The following article is an excerpt from my upcoming book entitled UXD: Everything you need to get started in UX, find a job as a UX Designer and get ahead in a growing field. It’s coming out April 2, 2016 Sign up for a sample and a discount on launch day.
Interviews. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. Personally, I’m a huge fan. It’s basically a social experiment for me.
As someone that has been a part of hundreds of interviews on both sides (interviewer and interviewee), it’s always interesting to me how people react. Most are so nervous it’s hard to even get to know them or evaluate them for the position. I’ve literally had people have to ask to pause the interview while they collected themselves and took deep breaths for a few minutes. So awkward.
Other people, come in and smack everyone in the room with their ego. They’re so damn cocky you don’t want to give them the job just out of spite. Speaking of egos… my favorite story for my history interviews. Unrelated to a UX position, but too good not to share.
My boss at the time and I used to ask people to score themselves (scale of 1 to 10) on various tools, software, skills or knowledge areas. With 1 being never heard of it and 10 being you knew it so well you could teach expert level workshops. It wouldn’t hurt you either way; we just wanted to know what you’d have to work on when you came onboard. We once asked a potential Systems Analyst how they would score themselves in Excel, specifically using the concatenation function (something important to this particular role). The person responded with “What’s that?” and we briefly explained. He quickly responded, “oh, I’ve never heard of it, but I’d probably give myself a 7. I’m a quick learner.” … Well, thanks for the laughter sir. That was solid gold.
Needless to say, I believe strongly people have the wrong attitude and general mindset when it comes to interviewing.
How should you think about an interview?
I had a mentor once tell me to think of a job interview as a two way conversation. It’s not a test. You’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you, and you need to remember that.
[Tweet “A job interview as a two way conversation…You’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you.”]
Unless you’ve worked there, you don’t even know if you want to work there yet. Job descriptions are usually a joke. You’d be surprised how quickly some of those things are thrown together by hiring managers that are busy. You can do your research, but until you meet the team, manager and some of the business partners you can’t know for sure.
The interview is your opportunity to learn everything you need or want to know.
How to prepare for your UX interview (before the day of the interview)?
The typical interview candidate comes in and has a since of desperation about them. They either want the job so bad or can’t handle rejection so they lose their mind.
When you’re just starting out, most interviewers are probably going to be more prepared than you (especially for junior/entry level candidates). However, get into the habit of coming in with your own question. You should have LOTS of them. During your job search, you should list out all of the things you want to know before you make a decision. From that list you can form intelligent questions to ask during the interview.
- What is the reporting structure? Is this a new position or am I taking someone’s place?
- If I’m replacing someone, why did they leave?
- What would my day to day activities be?
- What tools does the team use?
- Is there an opportunity for promotion or future growth within the team?
Type these up and print them out. I’d also recommend giving yourself enough space to takes notes during their responses. Interviews go by fast, there’s a lot of information thrown around so you’ll want to take notes for reference later.
Also, side note… Notice none of the above questions are about compensation, vacation or bonuses. Those are not topics for most interviews (e.g., team members, panel interviews, first interviews with hiring managers, etc.). If the company is large enough, you’ll have a recruiter or HR person working with you. They can tell you about that stuff, but in general, try not to be the first one to bring up money.
You should also research the company and your interviewers (if you have that information) as much as you can. Know what they do. Use their products (if you can). Talk to anyone you know with some experience with them. This really impresses people that you were interested enough to do some leg work ahead of time. It also informs the questions you’re planning to ask.
What types of questions should I be prepared to answer?
You’ve probably been told plenty of times but you should know your resume like the back of your hand. Lots of questions come from your previous experience and other questions can be answer with examples from your past. Practice talking through your work life to date and what brought you to this point in your career.
Your portfolio is likely to be a big subject as well, so make sure you can talk through every project or sample you have. For most UX roles, emphasis process and solving user’s needs. Some Visual Design roles can focus on explaining the artifact more than process, but be prepared to tell the story of every project regardless. This is not an part of the interview that should have a lot of ummmms and ahhhs. This is your experience and your work.
Use resources like Glassdoor to see if previous candidates have posted interview questions. If the company and UX team is large enough, there may be some good information there.
For a UX interviews, people like to do some interesting things that other positions just don’t have to deal with. They like throwing activities in there. They want you to whiteboard things out. They want to see you think. Be prepared for that.
[Tweet “For a UX interviews, people like to do some interesting things that other positions just don’t have to deal with.”]
If you’re super ambition, you can ask a friend to think of (or google) some design problems and test you. You should try to do two things with these: explain how you would “theoretically” solve them (emphasizing a logical process to arrive at a solution) and then actually attempt to solve them while white boarding. The purpose of the first is to show them how you would attack the problem if you had more than 5 minutes and then you can show them the cliff notes version. The majority of these problem solving questions are about seeing you think and not to evaluate your solution… so think out load and try to involve the interviewer by bouncing ideas off them.
The day of your interview…
While I just told you not to think of it like a test, you definitely need to treat it like an important day. This is the biggest step in the job search process so take it seriously. Some UX interview tips I would put in the basic categories:
- Get a good night sleep before (take a sleep aid like melatonin if you really need to)
- Eat a healthy breakfast (and lunch if it’s in the afternoon)
- Be well groomed
- Dress appropriately (the definition of this depends on the company, if you’re unsure ask the recruiter beforehand)
- Practice eye contact and your posture
- Bring a handshake (no dead fish hands… shake like you have some pride)
- Print copies of your resume (5 or more)
- Bring your portfolio (either printed and bound and/or have it on an iPad / tablet)
- Plan to get there at least 15 minutes before your interview and walk in 5 minutes before
If you know you’ll be nervous and get sweaty palms, bring a handkerchief or paper towel in your pocket to dry your hands off before introducing yourself. No one… and I mean no one, likes a sweaty handshake. I’d also have a bottle of water in your car to wet your throat a bit before (don’t down it… potty breaks are a waste of everyone’s time).
I’m not a creepy new agey type but definitely get yourself mentally right beforehand. You want to keep distractions and stress to a minimum before the interview. Minutes before you go in… take five deep breadths (5 seconds in, slight pause, 5 seconds out, slight pause and repeat). Even if you’re not nervous, oxygen and the brain are good friends.
Oh and remember… there’s a major shortage of qualified UX talent out there. If they’re interviewing you, they obviously liked something about you so calm the eff down. You’re goal is to figure out if this is a job you even want.
Companies now understand if the user experience is disjointed they’ll lose their customers to competitors. That’s why good user experience designers are so in demand in businesses today. ” – Julie Kennedy, Head of UX at Daily Mail Group DMG Media