Design roles are notoriously competitive, especially in an increasingly digital world. We spoke to a handful of experienced hiring managers and design professionals to hear what they look for in UX/UI and researcher roles, and how you can stand out from the competition.
In this article:
Are you a ‘giver’, ‘matcher’ or a ‘taker’?
We’ve all heard the question ‘what can you bring to the team/business?’, but in reality, it’s much more nuanced than that. Hiring managers are looking for candidates who can not only bring their personal skills and ambitions to a company, but who plan on using their knowledge to help the organisation progress and succeed.
“To sort out which type a candidate is, I try to focus on asking for examples of how they helped another person’s career: Are they specific? Do they talk about helping people who could not directly positively impact their career? I ask about how they collaborate and see if they give any credit to other people on their team for a great contribution. People who give and match will help your team and company reach success - takers care about themselves and their own ambition; they can do a lot of damage if not carefully weeded out.”– Charmaine Wyland – Head of User Experience and Design, Spotlight Sports Group
Do you know the business impact of your work?
“Many designers (and researchers) don't know the financial impact of their work -how much money their work has made, cost or saved the company - some don't care. I look for someone who knows the potential business value of their decisions and contributions.” – Charmaine Wyland
From a senior or lead designer, hiring managers will likely expect in-depth understanding of how they can articulate their design thinking back to the overarching business strategy, so be prepared to discuss this.
Do you have the right soft skills?
“Soft skills are hugely important. How well can the candidate collaborate with others, and how well do they take on constructive feedback (and disregard when appropriate)? How confident are they in challenging ideas but not being disrespectful of anyone's knowledge, expertise or role?” – Milon Harman – Head of Product Design, TES
This also ties in with being a good company fit. What values and culture can they bring to the organisation? Hiring managers will be keen on understanding where and how the candidate will fit in with the existing team and wider business.
Do you have the right hard skills?
“As well as how well they can use a package and how good their design thinking skills are, I want to see how well the candidate can work within an agile environment. Do they follow processes, and if so, which ones? Additionally, how well can they use quantitative data to better interact with users?” – Milon Harman
Have you got a strong personal brand?
“Personality, personal branding and organisation skills are all important things for a design professional’s website – I expect it to be spell-checked, well-written, and to give credit where due, for example if they have collaborated with another designer. I don't want to see a lazy copy and paste job – this has led me to instantly disregarding candidates in the past.” – Milon Harman
Hiring managers also want to see candidates with a genuine interest in their field. Start considering how you follow and engage with UI/UX/product trends.
4 common interview questions for UX Designers
How have you approached business needs and balanced them with customer needs?
When and how have you challenged briefs from product or stakeholders when it came to identifying the user benefit or issue?
Have you employed mental models or empathy maps in your thinking as you work on a user flow?
How have you validated a design solution before, and what research did you base your hypotheses on?
4 common interview questions for UI Designers
How familiar are you with UX patterns and how they work in a large, complex UI ecosystem?
Have you ever designed a product that required a high level of accessibility consideration?
Have you ever designed a large, complex design UI system?
Have you ever had to evolve a UI design system from what exists on a complex, messily coded legacy product – if so, what was your approach?
4 common interview questions for UX Researchers
What different types of user research methods have you employed in your career so far?
Can you work both on your own and as part of a larger UX/research team?
How do you bring stakeholders and designers on the journey of the importance and value of user research?
How do you break down technical/academic research methodologies and research findings to be more easily understood by those in the company not as familiar with user research?
Research the business
This goes much further than just finding out the general backstory. Make sure you’re able to ask detailed questions about how this role is helping the business – what do they want this role to deliver, and how can your unique skills or experience help the business fulfil their objectives?
Be prepared to give specific examples
“It’s very easy to say, ‘yes I can do this’, but you need to bring a situation to the table that you can talk through in detail. Even if things didn’t necessarily always go right and didn’t play out in the perfect way, you learn so much from that that you can bring to interview.” – Caitlin Rich – Principle Product Designer, Freetrade
The most important factor in all this is that you want to be memorable. Discuss one of your portfolio pieces and recount the challenges and successes you had from the project – what did you learn from this particular assignment? The more detail you can provide, the better chance you have of standing out.
Having trouble structuring your examples? Check out the STAR technique.
Shout about your skills
Don’t undersell yourself! Even if the role description doesn’t require you to have full-stack experience, it’s worth mentioning this (or any other proficiencies you might have) as having cross-functional capability is infinitely more valuable to both the business and your career progression.
“Instead of seeing UX or UI as separate skillsets, I consider product design as a whole. This is especially important when you are scaling – you need someone who is a full-stack product designer who can also deliver with mastery of their visual craft. UI experience is preferable as it’s monumental when starting out and harder to teach.” – Steve Pearce – SVP Product Design, Checkout.com
Ask targeted questions
An interview is the perfect opportunity for both parties to learn a bit more about each other, but neither you nor the interviewer can read minds! Don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything the company wants to see from you that you haven’t discussed already.
“In an interview where I think the applicant is promising and I want to progress further, I’ll tell them straight away. In the same way, when they are a little underqualified, I’ll ask them if I’ve made a fair judgement and give them a chance to respond or challenge me. Not only does this immediate feedback establish trust early in the process, it also allows the candidate a chance to provide further information which might change my opinion.” – Steve Pearce
The answers to these questions will usually be provided by the hiring manager during the application process, but it’s important to ensure you’re fully aware of the ins and outs of your new role before you accept a potential offer.
What is the level of the role within the organisation? (Junior, mid, senior etc.)
What is the salary range?
Who do I report into and what is my team structure?
What duties (and aren’t) are expected from my role?
Will my day-to-day work involve collaboration with other teams/departments? If so, who?
What progression opportunity does this role have?
We hope this article is helpful in your future job searches! Watch this space for a follow-up blog on the importance of having a design portfolio, and how you can optimise it.
In the meantime, why not check out our current Digital, Product and Design vacancies?
Alternatively, you might be interested in one of our other interview technique blogs:
How to Close an IT Interview
Interview Body Language Tips
How Do I Sell Myself in an IT Interview?
Dealing with Wacky Interview Questions