5 steps to hiring with empathy: lessons from building my UX writing team

Tanja Matic
Booking.com — UX Writing
6 min readFeb 27, 2024

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A handy guide to hiring UX writers and content designers — whether it’s your 1st or 100th hire

My experience with recruiting began three years ago when I became a UX Writing Manager at Booking.com. I was excited to spend my first few weeks getting to know my new team, their goals and motivations. Instead, I learnt that some writers in my team were leaving for new challenges. I had to quickly pivot to being a hiring manager instead — with no prior experience being one.

Since then, I’ve evaluated over 100 UX writing candidates. I’ve refined my approach by keeping the candidates top of mind throughout my process — reviewing applications by constantly reminding myself that these were real people, with real lives and emotions. I took this into consideration every time I looked at a portfolio, interviewed a candidate, shared feedback and made an offer.

Here’s what this experience has taught me about finding the best UX writer(s) for the job.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Start with an open mind about who you need to hire

Don’t get me wrong, it’s essential to know the UX writing needs of the product you’re hiring for. But, it’s equally important to be flexible when evaluating a candidate’s experience against those specific requirements. Just make sure you’re clear about:

  • The experience or seniority required
    Does the product require an experienced writer? For example, someone who can help shape the experience in the early stages of product development with sound content strategy? Or can the opportunity be given to a junior writer?
  • What’s in it for the candidate
    It’s natural that people want to grow their careers. So, what are the growth opportunities for the writer? What kind of career path can you offer them?
  • Flexibility in reassigning writers to best match product needs
    When I was interviewing a candidate for a UX writing role that required specific market expertise, I discovered that they had extensive experience and valuable skills that would benefit a different product within my scope. My broad understanding of organisational needs allowed me to offer the candidate an opportunity that was a better fit for them by reassigning my writers to product teams based on skills, experience and potential for impact.

Pick your hiring team

At Booking.com, recruitment doesn’t come down to just one person’s decision. We always have an experienced group of UX writers involved in the recruitment process. Before you post job descriptions or call for applicants, make sure you know:

  • The key roles involved in the hiring process
    Are you only going to involve writers and recruiters? Are there any other key stakeholders you’d like to include?
  • If all roles involved understand the job description and role requirements
    I generally arrange a kickoff meeting to explain the UX writing role and the particular skills I’m looking for. For example, when I needed UX writers with B2B expertise or knowledge about the US market, I would let the recruiting team know so they could delve deeper into those aspects with candidates who had the relevant experience.
  • Your team’s availability for interviews
    This can help you plan interviews better, and prevent last-minute changes or bad experiences for the candidate.
Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Define your decision-making process

This includes decisions on how you will filter out candidates for interviews (portfolios, case studies, sample tests etc), how many interview rounds are needed, and what you want to learn from each round. In the end, taking the final call on a candidate depends on several factors, such as:

  • How you decide amongst multiple candidates equally fit for the role
    Is there a possibility to hire more than one candidate or find a place for these candidates in different product teams?
  • If the candidate is available to start when you need them
    Is hiring someone as soon as possible more important than finding the perfect candidate? What’s their life situation at the moment? Can they relocate easily? If a candidate is on maternity or parental leave when they apply, can we help them feel better prepared to resume work by offering them extra flexibility with their start date?
  • Your ability to set them up for success if they take on a challenging product
    If you hire someone in a rush, think about what might happen six months later, if the person struggles to handle the demands of a high-performance product team. What kind of support will you be able to provide?

Communicate decisions with empathy

Your candidates deserve actionable, constructive feedback. Make sure that the final decision is shared helpfully and respectfully, even if the candidate isn’t getting hired. When it comes to how and what to share regarding final decisions and ways forward, think about:

  • How you might explain rejections
    Especially for candidates who have progressed significantly in the interview rounds. It’s not enough to simply apologise for not moving forward with their application. These candidates deserve an empathetic response reflecting the effort they have invested in the interview process.
  • Constructive feedback you can share
    How can you help them grow even if they’re not joining your team? I once had a candidate who showed great potential but didn’t have the necessary UX writing experience to join any of the product teams in my scope. While it was a tough decision to reject, I made time to advise them on how to gain more experience and reapply after a year if they were still interested.
Photo by Katie Drazdauskaite on Unsplash

Build connections before the candidate officially joins

Hiring doesn’t end when a candidate signs the offer. That’s when your job as a manager begins. You don’t need to wait until their first official day to make them feel like they’re part of your team. They’re more likely to be assured of their decision to join when you:

  • Offer support, especially if they’re relocating
    Moving countries or cities is no small task, so make sure to offer them any relocation support or guidance they might need. I also try to schedule an informal coffee catchup before their first day, where I meet them along with another writer from my team to help them feel comfortable.
  • Bring them into the fold early
    Don’t ghost the candidate for months after they sign the contract; follow up to answer any questions they might have. You could also share some team updates with them and update your team about them too. When you build a rapport before their actual starting date, they’ll join feeling like they’ve been part of your team all along.

Over the last three years, we put this hiring process to the test at Booking.com. The result? It not only helped me find talented writers to fill the UX writing needs of my team, but also brought on board at least half the writers in our 80-people strong UX writing community.

Rather than just ticking some boxes of a ‘job that needs to be done’, by understanding each candidate as a person, I was able to build a highly effective team based on their individual strengths.

It enabled new joiners to integrate into their teams faster and jump into tasks more efficiently. In the long run, I’ve also seen my team having a bigger impact on projects and being a really connected group of individuals beyond work as well.

Big thanks to Varshini Murali and Graham Cookson for editing this article.

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