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Getting a product design job can feel like a marathon. You’ve spent weeks updating your portfolio site with fresh project stories, hours scrolling through (very similar) job postings, and paced 1,000’s of Fitbit steps around your home during phone screens. Finally, there’s an in-person interview on the calendar. Time to panic.


I’ve been on both sides of the process, as the interviewer and an interviewee, and I’ve learned applying for product (UX, UI, Interaction, etc, etc) design jobs is much more complicated than answering the usual interview questions. It’s hard to know what you should focus on in interviews to stand out and show you have the skills.

Here are some things that work for me in interviews or impress me when interviewing other designers.

Have a story for each portfolio piece.

While finishing school and preparing for real-world job interviews, I did my job searching at coffee shops with a non-designer friend. She spent hours anticipating what kinds of questions interviewers would ask and practiced answers to common interview questions like she was rehearsing for a stage debut. At the time, I counted myself lucky to have a portfolio to “speak for itself.”

Turns out I was wrong about that. A UX design portfolio should definitely tell a story about the product and provide enough visuals to see how it all comes together, but that doesn’t mean it speaks for itself in the interview. In preparation for the moment an interviewer says, “tell me about this project,” here are some ways to nail the question:

Don’t just reiterate your case studies.

Most likely, they’ve already seen those. Instead, think of interesting anecdotes from the design process or places to elaborate.

Prepare your story.

Read back over all your portfolio pieces to boost your memory. What are some thoughts you have about this project in hindsight?

Talk to yourself.

It doesn’t have to be a word-for-word dress rehearsal, but try having the conversation in your head before the interview to see how it sounds. I like doing these in the shower or while I blow dry my hair. Maybe the background noise helps?

Ask (good) questions.

Every interview advice post published since the invention of movable type says you should ask questions. It’s good advice, but I’ve always thought it was a little vague. What kind of questions? When? Am I just asking questions because I’m supposed to?

About the design challenge.

One great time to ask thoughtful questions is during a design challenge. When you’re given a design problem to think through on the spot, you don’t have to stick with only the information given at the start. The interviewer is trying to find out how you reason out a problem, and the questions you ask are a clear way to show how your mind works. Show them you are willing to gather more information in order to come up with a better design.

About the day-to-day.

Also remember that good designers are pretty sought-after, and the interview is a vetting system for you too. You should ask your interviewer questions about the design process on their team, how they go about user research, and what gap they need you to fill. Ending up in a job that isn’t a good fit is bad for everyone involved, and you can avoid it by asking questions about the things that are important to you in the job. My fellow bee, Jamie, has some pretty great things to say about this:

Ask questions during the whole process at every point and to every person. Even that super intimidating person who is grilling you like a steak at a tailgating party, catch them off-guard with questions they didn’t expect you to ask because they were trying to scare you into tripping up. Don’t be afraid to ask personal or tough questions because they work at this company and they know what it’s really like day-to-day. This is just as much about whether you actually want to work there as it is about whether they want you to join their team.


Get down to business.

gif about saying designers
When the CEO describes the role of UX as “people who make the site look pretty” – from UX Reactions.com

A designer is required to do a lot more than just ‘make things pretty’ (audible groan), and it’s likely that the person interviewing you is looking for someone who understands the business needs for design beyond mocking up interfaces. So basically they want someone who can see the big picture.

When talking about past projects, tell them about how you simplified a form to help conversions, or how an onboarding revamp caused the number of active users to go way up. It will make you stand out all the more as a designer who can think about the big picture.

It’s the ability to problem solve, read people, and analyze information that they really want you for. They’re hiring you the thinking person, not you the Photoshop wizard. And if they aren’t, you probably don’t want to be working there.



What are some good interview habits you’ve picked up? Tell us about it in the comments!


Featured image courtesy of WOCinTech.

How to rock a product design interview

Camri Hinkie

UI/UX Designer @ Spiceworks

Category: Life LessonUI/UX

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