User Experience — Ask these 14 Questions before joining a Startup

In the past, I wrote an article Should I work for a startup or MNC? via LinkedIn Pulse and it was more about the pros and cons in general. Since I was getting a lot of requests via messages & emails, I thought of writing this article that can help some UXers. So let’s get it started!

“Getting a UX job” is nothing but one of the trending products for hiring authorities to check its specifications, conduct expert reviews by its stakeholders, do a competitive analysis, and verify if that can give “return of investment” (ROI) — before placing an order.

Nothing like it, when you finally receive an offer letter in hand after going through x,y, and z number of interview rounds; especially when an offer letter would look just like…

Dear [your name],
We are pleased to offer you employment at in our startup, [confidential] as user experience designer, situated in the heart of Dubai. You are required to sign and return a copy of the attached offer letter within 5 working days of receiving it. Upon your signature below, this and the Employment Agreement will become our binding agreement with respect to your employment.

You’re flattered, aren’t you? A perfect UX job role in a well-funded startup, and what else you would need, right!

But, hold on! Do you know…

  • What’s gonna be your very first day at work?
  • What’s gonna be your very first task? (excluding HR formalities, and of course)
  • Are you going to check all research data being done in the past so far or planning to meet some of your end users?
  • Or maybe you would come to know that the person who took your interview is no longer working in this organization, and then what???

You should rather ask these questions before joining such startups…but,

When can I ask these questions?” you may ask.

If a hiring manager or head hunter can ask you 20 questions, you can even ask more than 40 questions to them; don’t be afraid. Because…

You are a product they are testing with.

So better ask all those questions you care the most.

Ask the following set of questions especially during the initial-final interview round especially whenever they ask, “do you have any questions for us?” Even though they never give you this opportunity, you take the ownership and just say, “…However, there are a couple of things that I need to clarify with you.”

So here we go; starting with your very first question…

Q. Who defines both business and design strategy?

This one can help you from where the major design/functional changes come from, who does what.

Q. What is the design process and methods being followed?

Some engineering driven companies will start the process from its functionality standpoint, check feasibility, define its timeline, and then it reaches to the design team for skinning. So basically, either a product manager or technical manager will come to tell you, “we need to make some designs by using this approved wireframe by the end of the day.” Being a UXer, you will hate to follow this. This is a problem if the entire design team is reporting to head of engineering rather than the head of design or user experience.

Q. What do you follow the most; quantitative or qualitative research?

More than 80% of the time, you will hear, “we don’t have much time for qualitative since we’re following the agile methodology and right now our schedules are pretty much tight due to upcoming releases. But, maybe in the future; once our product has been launched successfully!”

Now or never, and there is no next time. That means they are never going to spare time for user research.

You cannot literally start with the user research after the product is launched (using big data) than before, and of course.

Q. Who is currently managing all design activities?

Let the hiring authority tell you if there is/was a design head who’s responsible for all related tasks. By asking this, you can find more insights about your role and expectations.

Q. How many designers are working right now in your startup?

This can help you to understand whether they have a design team or you’re the first one to get hired. There are pros and cons in this situation. Since they don’t have any designers yet, you can evangelize it;

if you think you can by bringing the notion of user experience to the table and talk about its real benefits.

Q. What sort of rights am I going to hold in order to refine, conduct user tests to even make changes to your product to improve its user experience?

If you’re getting hired, you should have rights to make changes to its product as required. For instance, for making a small text correction, you have to pass through various channels and its team members and then ultimately sit with one of the engineers to get it done.

Q. What is the structure of your organization?

As a UXer, you better need to understand its business unit and all stakeholders rather than just design unit.

Also, for that, you need to find out who are the decision makers you can take permission from in order to conduct usability tests, contextual inquiries, surveys, etc.

Q. What is your primary goal behind hiring a UX designer?

The scope of work, which was mentioned in the UX job descriptions never matches 100% when you join the company. That’s why it’s important to understand your main objectives whether they want a product designer who can work starting from user research to production as UX team of one, or only to beautify their existing products being a visual designer.

Also, ask some of the deliverables (start from backward) such as wireframes, reporting, usability testing insights, design mockups to the engineering team, writing markups for web pages, design documentations, etc.

Q. Who holds the authority to speak with your target users pretty often?

Do they care about their customers or end users rather than implementing functional stuff in-house? This can help you to understand whether someone in their organization keeps interacting with real users on a regular basis or not.

Q. Who are your primary and secondary target users?

“we know our users” is a phrase that’s being used by most of the startups these days. But, asking his particular question will let them speak whether they maintain different user groups to solve problems as per their needs. Do they maintain different user groups by categories? If yes, then have they created a set of user personas based on these user groups?

Q. When the last time someone at your organization conducted a usability test with real users? (if they have an existing product)

“Yes, we have tested in the past but we don’t do this on a regular basis.”

This is indeed one of the common answers these days. You will get this answer even if they never conducted such tests with actual users by saying “we don’t have time for this as we’re not big companies like Facebook, Google or Microsoft.” If they say “we’re running out of time” or “product sprint is ticking” then assume that they’re never going to spend time in the usability test. — Let me know what they say!

Q. What is the structure of your design team?

You can find out whether they have an existing hierarchy for the design team like x, y, and z number of Interaction, visual, and user researchers respectively or they maintain a flat hierarchy like a combination of both; user interface and user experience. Also, how do they go about project kickoffs, validate designs, and measure success?

Q. How do you come to know that your users are happy?

Ah! It’s a tricky question to ask. Some startups will tell you “we have got 72 billion registered users” as their sign of success. Wow! That’s huge number, right! But, it’s not.

The number is not always important, and it won’t tell you whether users are happy using their products or not.

This question can help you to understand what’s important to the company; the big numbers or consumer experience.

Q. What makes you add, refine, or even remove an existing product feature?

You need to find out what makes them do that. For instance, do they make such changes after receiving x number of user feedback via email, support team, user testing, or because of their competitors?

So what sort of questions did/do you ask before joining being a UXer? Share your insights & thanks for reading.

About the Author: Abinash Mohanty graduated from the National Institute of Design, majored visual communication, and a self-taught user experience designer from India. He is currently working as lead user experience designer at ii5 Global — 1Group, previously worked as Design Lead for Quikr and worked for various companies in the past. One can connect with him via Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Website, Instagram, Behance, Dribbble, Medium, Github, Quora, Facebook & Google+

edback via email, support team, user testing, or because of their competitors?

So what sort of questions did/do you ask before joining being a UXer? Share your insights & thanks for reading.

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