What to Expect in UX Designer Job Interviews

You’ve applied a few UX designer jobs. You check your email every few hours to see if there are any interview opportunities. No matter which channel you’ve used to send out resume/portfolio, if the hiring manager likes your info, you’ll head into further conversations.

The interview process varies from company to company, but there’s always something in common. You may find interview write-ups from Glassdoor or Quora — of course, not every company has that info. In general, you’ll experience the following phases:

  1. Phone Screening — chat with recruiter or HR, one round
  2. Phone Interview — chat with designers or hiring manager, one or more rounds
  3. Onsite Interview — portfolio review, meet different team members, most likely to be a marathon that lasts a few hours)
  4. Other types of interviews — Not every company has this
  5. Extend Offer — You’ve nailed it! Time to negotiate salary, benefits, etc


Tips #1: before every interview, make sure you get the following info from the recruiter: who is the interviewer, what’s her/his title, how long is the interview session, what you will be talking about. Recruiters are willing to send this to you if you ask.

Tips #2: practice, practice, practice. It’s best if you can practice with friends. If you’re not a native English speaker, try looking for ways to improve your spoken English, for example, network in Meetups, participate in public speaking clubs like Toastmasters. If you get calls from recruiters, talk with them. Even if you are not interested in that opportunity, it doesn’t hurt to learn about a new company and practice your English.


I’ll explain each interview phase in details:

Phone Screening

This is usually the first step in your interview process — you’ll chat with a recruiter (internal or external) or HR. It lasts from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. They almost certainly ask you about visa status and desired salary (good to give a range rather than a number). Some would ask you about your professional knowledge, for example, what your definition for user experience is, how you carry out user research.

Remember, make it like a normal conversation, learn about a company and this particular position by asking questions. Some good questions to ask: When was the company founded? How many people in the company? What’s the company culture? How many team members in the design team, what’s the team culture and how do they interact with other teams?

If the conversation goes well, you’re in for next step — phone interview(s).


Phone Interview

You’ll generally chat with the hiring manager and other designers. There may be more than one phone interviews and each one lasts from 45 minutes to one hour.

The ones I’ve experienced were more or less the same: walking through projects I did. I usually picked two favorite projects from my portfolio — you don’t really have time for too many. The interviewer may ask questions as you talk, for example, what challenges you had, how you collaborated with engineers.

If you’re asked a challenging question and not sure how to respond, win yourself a bit of time by acknowledging her/him “that’s a great question”. If you’re asked something that you’ve never experienced or didn’t do well, respond with honesty. Nobody expects you to have done everything (exceptional).

Note: in startups, the hiring manager may not necessarily be a designer or a design manager. S/he might be a product leader, engineering leader, even CTO or CEO. That’s why it’s so important to know who the interviewer is. You need to think about the right levels of questions you need to ask when interacting with her/him.

It’s possible that the interviewer likes to cover other content, like a design challenge, find related content later in this post.


Onsite Interview

Every company does it differently, but I found it common to be a 4-to-5-hour marathon of interviews, including a portfolio review session and individual meetings with team representatives. The portfolio review lasts from 45 minutes to one hour. Individual meetings are normally one hour, but can be shorter. To be honest, this is really exhausting. I strongly recommend eating a great meal before these interviews, so that you maintain a good level of brain power.

Portfolio review is where you pitch to your potential employer and teammates. In 45 minutes to one hour, you will introduce yourself and your favorite projects to a room of interviewers. These interviewers are normally whom you’ll meet in individual sessions right after.

If you’re going to present a project that was built from scratch, make sure you concisely cover the following: how this project got started, what problem it was trying to solve, who the users are, what user research you did, what your design process was, what the result was, what challenges you faced. Your audience will be happy if you are calm, organized and explain with rationale.

It’s extremely important to practice your presentation. Time yourself. Make sure you leave 5–10 minutes for Q&A.

Next, you’ll meet representatives from different teams. You’re most likely interviewed by other designers, engineers and product managers.

When you meet with non-designer interviewers, they want to know more about how you collaborate with different teams and how you deal with challenges. For example, what do you do if an engineer doesn’t follow your designs? Maintain a positive attitude for these questions, focus on problem solving — Does the engineer not follow your design because he doesn’t like your design, or he thinks there’s a better way, or is there any other reason? As a designer, you should know your design is not always 100% correct and you need input and insight from engineers, and you need to trust her/his expertise. In this situation, make sure you understand why he’s not agreeing with your design, explain your rationale, and try to find a way out (e.g. do some user testing). You should keep in mind that both of you are working towards the common goal, which is to ship a feature/product.

It’s also essential to prepare some questions for them, so that you have a good conversation flow. I got a stack of cards from Office Depot. Before the sessions, I wrote down a list of questions I wanted to ask each interviewer. This way I never worried about running out of questions, for example, you can ask how they collaborate with designers and what challenges they have. Maintaining a positive attitude during these interviews is very important.

Of course, every company’s requirements for designers are different. Some test your knowledge about HTML, CSS, JavaScript. You need to know what they are looking for from you before the interviews.

Your interview with the design team is very likely to be design challenges, find more details later in this post.


Other types of interviews

This may happen after onsite interviews. Not every company has this. It might be some extra culture-fit talks. You’ve already nailed the strenuous onsite interviews, now just relax and have a good conversation with your interviewer.


You’ve got offer!

Finally, you’ve come to the offer extended phase! You get notified by the recruiter that they are going to extend an offer to you. Stay calm, think about how you might reply to different situations before you jump onto a call with her/him, for example, what if the offered salary is below your desired range. If you have more than one offers around the same time, it’s good to evaluate which one you like to go with, or even leverage them to negotiate. If you’re not sure about responding in the phone call, buy yourself more time by saying that you need to think about it. You think about it, maybe ask a soulmate for advice reply the recruiter in email.


Design Challenges

Design challenges are essential for interviewers to learn about your design thinking capabilities and design process. This is a must-have step in all the companies I’ve interviewed. You may encounter them in phone interviews or onsite interviews (more common).

There are different kinds of design challenges, and companies pick the ones that fit their needs best:

  1. Design critique: you’re required to critique a design or product, such as an app. I personally haven’t experienced this, so I provide a few links below for you as a reference.
  2. Onsite design challenge: work with the interviewer together to solve a design problem, most likely on a whiteboard. You may have heard about “whiteboarding during onsite interviews”, this is it.
  3. Take-home challenge: the interviewer sends you a topic for you to tackle at home. You do your research and designs, submit your homework to them and finally present it when you come onsite.

Practice, practice, practice. This is the only way to go. I bought a whiteboard from Office Depot, googled some design challenge topics and started scrambling away. When I was whiteboarding, I timed myself so that I kept the entire process around 30 to 40 minutes. I talked to myself loud as I progressed — very important to interact with the interviewer during whiteboarding — it was fun, haha :)

I’m not going into details, because there are tons of articles on design challenges already. Below are my favorite, they were a great help to get me through this nerve-racking interview step:


Other good resources

These are resources I’ve enjoyed:


Best luck to all of you job hunters!


This post is also on Medium and LinkedIn.

A relevant post: Where to Find Your Next UX Designer Job (Or Maybe Any Tech Job) Opportunity?


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