There is a fundamental problem with finding a User Experience professional who meets your needs, and it is unfortunately inherent in the use of those two letters; UX.
User Experience is a hot topic these days; everyone wants to make sure that they have a good “user experience” but they do not really understand what that means. How do you hire someone to help you achieve your goals when you yourself do not necessarily understand the goals yourself? It is the sort of conundrum that businesses hire user experience experts to help us answer when it comes to their users, and yet there is that difficulty in finding the right person to help them understand who it is that they need to hire to help them provide the experience that their users need.
Logically, that would be the recruitment specialists, but sadly most recruitment specialists do not really know the answer either; A quick poll among my peers showed that there was frustration about how much time they wasted on trying to decide whether when asking for a UX specialist, they were talking about the particular skill-set that they could cover satisfactorily, or if it was talking about someone else. The recruiters can’t like spending so much time on dead ends either, especially when they are looking for commission.
The reality is that UX has become a buzzword. Too many people want to have a “UX person” to be able to tick a checkbox that says they have done their bit. Hell, the UX checkbox will usually lead to some minor improvements too, so it’s not all bad. However, they don’t really give the UX role the support that it needs to be fully effective. It seems crazy to hire a specialist to make only minimal improvements to a product, especially considering that we are not exactly cheap, and many companies realise that after their first foray into hiring someone. They learn that it is not cost effective to hire an expensive specialist who makes minimal improvements.
Sadly, they rarely take the lesson away with them that they need to support the UX pro. Instead they try and get it for “free” when they hire another role, and that has a harmful effect on the entire industry.
In many cases they require UX specialists to also be software developers, but what they get are software developers who have done graphic design. In other cases they offload the UX work onto a range of people; project managers, product owners, graphic designers, and software developers will all be asked to “do some UX” which is about as helpful as asking a bricklayer to design a tower block. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not exactly the best way to get to the end result, if that is even the one they were hoping for.
As a result, UX professionals then start having to filter out all the additional jobs which are now being described as “UX” when they are not. It is not a good return on investment for them, and that work is not done for free; it is fed back into the cost of hiring both freelancers and permanent staff for those who eventually find the right people. To top it off, it also makes it more difficult to find the right hire, when you describe things wrongly, so more time and money is spent on the hiring process than necessary, and that affects the hiring company as well as any recruitment agents who happen to get caught in that mess.
In truth, if you want to hire someone to “do your UX” you need to hire a UX consultant to tell you what you are looking for in your UX hire. For starters, nobody “does your UX” because the user experience is the gestalt result of everything that your product does.
Obviously there are issues with hiring a UX consultant to tell you which UX professionals you should hire, since they may well suggest their own people, or shoot down perfectly good candidates in favour of their own. I would suggest that in those instances you look at freelancers who do not work as part of an agency, and whose role is purely in an educational capacity; they will educate your people about UX, so that they understand it well enough to know what is needed, and how to support it.
I, or any other consultant worth their salt can do that for you easily enough. It’s as easy as writing project specifications.