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5 interviewing tips you need for 2020, according to design leaders

4 min read
Shayna Hodkin
  •  Jan 3, 2020
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If you’re planning on ringing in the new year with a job search, you have impeccable timing: The design industry is expected to grow 21% in 2020. The good news is this hiring demand means you’ll likely encounter more open positions and, hopefully, get more interviews.

And now for the bad news: The interview process itself isn’t going to get any easier. While it would be great if employment simply came down to talent, interviewing is an ever-evolving skill encompassing everything from overcoming imposter syndrome, acing on-site tests, to picking out the perfect interview outfit. While there may be no “perfect” way to approach interviewing, Uday Gajendar says you have a pretty powerful tool at your disposal to come as close as possible: your design skills.

“The job interview is your singular opportunity to show a potential employer your level of mastery in applying design towards a specific outcome with significant, rewarding value,” Gajendar says.

We’ve been there, and that’s why we’ve sifted through the career wisdom on Inside Design to pick out our best design-thinking focused interviewing tips straight from the mouths of hiring managers. While they won’t make the whole affair easy, per se, these tips can help smooth the journey and give you a sense of control.

Go get ‘em, champ.

1. Empathize with your audience

Gajendar says it’s important to try to get a good sense of the person interviewing you and their role at the company.

“Demonstrate true interest in them as people, just like you’d do with user interviews,” Gajedar says. “What are their hopes, anxieties, concerns, motives, etc, and how can you help support them as a prospective hire?”

Doing this will not only show the hiring manager why you’re the right fit for the role but will also help you decide if that company is somewhere you see yourself happily working.

But it’s not just about your hiring manager: You’ll meet many people throughout the hiring process and need to make a good impression on all of them. A good place to start is being nice to your recruiters, says Emily Leahy-Thieler, UX manager at Pivotal Labs. Not only is it the right thing to do, but a good working relationship with them can also take you far.

“They influence who gets face time, who gets to the top of our inbox, and who gets the first offer,” Leahy-Thieler says.

Don’t underestimate all the ways they can help you, either. While you may think they only have direct access to the managers and interviewing team, Jenny Sun, founder of Journey into UX, says not to forget all the support they can offer you throughout the process.

“They can be your strongest resource, your biggest cheerleader, and sometimes a bit of a therapist or coach through the stressful process of getting your foot in the door.”

2. Define why the role is needed

This goes way beyond the job description. To know exactly what a hiring manager is looking for, you’ll have to do some additional research—about the company, team, its history, etc. While your recruiter is a good person to ask questions to pre-interview, the interview is a perfect time to fill out the picture of the role, how it fits into the organization, and its goals.

Seraphine D’artagnan-D’aramitz, lead UX designer at Telstra, suggests asking interviewers these four questions:

  • “What projects will I be working on?”
  • “Who will I be working with?”
  • “What are the strengths and growth areas in the team’s knowledge?”
  • “How is design perceived in the company?”

While Lital Sherman, head of UX design at PageUp, relies on this list:

  • What is the most important thing you are looking for when hiring a new team member?
  • How can I be successful in this role?
  • What will be your expectations from me in the first six months?
  • What are the company’s values?
  • What do you like most about this company?
  • What is your biggest struggle?

Once you have this research, you can shape your answer to incorporate your special experiences and skills. Essentially, it helps communicate why you’re the one to do the job.

3. Don’t be afraid to ideate

Speaking of… don’t forget why you were invited to the interview: The company is interested in bringing you on to their team. Sun says to think of an interview not as an interrogation, but a dialogue that functions as a learning opportunity for both you and your potential employer.

There always seems to be lingering pressure to say the right thing, smile at the right time, and be the best applicant there ever was. But this ultimately does more harm than good. While a healthy dose of pressure can’t hurt, Amy Yu, product designer at Atlassian, says not to think of interviews as high-stakes situations where you have to act like the most-perfect worker ever.

“Let go of the idea that you have to ace the interview, and, instead, try to be present,” Yu says. “You may even find yourself having an enjoyable conversation rather than a dreaded Q&A.”

Being present means being you. While you may feel pressured to say what you think your interviewer wants to hear, Yu says this can make it hard to build rapport with the other person. (As Yu puts it, it’s better to come off more relaxed than a “nervous weirdo.”)

Additionally, by hiding parts of yourself to fit what you think the company wants, Georgia Rowe, experience design lead at the Australian Broadcast Corporation, says you’re doing a disservice to both you and the employer. You’re setting yourself up to fail at a company you won’t like and setting your employer up for disappointment when they realize you’re not who they thought they hired.

Instead, stay true to yourself:

“Behave and communicate in the way you like to at work,” Rowe says. “If the culture is right, then you’ll feel instantly at home. If not, you can walk away knowing it’s probably a mismatch.”

4. Show them the data

While great interviews aren’t always made up of the same things, there is one constant: storytelling. UX/UI specialist Laura Keating says walking through your design projects—from beginning to end—is a powerful way to connect with the interviewers. Not only does this journey allow them insight into your technical skills, but it also gives them a glimpse of your decision-making processes, initiative, research abilities, collaboration skills, and response to challenges.

That being said, you don’t have to memorize and recite an entire story during your interview. Nor do you have to improvise an answer when asked about past successes or failures. UX career expert Sarah Doody recommends padding your portfolio with case studies that tell these stories. Not do they clearly articulate your skills, the fact that you have the skill to create them is valuable, too.

5. Remember: It’s only a test

Even though you may have designed your interview process to a T, ultimately unknown variables can come into play. Don’t take it personally: Your skills and experiences weren’t a fit for what this company was looking for. They will be exactly what another needs. Go over your process and look for ways to improve. And remember: Every single person—has dealt with rejection. Keep going. Your perfect job is out there.