FAQ | Ace your next Design Interview: tips and tricks

Apr 17, 2023Dianne Eberhardt

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify,  Stitcher, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.



Hello everyone, welcome to the Pixelated Perfect podcast. Today we are doing a FAQ episode and this FAQ episode is going to be how to prepare for an interview. So my goal here is to give all the designers out there some idea of what questions might come up when you go into an interview, what the interviewees, interviewers expect out of the interviewee, so you have an idea of what's happening on the other side of the table. And just to give my advice on us hiring at the design project and what that process has been like and, and kind of my insights. So, let's jump in. So first just some overall questions I think I can answer at a high level, like here are some questions or doubts a lot of designers have before they go into an interview. So one of the first questions is what should my portfolio include and how should I present it?

So your portfolio should include your best work. It is not putting as many things as you can possibly think of that you've done in your lifetime. You're not gonna put a sketch you did at the beginning of school. No. You wanna give the best of the best and if you only have one project, that's fine. Don't put anything that you're not proud of and that you don't wanna talk about and you don't want to reflect on you. So that's super, super important. Put your best work into this. Best work does not always have to be client facing or for someone, it could be a school project, it could be a test project you do just because you wanna get more, grow your skill set. So for the junior designers out there, it's basically you don't have to have a specific client, it doesn't have to be a real project, it just has to be something that is emulating real projects.

Like maybe there is a stakeholder, there's someone that you can work for, maybe it's your dad, maybe it's your cousin, whatever. Just something that you can show your overall work and your process and that you feel like really emulates the type of design you want to do, the type of designer you want to be and what you're hiring for. Some other important things are you should always have overall metrics. So how did the project go? Was it successful, was it not? How were you testing it? What happened after you handed off to the developers? Like you should always have the full scope of the project and you should start with like, Hey, this customer that I worked with by the end of the project, we were able to x, y, z. That's usually something that I find very powerful and when I look at portfolios, I expect this out of the designer, as they need to not just be giving an overall design standpoint of how they worked on a project they need to be giving, how they worked on a project with others.

Because you're joining a team, most likely you're working with customers or you're working internally and you working with other people. So how are you able to validate? How can you think about the goals of the business that you helped solve? That's super, super important. The other really important thing is that from the interviewee side, interviewer, sorry, keep forgetting. <Laugh>, the interviewer's side. They're gonna look at your portfolio for one second, five seconds max, right? So they're specific things that they wanna see and they wanna see that you have it to move on, like the ui, does it make sense? Do you have the full UX process? Are you doing all of those steps? Do you have results? Those are some things I personally look for. So it kind of depends on where you're applying, but that's super important. So they're not gonna read all the details.

So keep it short, sweet and simple. Consolidate it because no one's gonna spend that time on it. When you have a case study or review where you're talking, that's when you can go into more details and really describe it. But usually in your portfolio, even if it is kind of built out, that person that's looking at is looking at 10,000 others and they're not gonna spend much time on it. So presenting. So if you're presenting your portfolio in an interview like I said, I think what's, I think a really powerful thing to think about when presenting in a portfolio is that you should not just be pulling up your website and you should just be showing a piece from your case study. You should create a presentation. You should show the company that you're looking to be hired in, that you're putting in that effort and that you're walking through the process and you're explaining it to them because you spent the time to understand who the company is and what they're looking for.

So I find it so valuable and awesome when a designer comes in and they have like a whole presentation prepared. It doesn't have to be spent. I have to spend tons of hours on it. You just have to take it from your website and turn into something where you can really speak about it. It doesn't have a ton of text, it has some highlights, and then you are able to kind of have that conversation with your interviewers. I think that's a really powerful tool and a lot of designers don't do that. How can I show my creativity during the interview? This is a really, really great question and I think it's not coming to the interview rehearsed. I think it's being your authentic self, which I understand is hard. But I think it's being able to show who you are because you're awesome, you're creative, you need to be able to open up into like feed off of the energy of the people versus feeling very rehearsed.

So I do think that's gonna show off your creativity and I think also you're hiring when you're hi looking for a job, you're looking for a place that you're gonna spend a lot of time at, right? You're, you don't just wanna interview them, you wanna interview them, you wanna see if you're a good fit for them. So I think talking about some personal things like what do you like to do for fun, as cliche as that might be or like what kind of creative projects do you really enjoy working on outside of work? Things like that are ways for you to show off your creativity and also to kind of bond and find commonality with the people you're interviewing with. So I think that's a really powerful thing and I definitely think you should feel free to express yourself in other ways than just strictly that professional side of you.

How should I prepare for interview questions? This is a really great question and I do think that there are interview questions where you should have an idea of what you're gonna say, right? Because some of them are like, what's something that is more of what are your faults? Something like that, which is like a really introspective question. And first of all, everyone has faults and you should definitely come prepared with something. You shouldn't say, oh, I have no faults because that's not true, we're human. So I think it's definitely time to understand yourself, take the ego out of the situation and be able to really come and have a genuine answer to some of these more complex questions. I think it's great to like to say something negative about you and how you are working on that.

So I don't even think, I don't think you should say, oh, this is what I used to be and now I'm better. I think it's more of like, this is how I used to be and this is how I'm working on fixing myself. And whatever the question is, that's what we're asking. And so well let's dive into some, some questions that are usually asked in design interviews. Maybe we can kind of talk through that. So what is your favorite digital product? Why? I think this is definitely a common one, whether when you're looking for a product design position, I think it's like that question or like what designer do you look up to? What blogs do you follow up on? I think having an answer for this is really powerful because it means that you're going above and beyond and you're not just like you're, you're interested in it on a different level.

You're really focused on what's happening and trends in the industry and things like that and like following people that you are really passionate about and think are doing really great things in this space. So you should definitely have a personal answer to these questions. I don't think there's a wrong answer here. I think sometimes the questions that I receive from candidates that spark something in mirror when they think outside of like the traditional, maybe it's even like if this says a digital product, but what if it's like a physical product or what if it's like something that's very different than expected, like it's not Slack or Spotify or those which are great, but they're so common that it doesn't like distinguish you and help you stand out. So I think having something that's a little out there and a little unique I think also really helps you stick in people's minds because they're interviewing multiple people.

So how are you going to be your authentic self and stand out? The question of why do you want to work here? This is a good question and I think this means that you need to be doing the research. And again, it's not just you interview them interviewing you, it's you interviewing them. So why do you want to work there? It's not just to get a job, right? It's like you really value what the product does. You're passionate about the mission that the company has. You like the culture, like you need to be doing that upfront research so that you have a good answer to this question. Describe a challenge you faced and how you handled it. I think this goes back to what I was saying, it is like something maybe negative or something that is not necessarily oh, rainbows and butterflies and this really explains who you are as a person because I, this is like my personal mansion, I know it's many others.

What failure makes us stronger? I think we all have failed at something and when we have that failure, I think that's really the point where we can grow way more than we could if everything was a success. So talk about those challenges you faced and how you handled it. Talk about those CL clients you had, those customers you had where the relationship didn't end well because of multiple sides and take ownership of what you did wrong. Like whether it was like you weren't communicating as well as you should be, you weren't understanding their needs, whatever that is. And then say like, now, or things that I've learned from that experience are that I need to sync up with my customers every Monday to explain what I'm doing or I need to make sure that I'm thinking about the overall strategy of what are, what is the problem we're solving instead of just jumping to solutions and really doing user testing coming up, whatever that is, that challenge that you face, you need to have a challenge and you need to be able to express what you learned from that challenge.

Again, I just love these questions. That's why I keep talking about those negative sides cuz I do think that they're really powerful and they've really helped me kind of sift through candidates we haven't found those candidates that are great fit. So this next question is like, what's an example of a negative piece of feedback you received? What was it and why? This is actually one of my favorite questions because I think it also kind of, if you're able to answer this question true to who you are the answers usually are introspective and insightful and it's basically showing like that you let your ego go, that you recognize your your fault and you are working towards growing. And that's I think for hiring at the design project, this question is something that we ask no matter what. And it's always helped us kind of distinguish who are at T D P R values is like who is able to have those tough conversations to get feedback and be able to remove their ego and really be the advocate for the user.

So I think having answers to these questions is really powerful. What is a recent book we already kind of went through that. I think having something that's today that's helping you because design's changing so radically, right? Every day, every week there's something new that's coming out. So being up on trends is super important for us as designers, no matter what level of design we're in, whether we're a junior designer, whether we're a founder of a design agency, like staying up on trends is powerful and how are you doing that and what do you like to read to make sure that you're really following and staying up on those trends. What are you passionate about? This one, this one's a great question. What is the most important part of the design process for you? I think that this is a lot about the type of designer.

Like a lot of designers are like, oh, I really like the UX process or I really like the UI process. I think you should have a standpoint, you should have you shouldn't say, oh, I love everything. You need to have what you love and why you love it. So give a concrete answer. Actually this is a great point that I also wanna talk about is in an interview, everything you say should have an example, a specific example because when you're speaking about, when you're answering any question in an interview, if you're broad, that's a broad statement that maybe you read in a book, oh, this is the right answer, right? It doesn't, it doesn't relate back to you. You need to give specifics and that's something we really push in the interview process if we are like, stop right there, this is too generic.

Give me an exact example of what you just said of how you handled that situation. Like I wanna know who the customer was, what the time period was, what specifically went wrong, what specifically went right, what did you love about it? What was the specific UI element that you updated? What was the design system? What was the part of the design system that you love the most? I want all of those dirty details because that is really how an interviewer can understand who you are and to know that you're not just speaking of something but that you're actually doing it, you're actually like making that action happen. So I think that's something to really keep in mind. So I think those are some great questions and then I just wanted to talk a minute about the desired project interview process because we pulled this.

So this is actually from our framework from the Amazon hiring process. So a lot of companies have adapted it. They have all of this research and data to back up how they do this process. And one of the big things they do is that each question they ask in an interview like we do at T D P is aligned to a value at that company. So the design project has specific values and all of our interview questions that we ask are tailored to that value and we have an expectation of the answers that we're looking for out of that value. So I think you knowing that in the back of your mind knowing that each question there is like you could say like a right or wrong answer, there's a specific type of answer that those interviewers are looking for you to answer and you don't have to hit everyone perfectly, but they aren't just asking these questions as interview questions.

They have a rubric and they have an example of what they're looking to achieve. So I think that's something that's great for you. On the other hand, if you are, the interviewer should know about, sorry, the interview <laugh>, you're getting those commutes, the interviewers should know about the interviewer. So I think we covered a lot of questions there, so that should be, that should be great. What are some common interview pitfalls to avoid? I, this is a good question. I think that we are not being authentic, which we talked a little about, so I'm not gonna repeat that. And then also I, I feel like I also talked about this a little bit when we talked about giving specifics. I think that it's really e like in our interview process that the design project is if a candidate comes in and their answers are too big, they're the right answers, but they don't have specifics, we, we kind of, we pass on them.

So I think it's like making sure that you are giving specifics and you're really like answering them and it feels like it's coming from you. It doesn't feel like it's rehearsed. I also think that these interviewers have time blocked, so they're usually we'll tell you, okay, this is what we'll be talking about. I would like to do this in this amount of time, I wanna save time at the end. So I think you as the interviewee being conscious of the time is really powerful because we've definitely, I've had interviewers and interviewees where they completely dismiss the time and I have to be like, okay, so we have to move on. And so it feels like that you, the candidate, do not like respecting the time that's given. So I think that that's something that's a pitfall and that's hard for the flip side.

So definitely being conscious of not pulling into that, that pitfall. I think also something really important and to make sure that you end the interview well is asking questions to the interviewer about the company, about the position whatever you want. I think that's really, really powerful and that's something that you should definitely spend time doing. And I think that's something that's going to leave the interviewer in a really great mindset. So don't forget to do that. Don't fall into that like, oh, I have no questions, like come prepared for questions. I think that's kind of a common thing you probably read in a lot of places, but I think that is very, very true. I think another big one is focusing on the wrong details. So in these interviews I think this might be controversial, but obviously at least this is for t d p salary conversation, it's very important, right?

It makes sense, totally get it. And those are conversations to have like as long as you guys are aligned at the beginning of like, here are the compensation expectations, what are you looking for? As long as we're on that overall same page, we can have those deeper conversations later in the interview process. But I, when you're in those early stage interview processes, do not focus on the salary, do not focus on how much time you have off. Like they wanna get to know you and they wanna understand if you're a great fit as a person. And so you, if you spend all of your, your time with that interviewer talking about the details of like, oh, I wanna make sure I have these days off because I'm going on vacation, like that is not a great use of that time and that should be saved for when you get the offer and kind of finalizing those details later because at least what's important at the design project is like we wanna find candidates that are really passionate about design and what they're doing and they wanna be a part of their team.

We don't want them to be thinking, oh, like when is my, and when am I gonna take time off? Or like, oh, I wanna make sure I get this amount. Like that is obviously important and those are things overall you should agree on before the interview and you can kind of negotiate when you get to that stage. Let's see, the next question is how can I demonstrate my ability to work well in teams? I think this is a great one and I'm sure your interviewer will have questions specific about how you work in a team setting. I also think when you walk through your case study it's important for you to say your role and who you worked with and how you worked with them. So how do you communicate with your team? How do you work through processes, how do you work through challenges?

You need to specifically call out these areas. And I don't, I mean I think it's, it's gonna be specific to you, but I think it's like, okay, we have daily standards where we talk to the team. I think something also really important is like everyone aligning at the beginning of the project. Having those conversations, coming up with those strategies, brainstorming , having small teams where you can really like to discuss and disagree and come up with great solutions in an iterative process. That's, that's very much what we stand for at the design project. So that's something I look for is that they can do these things and they can work in this team setting. Again, taking ego out of the equation, it's not like, oh, I'm the best of the best. This is what I can do. It's oh, as a group collectively when I have other people I can brainstorm and come up with ideas that lead to great things.

And so that's the kind of the answers that I expect with concrete examples of that happening. And then what kind of design projects or challenges should I be prepared to discuss? I think we kind of went through that in some of those questions. So I think that's a really great place to start is, like I said, giving specific answers, being able to target those situations. And then this last question I think is important. How can I follow up after the interview to express my interest and thank the interviewer for their time? I definitely, thank you. Sending a quick, short, sweet email. Short and sweet, like thanks for the interview. It was great. Looking forward to hearing the next steps. We're looking forward to whatever that next step is. Hearing back from you is really powerful and I think a lot of people don't do that these days. So I think if you reiterate and express your interest in the position or maybe even call out something little that you learned or that you talked about or that was a great conversation piece in your interview, that's gonna go really far. So I highly, highly encourage that. Well perfect. I think that kind of covers the overall how you as a designer in any stage of your design career can prepare for that interview. And I wish you all luck and I look forward to the next session. Thank you.

Dianne Eberhardt

Dianne Eberhardt

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