I’ve been conducting interviews for various roles in IT and design for about six years. In that time I’ve seen all sorts of interviews, good and bad. These are tips that from my perspective will help a hiring manager really understand you and whether you will be a fit for their team and whether their team is a fit for you.
When I’m interviewing someone I want to know about them first and foremost. In order to get that I want to hear about their role on past experiences. I’ve come across a framework called STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result. When someone interviewing you asks you a question that starts with “tell me about a time,” consider the STAR framework.
Here’s a simple example to outline a response that I believe effectively demonstrates the STAR framework. Let’s pretend the interviewer asked, “tell me about a time when you had to work with a team.”
First, start with the situation, for example:
I was assigned to a project where we had to figure out how to increase the number of donations people who visited the non-profit's website made. It was an agile team that featured me as the designer, two developers, and two people who knew the business of the non-profit well.
This is really the setup for the rest of your story. It helps the interviewer understand the context of what you’re about to tell them.
Next, move on to your task. Even if the team accomplished great things together, the interviewer is most interested in hearing about how you specifically worked and contributed to that success.
An example task might be:
My role was to understand the users of the site, including their motivations and ability to donate to the non-profit. This research was expected to be turned into an experience design that included both the website and the offline experience which encouraged and made it easier for the people who wanted to donate to do so. It was up to me to help guide the team towards the best approach to the research and make sure that they understood everything so that we built the right solution for the right person.
At this point the interviewer will have a good understanding of the context of your response and know about your past roles beyond the title you put on your resume. You’re now ready to get into the body of your response, the action.
The action part of your response might sound like:
I started by having the team go through exercises that helped us understand the problem more. Since the two business members of the team felt like they had a good idea of the problem it was a little hard to convince them that these activities would be valuable. However, after we went through them and they saw that they had gaps in their understanding they were totally onboard. It also helped myself and the developers learn where we had to focus. Next, I created interview questions that we could ask to users who fit the personas we developed during the initial exercises. One of the business members of the team facilitated the interviews with users we recruited through an online service who had visited the non-profit's site but did not donate. We were able to understand their motivations and develop a user journey map. The whole team went through what we had learned and developed a list of opportunities. I created wireframes for the parts that involved a UI and got those in front of more users with a quick and dirty task-based usability study. I made some adjustments then I worked with the business team to create user stories that accurately matched what we had learned were customers expectations. Those stories were executed on by the developers on the team who made further recommendations that were well informed and helped make the new donation experience even better.
The action part of the answer would be a great time to show your work if possible. Provide artifacts that were produced as part of the process or point to how your actions influenced a live part of the design. Showing work is much more difficult under a non-disclosure agreement. I prefer when candidates can show me their work but totally sympathize when they can’t. If they describe their work with enough detail then I can usually get a sense of whether their approach would work well with my team.
Finally, you’re at the point where you should describe the results of your effort. Not all stories are tied to a financial result at the time, but should be tied to something that is measurable.
For example, the result part of your response might sound like:
First, my effort to get the team involved with researching and understanding the people who are interested in the non-profit made it much easier for us to make decisions and support those decisions together when working with the non-profit board. We quickly went from forming to performing because we all worked toward a common, well understood goal. Also, the non-profit is seeing strong returns from my design. Donations are up 20 percent through the website and surprisingly 15 percent through non-web means. The non-profit is now able to provide more services and the board told our team that we would be leading more national-level efforts due to the success of our work with the donations.
It’s not bragging when describing what you did or the results. Don’t try to minimize your efforts. Also, keep everything concise and on-point. Though the example above may read long, it is about two minutes in length at a comfortable speed. If you take the interviewer through this framework when they ask behavioral-based questions then you’ll get to present your best self and have them really understand what you’re about.
This suggestion should be obvious to most good candidates (and people), but don’t judge your interviewer by their race, gender, age, way of talking, face, or really anything except the questions they are asking and responses they give you to your questions. I’m young in appearance and have had good conversations with candidates then found out from other interviewers that they commented on my age and asked how I got into my position. Designers are working to understand and create things that help people. You will not get the job if there you have any hint of discrimination. You should also really take a look inward and work toward understanding people better. Your life will be better.
There is no reason not to be yourself in an interview. If you present a version of yourself that isn’t true to who you are then you’re just hurting yourself and the business you’re interviewing with. This stage of the employee experience is all about finding the best company for you. If you don’t present a true version of yourself then you’re putting yourself and the company you’re interviewing with at a disadvantage.
Get good sleep the night before, prepare, and bring your best self. Just make sure it is yourself.
I’ve hinted at this through the other tips, but interviews are as much about the company learning if you’re a good fit for them as you finding out if the company is a good fit for you. Ask questions that you’re curious about. Sometimes companies will shield you from their actual culture. If you sense that they are hiding something, ask questions that might be a little uncomfortable for them to answer. Just like you have to be your real self, encourage the interviewer to be their real self.