10 interview tips I share with my designer candidates

As a design leader at Groupon, the important part of my job is bringing in the best candidates for UX design, research and content strategy. I have seen a couple hundreds of candidate presentations, and hired 30+ people in my team over the last 5 years in Groupon.

Hiring is a beginning of a potential life-long relationship. And making the right interview process is so critical.

I strongly believe that it’s hiring manager’s job to actively prepare candidates well for the interview. It shouldn’t be solely the candidate’s responsibility to make the interview successful. I have seen many interviews that went south despite the candidates’ talent because they were not well primed.

Preparation includes setting the right expectation for the portfolio content, context of audience and environment. If the candidates succeed in their interviews and portfolio presentation, they benefit, and in turn, Groupon benefits. It’s a win-win for all involved.

I usually send written interview tips to candidates in advance. The tips are customized to reflect the level and position I’m hiring for, but general structure of the tips stays similar.

Sample of Interview Tips

Here is a sample of tips I sent to a recent designer candidate at Groupon:

1. Setting tone: Start with a short (< 5 mins) personal introduction to help break the ice at the outset of presentation, and help the audience feel closer to you. You can speak to where you have been, what roles you have played, unique cultural background, personal hobbies outside work, etc.

2. Portfolio content: Select three to four very different projects to show off your breadth of experiences. This one hour is all you have to impress the entire audience, and you want to show off only the best and relevant examples. You may choose to present the mix of more north-star vision works and shipped products.

3. Structure of presentation: Think about how to frame an engaging story around each project. Start with a clear problem statement, show the process and final product, and end with data findings and next steps. Explain not only “what,” but also “why” and “how.” It’s always interesting to see before vs. after, and hear about the challenges you faced and how you overcame them. Also explain your specific role in each project.

4. Presentation design: Remember that most of attendees in your presentation will be designers who will evaluate your presentation as a design project. Each slide is not just a container of information, and the presentation itself is a design task. Think of your presentation as a promotional pitch about you and your project, not a detailed report. Be generous with white space, and no need to fill each slide with text.

5. Rule of engagment: Never assume the audience knows about your project. Getting into too much details without context or using a lot of internal lingo is the quickest way to lose the audience. Allow reasonable breaks between sections to help people follow your thoughts. The key is to balance out between the high level and details.

6. Due diligence: Study the Groupon mobile app thoroughly in advance and get ready to identify the current problem and make some suggestions when asked. If you haven’t used Groupon recently, I’d encourage you to do so before the interview, so you can make meaningful suggestions through the lens of our customers. If you have bandwidth and interest, including a few slides about your thoughts on our app will gain you huge brownie points!

7. Ability to influence: The ability to influence stakeholders through a strong and rational standpoint is very important, for all levels of hires. If possible, show a case where you’ve influenced the product direction through UX rigor, user research, data, and persistence.

8. Attitude: Focus on the positive and don’t emphasize negatives. Even when you’re talking about negatives or challenges along the way, always end with how you overcame that challenge.

9. Tool: In general, Apple Keynote is the recommended presentation tool for the designer interviews at Groupon. Presenting off the live website will make you look unprepared, and Google Slides or Microsoft PowerPoint are not design-friendly enough to tell an engaging story. Apple Keynote helps organize your thoughts constructively and provides many transition tools to make story more effective and engaging.

10. Logistics: Presentation is an hour, and the entire design team and the counterparts in the interview loop are invited. You’ll see some of them join in person and most virtually via videoconference. It’s always good to confirm about your specific technology needs prior to the onsite, and arrive with enough buffer time to test the projection and audio if applicable. The last thing you want is to struggle with technical challenges during the presentation in a room full of strangers.

Learnings From Providing These Tips

By providing these tips, you as a hiring manager will find a lot about the candidate, such as:

  • Can she/he follow through
  • Can her/his output meet your hiring bar
  • Does she/he have strong interest in this position
  • Does she/he pay attention to details
  • Does she/he have empathy for the audience
  • What kind of rapport will she/he build with hiring manager and the team

This process helped me hire a lot of great talents thankfully.

Despite the elaborate priming, you’d be amazed to know how many candidates completely neglect the tips and come to the onsite interviews unprepared. It’s disappointing when it happens, but it’s always better to spot such issues before a person is hired. :-)

It‘s been a long and humbling journey for me to sharpen intuition on hiring and develop the best hiring strategy, and I’m still learning.

What‘s Your Story?

What tips do you suggest to potential design candidates as a hiring manager yourself? Please share your wisdom in the comments below!

Helena Seo is a Director of Consumer Experience Design at Groupon. We’re hiring all levels of designer/design leaders and content strategists. Want to work with us? Browse our current job listings or learn more about us at Groupon Design Union.

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