you an invoice or submit their invoice in your organisation self-billing portal.

After doing your first research with the recruiter, follow up with them to make sure that your organisation paid the recruiter. As I mentioned earlier, the finance team will use their process and unfortunately errors can occur. Checking the first invoice from the recruiter will ensure that the process worked as planned and help you maintain a healthy relationship with everyone. In some cases, you might even have to resolve issues about unpaid invoices and make sure that your organisation will pay the next invoice on time. Unfortunately, these types of situations are common.

Be aware of gifts

Finally, some recruiter might send you some gift at the end of the year as a thank you for using their services. This might sound innocent at first, but by accepting the gift, you might breach some anti-bribery rules within your organisation, so please be mindful of these rules and let your manager know if you receive a gift from a recruiter.

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