UX Interviewing, a Meetup

Last night, I attended my first Seattle Information Architecture & User Experience Meetup. A big thanks to Misty Weaver, @meaningmeasure, for hosting.

It was nice seeing familiar faces, my ol’ web design teacher, my technologist mentor and fellow alumni and precious students from Seattle Central Creative Academy. This was part two of a two part meetup. An encore really, considering the first part was considered to be very useful. (I didn’t attend part 1 but I heard it was a good time.)

This Meetup, two brave volunteers, Kate Hotler and Andrew Szydlowski discussed their experience as if in an interview with the presenters, Troy Parke (@UXHow) and Patrick Neeman (@usabilitycounts).

Andrew Szydlowski presenting his scene byways project
Andrew Szydlowski presenting his scene byways project

Andrew went up first. He guided the audience through his website portfolio (complete with a self-portrait made in Visio). Andrew showed us his project of byways, complete with a javascript map, the whole time Patrick and Troy playing the role of the entrepreneur of a start-up. They asked questions, What were your challenges, Who is the user, How did you know this project was successful, How did you determine this project’s success.

The feedback for Andrew was limited due to the format of the interview. The interviewers commented on how his LinkedIn wasn’t up to date and the site link didn’t direct the presentation to the correct part of the site. Troy talked at some length about how Andrew didn’t tell a positive enough story about his project. It’s not about what you could have done. Not to say that Andrew did poorly. He addressed the interviewers questions and presented an impressive project. He didn’t try to be the unicorn, but acknowledged he could learn a few skills for the role. A part of presenting your work is telling a good story ad ending on a positive note. Sometimes that takes some creative research and focusing on some positive qualititative aspects.

“What is a wireframe and why is it valuable?” This is an important question, especially if you can communicate that to an employer that perhaps thinks, I don’t know what UX is, but I know I need it.

Kate Hotler looking stylish in a beret, presenting next to the pizza table
Kate Hotler looking stylish in a beret, presenting next to the pizza table

Kate Hotler had a Behance portfolio, but also showed a slide presentation. The first few slides being introductory and the next few slides showing her project, a learner response system. She came into the project a little later, after a few decisions had been made, like the going native. Questions thrown at her: What would you have done if you were included from the beginning, How would you sign in, How did you handle accessibility, How did you test with users, How was this a success? One of Kate’s challenges was that she had to create a flow that would make sense if it was broken up because of the nature of the program. She spoke to some of the challenges of working with developers in an agile workflow. There were compromises made regarding how much time it took to implement versus the user experience gains from that improvement.

The feedback Kate received was mostly presentation. She needed to project her voice a little more for the room (though some could argue that certain aspects of the interview were extraordinary, I think that being heard in different situations is important.) Her LinkedIn had a typo (just one, but yikes!) and The intro statement slide was verbose with small type. Kate should have played up her personal background as a teacher to be a value in the context of the system that is used by teachers. Kate also mentioned her working with a project manager and at that point it needed clarification on whose ideas are whose. More talk of process would help illuminate who Kate is as a UX designer.

Strategy: Have a conversation with your interviewer. Firstly, they will research who you are with all the powers of Google. Patrick said “I want to know everything about them.” And of course, Google them back. If you have their name, you have everything. Work to establish some common ground, or at least know the roles of the people interviewing you.

In UX interviews especially, there are questions behind the questions. They want to see how far back you go. When the prompt is design an ATM, they want to test you to see the process you use. Do you immediately think about your users?

Stick to your story. Be a storyteller. Your interviewer wants to hear challenges you faced and the results you achieved,. Practice interviewing unti lyou can tell 3-4 (sometimes two is enough) projects really well, so well that you can anticipate questions and work the answers into your presentation. Being a mind-reader (or at least seeming like one) is a trait of a good UX designer.


The next slide on Troy and Patrick’s deck was a bright happy picture of Dora the Explorer. “Be like Dora,” they said. This goes two ways. Firstly, she says “Let’s stop and think.” In the interview they want to know how you think. It’s not a speed contest, if you need a moment, take it. If you can talk it out even better. If the situation calls for it, go to the whiteboard.

Secondly, she has a backpack and so can you. Maybe not literally, but in your arsenal if you have a mobile iteration, you’re doing good. If you can show documentation, great.


The next slide: Make Good Art. -Neil Gaiman. In the interview and in life, you should care. Share your passion for UX. Show your interviewers that you’re the real deal. Your interviewer is not only considering your skills but your compatibility with the existing team. Are you going to get along with people, are you going to fit with the existing culture.

Question: What’s the ideal LinkedIn? See template, SEO and portfolio. Concise descriptions, here’s what I did and this is the results. Embrace your background, you can’t hide who you are.

Question: Tailor presentation or website? They want to get to know who they’re talking to. Help them out. Apply yourself into the context and layer in your experience. Your scope of your presentation should vary if it’s a project manager or a designer that you’re talking to.

Question: What about design choices? During the mock interview, less emphasis was put on design choices, partially because of the background of both candidates did not emphasize that, but also because of the audience. In a real interview, interviewers will want to dial down deep and you need to be prepared. Treat your interviewer’s time as precious.

Question: Results? Should you omit bad parts unless asked about? No, be honest and tell a real story. You might walk into less than ideal situations and that’s how we learn and grow. Show a project where you had an experience and how you learned from it. Sometimes we need to get creative in describing positive outcomes with qualitative reviews. Sometimes the market just isn’t there for your product, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing good about the project.

Question: Do you want to be a generalist or a specialist? There is always a search for that mythical unicorn that does everything, but most UX designers are T-shaped —What makes a good UX designer? – UX for the masses— and are good at a few things and appreciate and understand the other aspects. Be honest about what you can do. First focus on strengths and then show well-roundedness. Try to be good at one thing then expand out. If you’re in school (or if you’re not

Question: How to deal with NDA (Non-disclosure agreement)? Troy gave the example of a UX designer who couldn’t really talk about a project, but she hat a great skill to tell the story using elaborate metaphor without the actual product details. Rule is don’t show it. You want to gain the trust of your employer. If you need to buff up your portfolio, try some side projects. Local hack-a-thons and start-up weekend recommended.


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