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Nailing the Designer Interview

by | How to Interview, Industry Specific

You’re a brilliant designer and your work speaks for itself. However, that’s not always enough to close the deal when it’s time to interview for a new position or project.

Interviews for creative positions can differ slightly from the typical job interview. Sure, you’ll probably still get many of the world’s most common interview questions (and should prepare for these accordingly).

However, there is also likely to be an increased emphasis on the strength of your portfolio and questions about your creative process and track record. You will want to be comfortable with how to sell your work and answer any design-specific questions that may be thrown your way.

Prepare for Designer Specific Questions

In general, design-specific interviews will likely revolve around three major areas: Creativity, Organization, and Time Management.

Creativity

Your creative abilities uniquely set you apart from the other candidates. Your particular artistic flair is something only you can bring to the table.

In addition to your artistic abilities, the interviewer will be interested in your creative approach to solving problems.

You might expect some of the following questions about creativity and problem solving in your design interview:

  • Tell me about a time you developed a new approach to a problem.
  • What do you consider the most innovative idea you’ve had?
  • What is involved in your creative process?
  • What project(s) are you most proud of?
  • Describe a creative way you overcame an obstacle.
  • Do you consider yourself an innovator?

These questions will offer the interviewer insight into how you approach creative projects and how you resolve issues that come up. This will further their understanding of your overall personality and working style.

Remember to be succinct in your responses, being careful not to ramble on without ever really addressing the question. Be thoughtful in your replies, taking a moment to really consider the ways you have brought innovation to your previous roles.

Think about who is asking you the question. Your answer might be somewhat different when speaking with a fellow creative vs. interviewing with someone in management or HR.

With someone who doesn’t have a design background, you will need to explain things a bit differently to ensure they are properly impressed.

Organization

Organization can be tough for some creatives. When struck with inspiration, making lists and hitting deadlines can feel like the antithesis to all creativity. However dull organization may feel at times, it is essential to getting work done efficiently.

Once you’ve established you have the creative skills for the job, you will also need to show your ability to work well with others and make deadlines. This will be particularly important when interviewing with managers or those on the business side versus the creative side.

If you are interviewing for a role that requires managing others and/or working on tight deadlines, organization skills are even more crucial to demonstrate.

Here are some sample questions about organization you may encounter:

  • How do you stay organized?
  • Tell me about a time you had a heavy workload.
  • How did you organize your priorities?
  • Describe a role where you had to handle many things at once. How did you manage?
  • What organizational tools do you use in your workday?

Time Management

Time management is the twin sister of organization. They both require mindfulness about the tasks that need to be completed and an actionable plan for getting them all done. It’s especially important to be good at time management when handling a big design project with many components.

Expect some variation of these questions to be asked about the way you manage time:

  • Describe a time when you missed a deadline. How did you respond?
  • How do you plan for the workflow of a big project?
  • What is the biggest drain on your time?
  • What scheduling tools do you use for time management?

General Design Questions

Creative professions require a specific skill set and sometimes include a career trajectory that is not entirely linear. Perhaps you studied something else in college, but fell into the design later on.

Most interviewers will be interested in how you became a designer. Your answers will reflect your love for what you do, so don’t be afraid to show enthusiasm for your work.

Additionally, general design questions are an opportunity for the interviewer to get a feel for the things that inspire you as a designer and the kind of work they might expect from you. Be prepared to answer questions about artists you admire and why they stick out to you.

Because there are many different types of design roles, you will also want to be prepared to discuss what areas of design align best with your strengths, passions and training.

For example, designing high-end cosmetics packaging is very different than designing intuitive online user experiences. Your interviewer will want to know that your skills and talents fit well with the position requirements.

Here are some common design-related job interview questions:

  • Why did you choose design as a career?
  • What makes you excited about designing for us?
  • Who are your favorite designers? Why?
  • What company is doing great design work right now?
  • Why do you like it?
  • What design tools do you use?
  • What is your coding skill level?
  • What is your relationship like with developers?
  • Tell me about a time you solved a conflict with a developer.
  • How do you handle criticism about your designs?

Selling Yourself

Selling yourself to an interviewer is uncomfortable for nearly everyone. Creative professionals can have a particularly hard time promoting their strengths.

It’s understandable to want to let your work speak for itself, but a large part of being a creative professional involves skills that may not be related to your creative abilities.

You’ll need to be able to demonstrate to your interviewers that you not only produce amazing creative work, but you also have the additional skills necessary to thrive in the position.

Selling yourself can be done subtly and authentically, without displays that may feel smarmy or disingenuous. Be honest with yourself about the value you are bringing to the table. You made it into the room on the strength of your abilities. Own your accomplishments and speak about them with confidence.

You’ll want to give as thorough an overview as possible of your abilities. In addition to the time management and organization skills we discussed above, you should also be prepared to speak about the following:

Technological Competencies

In many ways, a designer is only as good as her tools. Any knowledge you have about design software is an asset you should utilize in your interview.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the software the company uses. Make mention of any particular certifications or qualifications you may have with those specific programs.

Additionally, be sure to mention certain skills that may make you more versatile, such as animation or video editing. You may tend to overlook these additional abilities when evaluating your skills, but they could be the extra nudge needed to put you ahead of your competitors.

Your Portfolio

The portfolio is perhaps the most valuable asset a designer has. It is a representation of your work that is visually available to your interviewers, enabling them to see for themselves how much value you can potentially be adding to their company.

Even the most stunning portfolio is just one piece of the puzzle, however.

Your interviewer will not only be evaluating your creative work, but also how well you are able to express yourself when presenting your designs.

When choosing what pieces to include in your portfolio, keep these things in mind:

(1) Does the Piece Have a Story?
Have you ever had to take a project on at the last minute or saved the day by rising to the occasion when an unforeseen road block could have derailed your project? Pieces that come with a story to tell not only showcase your work, but tell the interviewer a lot about you, how you work, handle pressure, and produce on tight deadlines.

(2) Is the Piece Applicable to the Company?
During your interview preparation, you should have analyzed the job description and conducted research on the company that will give you enough information to know what their basic design need are. Choose past projects that showcase how you will be able to fill that need if you are offered the role.

(3) Listen and Adapt
While you are talking through your portfolio, be careful not to get so lost in your presentation that you forget to listen to the feedback you are getting. If the interviewer has raised some specific concerns, be ready to address them and, if possible, show visual examples of how you will be able to fulfill their design needs and help them reach their goals.

Tangible Results

Nothing speaks to your success as a designer as much as tangible, measurable results. How much has traffic increased since your website redesign? Have conversion rates grown since your rebranding work? By how much?

Coming to your interview prepared with statistics is a wonderful advantage. It gives the interviewer something concrete to measure your work by and can give you a considerable edge over the competition.

Soft Skills

Soft skills are becoming some of the most sought-after in the workplace. Data analysis recently conducted by Google revealed that out of the 8 most important qualities in their top employees, 7 were soft skills.

Unlike hard skills that can be taught and measured, such as coding, mathematics, and grammar, soft skills promote connection and communication between people.

This is good news for creative professionals. In general, those of a more creative disposition are more naturally inclined to thrive in soft skills such as empathy, listening, and emotional intelligence.

The workplace acknowledging the value of these skill sets can only help you in your job search, so make sure you give them the attention they deserve in your interview.

Tie it Together

Lastly, you’ll want to be able to tie together how your skill set and portfolio can be used to help the company you are interviewing with reach their goals.

Does the company need a new website? Re-branding? Better graphics? New landing pages? Come prepared with knowledge of what their needs are and how you are uniquely qualified to get the job done.

As we discussed above, your portfolio comes into play here. You will have physical samples to prove that you do good work and are the right fit for the job.

To Sum Up…

You already know how important it is to prepare well for the most common questions that are asked in an interview. However, in order to really showcase the value you are bringing to the table, your interview preparation should include how to answer industry-specific questions as well as the more general questions you are likely to encounter.

Though the strength of your portfolio is very important, remember that your other skills are just as valuable.

Soft skills, technological competencies, organization, and time management, are just as important to the role as your creative abilities. Be sure to showcase your strengths in all areas, and be confident in the things you know you can accomplish.

Lastly, be sure to tie together how your skill set and work history makes you the perfect candidate to fill the design needs of the company.

With the visual proof of your portfolio, the research you have conducted on the company, and the preparation you have put into having a stellar interview, you have every reason to feel confident about landing the job.