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Tips for effective DIY Participant Recruitment for Usability Testing

This article is also published at Usability News.

In case you are not using the services of a professional recruitment agency, or do not have an internal recruitment team that can help you acquire participants for usability tests, here are some tips to help you begin with finding those participants successfully.

An important consideration amongst others for effective usability testing is acquiring participants who are representative of your product’s target audience (users who will use your product) to test with.

In case you don’t have a team or resource in your organization that dedicatedly looks after participant recruitment and coordination of usability testing activities, or you don’t have access or simply don’t want to spend on a professional recruitment agency to do the task for you, the following tips will help you to effectively find participants for usability testing on your own without having to work into a cold sweat wondering where are all those people and how can you get them to participate.

Tips to help you find Participants for Usability Testing

  1. Let people find the participants for you
    Instead of looking for the participants on your own, let people know that you need them and what the criteria for selection is. Once you get contact details for potential participants from these people, you can then screen them to ensure that they fit the bill and also try and determine whether they’d participate fairly or simply try to complete the session in the easiest and fastest manner possible so they can walk away with the compensation. But where are these people who can help you out? They are all around. You can:

    1. Use the company mailing/ distribution list
      What better way than using your organization’s distribution list to let a large number of people know that you are looking for participants for a usability test, all in one go. The bigger your company, the better. Try and send it out to the largest distribution list that exists in your office for the particular location you are situated at (assuming you’re not planning on conducting remote usability tests, in which case the ‘global’ list might be a better option). Take permission if required before shooting off the mail to a large group. If you decide to do so, make sure your mail is usable itself. Avoid jargon and explain everything you need in the participant clearly and in the simplest language possible.
    2. Use the company’s website/ Product websites/ Send out mailers
      Let your product users know that you are looking for participants. Add the information to company mailers or have a separate mailer just for this purpose. Put up the information on your organization’s website or your organization’s product websites if so may be the case (this you should do as part of your strategy for creating a usability test participant database anyhow).
    3. Try and get the HR department to help you out
      If you feel that the participant criteria would match that of the job seekers applying to your organization, talk with human resources and let them know the profile of people you’re looking for. After HR completes their interview process, they could let the interview candidates know about the opportunity to participate in the usability test in exchange for gratuity.
    4. Take help from your friends and family
      Spread the word amongst your friends and family. This might not be so useful for recruiting the usual participants but is rather helpful in cases where gratuity can’t be the motivation, as is discussed in the last tip.
  2. Find participants on your own
    1. Use the internet
      The internet is your answer to look for anything you need to find if you can search smart, looking for usability test participants included. You will almost definitely find the right users on the net. Look in forums, websites like Yahoo! Answers, classifieds websites… the list goes on, but hopefully you get the idea (In case you don’t, let me know and I’ll be glad to elaborate depending upon the type of users you are looking to recruit.)
    2. Look around (not in) the office
      You might have a lot of people around your office building that might fit your participant profile. Be it the guys from Green Peace, credit card and banking related services salesman or students passing by. There is probably someone who willl fit your participant profile. Try talking with them to participate in your usability test.
  3. When gratuity just won’t do (or you need to recruit users in executive leadership)
    There are cases where gratuity can not be motivation enough for the participants you need to recruit.Take the case of executive leadership and senior management. Besides having no time to spare, gratuity isn’t what they’re looking for, or what you can probably match with their expectations. What will be motivate them is the request for participation by someone they know personally who matters- that might be your boss, your parents, your friends or even you. It pays to know the right people and be in their list of loved ones in this case.

What are your thoughts and comments? Do you have any other tips to share for DIY recruitment?

  • Rob

    Hi, thanks for the article. However, isn’t putting the recruitment info on the website itself going to recruit people who are much too familiar with the website and the specific industry? I had read that it’s best to have users who haven’t been fully exposed to the website or company doing the test.

  • Cone Trees

    Rob, glad you liked it. Nice question . I am going to break it down and address it in parts.

    Isn’t putting the recruitment info on the website itself going to recruit people who are…

    Putting recruitment info will not automatically recruit people. The purpose of putting the information there is is to to help spread the word and let users get back to you if they are interested in participating the usability test.

    It is the screener that will help you recruit participants according to your recruitment parameters. All potential participants will go through a screener, which will either be available on the website or after they have expressed interest and you get back to them.

    …much too familiar…

    You will want to have participants representative of your target audience in a usability test. More often than not, you will want to test with across novice, intermediate and expert users of your product. Your participant recruitment matrix is more likely to include further classification as well. For example, different age groups, industry functions, the list goes on.

    Besides, it may be so that expert users may visit the website more frequently, but they are not the only visitors to a website. You still have your screener in place to restrict their number of expert users in your usability test according to your participant recruitment matrix.

    …with the website…

    You are assuming that the product to be tested is specifically the website the recruitment information is posted on. This may not be the case. For example, the website may be about a standalone application you download from this website. Or, the website the information is posted on might be the website of the parent company and not the website or web application to be tested. Further still, the product to be tested might be not be web based or software at all, it could be a kitchen appliance, music system or any other product.

    …and the specific industry?

    I am not sure what you meant by this. If you meant that the users who express interest in participation are those who belong to the user research domain, you always have the screener to filter them out.

    “I had read that it’s best to have users who haven’t been fully exposed to the website or company doing the test.”

    Yes, if you are referring to recruiting usability test participants internally from the organization that creates the product. The result will be considerably skewed data. Internal participants might not be reflective of the target audience to varying extents, they might not want to say something bad about the company’s product, they bring in personal biases since they were involved with the development of the product in some way or the other, there is good reason to avoid internal participants when you can.

  • We are looking for a usability testing recruitment company as opposed to DIY. Do you have any recommendations?

    Thank you.

  • Cone Trees

    Sure. You will find a few good firms listed at The UX Bookmark under the post: Contact details of Participant Recruitment firms.

  • Susan

    Do you know of any services that can capture remote users for you? We specifically do not want to recruit from our own site, but really like a lot of the remote testing software options available.

  • Susan, get in touch with . They provide user recruitment for remote usability tests as one of their services.

  • Thanks for the Bolt | Peters shout-out Abhay – nice summary of methods, too. We just built a live twitter search for participants by keyword in our research recruiting tool – Ethnio htp:// You can search for keywords in peoples’ twitter profiles or terms they mention in live tweets, then Ethnio can @reply hundreds of potential users your screener.

    Full disclosure – since we make Ethnio, I stand to make dozens of dollars from people using it for recruiting for usability. DOZENS.