How to be a standout candidate for that UX job, part 3

4 min read
Jenny Sun
  •  Nov 1, 2017
Link copied to clipboard

Editor’s note: This is a 3-part series. Check out part 1 here.

Be prepared to show your portfolio

Years ago, I made a total rookie mistake.

Actually, no—a rookie wouldn’t even make this forehead-slapping flub-up.

I showed up to an interview without my laptop. And without a physical portfolio. It was beyond awkward and embarrassing. I still cringe thinking about it.

Fortunately, I was able to talk my way through it. A little bit of improv and experience saved the day, but learn from my flub. Take your laptop. Take your portfolio. Make sure it’s charged. Leave it by the front door if you need to. And even better, pack it in your work bag the night before.

Related: How to nail a design job interview

Make them wonder how they ever did it without you

UX designers don’t work in a vacuum—they cross-pollinate and collaborate.Twitter Logo Complementary strengths are everything, as are the relationships that make executing and delivering possible.

Going into your interview, practice verbalizing the specific ways your strengths will plug into the strengths of the many researchers, interaction designers, developers, and project managers on the team.

Help the team see your value on a relational level… and make them wonder how they ever did it without you.

“Make them wonder how they ever did it without you.”

Twitter Logo

Rise to the design challenge

Some companies will give you a design challenge to complete on demand. What you’re being tested on might not be clear at first (and the perfect answer isn’t always the point!) but the ability to think aloud, be nimble in your strategy, and construct a thoughtful solution speaks volumes during an interview.

“A candidate once designed a prototype and took pictures with her phone,” says Emily Leahy-Thieler, UX Manager at Pivotal Labs. “She used the materials that happened to be in the room, which I thought was unusual, scrappy, and downright creative.”

Yes, being put on the spot can feel daunting. (No pressure, right?) But remember, it’s not about the destination: it’s about the delivery. Be yourself, think aloud, and do your best.Twitter Logo

Ask meaningful and thoughtful questions

An interview isn’t an interrogation. It’s a dialogue that’s a learning opportunity for you as much as it is for your potential employer.

Besides the obvious answers to questions that might show up on an FAQ page, what do you want to know?

This is your chance. This is your interview. Ask away.

What business goals do you help your clients achieve? Who are your favorite clients to work with? What’s the culture like here? Are there learning opportunities you can offer me? What will my day-to-day look like? Where does the current team need the most support? How do you reward a job well done?

Ask for feedback in the interview

Is there something that you want to earnestly and professionally improve on, regardless of whether this job is The One?

Ask for feedback and a few pointers at the end of your interview.Twitter Logo The fact that you asked shows remarkable humility and a desire to work on your presentation skills—another factor that stands out from the crowd.

“I sincerely admire interviewees who ask how they can improve their interviewing skills. It makes it easier for me to deliver feedback when someone expresses that they’re open to it, and shows that they have a deep desire to improve and iterate: 2 hallmarks of a great user experience designer.” –Emily Leahy-Thieler, UX Manager at Pivotal Labs says.

Related: 5 ways to upgrade your UI design portfolio

Feel free to use your facetime to ask for honest, unfiltered feedback on things like how well you were able to communicate your experience or the presentation of your portfolio, why the company or hiring manager brought you in for a interview, or how your speaking skills in front of clients could improve if you were to get the position.

Their answer may give you insight into what they are looking for, or what you did to pass through the initial filtering stage.

Tip: Do something extraordinary

Recently, my interns have been creating 5-slide presentations while preparing for their job interviews. These completely custom mini-decks are specially adapted to the position and company they’re interviewing for, and they speak to the handful of values that align with the company’s mission statement and case studies.

Simple. Effective. And… brilliant. Need I say more?

Granted, it takes extra time and effort to prepare these additional materials. When you’re starved for time and want to get your resume in front of as many recruiters and hiring managers as you can, it seems counterintuitive to spend so much time on a deck like this.

“When you do what no one else is doing, you get offers that no one else is getting.”

Twitter Logo

To that I say: try. See what happens. Nothing about this strategy can hurt you—it can only help you win more hearts and minds, while exercising your ability to think strategically and produce quickly.

I’ve been witness to the “extra mile effect.” It’s where competition slims in proportion to the courage one has to do what no one else dares to do.

When you do what no one else is doing, you get offers that no one else is getting. And in the end, isn’t that the goal?

Solid career advice for UXers is hard to find—and even harder to ask for

That’s why I created Journey Into UX. Part community, part coaching, all tried-and-true insight to help you take the next step towards a life and a career by design.

Where are you at in your journey? I want to hear about it! Email me at jenny[at], or send me a message on Twitter with a question about how to break into UX for once and for all. This is your chance to pick my brain about anything and come away knowing everything it takes to become one of UX.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard