10 Questions You Should Ask in a UX Interview

A few months ago my colleague, Ian Schoen, wrote a great post on what you’ll be asked in a UX interview. Knowing what to expect during an interview will help you get the job, but it’s only half of the equation. Interviewing your interviewer is critically important in determining whether a position will also be the right fit for you. Here’s what I’ve learned to always ask from my experience working with over 100 clients in the last ten years.

1. How does UX contribute strategically to the company’s success?

This is always my #1 go-to question (even when talking to companies where the value of design may seem obvious). You want to understand specifically how design is critical to the mission.

Good Signs:

  • Detailed answers to any of these questions is a good start: How is UX a key way of connecting to the target audience? How is UX an important competitive differentiator? How does design improve tangible metrics like closed sales, signup conversion, inbound lead generation, or UI efficiency?
  • Designers, engineers, PMs, and founders have similar ideas about the role of design in the organization. Inquiring about the strategic value of design is especially revealing when you are able to ask interviewers who occupy different roles. Alignment across these different groups is important for the design team to be successful.

Red Flags:

  • The company/team/manager doesn’t have a clear vision about how design will impact strategic business objectives. If other employees — especially higher-ups — don’t understand how design helps achieve their goals it’s likely you’ll be relegated to glorified pixel-pusher. This is an incredibly common problem for designers.
  • Founders and other leadership can’t articulate how design adds to the bottom line. If this is the case, it’s likely you won’t be paid very well or treated with much respect. As a rule: avoid working with leaders who fundamentally don’t understand what you do.

2. Where is the design team strongest? Weakest?

It’s easy for interviewers to proudly list off their team’s strengths. It’s more difficult to be honest about weaknesses when you’re trying to impress a candidate.

Good Signs:

  • The manager/team’s answer is introspective, thoughtful, and self-aware. The biggest threat to innovation is an environment where problems are ignored, denied, or actively swept under the rug. That’s also a particularly difficult situation for designers and researchers whose profession revolves around solving problems after bringing them to light. It’s great if the whole team is always looking for ways to improve.
  • Non-designers have positive things to say. Asking PMs, engineers, and leadership this question should also give you an idea of the reputation and perception of the design team throughout the company.
  • Honest responses give you an idea about where there’s a gap in skills or abilities. If you find out the team is weak in prototyping, or doesn’t communicate as well as it could with engineering, you’ve just uncovered a valuable place to position yourself as a new hire.

Red Flags:

  • If the design team’s answers are fluffy or nonexistent. Good managers should be humble and always have a clear vision on how they’d improve the team. It’s not a good sign if the answer sounds fluffy (“our biggest weakness is we care too much”) or if there’s an abundance of ego and a sense that the team is infallible (“what weaknesses?”).
  • Feedback from non-designers is abundant. It’s also a bad sign if non-designers have a lot to say (“the designers struggle with delivering on time”).

3. Who has the final say on design, and how do they decide what gets shipped?

When evaluating a company it’s smart to get the lay of the land. Who are the key stakeholders? How do these groups communicate with each other? Who determines what designs get shipped?

Good Signs:

  • There’s a communicative and collaborative relationship between Product Management and UX. It’s especially important to understand whether PM’s — who own product features and manage the engineers that build them — are determining what’s ready to ship, or if Design is an equal part of that conversation.
  • Leadership is involved early in the conversation, and trusts the product team to make the best decision. What kind of input comes from leadership, marketing, or executives? If decisions depend on their feedback, which isn’t communicated until later in the process, you could end up redoing past work every time you get new information.
  • You can identify where to go for support. Learning about the decision making and approval process will give you the ability to communicate with stakeholders who can support, build, and launch your designs.

Red Flags:

  • User Research and analytics tools aren’t considered critical to the decision making process. Design should always be informed by data. If user research findings and metrics from analytics and A/B testing are a nice to have, but not necessary when evaluating designs, you may simply end up shipping the personal preferences of whoever is most senior.
  • Design, PM, and Executives aren’t aligned. Be on the lookout for indicators that Design’s ability to create the best user experience may be easily overruled by different priorities from PM or executives. If this is the case you may stuck designing the same deliverable over and over as those groups constantly reevaluate and negotiate their priorities.

4. What part of the design process does the team spend the most time on?

Before joining you’ll want to understand where’s the company focuses its efforts. Is the most time spent on product design, or is visual design a key emphasis? How much time is spent on research and usability testing? This question gives you an idea of what’s important without directly asking what’s important.

Good Signs:

  • The team has a diverse set of skills and backgrounds. A healthy team has individuals who are experienced in Product Design, Visual Design, User Research, and Prototyping. Bonus points for UX teams with marketing, branding, sales, or software development experience. A small team may need only a few people to cover all these topics, but make sure they’re covered (or hiring you would fill in the gaps).
  • There are others in your role. It’s unlikely any candidate is ever told their role isn’t mission critical, so look at the breakdown of the current team. If there are twice as many product designers as visual designers, and only one researcher, you may be able to presume Product Design > Visual Design > Research.

Red Flags:

  • Visual Design trumps all. Something is wrong if looking good is more important than solving business problems.
  • The role-ratio is off. One researcher or prototyper may be able to support multiple designers, while one product designer may be able to support multiple software engineers. If the ratio of researchers-to-designers or designers-to-engineers seems unusually skewed it may reveal the company’s priorities, or indicate they have difficulty attracting and retaining talent in certain roles.

5. How many projects do designers work on simultaneously?

How many projects would I work on if I joined the team? What’s the average turnaround time on new tasks? How often does Engineering or Marketing bring last-minute assignments to Design? Juggling a high volume of different product requests and focusing on a single feature are very different experiences. What works for you really depends on your personal preference and style.

Good Signs:

  • There are opportunities to work in a rapidly changing environment with different individuals across many teams. If you are energized and inspired by feeling highly productive — and are willing to lose sleep to learn quickly — this could work for you.
  • There are opportunities to develop subject matter expertise by investing yourself in a single problem or feature set. This could be a good fit you’re happiest investigating and understanding the nuances of a complex problem over a long period of time. May only be possible at larger organizations.

Red Flags:

  • The role doesn’t align with your personality. Nothing’s worse than feeling stuck on a small feature, or being pulled in a million different directions, if that’s not how you want to work. Not matching responsibilities to each employee’s personality type may be an indicator that managers don’t know the employees on a personal level or aren’t able to balance the work across the team.
  • Other organizations distract Design with a lot of last-minute tasks. A core tenet of design is making sure other teams have what they need. However, if Design management doesn’t know how to 1) Negotiate realistic deadlines with other departments, or 2) Turn some tasks down, it’s easy to get inundated by a pile of other people’s priorities.

6. How do you see the design team growing?

Now that you’ve got a decent idea about the current environment, how might that environment change? Is it management’s intention to keep the team small? What’s the biggest challenge to growing the team? Is it possible for your position to grow in responsibility?

Good Signs:

  • There’s support from executives to grow the team if necessary. Unless your company is constantly hiring it’s good to know that the team can add new designers when an increased workload require it.

Red Flags:

  • Inability to increase team size. There’s a point when increased workload can’t be distributed to the current team without negative effects. Buckling down for a specific launch/event/project is part of the job, but being constantly overloaded is unhealthy if there’s no end in sight. Be on the lookout for small teams who seem trapped under a ton of work or anxious to hire new people to relieve the pressure.

7. What traits makes someone successful in this company / on this team?

This question gives you an idea of what the company’s values most in its employees. Are successful employees solely focused on the company, or do they participate in outside opportunities like volunteering or teaching? Do they work 16-hour days, or does work and life balance create more effective employees? Do they stay focused on the work, or do they bring problems to light across the organization so they can be solved?

Good Signs:

  • Your values align — or at least close enough. None of the options above are inherently good or bad. What’s important is that there’s alignment in the traits a company values in an employee and the traits you value in an employer.
  • If your values do align, ask each interviewer for examples of current employees they think are particularly good at their job. If you join, these are the people you should get to know and start learning from.

Red Flags:

  • If the company’s values surrounding work hours, outside experience, communication, etc don’t align with your own. Only you’ll know what does or doesn’t work for you. Write a list of areas you can’t or aren’t willing to compromise. Be honest with yourself about what you want, then stick to the list and don’t let someone sway you with salary or perks, or work your priorities into the offer negotiation.

8. What’s your management philosophy?

As a manager, what do you consider to be the most important part of your job How do you encourage the growth of your employees? How do you strike a balance between providing support and autonomy? What steps do you take to ensure your direct reports are successful inside and outside the company?

Your goal here is to evaluate who you’ll be reporting to. Your relationship with your direct manager will make or break your experience at a company more than what product you work on or how well you like your coworkers.

Good Signs:

  • Mentorship is a top priority. Managing others is a huge responsibility, especially when leading young designers who are just starting their careers. If mentorship is a key focus they’ll invest in getting to know who you are and what you specifically need to grow.
  • They encourage outside learning. It’s not possible to learn everything about an entire industry from inside a single company. Good managers recognize that going to meetups, taking classes, and doing additional training is good for you and the company.

Red Flags:

  • The company doesn’t frequently promote from within. If the company turns to external hires to fill open positions instead of promoting from within it may indicate that management isn’t actively training employees to succeed.
  • Who you’ll report to directly isn’t involved in your hiring process. This is the most important relationship you’ll have at the company. Not interviewing you themselves at some point during the process may be a bad sign that they’re not fully engaged with staffing their team.

9. What’s the most challenging part of leading the design team?

This question is also for your future manager. The specific answer is important, but you should also evaluate how they answer the question.

Good Signs:

  • They respond honestly, and the answer could reflect on them. This question is meant to be a more personal exploration than asking about the team’s weaknesses. It’s positive if their answer is honest, humble, and introspective about what challenges them personally.
  • They have a lot of ideas. An experienced and engaged manager will have opinions on what they think works, doesn’t work, and could be doing better. The time they spend reading and thinking about management should come across in their answer.

Red Flags:

  • Challenges are primarily external. Be wary if the biggest challenges place blame on working with other teams (“Engineering doesn’t execute”, or “Marketing always needs something”).
  • Hiring is the biggest challenge. Everyone knows finding good talent is difficult, but if this is really the hardest part of leading a team the manager may be too focused on getting new employees versus keeping the ones they already have.

10. Pay attention to the company’s entire hiring process

This isn’t a question; it’s a practice. Often the best indication of what it’s like to work at a company is what’s not said, simply because it’s much easier to say you’re something than actually be it.

Beyond how interviewers answered your questions, was the interview process smooth and organized? Did the team seem coordinated or were questions repetitive? Did interviewers seemed rushed or impatient to take time out of their busy day? Were they on time to meet you, or were they running behind? Was the white-boarding exercise relevant to the company, or was it akin to one of Google’s infamous — and now mothballed — abstract brainteaser interview questions?

The recruiting and hiring process is complicated, often requiring input and coordination from many individuals across different organizations. Pay attention to how your interviewers conduct themselves; it’s often a good indicator of how the team and company actually functions.

What questions do you ask during interviews? Tweet us at Salesforce UX.

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