When conducting research, you can develop the perfect prototype, create a flawless research plan, and feel completely prepared with your mod guide and note-taking tools, but without the right user mix, you won’t get the answers you’re looking for. Recruiting the best-fit participants is one of the most critical parts to getting the insights you need from your research. So, how do you make sure your research operations are being executed as smoothly as possible?
Participant recruiting is a bit like party planning - and at AnswerLab our party planners are our Project Managers. A skilled planner ensures the right guests RSVP, the caterers and the DJ show up on time, and you have the right silverware, place settings, and mood music. In other words, your participants are appropriately screened, facility and recruiting partners are clued in to the research logistics, and sessions are scheduled and run properly. Like all successful party planners, we've developed best practices over the years to streamline our research ops efforts, stop reinventing the wheel, and improve on our processes after each and every project. Here are some of our guiding principles and top tips to get the right people in your sessions.
Guiding principles of recruiting
The first step in recruiting for a project is understanding the characteristics stakeholders want in the users we talk to and why they want them. For example, let’s say you’re testing a new concept for a mobile product that connects buyers and sellers of used cars. Your team is requesting to understand reactions from users who are currently in the market to buy a used car. If your recruit includes people who are considering only new cars or those who don’t use their mobile for this sort of purchasing research, their feedback may not be as valuable since they fall outside the target.
Remember to use you and your organization’s past experience to suggest tweaks to make the recruit more feasible. For instance, just because the most commonly bought car using this product is a Honda, it does not mean that all users included in the study must be considering Honda. Ensure you are asking questions that focus on the right population and eliminate or target subject matter experts depending on what you’re seeking. If you’re looking to explore the buyer experience, you probably don’t want to talk to someone who sells cars for a living! Developing a deep understanding of why you need to talk to these specific people will help you refine your screener to ensure you’re getting who you need.
Consider the narrative
Recruit grids should read like a little story about each participant. You can imagine it like curating a seating chart of who would be good guests to sit next to each other because they each bring their related experience to share to the table. There should be a narrative around why this particular participant is important to hear from, so write screeners to encourage that outcome! You can also use the idea of the “story” to promote including participants who may not look like the perfect fit on paper if necessary. Think about it in terms of a holistic approach rather than a pure numbers game - we’re talking about qualitative research, after all, and we should view our participants qualitatively as well. Another piece to remember is that future behaviors are best indicated by past behaviors, so look for folks with experience and intent as opposed to intent only.
Build and leverage institutional knowledge
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel - did everyone love the shrimp platter at your holiday party last year? Serve it again! Many studies will have a fairly straightforward recruit, and in these situations, capitalizing off past studies and using what has worked previously is a great tip to keep in mind. Use tools to make sure knowledge is kept in one place and members of your team can compile all their learnings and best screener questions for future use. We like Trello for creating knowledge boards for different kinds of recruit profiles, and services like Box or Dropbox are great for storing old screeners, recruit summaries, and more all in one easy-to-find place.
Getting the process right from start to finish
Make stakeholder communications informative, but brief
We create a summary document for stakeholders that provides the team with a high-level understanding of who will be recruited for sessions and initiates valuable conversations around who your primary target is and why. And, because it’s lightweight and efficient, it helps keep everyone on the same page in an easily digestible way.
For all recruits we create a screener, the in-depth tool to help identify your target users for a study, containing all the necessary information a recruiter needs to find target participants. This consists of detailed questions, written in participant-facing language about behavior, demographics, attitudes around certain topics, and more, and its content is directly correlated to the validity and quality of your research. This document is often 10 pages or longer, so save your stakeholders some screen time and align on criteria in the initial summary document!
For screeners, you should write in a tone and language participants will understand while avoiding leading questions (just like your research sessions). Be thoughtful and consider the participant holistically; their past behaviors, intent, attitudes, and demographics. Don’t be too narrow with your criteria otherwise you may not achieve a full recruit!
Keep a close eye on your recruit
Once your screener is out in the world, you have to make sure everything is running on time and according to plan. Monitoring the recruit as it turns into your list of suitable participants ensures you get quality respondents and catch any mis-recruits before the stakeholder spots them (or you start your interview session and realize they don’t have the targeted experience). It’s also important to track your recruit in real time so your project executes on schedule and as promised. Clear communication with stakeholders about progress and timelines is crucial during this phase.
For a researcher, managing a recruit utilizing one or more recruiting partners can be a lot of work! At AnswerLab, our project management practice owns this weeks-long task so that our researchers can focus on the research topics and approach, allowing them the preparation focus needed to uncover impactful insights.
Recruit complete? Time for the party to start!
So, the table is set, decorations are up, mood music is on, you’ve got your sessions scheduled and your participants booked, but your job isn’t over yet. The final piece comes together on the day of your research as you host participants in your space. Remember to greet participants kindly, over-communicate what they should expect, call participants who are late, and be ready to take a back-up if something goes awry. At the best parties, no one is wondering who scheduled the caterer or selected the placemats, guests are connecting with each other and having a good time. Similarly, research fielding is all about talking to the right users to surface key findings that drive your organization down the path to success.