UXR, UX, and Product Leaders: Why the lack of entry-level UXR roles?

MelaniePolkosky's profile thumbnail
This is a great question and I'd offer several potential reasons for what you observed with your posting. The TLDR is that it's a complicated mix of factors impacting hiring in UX that's likely still routed in relatively poor maturity of the field while it also explodes. First, UX training programs (aka, 6 month training certificates) have been springing up like weeds. Often, they provide just task and deliverable-oriented training without really giving people the ability to think in a strategic way, or subtle design skills and their coverage of research methods is sparse, at best. I worked recently with a product of one such program who seemed to believe that running a few haphazard usability sessions, then having a "stakeholder roundtable" to get their opinions about what they saw was how research is conducted. This individual was in a senior UX researcher role and knew nothing about high quality research methods. Second, because there are so many students in the certificate programs, they seem to be flooding the zone, making jobs difficult to find for senior people. I'd argue that training for entry-level is there, but industry hasn't done a great job figuring out a viable career path for most UX professionals. My example here is myself: I recently turned down a job at a well-known, large tech company because all the very senior roles they had were so narrowly defined that I couldn't imagine giving up the variety I value in my current work situation to just do data analysis on a single existing survey for 40 hours per week. I also work with a lot of mid- (but still early) UX researchers with about 5-7 years of experience, and have seen it's very difficult to get additional, relevant advanced training if you don't want to go back for a master's or doctorate. Third, in the behavioral sciences (which provide a pipeline for UX researchers), learning research techniques appropriate for each field is typically completed at the master's or doctoral level. In some, psychology being the prime example, the PhD is the terminal degree. A similar issue happens on the design side - there are 4 year degrees for design, amazing programs that teach subtle, sophisticated graphics skills, which is quite different than a brief certificate course where you complete a handful of project deliverables and don't really get the fundamentals of topics like visual design, human visual processing and color theory. And, because now there are also behavioral science graduates with advanced degrees realizing they can get better paying UX jobs than is possible in academia, they also have come into the market with lots of education but little work experience. They also will apply for entry level roles because they don't know how to apply their newly-won education to a UX role. Next, I'd also argue that because UX is one of the tech fields where there tends to be a higher proportion of women, recent data suggests that over 50% of women leave STEM fields by the time they're in their mid-30s. I coach a lot of UX women who are in roles where they feel marginalized, minimized, unheard and even harassed and bullied. This is a complex issue with a lot of different drivers (which I wrote an entire book about!) but the impact is that they often feel desperate to get out of a toxic environment and will apply to positions far beneath their skill set as a result.Finally, there's another issue that impacts senior women in particular: they tend to undervalue their own skills and apply to jobs they are overqualified for, even if they aren't necessarily unhappy in their current role. The leap from individual contributor to leader is also particularly difficult for many senior women - just yesterday, I was coaching an experienced female UX designer who had seen a job posting that included first-line management. Because she was afraid of that and felt under-qualified, she was working on her portfolio for a different, individual contributor role.