A guide to recruiting for human-centred research

Something which is of constant surprise when working with large service organisations is how hard it is for them to recruit people for research. This difficulty is a data point in itself, as it indicates how much distance there is between service providers and the people for whom they are providing a service.

We thought it would be worthwhile pulling together a how-to guide for clients, to help reduce the risks associated with this activity. This post is a collection of tips from around the office.

photo showing person organising recruiting with a list, guide, and their laptop computer


As an organisation you’ve embarked on a journey of discovery, hoping to understand how to design and deliver better services or products to your customers. Good for you! Whether you call them customers, visitors, clients, or partners, you know you have a lot of them and it should be relatively easy (right?) to get in touch with them and ask them some questions about their experience.

But if it was that easy, why haven’t you done it already?

Recruitment is hard. That is why there are so many companies dedicated to the craft. These companies charge for their services and for good reason. They have access to thousands of people in their databases, and can easily call on these lists to select people who are right for your need.

But not always. You may have niche requirements that you feel you cannot fulfil using an external recruiter. You also might feel that sensitivities around the sales process mean it would be better to contact your customer through your relationship managers or specialty customer-focused staff. These are all very valid reasons to conduct recruitment yourself but please, learn from us, this process can take a really, really long time. Delays can compromise the project timeline dramatically and therefore cost you financially.


When a consulting research or design company (like Meld!) proposes a start date to research it is highly likely that this date has been highly orchestrated to align with internal resourcing. Changes to this date can be highly disruptive to consulting research companies, especially small ones. If you are going to take on the role of recruiter then keep this date as sacred and have a back-up plan for what happens if you can’t meet it. For example, do you have another possible start date? Will it be ok if there are alterations to the research team personnel because of a date change? Can you afford to pay the consulting research company for delays if this is in the contract?

If you have thought all of this through, and you feel you have the time to recruit internally — three to four weeks as a guide — then wonderful! Go ahead. Go forth and muster those participants!


If you are going to recruit internally—and have the time to do so—start by asking these questions:

  1. Do you have the data needed to segment, and contact, the people (and enough of them) you need for this project?
  2. What is the process you need to undertake in order to gain access to the data, and what is the lead time?
  3. What is the process you need to undertake in order to contact the people in whom you’re interested? If it’s by email, you will need to write an email request (template below). If it’s by phone via your contact centre or the project team, then you’ll need a sample script and screener for the call centre staff (template below).
  4. Will you need to gain approval from someone in your organisation to conduct this research? For example a compliance or risk division.
  5. Who will manage and be responsible for, and be the point of contact for the recruitment process?
  6. Who will communicate the invitation? If it’s via an intermediary—like a Relationship Manager, Sales Executive or an Advisor—what do they need from you in order to undertake the process?
  7. How will you confirm an interview/appointment? And who will do that? What tools can you use to make that more efficient? (You Can Book Me; Google Calendar; other)


Once you have a clear understanding of the logistics of the recruitment process then you are almost right to go. Almost. There are a few more things you should be considering. The first is what is called the ‘screener’. This is fundamentally a list of requirements for the people you want to recruit for your research. As a guide, these are usually the things we specify:

  1. Research focus. What is your research about? For example, testing customer reactions to a new online tool.
  2. Schedule. What days and times will you test? Will you test different types of people on different days? How long does your consulting research company need for each session and how much ‘padding’ do they require. If research is in a single location then there will be less padding required than if they have to travel between research locations. Leave enough time for lunch!
  3. Reimbursement. How much will you pay them? Standard fees are around $100-$150 for a one hour session.
  4. Location. Where will you conduct the research? If it is in a person’s home, give them the researchers name in your communications to make them feel comfortable about strangers being there. Provide an ‘out’ by saying you can test in a neutral location if possible. If the researchers are young and/or female it may not be a good idea to have them sent to people’s homes alone.
  5. Gender and cultural mix. Do you need a mix of genders or cultural backgrounds? Are you testing with a very specific cohort, then describe them.
  6. Age. Do you need young people, older people, or a mix?
  7. General description. For example, consumers who live in a certain area, or small business people with a turnover of $5 million. These are the core parameters which help you quickly weed out the unsuitable candidates. Are there two or three (or more) variations you are looking for?
  8. Secondary variables. Once you have a short list, are there some other requirements you have; such as selecting one or more candidates for whom English is a second language, or candidates who have never used a computer?
  9. Crucial exclusions. You may want to ensure that you don’t recruit people who are expert in your industry, marketing employees, or people otherwise involved in research activities. They may not be able to disassociate their expert knowledge when answering your questions.

The list above should be given to the person (or people) who will be conducting the recruitment. This will form ‘the script’ of the phone call they use to screen the participants.



When you have a list of people who have agreed to be part of a research project then there is a whole raft of work that needs to be done to book them in at suitable times for both the participant and the researcher. We use a variety of tools for this:

  • You Can Book Me. Gives people access to your online calendar so that they can book a suitable time. Don’t forget to add padding either side so that the researcher has time to travel to another interview and attend to things like bathrooms and food.
  • Google Forms. To collect the met criteria of each potential participant you contact. The form automatically tallies criteria in charts and a spreadsheet and it’s easy for everyone to see when the criteria have been met.
  • Google Maps. When you book in participants, add their address and the time and date of the interview to a Google Map. Share with the researcher so that they can plan their days. Doing this also helps you to map out which locations make sense to book in a single day. Hint, don’t book successive interviews in cross-town locations (seems obvious but it happens a lot).
  • Online calendars. The You Can Book Me tool should add details to the researchers calendar. Make sure you add details such as the participant’s phone number and address so that the researcher can contact them if something goes wrong and they will be late.

There is so much more to this than I’ve written here, but I hope it gives you enough detail to go forth and make contact with your customers. We wish you luck on your recruitment endeavour!

Email template – to send to potential participants

Here at [insert company name] we are always looking to improve our services by better understanding our customers’ needs. To do this, we have engaged [your research company name], a customer experience design firm, to interview some of our customers on our behalf. We’d like to invite you to participate and share your [subject of research] experience so that we can continue to improve our [service quality, service delivery, products, etc].

As a token of our appreciation for your time and insights, all participants will receive [incentive amount]. Each session will be [XX] minutes and be held on [date] at [address].

If you would like to participate, please call [recruitment organiser name] on [phone number] or email [email address] for further details. We look forward to hearing from you.

  • Grant

    July 13, 2017 at 8:23 am Reply

    Great post Kimberley—going to be very useful next time I speak to a client about recruiting.

    Another useful tool, along the lines of You Can Book Me is Doodle. I’ve used that successfully in the past.

    One of the tips that’s a little bit hidden in the above that I’d call out is:
    “Don’t forget to add padding either side so that the researcher has time to travel to another interview and attend to things like bathrooms and food.”

    In addition to your notes, as a researcher I like to take 5–10 mins after a session to write down additional notes and impressions from the session. You might also need to adjust interview guides etc. based on learnings from the session. I personally allow a minimum of 15 mins, but 30 mins is usually comfortable.

    Another bit that’s a bit hidden is “Do you have the data needed to segment, and contact, the people (and enough of them) you need for this project?”

    So often this is where clients I’ve spoken to get caught up. And often they have a (usually small) list of people that always get the call, which presents all sorts of issues in relation to research.

    Thanks again!

  • kimberley

    July 13, 2017 at 9:47 am Reply

    Thanks Grant! Great additions to the post. Next time I should get you to proofread!

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