Getting your first job in the design industry can seem like a type of dark art that only a few lucky people are clued into.
It doesn’t get any easier. Assuming you made it through the obstacle course that is the first interview, what happens in the following rounds? Perhaps this is a loaded question, but: is the person who eventually gets the gig the best person for the job, or the person who knows the most about getting hired?
Navigating tricky questions or thinking on our feet isn’t something we’re born knowing how to do—it takes patient, dedicated practice. To empower young designers to be bold and go after their ambitions, we asked some seasoned design professionals how to handle potentially career-changing second-round interviews.
Eight digital designers from around the world shared with us their personal experiences of acing the second-round interview, and what they’d recommend to emerging designers who are looking to get into the industry.
(Answers edited for length and clarity)
Come prepared to answer tough questions.
Think about some tough questions you might be asked:
- What was your biggest failure in your last role, and how did you manage it?
- Did you ever have a time when you disagreed with team members or stakeholders? What did you do?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
A job interview is a two-way conversation. You are interviewing your potential future manager and colleagues just as much as they are interviewing you, so make sure you ask questions that are important to you. You want to learn about how the company works from the inside and if it’s a good match between you and the team.
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Some questions that I’ve been asked by interviewees and really liked:
- What is the most important thing you are looking for when hiring a new team member?
- How can I be successful in this role?
- What will be your expectations from me in the first six months?
- What are the company’s values?
- What do you like most about this company?
- What is your biggest struggle?
I always want people that I interview to ask me questions; it shows that they are curious, confident and interested to learn more about the role, the team or the company.
What not to do?
- Never talk over the interviewer while they talk! It’s very disrespectful and shows that you don’t listen to others. Unfortunately, I experienced this a few times—and didn’t hire any of those people.
- Don’t trash talk about your last role, ex-manager, or team members. It’s not a good reflection on you when you share how much you dislike the company you work for. Phrase your need to move on positively, say that you have a lot more to contribute or that you’re seeking a new exciting challenge.
Show how you solve problems.
What has been confirmed for me, both from a recruiter perspective and the applicant’s point of view, is that design managers look to uncover the way you define and relate to problems. This means they’ll want to see what problems you’ve solved, how, and with what outcomes. I think the number one quality sought by hiring managers in designers is their ability to identify, explore, define and solve problems.
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Even if you don’t have 100 percent of the skills in the job ad, apply.
Don’t feel the need to demonstrate that you’ve dealt with every question or project based on direct experience. If a question comes up that you’ve not dealt with before, be honest about it—but take a minute to follow that up with a hypothetical answer.
For example: “If I had to deal with such a task, I would…” and lay out a clear process you would follow or implement. This can demonstrate a clear thinking process, which is as valuable as the actual results. You can try and practice these with a friend prior to the interview.
Research suggests that women often apply for a role only when they believe they meet 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job, while men are happy to apply when they meet 60 percent of the job requirements. So, for the women reading this: be mindful of how imposter syndrome follows us around sometimes, and don’t invite your internal critic along to any of the interviews.
And if the job doesn’t work out, always ask for feedback. You may or may not get an answer. But if you don’t ask you surely won’t know how to improve.
Build rapport through storytelling
As designers, we are so heavily judged on the aesthetics of our folios but what sets us apart is the journey of how we got there: the ‘why’ behind the design.
A great way to build rapport with the interviewers is through storytelling. Don’t just show them the end result of your design project: it’s much more powerful to take them on a journey: talk them through your thought processes, from beginning to end, including the challenges you faced and how you overcame them.
(Tell your story using InVision Freehand.)
For my last role, I chose a couple of design projects and created some slide decks explaining my design process, including initial concepts, iterations of the design and design research. This was accompanied by a narrative explaining each step in the journey.
It worked because it gave great insight into how I arrived at my final design and also gave the interviewers an easy way to understand how I work through design challenges.
Not getting to the second-round interview doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
Interviews can feel like a high-stakes situation, and the pressure you put on yourself can backfire. I’ve been in interviews where I’ve probably come across as a nervous weirdo, and ones where I felt considerably more relaxed.
It’s that precise dread that some of us have about interviews that makes us screw up under pressure. When you’re feeling that dread despite all the preparation, it’s hard to connect with the other person. Instead, let go of the idea that you have to ace the interview and instead, try to be present. This will go a long way in helping you build rapport. You may even find yourself having an enjoyable conversation, rather than a dreaded Q&A.
Pause and sense-check
After the first interview, you will have a good idea of what the employer is offering and if you’re interested in the job. In the second interview, it’s important to do a sense-check for yourself based on your own values, needs (professional and personal) and future.
As an interviewer, I want to know we’re helping each other to achieve our goals.
Questions to ask your future employer:
- “What projects will I be working on?”
- “Who will I be working with?”
- “What are the strengths and growth areas in the team’s knowledge?”
- “How is design perceived in the company?”
Question to ask yourself (because you’d know your strengths better than the employer):
- “Does this position suit my skills and provide growth opportunities in areas I’m new to?”
These are the top five traits I look for in a designer:
- A willingness to collaborate, learn and adapt
- A love of design and the creative process (which at times can be messy)
- Self-awareness (personally and professionally)
You’ve probably sweated your way through a design task in the first interview. The second meeting is a two-way conversation to make sure that the job is a mutual match. It’s an opportunity to unravel another layer of yourself, observe the environment and ask some candid questions.
Behave and communicate in the way you like to at work. If the culture is right, then you’ll feel instantly at home. If not, you can walk away knowing it’s probably a mismatch.
8. Lucie Paterson, Product Manager, Australian Center for the Moving Image
Understand what you bring to the table.
When a product designer comes into a second-round interview, the most common pitfall I see is that they’re not thinking about what value they can add to the organization.
The people who tend to perform best in job interview situations have really thought about what the business challenges are for everyone on the interview panel—how their role fits into the organization, how success might be measured, what they need to achieve in the early stages of their role, and so on.
Reframe your skillset.
Don’t think in the binary of ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ skills (even though it’s easy to categorize things that way). Reframe how you see it: for example, soft skills can be seen as strategic skills or interpersonal skills. Put these skills into practice: read the room when you go in for your interview, make eye contact, and try to connect with everyone in the room equally.
Don’t be put off if you lack formal qualifications, or need upskilling
We don’t put on job descriptions that you need three to five years of experience or you need a certain kind of degree anymore. It’s a lot more open to interpretation. We list desirable skills—and even if you only match half of these, please still apply. Don’t be put off if you don’t meet all of the criteria. There will always be someone that comes into the interview process that brings so much and could complement the team really well, but they may just need upskilling in an area, and we can move things around accordingly.
Feature image by Ouch icons
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