Recruitment Methods for Research Studies: 17 Brilliant Ways to Make It Happen

Recruiting methods along with their pros and cons are explored. In addition, recruiting tips and some out-of-the-box ideas.

Finding the optimum method for recruiting the “right” participants for your research study can be challenging. We’ll look at different methods for recruiting for a variety of research scenarios, the pros and cons and share some research recruiting tips as well.

The type of research you’re conducting coupled with your participant profile should dictate the methods you consider for recruiting so let’s look at some different research scenarios and explore a variety of ways to recruit the most qualified participants for each


Let’s start with the two big buckets of qualitative research recruitment, B2B and B2C. Each requires its own considerations when recruiting. 

B2B usually requires many and very specific qualifiers or screens, while B2C usually involves participants from a more general audience that are less niche, with less requirements and less stringent requirements to qualify. 

B2B Recruiting: When You’re Recruiting for A Very Specific Professional Participant:

For B2B research recruitment let’s explore some of the recruiting method options and some of the pros and the cons of each. 

1. Recruiting Platforms: Recruiting platforms, especially those that go the extra step in pre-qualifying their candidates as to both the willingness to participate in research and their professional chops might be considered the gold standard of B2B recruiting. Recruiting platform, Respondent is a great example of this. They have over a 2 million professional candidates who have been vetted for their willingness to participate in research as well as their professional backgrounds. Respondent even makes sure participants have a valid work email so you’ll know you’re getting exactly who you think you’re recruiting. In addition, Respondent offers tools and research integrations that make not just recruiting easy but participant management turnkey as well.
  • Pros: 
    • Speed: You start with a large database of pre-qualified professionals which is quite the time-saver.
    • Ease: You provide the requirements, the platform provides candidates to screen.
    • Participant management (at Respondent): Scheduling, reminders, incentive payment all taken care of with a click
    • Trust: Participant recruitment platforms have now been around for a few years and researchers from small and large companies alike have grown to love them. Be sure to review research recruitment case studies before you choose a platform. 
  • Cons:
    • Costs, but most B2B recruiting will be at least somewhat costly.
    • Additional time needed to evaluate the research platform you’re considering to make sure they truly specialize in the industry that is the subject of your research.
  • Panels specific to target industry: Similar to research platforms, panels are pre-recruited pools of research candidates who belong to groups based on the industry they’re in, and other psychographic or demographic requirements. By having this additional information, candidates can be filtered by this information. Panelists have already agreed to participate in research projects.
  •  Pros: 
    • Speed: You’re starting your recruit with a targeted candidate pool.
  • Cons: 
    • Not all panels are the same. Investigate how well panelists are vetted as well as how many qualified panel members are from the industry or have the ethnographic qualifiers you’re targeting. If they don’t have a deep pool, panelists can be over-used resulting in research fatigue and jading.

2. Specialized Recruiters: Some recruiting companies specialize in specific demographics or professions like tech, financial, medical, etc. 
  • Pros:
    • Finding the specialty recruiter of your target is the simple solution to recruiting when your participants all must belong to the same profession.
    • Specialty recruiters can also be helpful in finding those high-level participants like C-level, VPs and doctors.
  • Cons
Specialty recruiters and the incentives they recommend can be high in cost.

3. has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for B2B research recruiting. The platform is a whole world of individuals identified and searchable by their professions and titles.
  • Pros: 
    • You can easily search for participants specific to industry and job title
    • has 830M members—so a deep pool for sure.
  • Cons: 
    • You’ll need a robust (really expensive) membership level to find those people, but it could be worth it if you have a constant need to recruit for business-focused research projects.
    • has 830M members—so it might be hard to find the needles you’re searching for in that haystack. 
4. Purchasing Lists from Associations or Company Directories:  When a recruit is truly niche, going straight to the source of candidates could be the answer.  
  • Pros: 
    • You’ll be recruiting from a list you know is hyper-targeted to your participant profile.
  • Cons: 
    • The cost can be high especially if the need to purchase a list is only for a single or a few projects.
    • Unlike with recruiting platforms and panels, the potential candidates haven’t been vetted for interest in research participation.
5. Relationship Recruiting is building and leveraging relationships with the people, companies and associations that are relevant to your target industries for recruiting.
  • Pros: 
    • This is a great solution if you need to continually conduct research with a specific audience or from a specific industry.
    • When you have built and maintained a personal relationship people are more likely to give you the time and help you need, making recruiting easier and less time-consuming.
    • Could be a win-win-win for you, the person/people at the organization you’ve built the relationship with and the research participants.
  • Cons:
    • When the need to recruit is immediate, that’s not the time to start relationship building. If you think Relationship Recruiting is your recruiting solution start well before the recruiting is needed.
    • People leave, change positions, situations and feelings: Someone leaving a company, going on sabbatical or even vacation can leave you in a recruiting lurch. 

B2C Recruiting: When You’re Recruiting a More General, Generic and Usually Consumer Participant

Now, for B2C research let’s explore some of the recruiting method options and assess the pros and the cons of each. 

6. Traditional Recruiting Methods: Recruiting companies that use existing lists to recruit. These include Focus Group Facilities, large recruiting firms, boutique and independent recruiters.
  • Pros: 
    • Traditional recruiting companies have large lists of general consumers that they can filter by demographic and other information. 
    • They can and know how to leverage additional resources and will let you know if they need to. For example, they can Broadcast (place ads) to reach a more specific pool of candidates.
  • Cons:
    • Sometimes a B2C project can require a very niche participant. Traditional recruiters might not be able to recruit those candidates.
7. Client databases of their customers: Some projects call for participants to be direct consumers of a company’s products or services. Their lists of clients could be the recruiting solution.
  • Pros: 
    • Using a database of the actual customers, simplifies, speeds and makes recruiting way more cost-effective
  • Cons:
    • Having the customer list doesn’t guarantee candidates will want to participate in research.
    • Clients or others at their organization might be concerned that some customers will be angry or annoyed that their information is being shared.
8. Word-of-Mouth and Snowballing: Word-of-Mouth is recruiting by spreading the word through a specific demographic or professional community that you’re recruiting participants for a study or simply by telling others you’re looking for people to recruit. Similarly, Snowballing is asking recruited participants to identify or invite a friend that qualifies for the research.
  • Pros:
    • Both methods are extremely cost effective. 
  • Cons:
    • These methods will generally only be effective for the most generic recruits with few participant requirements.

9. Social Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter: Putting the word out randomly on a social media platform or broadcasting the need for research participants within social media groups or communities that match the participant profile can be an effective method of recruiting. 
  • Pros:
    • Extremely cost-effective method of recruiting
  • Cons:
    • You’re flying blind. There is no telling, and no formula for how many responses you will get or how qualified they will be. You could end up with hardly any potentially qualified candidates to screen or you could be inundated with candidates.

Specific Recruiting for a Specific Type of Research: UX Research Recruiting: There are types of research that are very specific. User research (or UX) is one. For example, while a UX project would require very niche participants, generally speaking, they require far less participants. Let’s look at some methods for both the research and recruiting methods for UX studies. 

10. Business and Consumer UX Recruiting and Research: 
    • Research Recommendation: 
      • Conduct IN-HOME or IN-OFFICE I-D-Is (in-depth-interviews, one-on-one testing): to test the user experience in the real world on real equipment with real connectivity. Why? Here’s an example. A UX study was being conducted for an interactive website. A series of activities along with a survey was sent out to participants across the country. An enormous percentage of participants reported that they couldn’t perform the activities. The site was too slow or simply didn’t work at all on their computers and tablets. Talk about your research findings! The site was simply too robust for most home connections and equipment. If the research had been conducted in a lab or facility setting with higher grade equipment and connectivity this huge issue might not have emerged. 
      • A Diary Study: Testing user experience over time again on their actual equipment and connectivity in real time will lead to authentic and useful findings.
    • B2C Recruiting recommendation
      • Traditional recruiters, Word-of-Mouth or from a Customer List depending on research needs
    • B2B Recruiting recommendation: 
      • B2B user testing usually requires very niche participants so either a specialized recruiter relevant to your target or, if speed of the recruiting is needed, a recruiting platform like Respondent is recommended. 


At the beginning of this article, we said, “The type of research you’re conducting should dictate the methods you consider for recruiting.” But what if we flipped that paradigm and thinking about your recruiting needs, choose a research method that would best address that. Here are some examples:

11. Recruiting C-Level, VPs, Doctors or Other Higher-Level Professionals Research Recommendations:
  • Consider remote versus in-person research Because of both their busy schedules and their tending to be less motivated to participate, remote research will make it less time-consuming and intrusive to participate, making it an easier recruit. 
  • Consider one-on-one interviews instead of focus groups. Scheduling high level professionals can be difficult. One-on-one interviews will allow for more flexibility in scheduling making it easier to book qualified participants.

12. Recruiting Kids Research Recommendations:

  • When your research calls for kid participants consider recruiting a school versus individual kids. If there aren’t stringent participant requirements schools are a great place to conduct research with kids. Your school contact will help identify strong participants and kid participants will be more comfortable and well-behaved in their “natural habitat.”  Instead of paying incentives to the participants, a donation to the school is appropriate. 
  • For kids, consider in-home focus groups. Again, your young participants will feel more comfortable and so will be more forthcoming. At-home groups can be recruited by Word-of-Mouth or Snowballing reducing or avoiding both recruiting and facility costs. 
13. Recruiting Special Interests, Affiliations or Hobbies
  • Consider Circle-of-Friends groups that can be conducted in-home, in-shops or at the venues where the activities of interest take-place.
  • These can be recruited via social media interest groups or communities, Snowballing or Word-of-Mouth, again reducing or avoiding recruiting and facilities costs.


As pointed out at the beginning of the article, recruiting is so important to the success of your study but not easy. These tips will help you have successful recruits.

14. Avoid Client Creep: No, we’re not talking about creepy clients, but rather the client who keeps adding participant requirements and screens after requirements have been agreed on and sometimes after the recruiting has begun. To avoid this be transparent and explicit in your contract that additional participant requirements beyond what is stated and agreed on in the contract will incur additional costs. Remind the client of the clause when they start adding on the screens and charge them accordingly.


15. Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Recruiting: Once you’ve handed the screener off to a recruiter you might think that it’s their problem now. It’s not! Make sure the recruiter is sending you daily or bi-daily grids with recruits and their responses to every screener question. Read those daily and carefully and immediately alert your recruiter to issues.


16. Rate and Report Participants: Even when you’re working with recruiters who don’t ask for participant ratings, it’s a good idea to at least clue them in to who are the excellent and the not-so-excellent participants. This will not only help your recruiting in the future but will help other researchers and the recruiting company. 


17. Always Consider the Remote Option: The pandemic opened our eyes to the possibility that almost anything that can be done in-person can be accomplished remotely. Remote Research offers many benefits including:
    • Huge pool of people to recruit from because you have the whole world
    • Easier to recruit because participants don’t have to go anywhere
    • Because of the pandemic everyone is now used to being on remote meeting platforms
    • You can pay a lower incentive with remote research 
    • You can leverage Word-of-Mouth recruiting with people you know across the country, across the world
    • No masks are needed with remote research while some facilities still require masks. Masks make it very difficult to conduct qualitative research because you can’t see facial expressions.


We hope that these methods and recruiting tips are helpful the next time you’re recruiting for qualitative research. And we hope that the recruiting paradigm shift encourages you to think out-of-the-box about how to achieve a great and successful recruit.

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