Framing Impact in UXr Portfolios and Resumes

Moderated by Helen Lee Lin as part of the UX Researchers’ Guild
This is an abridgment; view the full video presentation here.
Session 6 – May 6, 2023

When applying for jobs, what one thing are recruiters or hiring managers looking for? The simple, one-word answer is: impact. In this final session of her “Farewell Academia: Hello UXr” series, Helen Lee Lin discussed this all-important topic and how best to frame it in portfolios and resumes.

What is Impact and Why is It Important?

Impact is anything that changed because you contributed or participated in it – any way you’ve managed to move the needle. It doesn’t have to be increasing sales by a certain percentage, reaching a certain number of people, or getting 2,000 users through your product. It can manifest in small ways: whether through administrative, academic, or industry work. 

It may come as a surprise, but impact is one of the things you can control during the job-hunting process. In the last session, recruiter Ploy Hermithian shared that much of the recruiting process is quite superficial. Ploy talked about connecting job candidates to hiring managers based on where people lived or what university they attended. As odd as it might seem, the determining factor as to whether you get your next job could be as random as that, and not the accomplishments on your resume. 

But when you consider that recruiters might take shortcuts like this, it makes you wonder: “What can I do to help control this narrative? How can I ensure they notice those connections?” Presenting yourself well online, and on your Linkedin profile resume, is a huge factor. Make it easy for recruiters and hiring managers to find this information. This will help them see your potential. Because there is a lot of jargon in UX research, recruiters or people working in a business context may not understand what you’re trying to communicate. If you can translate the impact understandably, it will help cement the intention of a line on your CV or resume that much more quickly.

It can also increase your confidence in interviews and, in turn, influence your negotiations for compensation.

How to Talk about Impact

Most of us focus a resume on tasks completed: Made copies; Organized files in the university’s filing system; or Completed forms for IRB approvals, for example. And while these tasks were necessary to complete the job you were hired for, they don’t clearly communicate what was accomplished by doing those duties.

The most common way to show impact on a resume is to Add Numbers – to quantify what you’ve done. For example, if you conducted research, instead of just saying that your duty was to interview participants, include how many people you interviewed. Doing this will show your breadth of experience in how to address unexpected occurrences. 

If you have presented at several conferences, this will show you can convey yourself verbally and reach a broader audience than just within a classroom setting. These numbers will help show how much you’ve done, and for how long, and how many people were affected. This is an easy way to show impact.

For example, instead of listing: “Reported on committee activities, every quarter,” be more specific with: ”Published quarterly report on committee activities to a professional audience of 10,000+ members.”

Another way to extend the discussion of impact on a resume is to go further explain the resulting effect. Ploy Hemrathiran pointed out in the previous session the importance of presenting your research in a way that’s Understandable to a Five-year-old, without a lot of insider jargon. Recruiters are not researchers and may not understand the details of analysis and the different methods you use, nor will they be able to appreciate those subtleties.

For example: let’s say you want to include that you instructed 1,000 students, every semester for three different courses. This would be using the numerical method. A five-year-old might understand the concept of school and that there could be different subjects. But what is that exactly mean? You could simplify it by saying, “Taught students how people interact with each other in a course that lasted for a year.” 

Helen shared that she once worked in a development office as an intern where she was responsible for correctly inputting the addresses of potential donors. That would mean nothing to a five-year-old. But if she said instead, “Contacted potential donors who might be willing to finance the building of an auditorium for all of the students,” that’s something that is going to be more understandable. Of course, don’t use the exact language you would use for a child, because your resume is for adults. But think of noting what the specific effect or goal was instead of leaving it up to people’s imaginations.

Using the previous example, instead of listing, “Reported on committee activities every quarter,” using this method, this could be stated as the following: “Informed colleagues of resources for professional development by regular newsletters.” 

A third method, “Look into the Crystal Ball,” revolves around the idea that expected impact is just as important as impact that has already occurred. To do this, look at the task that was done, and then extrapolate to what you’re expecting to happen. 

Again, with the previous example, “Reported on committee activities every quarter,” could be expressed as “Guided colleagues to funding sources, publication, networking opportunities, potential jobs, and other resources for professional development by writing regular newsletters.”

These examples show the impact or end result at the front of the statement and how this was accomplished towards the end. But you can also reverse the order and have the duty first, and then the impact at the end.

What Does Impact Look Like?

Resumes don’t need to be comprehensive or focused on how you spent most of your time. Nor do you need to list every duty you’ve had at a particular job. Instead, look for ways you have influenced or changed things. 

To find your impact, move past your specific job duties. These can be big or small or even preventative in nature. Consider these impactful tasks below within the following areas: Administrative, Academic, and Industry. Listed below are some examples of how impact might look in these areas. Notice that each statement includes an action verb, putting the focus on the efforts made to complete each task.

  • Administrative:
    • Improved an application form to be more understandable, efficient, and logical
    • Pioneered the inclusion of diverse/inclusive answers on demographic questions in the org or team
    • Successfully lobbied for additional budget to _______
    • Prevented delays and saved time with accurate data entry, regular moderation of files
    • Boosted org morale and created networking opportunities by planning social activities
    • Convinced organization to begin using _________ software or vendor
    • Wrote instructions or made a video to help colleagues learn how to do something
  • Academic: 
    • Inspired undergrads to pursue a particular career or take on graduate school
    • Communicated complex ideas to layperson audiences on the fly, verbally and in writing
    • Optimized information presentation and application to encourage learning
    • Trained/mentored future scientists, professionals, etc.
    • Led or managed a laboratory of junior scientists, researchers, etc.
    • Collaborated with cross-functional roles to achieve ___
    • Evangelized new tools or methods
    • Introduced different ways of doing or measuring _______
  • Industry: 
    • Affected power users, or users whose lives were changed by the product
    • Increased [category of metrics – success rate, satisfaction] rather than specific numbers
    • Provided foundation for design principles
    • Informed product roadmap or feature’s strategic direction
    • Built team empathy for users
    • Uncovered additional questions or research areas
    • Identified opportunities for improvement
    • Shifted the needle on ___ (before and after comparisons)

While these impact statements aren’t necessarily quantifiable, they still have meaning and are impact. People in business or the tech industry might say, “Well, your experience is not the type that we want, and yet you have 15 or 20 years of experience.” Just don’t be the one to discount your accomplishments! If you can help others see your potential, then you already have something to be proud of.

How to Create Impact

To illustrate how to create impact, Helen shared the following story:

“There was an initiative I tried to start at work. We conducted research to decide what it would look like, wrote a proposal, and got buy-in from the levels that were above us. And we actually launched the initiative. But unfortunately, due to several factors, it didn’t take off. One of the two people I was working with had to go on a long leave of absence, and the other one moved off the team so we could no longer execute it together. At the same time, we onboarded some new people and started initiatives for them that superseded the original initiative that I had created. But even so, we did go through all the time and effort to survey people to find out what they wanted, to actually propose the initiative, and then develop how it would look.”

Even though the outcome was not what she had hoped for, Helen still chose to make it a line on her resume and framed it this way: “Designed a peer feedback initiative for fellow UXRs and revamped it based on iterative feedback.” She wasn’t able to take it further and say where it would have gone since they had ended the initiative. But including her efforts as a line item showed the intended impact and the potential for things she could do in the future.

Here are some other considerations for creating impact:

  • Don’t settle for the status quo
  • Ask ‘Why not?’
  • Be one of the first to do something
  • Stay at the forefront of trending topics in your field
  • Fix something that’s broken
  • Mentor or train someone
  • Share knowledge, evangelize perspectives
  • Write or create something – disseminate it
  • Change someone’s mind
  • Give someone direction
  • Connect people
  • Discover what’s missing and fill the gap

Ideas are impact, and following through with them is an even greater way to have increased impact. You can be the first one to do something, and then show everybody else the way, or you can be one of the ones to latch onto it, and then take it even further. In either case, you are contributing to positive impact.


About Helen: Helen Lee Lin received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology and has worked in applied research in adolescent literacy and children’s nutrition, and with combat veterans with traumatic brain injuries. She took a career pause while living in Ankara, Turkey for 6 years and then transitioned to UXR in 2018. She volunteered for Hack for LA for six months and broke into industry in January 2021 with a contract at TikTok. She is currently a contract UXR at Meta, working on Facebook Groups.

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Session 6 – Framing Impact in UXr Portfolios and Resumes

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