Top 5 UX interview mistakes
Over the past fifteen years of my career, I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing UX researchers and designers. Last I checked, I have conducted over 180 interviews at Google. There are times when I find UX candidates get in the way of their own success. Here are five mistakes that I see UX candidates making over and over again:
- Being rude to interviewers. At some point in my life, I learned that I needed to be on my best behavior during interviews (whether I’m a candidate or interviewer). Remarkably not everyone seems to have gotten this message! I know what you’re thinking — do we really need to spend time talking about being polite to an interviewer? Is this really a problem? I experience bad behavior coming from interview candidates more often than you’d expect. There are times when I think people’s true character comes out. They’re just jerks and can’t turn that off. But there are times when I think people are trying to portray confidence but then that confidence comes off as arrogance. Regardless of how you feel about the interviewer and their qualifications, you have to put those feelings aside and remember that this person and their opinion stands between you and the job. So be polite and make a good impression.
- Not having researched the company. This is really old job hunting advice but it still holds true today. I always start off every interview asking a candidate why they want to work at Google and/or why they want the specific position they’re applying for. I ask this question for a couple of reasons. It’s a softball question and a good way to ease the candidate into the interview. But it also gives me a sense of how much research and thinking the candidate has done into the company and role. I find that a lot of junior candidates seem perplexed when I asked this question. Like no duh who wouldn’t want to work at Google?! These candidates usually say things like they use Google everyday or they’ve heard about the culture or it seems fun or they want to work on 20% projects. None of these responses are great because they’re all pretty shallow. You could probably survey any random person on the street, ask them this question, and they’d probably give a similar response. Google is a huge company and while you might be using Google Search and Gmail everyday, there’s a good chance that you’re interviewing to work on a product that isn’t Search or Gmail (check out the full list of products that Google makes). So whether you’re interviewing at Google, another big tech company, or a smaller agency, do your research! Look at the company website and see how the company is representing itself to customers, investors, and job candidates. Read the latest news about the company. If the company makes a consumer product (or products!), use them before your interview. And poke around LinkedIn to see if you can find any interesting tidbits that current employees (especially UXers) have posted recently. And after you’ve done your research, think about what it is from what you’ve learned that makes you want to work there.
- Not being prepared for the portfolio review. Most UX interviews at tech companies include an hour or so where you present your portfolio. I’m amazed how many people don’t actually prepare for the portfolio review. And I’m not talking about people who clearly haven’t practiced their presentation or people who could have spent more time polishing their slides. I’m talking about people who don’t even make slides. I’ve seen design candidates present their online portfolios and I’ve seen research candidates show bits and pieces of research reports or presentations (literally opening up multiple decks or PDFs). Sigh. If you’re asked to put together a portfolio presentation for an interview, don’t be lazy — do the work! There are plenty of resources on Medium about putting together a good portfolio. Here’s one I wrote specifically about research portfolios.
- Revealing confidential information. Are you working on a product that hasn’t launched? Don’t tell me about it. Do you have a great video of a participant saying something interesting in a research study? I’m pretty sure they signed an NDA/informed consent with your employer and not you.
- Not answering the question. It’s great to practice your responses to common interview questions. In fact, I highly recommend you do that. But don’t try to give your rehearsed responses to any question you’re asked. If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification. If you don’t know an answer to a technical question, be honest but tell the interviewer how you’d go about finding the answer or learning to solve the problem.
- And as a bonus! Asking awkward questions or questions an interviewer can’t answer. Don’t ask me where I’m from (we don’t have two hours to spend dissecting my heritage … and it’s rude/racist). And don’t ask me if there’s any reason why you shouldn’t get this job. No seasoned interviewer will answer that question because it’s a no win situation. And rarely is there a situation where one person makes a hiring decision. There’s a lot of advice online about questions to ask during an interview when you’re asked if you have any questions. A lot of that advice is either bad (like the “Is there any reason why I shouldn’t get this job?” question) or so overused (like the “Tell me about a typical day in your job” question) that your question won’t make a lasting impression. My advice here is to ask questions that you genuinely are curious about … but steer clear of the sensitive topics. A good rule of thumb — if an interviewer/employer can’t ask you a question, you shouldn’t ask the interviewer that question either (e.g. asking about heritage/ethnicity, marital status, kids, etc).
P.S. one last thing (really!) — always send a thank you note. It doesn’t have to be long. People took time out of their day to consider you for a new job — you can take 5–10 minutes out of your day to show your gratitude. I find that very few candidates send thank you notes anymore but I take note of the ones who do!