How to improve your communication skills and get paid doing it

What if you could get paid, or earn free stuff to talk about products, games, websites, or applications you use on a regular basis?

I remember as a graduate student how difficult it was to identify and secure survey participants for my research project, especially without the enticement of any incentives like gift cards or even free pizza. Now as a professional, I try to carve out time in my schedule to answer surveys, especially when it benefits me as a user. In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several usability studies at some tech companies and a health insurance provider. According to, usability testing is when participants are “asked to complete tasks, typically while they are being observed by a researcher, to see where they encounter problems and experience confusion. If more people encounter similar problems, recommendations will be made to overcome these usability issues.”

Beyond altruism, there are often financial or in-kind incentives for participating. Microsoft’s Playtest program recruits participants of all ages and abilities to play a wide range of video games on a variety of consoles. Studies take place at the Redmond, WA campus and in exchange for feedback, testers earn free software. Similarly, anyone can sign up to be eligible for invitations to Google or Amazon user experience research studies.

A supplemental benefit to participating in user research is the opportunity for you to practice communicating your ideas to others. You won’t be judged on what you say, but the user experience researcher will take notes and ask clarifying questions. Think of this almost as a mini interview session where you’ll be articulating your thought process and explaining your rationale as you interact with a product prototype or website. You might be asked to to hold or wear a sample product and describe how it feels, how it looks, and your initial impressions. All of this verbalization is excellent praxis for making a clear argument and backing up your statement with supporting evidence.

So flex those communication skills and savor your cash or freebies, because long gone are the days of free pizza.

By Tina Adelstein
Tina Adelstein Career Counselor Tina Adelstein