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Chapter 5
How to conduct an interview to choose the best designer
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Chapter 5

How to conduct an interview to choose the best designer

Interviewing a candidate is a stressful experience for both sides. Like an interviewee, a hiring manager or anyone else responsible for interviewing personnel might worry about saying something wrong and losing a talented designer.


Planning an interview helps minimize stress and overthinking. Furthermore, a well-organized interview fulfills two goals:

  • You feel prepared to properly assess a candidate's skills and values.
  • It makes candidates trust your company and its manner of running a business.

Before the interview

Define your needs

It might be hard to evaluate a candidate if you don't know what qualities and skills you're looking for. Spend some time documenting your expectations and use this list for assessing candidates during the interview.

Suppose you're looking for a UX designer. A successful candidate should know how to facilitate quantitative and qualitative research, have excellent communication and analytical skills, and be proactive, flexible, and open to criticism.

You might also look for:

  • Familiarity with UX design tools such as user flows, user journey maps, wireframes, or user personas.
  • Mastery of design software like Figma, Sketch, or Adobe products, and prototyping tools like InVision or Framer.
  • Knowledge of user research methods, metrics, basic principles of user psychology, and design thinking methodology.

Review a candidate's CV

You should walk into the interview knowing all the relevant details about a candidate's background, places they've worked, skills, competencies, and other essential information. It will help you shape your interview and ask the right questions. Plus, it demonstrates respect for the candidate and proves your company takes hiring seriously.

Know your role

Quite often, a few interviewers participate in the interview. For example, it could be a hiring manager, design lead, and CEO. It's essential you know your role and what questions you're supposed to ask. Two (or even three) heads are better than one, and you can be confident that all points are covered and no question is overlooked.

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During the interview

Establish a strong rapport with the candidate

Although job interviews more often occur online today, it doesn't mean candidates would feel less nervous. To help them relax, start with small talk and allow them to take a few minutes to settle into the call and make sure they’re feeling comfortable. It can help calm their nerves and puts them at ease.

“We always try to create a welcoming, stress-free environment. An interview should aspire to resemble real work, which is rather a day-to-day marathon than a sprint.”
Drew Hamlin, Senior Director, Product Design at Slack

Introduce the interviewers and cover the interview's agenda

In the beginning, an interviewer should say a few words about their job position at the company, define any other essential information about the company or the role, and set the interview agenda.

Make sure to leave 5-10 minutes at the end of the interview for answering the candidate's questions.

Ask questions about a candidate

Use open-ended questions to get greater insight into the candidate's past experience, personality, and ability to solve problems and handle critical feedback.

Open-ended design interview questions and phrases starting with "what," "who," "tell me more," "can you give me an example of…," "what makes you feel that way," "what do you mean by saying that…" invite candidates to be more reflective and conversational."

Tell me about your work" is the question that helps recruiters to evaluate a candidate’s design process.

“We ask designers to paint their designs verbally and conduct self-reflecting on their challenges.”
Carrie Cardona, Principal Product Design Recruiter at Netflix

"Rather than asking people what they will do in hypothetical situations, we prefer to create an environment where they can reflect on their past experiences, how they solved problems and overcame challenges, and what they learned from them," shares Drew.

Take note of a candidate's posture, tone of voice, and language. Observe whether they can hold eye contact and if they are relaxed or fidgety. It may give you signs on how to lead the conversation and receive helpful answers.

Adrian Pittman, a Product Design Director at LinkedIn, shares the perfect formula he uses to evaluate designers. It consists of three components:

Polish — the ability to deliver finished, speckless designs.
Scope — a designer’s experience of taking a project end-to-end and knowledge of all design process stages.
Collaborativeness — a candidate’s ability to collaborate with other departments to deliver a top-notch product.

Avoid asking questions about a candidate's age, sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, genetics, or disabilities. It's also inappropriate to ask about their current compensation.

Carrie stresses the need to evaluate a candidate's ability to balance user needs, creativity, and business needs.“

You can ask a candidate questions like, ‘How can you as a designer influence business? How do you imagine a collaboration with other departments?’ Your goal is to find out whether a designer knows how to collaborate with project managers, stakeholders, and developers and understands the value of looking at a problem from different angles,” says Carrie Cardona.

Evaluate their portfolio

The main goal of design portfolio evaluation is to find out if there's something more behind beautiful layouts. It lets you assess if a designer can:

  • Tell a story behind each case,
  • Explain what led them to a solution,
  • Conduct proper user research,
  • Clarify how research findings influence the design,
  • Describe challenges they've encountered.

The way candidates speak about their portfolio can give you an understanding of their presentation and communication skills. "It's not a good sign if a designer insists only on one possible solution. There's never a single solution," points out Drew Hamlin. Look for designers who are open to discussion and willing to examine a problem from the perspective of developers, project managers, or marketing professionals.

Avoid asking questions about a candidate's age, sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, genetics, or disabilities. It's also inappropriate to ask about their current compensation.

Conduct a cultural fit test

The purpose of a cultural fit test is to reveal if a candidate's values, beliefs, and behavior fit in with your company's culture. Keep in mind that you don't have to hire your clone or your new best friend. It’s perfectly okay for a new designer to have the same cultural values but to also take a different work approach and bring new challenges to your team.

“We call it not a culture fit test, but a culture add test. We care about what a candidate can bring to a company and how a company can help a candidate grow.”
Carrie Cardona, Principal Product Design Recruiter at Netflix

Likewise, Drew Hamlin supports the idea of a culture add test. “Our product serves the needs of customers with different backgrounds, religions, genders, races, etc. We need to work to make sure that our team is as diverse as our customers.”

Possible questions in a culture add test could be:
Have you had best friends at your previous jobs?

  • Describe the work environment or culture where you would feel the most productive and happy.
  • Describe the management style that will motivate you to work harder and go the extra mile.
  • Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?
  • How would your past coworkers describe your working style and contributions to the team?

Ask a candidate to do a test assignment

Sometimes, employers ask candidates to complete a test assignment and discuss it during the interview. We recommend thinking twice before giving a test assignment to a candidate with 5+ years of experience. Designers who already have enough experience under their belt spend a lot of time and effort building their portfolios. So, not all designers would agree to spend more time and effort on a test (especially one they aren’t being paid for).

However, homework design assignments certainly make sense for assessing junior talents who don't have enough projects in their portfolio. In this case, a test assignment can help reveal their skills and qualifications.

Keep the task limited in scope and time and focus on checking creative thinking rather than technical skills only.

“I'm not a big fan of home assignments. At our company, we prefer conducting live design sessions that are more interactive and demonstrate how a candidate can tackle a problem.”
Carrie Cardona, Principal Product Design Recruiter at Netflix

The live design session features a small group of relevant teammates who are invited to join in to simulate a real team discussion with a candidate. The candidate's goal is to find a solution for a design problem and demonstrate their ability to consider various points of view.

Make sure to provide clear instructions for the test assignment like the deadline, the required format of the submission document, and other important information you want them to keep in mind before they begin.

After the interview

Write your feedback about the candidate while it's still fresh and as soon as the interview is finished. Even if your gut tells you that the ideal candidate has been found, avoid discussing this impression with other interviewers until the debrief.

If you feel inspired to find a designer with an ideal skill set that perfectly matches your job description, you might be surprised to hear that it's not the best approach. Instead, you should look for the RIGHT candidate for your company and team. Otherwise, you might overlook a creative and talented person just because they don't know how to operate all types of design software or aren't familiar with all user research methods.

Learning a tool is not rocket science, but it can be much more challenging to find someone who gets along with teammates, learns from their mistakes, is eager to learn, adjusts quickly, and takes initiative with their work.

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