The UX Strategy of Hiring Juniors Over Seniors

by Jared M. Spool

“That was the big mistake we made.” I was listening to the new Senior Director of User Experience at a Fortune 200 company. They were in their 4th month as Senior Director, having inherited the team from the person who had started the UX group.

The Senior Director had just finished up a meeting with all of the group’s 160 UX professionals. Practically everyone complained about finding their daily work challenging.

Some team members were so frustrated that they were strongly considering leaving. Many already have. The team was losing great people.

“We’re only hiring the best and brightest.”

The Senior Director’s predecessor had a philosophy of only hiring “the best and brightest” UX designers, researchers, and content specialists. Using this philosophy, the team that they built was amazing. Some of the best UX folks in the world were on this team. It was a who’s who of amazingly talented individuals.

The predecessor had grown the team out of just a small handful of mainly visual designers. The predecessor revamped the team, hiring leaders in user research, interaction design, information architecture, content strategy, and other expertise that was new to the company.

These folks happily joined the team, rolled up their sleeves, and set out to work. They built a design process, established basic tools, and integrated design practice into each major project.

The problems of hiring only experienced UX professionals

The Senior Director’s predecessor had built a great team. Yet, the hiring philosophy was holding these talented professionals back. It was preventing them from putting into action the exact talents they had been hired for.

The Senior Director told me that there were plenty of big challenges for the team to tackle. And, the team had the skills and experience to take on this important work.

Yet, the Director couldn’t assign any team members to these challenges. Their plates were full with day-to-day production work.

The predecessor had only hired team members with lots of experience. There weren’t any junior team members to take over this production work and free up their senior teammates to solve the bigger challenges.

For the existing team members, the daily work was no longer interesting. They were open for organizations to poach them with promises of more challenging work. Some team members jumped at these opportunities.

Bringing in juniors to take over the production work

It’s tempting, when we’re growing a new UX group, to do exactly what the Senior Director’s predecessor had done. It’s natural for a new manager to approach launching their new UX group by recruiting highly-skilled and experienced team members.

The first few team members hired need to have the skills to do the work effectively. This will get the UX work started.

However, it quickly becomes important to start hiring individuals who are earlier in their careers. Early-career UX folks will have fewer skills, knowledge, and experience than the initial team members hired. They might be right out of school, or they might have just a few years of narrow working experience.

These new team members wouldn’t be equal peers to the existing team. They’d join as apprentices to the more experienced folks.

The rookies would take over the work that’s become routine for the existing team. To the new rookies, it’s challenging work and a growth opportunity. They’ll learn new skills and gain new experiences, even though the work may seem routine and unchallenging for their more senior teammates.

Transitioning seniors to bigger challenges

Once the rookie team members learn how to do the work, the more senior team members can move onto those new, harder challenges. These challenges can be focused on growing the UX capacity in the organization. They can be bringing better user research to the decision-making process. They can be growing the overall design practice, pushing new boundaries of what’s possible.

By hiring more junior UX team members, the team grows without losing the capability to do the day-to-day work. Senior team members can put in the time and dedication needed to overcome hard challenges, while more junior team members handle day-to-day production work.

The Senior Director I talked to was stuck because their predecessor didn’t leave them with a path to grow the team. As a result, it’ll be difficult for the current director to keep their team, many of whom were itchy to get out of work they find routine and boring. It will be hard to bring on enough junior talent quickly enough to take over that work.

Balancing juniors and seniors is part of our UX Strategy

Being intentional about hiring and team growth are essential for a successful UX strategy. If we pick the wrong strategy, we’ll hold our team back.

However, if we pick the right strategy, our team will grow the value of design throughout our organization. Hiring and team growth are critical factors to delivering better-designed products and services.

About the Author

Jared M. Spool is a co-founder of Center Centre and the founder of UIE. In 2016, with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, he opened Center Centre, a new design school in Chattanooga, TN to create the next generation of industry-ready UX Designers. They created a revolutionary approach to vocational training, infusing Jared’s decades of UX experience with Leslie’s mastery of experience-based learning methodologies.

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