Growing Design Teams

Four common mistakes of UX design interviews

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This is not a piece on how your UX interview needs to include you talking through your process and not just showing end deliverables.

Plenty of people have written about that and this is an absolute given. So, if you don’t do that already, definitely take that advice immediately! 🙂

Instead, I wanted to shine on a light on a few other common mistakes that I see time and time again in interviews, all of which are super easily addressed and that, in my opinion, will elevate your interview over and above the competition.

Common UX design interview mistakes:

Mistake 1: Assuming that your interviewer has actually read your CV or portfolio.

Put yourself in the shoes of the person recruiting – not only do they have to continue with all the other stuff they have to do at work but then they also have to find time for reviewing CVs and portfolios, doing the interviews themselves, and then making a decision and giving feedback at the end.

Because of this, I often don’t have the time to read your CV or portfolio in much detail. A quick scan to check you meet a standard and then I move onto the next one. (By the way, to get an idea of what is top of my mind when I’m doing that first quick scan of a portfolio, check out my video). Other times, I might not have seen a CV or portfolio at all!

All this to say, even though you have spent hours crafting a meticulously beautiful and well put together CV + portfolio, chances are the hiring manager hasn’t really digested it.

Despite this, often candidates talk through their work as though the hiring manager has memorised every detail about them, their work history and their skills. This means that these candidates don’t set the scene, don’t go through their work in as much detail, and waste more time when you have to ask for additional information.

The fix:

It’s simple. Expect no prior knowledge of you and your work history from the interviewer and frame your answers with this in mind.

What not to do:

When an interviewer asks you a variant of “Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you”, don’t say:

Well, as you’ve seen in my CV, I’m working at [Company X] and I’m really enjoying working on [Project Title Y] because I love working with up and coming technology and..” and then blabber on for 5 minutes going into masses of detail about something confusing.

Replace with something like:

“I’m [Name], I’m currently at [Company X] which specialises in [What the Company Does in a Sentence]. I’m a [Job Title] and my core strengths are [e.g. Visual Design and Interaction Design]. Before that I was at [Company + What they do] – I’ve got some portfolio projects that showcase my more in depth work to show you.”

This will simply set the scene for your interviewers and assumes no prior knowledge. Its basically like putting together a mini elevator pitch for yourself and your recent job history.

Mistake 2: Not answering the question

This one seems like a no-brainer but a mixture of nerves and not having an answer pop into your mind straightaway can result in candidates talking for 5 minutes about the time that they designed a carousel when the question was really about teamworking.

I often think that candidates panic when either they get a question that they weren’t expecting and hadn’t rehearsed for, or when they feel like they don’t really understand the question.

Panicking then results in candidates just grabbing onto ANYTHING AT ALL that their brain thinks of and then essentially word-vomiting that answer to the interviewers.

I know exactly how that sensation feels as I’ve definitely done this before myself. Its the rising feeling of panic as the interviewer is forming the words of the question, while your brain starts to shout “PANIC STATIONS. DEFCON ALPHA. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION. ERROR. HELP. HEEEELPPP.”

The fix:

My strategy for dealing with this scenario is to listen carefully to the question and then repeat it back to the interviewer. Repeating back appears to have a magical power that helps your brain re-figure out what the question is.

You can use the time when you’re repeating it back to start thinking about what points you want your answer to cover, rather than launching into the first anecdote that springs to mind. Its both a time-buying strategy and also helping you properly digest and understand what you’re being asked.

I also find that there is absolutely no harm in having a notepad and pen with you if you need, and jotting down a couple of quick notes if this makes it easier to centre your thoughts. You might feel that the interviewer might find this odd, but speaking personally, I would appreciate it if an interviewee did this saying “I’m just going to jot down the question so I can frame my answer properly”, as at least I’d know that you are being thoughtful.

Finally, if this all fails and you end up word-vomiting, my best advice at this point is to be self-aware enough to realise that you are waffling on, and try to stop yourself as soon as possible.

Mistake 3: Not listening to instructions

Interviewers will often include instructions to give you the best chance of answering well. There might be keywords or phrases in the question like “Tell us of a [specific] time that..”. I would understand that then to mean that I should give a specific example in my answer, as the question included an instruction to do so.

Similarly, interviewers might give time limits for answers. This is to assess if you are able to work within constraints and prioritise important information.

Following these instructions are important because the interviewer is giving you part of the framework for answering well. If you give a vague answer when you’ve been asked to be specific, or if you’ve presented your portfolio for 20 minutes when the time limit was 10 minutes, this gives the interviewer a reason to mark you down.

It also tells the interviewer that you might have trouble finding a specific answer because you haven’t actually got that experience or that you have trouble staying within time constraints because you can’t self-regulate.

The fix:

Simply, be sure to listen out for specific instructions and make a note of them. Remember that these are there to help you get the best marks possible, so adhere to them.

Mistake 4: Not telling a story

As noted right at the start, it is all too common that when asked to present work, candidates jump to the end and start showing visuals. But even if you do start at the beginning and start talking through a process, I find that the story of the process can get altogether lost.

Contrast two candidates that mention the exact same stages of their design process:

Candidate A says (something like), “First we defined Problem X (shows some examples of how they discovering problem X), then next we did Process Y (shows some examples of Process Y) and then finally we did Process Z (shows Z examples). 

Candidate B says (something like), “Meet Jane – she has Problem X (shows some examples of how they discovering problem X). I wanted to understand more about this and Process Y seemed a good fit because of A and B (shows examples of Process Y). I learned XX from doing process Y. Finally, we did Process Z, and it all went a bit wrong because of C and D initially but then I did E and F and we ended up with great outcomes.

The difference here is that Candidate B is telling a story of how they stitched their design process together, not just reeling off a list of steps that they thought they should have taken.

Not every design process should be identical and telling a story about why you followed your steps says just as much as the things that you actually did.

The fix:

A lot of candidates know what a typically ‘good’ design process looks like and that is a fantastic start. The next step to elevate you is to articulate why you chose that process, how it fitted into the aims of your project, and what you learned from it.

As a hiring manager, I want to see flexibility in a design process, not a strict adherence to steps in a certain order. Explaining why you did things in that way shows me that the flexibility is there.

So when looking through your project process, prepare some thoughts justifying why you chose those techniques or activities. If you find that you always follow the same steps no matter the project, critically question if thats because those steps were best for the project or if that is just what you *always* do.

Final thoughts

I believe that getting these basics right will increase your chances of making it through to your next round of interviews, no matter how stellar your visuals or polished your wireframes.

Remember that all interviews are good practise for the next one, so make sure each is a learning experience, and keep these guidelines in mind!

Ping any questions or thoughts in the comments – would love to hear from you!

Design lead, watermelon addict, Leuchtterm notebook obsessive. I just enjoy designing great experiences for people that just work, writing about my craft and connecting with designers everywhere. Find me on Instagram, Twitter and Google+.


  1. Hmm this whole telling a story is getting a bit tired. This same advice has been regurgitate 1000s of time in articles like this.
    If you can’t tell how good they are without listening to a bed time story I really double you know how to spot talent.

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