A Designer’s Guide to Design Job Interviews
Last summer, Abhash and I, along with the People Operations team at Leapfrog worked very hard to fulfill two design positions in the company. While this journey turned out to be fascinating as we got a chance to meet young and aspiring designers, I’ve found some areas for improvement for the candidates and I’d like to outline them here. I think sharing my experiences can help designers applying for design jobs at Leapfrog (or anywhere else) get a better idea on how to appear in one of these interviews.
First off, Leapfrog has precise requirements for candidates applying for designer positions. Along with their CV, we expect candidates to prepare a 15 minutes presentation containing stuff like their introduction, their design process, their approach, and portfolio highlights. The idea here is to accelerate the introduction phase and get to deep-dive into the applicant’s profile; in addition to evaluating the visual quality of the slideshow they prepare. We’ve adopted this approach for the last many interviews and found it immensely successful, and we’re also trying to get other departments to adopt this format.
Anyways, coming back to the main thing — how to come better prepared for a design interview:
Punctuality tells a lot about you
Interestingly, most candidates I interviewed arrived at least 10 minutes earlier, which is good. Punctuality shows sincerity and seriousness towards getting the job. Yes, cities will have lousy traffic, and yes, your morning can take an unexpected turn. However, arriving on time means that you’re good at heart and you don’t enjoy a sense of entitlement. You get my brownie points for tackling this simple but important thing.
A well well-designed CV
I really want to see well-designed CV’s. It helps me build an impression about the client even before I meet them. But by “well-designed”, I do not mean fancy fonts, gradients, 1000-layers deep vector art. A nicely designed CV screams about the designer’s approach to their work, life and everything in between. I want to see you tell a story, tell me who you are — I don’t need awesome fonts or visuals. Please don’t spend too much time applying cosmetics over your CV, rather spend that time building a great portfolio.
Do your research
Pulling up the company’s page on Google doesn’t take too much effort before coming to the interview. I’ve had a number of candidates in the past not being able to spell the name of my company. This was while I was in Expresiv — I used to get a lot of cover letters with Expresiv spelled incorrectly. This is offensive to the interviewer. Also, doing your research will help you get context and know what you’re getting into. If the company does US healthcare software, pull up some stuff online and know what it actually means. Knowing has never hurt anyone.
Don’t think you can fool anybody
I regret hiring someone in 2013 in my previous company. I loved the guy’s portfolio. He had excellent works in there. He joined us a few days later, and when he started working on a project he was assigned; his work was nowhere close to what he showed us. I later reverse-searched Google images and was very, very disappointed that the works in his portfolio weren’t his original works. They were downloaded themes from the Internet. Now I make sure to reverse-search any job I have doubts on. It’s impossible to get away lying in your CV.
Humility goes a long way
You’re experienced, you know your stuff – I get it. But this is an interview, and I control the remote. But being arrogant, being OJ (over-janne, a Nepali term meaning over-smart) or merely trying to intimidate your interviewers is not a good thing. I’ve dealt with candidates who have presented themselves very arrogantly. They had modest CV’s and just a few years of experience. Try to come out friendly, it helps to steer the conversation. If you become arrogant, I’ll start intimidating you and the interview won’t go anywhere. Let’s save everybody’s time. Be likable.
Present a solid portfolio
Even though this is a design interview, I’m putting portfolio lower in the list because yea, it’s important, but not the single most important thing. You need to put your best foot forward. Show all the best work you’ve done. What really grabs an interviewer’s attention is 1) Who you’ve worked with, 2) What you did for them and 3) What does it look and feel like. Don’t show generic login/signup screens. Always focus on the impact your work created. Say for example, “My work helped Company X do Y to achieve Z”. This always hits closer to home than just random gallery to screenshots.
Contextualize your portfolio
Having a vibrant portfolio is a good thing. You may have worked as a mobile app designer, a branding expert and what not. I personally have done a set of diverse things in my life from UX to movie posters to newspaper layout design. But not all of my skills would be ever needed in a single job I’d do. If I’d be applying as a print designer, I’d highlight my posters and brochures; and if I’d apply as a digital designer, I’d show my web and mobile works. Really, I once saw some excellent sketches and digital paintings this one guy did, unfortunately, we were looking for a UI person and couldn’t hire him because his portfolio showed no contextual work experience. Don’t be that guy.
Emphasize on your non-design skills
Yes, designers are born introverts. I get it. Even once I was a shy nerd. Everyone starts somewhere, that’s fine but this is the time to open up and let it fly. Designing is a very verbal work, you will constantly need to talk to stakeholders, explain your design approach and tell things. See? So you cannot choose to remain a backbencher, and it needs to show in your interview. Try to open up with the interviewer, smile, and keep the conversation going. This really helps establish a good tone and build rapport.
I cannot emphasize how important this is. Your body language and your facial expressions tell everything about you. Yes, it’s okay to be nervous. This might be your major interview, and it’s okay to be nervous. You know what’s the best way to shield your nervousness? A smile. If you smile, you’ll feel better, and maybe more confident and the interviewer will perceive you positively. Just smile.
What do I mean by being yourself? Just present yourself as who you are. Be the person that your mom is used to. No sugar-coatings, no chaplusi, no fake accents, please. If you get hired, we’ll eventually figure out who you are. If you don’t get hired, you’ll just leave a bad impression.