Designers, you need to interview better!

3 interviewing tips from a design hiring manager.

I have been hiring designers for the last 16 years of my career. I have spoken to dozens of potential candidates in my time as a hiring manager, and I can say without a doubt: “designers, you need to up your interview game.”

I know, I know, interviewing can be really nerve-racking, especially if it is for a dream position or a least one you really want. There is a ton of things you have to remember on top of talking to strangers. Yikes! Designers aren’t always the best equipped to do that. Most of us designers have 2 competing sides of our personalities working against us at all times. We are very outgoing and introverted at the same time (See #5 in this list), we are proud, yet modest (#6), and so on… With all that going on in our heads, it’s hard for designers to pull everything together at times and bring the “A” game to interviews.

So, I’m going to give you 3 main areas of an interview to focus on. You do that, and the rest of the minor things that happen in an interview won’t matter as much.

1. Pronouns! Drop the “we…”

I’ve noticed that a lot of designers will describe their process by saying stuff like “…then WE did…”, or “WE talked to a bunch of users to…”, or “…then WE prototyped a solution and WE took it back out users to test.” Look, I get it, you’re used to working in a team setting with other people to build something. Design is a team sport; I get that. However, you are in an interview selling your skills, your capabilities, your talents, and ultimately yourself. I want to hear what YOU did. I am potentially hiring YOU, not the team you worked with on that particular project.

As a hiring manager, I need to assess what skills and talents you possess, and I can’t do that if I can’t figure out what part of we you played. Did you do all the research yourself? Did someone else do that part and you just observed? What was your overall role in that project? I understand that you played a part in the delivery of that product in some way, shape, or form; you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. You need to tell me what that was; explicitly.

There’s plenty of time in your design career to be modest and to come from “we” and not “me”, but an interview is not one of those times. You want the job, right?! Then sell yourself. Be proud of the work the YOU did, show me YOUR process, tell me exactly what YOUR role was and how YOU contributed to the overall success of the product or project you are describing. Also, be upfront what you didn’t do, give credit where credit is due. If you worked with a researcher to do usability testing on a given workflow, let me know that. Let me know that you were there to observe and apply the findings to the overall design and that it was someone else’s responsibility to facilitate the usability sessions.

Overall, I am looking to make a decision on whether or not I should hire YOU for an open position you applied for. You need to help me make that decision by selling me on the fact that YOU are the right person for the job, not your team.

2. Tell me what YOU did, not what the PRODUCT does!

Designers need to know everything about what a product does so they can design better experiences. Your job is to ask a ton of questions and gain deep knowledge on the product you are designing and the users you’re designing for. Naturally, you can talk in great detail, about what the product you designed does.

That’s great, but as someone who is hiring a person and not buying a product, I don’t care what it does. What I do care about is what you did and what your process was to get the product to do the right things for the end user.

What steps did you take to design the product? Was there research involved in your process? How did you know you were designing the right things for your users? Was there give-and-take with the user needs and the business requirements? How did you settle those differences? How did you defend your design decisions to your client or stakeholders? Did you use design thinking methodologies? Did you work with a team or were you an army of one? What role did user research and usability testing play in your final design concepts?

Telling me a story of how you used a holistic design approach to solve real people’s problems gives me an opportunity to understand how your design brain works, how you look at things, how you see the world, and how you solve problems. That story is a vital part of your interview. If you tell it well enough, you’ll hook me as a hiring manager, and I’ll want to know more about you and what else you bring to the table. Telling me a long-winded story, with no real end, about how this product does an amazing job of filing tax forms will get me to end an interview early.

3. Interview like you mean it!

I have been in plenty of interviews in my time, and the best ones are when the candidate was relaxed, confident and excited about design. I have been in a ton of interviews where I wasn’t sure if the candidate even wanted to be there. Those end poorly.

You need to bring the energy and the passion for your career to the interview. I am trying to build a team of amazing designers who love doing what they do. If you come to the interview like you just came from a 7-hour tax audit, I can’t tell if you really enjoy design, or doing what you do, or life in general. I tend to feel like you don’t want to be in the room with me, you don’t really care about what you do, and aren’t proud of the work you’ve done in the past.

Here’s the deal. I get that interviews are awful. You’re in the spotlight, you have a bunch of strangers asking you a ton of questions, you’re wearing uncomfortable “business attire,” you’re in a strange place and you have to talk about yourself. Interviews are a nightmare.

However, your work and what you do are not, so don’t concentrate on the interview; concentrate on all the things you’ve done in your career that make you happy, proud, exited, etc. Show that side of you and your work and forget about being in an interview. Pretend you are presenting all the cool things you’ve ever made to your best friends. Enjoy talking about what you did and why you are proud of it.

I want you to tell me stories that make you smile or even laugh when you think of them. We all have the *fist pump* moments in our design careers where we knew we nailed a design. Tell me that story; and tell it to me like you are telling your friends over drinks. Also, tell me that story when you didn’t get your way, even though you knew you were right, tell me how that made you mad, tell me how you rose above and dealt with those feelings, tell me how you made your client or stakeholder finally see the light. And if that didn’t happen tell me what you learned from that experience.

All I’m saying is come to an interview like you are excited to talk to me and show me why you are the best candidate for the position. Tell me I don’t need to interview anyone else. You do that, you will have an edge over everyone else that I’ve interviewed before you.

There are many components to an interview and they are nerve-racking and awful for the most part. But if you follow these 3 simple tips, you will outshine most other applicants. If you can follow these tips, you will be more comfortable and more confident in interviews in the future and you will have a good chance of impressing a hiring manager like me.