How to recruit the right research participants

8 September 2023 Camilla Cicatello

Recruiting the right sample of people to speak to in any research project is critical and often difficult. If the participants are not a good fit within the criteria or the research objectives, the project could fall flat.

On a recent project, I’ve had a challenging time recruiting research participants. This has made me reflect back on all the types of recruitment methods I have tried over the years, which ones have worked, which have not, and how things have changed in this landscape. 

Below are a few takeaways I have from my experience with recruiting research participants:

  1. Rather take longer and find the right people – Yes, research projects are often pressurised especially if they are for a client and not internal but this step of the process is so crucial! Rather take your time to research and contact the best candidates to interview or test with. The best candidate is not just someone who fits the criteria but also someone who is willing to buy into the process and be open. You can usually assess this in an initial screening call. 
  2. Accept that there may be outliers – Sometimes we only find out during the interview that someone is a huge outlier or may not have been the best person to speak to. This is very normal, and we just need to take that into account when synthesising the data. 
  3. Tap into your social networks – Don’t be afraid to ask friends or friends of friends to be research participants on a project. More than often they are willing to help, and may find the process fun to be a part of. 
  4. Be upfront with the incentive – On my recent project, I have found that even putting the incentive in an email or message subject line got me more responses. People are very busy and want to know whether doing an interview or testing will be worth their time. 
  5. Make them feel special – Try to hone in on what about the person makes them a good candidate for the project and emphasise that. Maybe you can call them an industry expert, or invite them to interview as a special preselected important group that you would love their feedback from. 
  6. Know when to use a professional recruitment company – Depending on the scale of the project or the niche criteria of a research candidate there is definitely a time to use a professional and specialised recruitment agency. For example, if there are a lot of participants to recruit and manage their interviews it is definitely worth using an agency or if it requires a lot of research and screening of candidates to make sure they fit the criteria then it would be worth it too.

On a final note, recruitment for research is definitely not a one-size-fits-all process and it helps to be open, creative and positive when searching for great participants!