How to nail a design job interview

4 min read
Uday Gajendar
  •  Feb 25, 2016
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Editor’s note: This week, we asked design leaders to share their advice on how to be successful during a job interview. If you’d like to submit your own response, you can do that here. And don’t forget to read the responses to last week’s question, “What’s the biggest problem in the design industry?”

I typically advise students and peers alike to treat their job interview like a design problem, with some deep personal impact to help reinforce the importance of solving it.

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.

“Treat your job interview like a design problem.”

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In user experience design, every journey of problem solving starts with framing. So let’s frame it up!

Key elements to consider as you frame your job interview design problem:

  • The audience: who exactly will be interviewing you?
  • Your work: what project samples best reflect your expertise and skills?
  • Your values: how do you best convey your design approach?
  • The outcomes: what does success look like to you—and what does it look like to them?

You must dive into the existential and pragmatic nature of designing yourself for the challenge of landing a job via the interview process. Define the story (or narrative) you want to tell that best conveys who you are, what you stand for, what you’re great at, and—this is critical—how you want to grow as a professional. The interviewers need to resonate with your story.

But let’s get back to those fundamentals outlined above.

The audience

Before your interview, research the company so you’re clear on their goals and expectations—and get familiar with the products and services they offer. You can find out all these things from their website or by trying out their app or service yourself (if it’s possible, since many enterprise apps are restricted to paying clients).

You could also research the company by watching videos, studying screenshots, or reading customer forums. What are people saying about them? What grabs your attention in terms of impact and inspiration? Write down any thoughts or questions that come up as you research.

Know something about the actual people you’re interviewing withTwitter Logo—that’s just as important as knowing about the company. Try to get a sense of their role at the company. Demonstrate true interest in them as people, just like you’d do with user interviews. What are their hopes, anxieties, concerns, motives, etc. And how can you help support them as a prospective hire?

“Know something about the actual people you’re interviewing with.”

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Your work

The portfolio is the crux and hallmark of a UX designer’s demonstration of their value and worth to a team. It’s more than just pretty screenshots—your design portfolio tells your storyTwitter Logo of how you understand, articulate, and express the UX challenges you’ve dealt with by explaining the rationale backed by compelling evidence. That evidence can be in the form of sketches, notes, failures and learnings along the way, and some convincing resolution of what the solution offered to the team or stakeholders. After viewing your portfolio, interviewers should have a solid impression of the value you’d bring to their team.

Pro tip: you’ve got to exude a “charisma of confidence”: a positive, confident, approachable manner that’s still authentically you, without putting on false airs. Never fake it.

“Exude a ‘charisma of confidence’ during a job interview, but never fake it.”

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Your values

What do you believe in as a designer? Be honest, because this will come out in one-on-one discussions with interviewers—they’re looking for the right cultural fit for their team, and your values play a big role in determining whether you’re a fit.

Your values refer to the kinds of challenges that excite you, the kinds of working styles you prefer, how you best engage with stakeholders and clients, as well as inspirations or philosophies. Not just styles and trends, but thoughts on process and strategy or innovation.  

The outcomes

Every design is measured against a set of criteria that embody a sense of what success is. This is true for job interviews, too.

Getting a job offer is a big moment, but when it happens you should turn your attention to what it really means to land a job at this particular organization. Think about your personal and professional growth goals. What do you want to accomplish next, and will this place offer that for you? How do you see yourself contributing to them and evolving your own abilities? How does this place map to a personal growth plan (objectives and key results)?

“Before accepting a job offer, think about your personal and professional goals.”

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By taking this multi-point approach to framing a job interview as a design problem and carefully assessing each point in terms of your own history and expertise, you can nail your next job interview.

Just don’t forget it’s a 2-way street—sometimes it’s just not a good fit. But by going through this process, you’ve achieved a deeper sense of who you are as a designer, you’ve identified a clear story about yourself, and you can more confidently pursue the job that matters to you.

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