I’ve had approximately 16 interviews in my chosen field. I’ve interviewed around 20 or so graduates and juniors for various roles I’ve managed or been connected with.
These experiences have left me with strong feelings on what a design related interview should entail whether I’m giving them, or going to them.
The best interview
I’ll start by describing the best interview I ever had (which I’ll name drop) was at The National Trust in the UK in roughly 2012 for a mid-weight designer position.
I had an hour and a half slot, the first 10 minutes I was introduced to the Senior Designer and they gave me a brief (I was contacted by HR via email beforehand and knew there’d be a short test) to create a flat mock-up using brand elements and copy for an email. This took about 40 mins.
I was given everything I needed, computer, water, assets well-laid out and organised, a brief (digital and printed) sketching paper and pens and then knowledge that I could leave the room for a break at anytime. Never the less, I was still nervous for the interview portion but had fun with the brief. It was well-pitched level wise and in-keeping with the job description.
The rest of the time was a regular interview with two staff members. The senior designer i met at the start and the brand manager. We had a set of typical formal interview questions and then some looser chatting about project work and the company after those. They looked at my test brief work after I’d left. I was not expected to defend my brief work then and there as I believed it was more of a test of how well you could follow a brief and use a set of specific assets.
I sadly did not take the role but I still retain the interview experience as one of my most positive.
The worst interview
The worst Interview I had was with a company I will not name drop, this was another UK company, a Lead Design role in-house in mid 2016.
The first ‘interview’ was an ‘informal chat’ which in my experience has always been a regular interview but where nobody feels the need to ‘suit-up’ therefore, I dressed smart-ish and prepared for a typical interview setting.
It was an unusual format, we talked around several different relevant design topics and covered my experience and portfolio.
The second however was the doozy. I was given a large brief (sub-brand, email templates, web templates, product mock-ups and a formal presentation) to complete in under a week. It took me three evenings and one weekend day to do enough work that I felt comfortable presenting but not 100% happy. This was mostly due to the amount of time spent working on the wireframes and design work left me with no time to practice delivering the presentation. I naively thought, well this is an interview for how good my design work on this brief is and not necessarily how perfect my presentation is.
I arrived for this second interview more slightly more relaxed than the first (due to familiarity) and proceeded to present my work which was followed up by a set of very formal interview questions, some of which I covered in the first interview and had to re-iterate for a new staff member.
I didn’t get offered the job because “My presentation wasn’t strong enough” I criticised the brief work-load and they stumbled over the phone.
Now I’m aware that there could be bias here, the positive experience garnered a job offer while the other one didn’t, The first was a long time ago, the second was more recent. Yes there is probably bias here. I also really, really wanted that second one.
Another major difference between these two interviews, was that I had care responsibilities during the second and had to pass the care onto someone else to free up time. Someone with kids would find doing this hard too, even with other support. This is a difficult subject to isolate any solution to, but In my experience, interviewers look favourably on candidates that do a large quantity (as well as quality) of work for these interview tasks. So that favours a certain type of person, typically: Young, no kids or other caring responsibilities, no illnesses, stable home circumstances etc.
Another factor to add to the list of how to work towards solving diversity problems in certain industries.
Sometimes though…you’ll do this high-expectation free work because you really want to work for the company, like with the second interview, I worked as much as I could around my full-time job and caring responsibilities to deliver on the interview task. However, this could have all been absent if the format had been like the first interview.
So what are my suggestions based on this? Here’s a bulleted list!
- Don’t give out briefs pre-interview and expect people to not have busy lives. We can’t be privileged enough to sacrifice weekends and evenings to do this.
- Don’t hover over candidates if you have an in-interview brief to complete. Give them privacy and leave the room or ask them if you’re happy if for them to be present. Let them know you’re around if they need help.
- Don’t expect any interview brief to be the candidates best work. It’s not going to be – Ask for examples of previous work in their portfolio that demonstrates the abilities you want to hire.
- If you have to give out a brief before an interview (did you see the first bullet?), don’t make it something related to the company, try and create a speculative brief that allows candidates to demonstrate their abilities without worrying that they’re producing free work.
- With this brief you have to give out above, set a time limit, or a limited set of criteria to complete. Don’t encourage ‘extra’ work and do not ask to see it during the interview. If a candidate say’s they completed lots of extra work, stop them, thank them and help change the culture of ‘over and above’ by explaining why you asked for only certain criteria to be completed.
- As a candidate, if you’re worried that your interview work could be used and you may not get hired, don’t be afraid to take along your own version of an NDA (or a statement the interviewer has to sign saying they will not use any of your ideas commercially) I did this once and it started a useful conversation about their ethics as a company. If they balk at this, they probably aren’t a decent set of folk.
- As a candidate, don’t be afraid to talk/write to the interviewer about your personal circumstances and how much time you can put into a task or ask for more time. Don’t be specific if you don’t want to be, it’s a difficult subject at best to raise.
I think these kinds of attitudes can really help you, as a candidate, see a companies intentions and respect for the UX/Design process. From both sides we need to stop over-asking and over-delivering for interview tasks.
There’s a great article by Daniel Burka at GV (Google) for further reading on the subject.