UX Design Interview: Breakdown of Each Stage and How To Prepare

checklist on a purple background

Can I just say: Interviewing is DAMN hard.

And the sad thing is: Not a single college course teaches us how to prepare for UX design interviews.

Thus, in this article, I want to share a breakdown of the main UX design interviews and ways to prepare for them. I hope this will help anybody who’s interested!

The content is mainly divided into two sections

  1. General interview tips (before, during, and after an interview)
  2. Stages of UX design interview

This is a long article. So let’s get started!

General interview tips

Before I start, I will like to recommend an amazing book called When Can You Start? Ace The Interview and Get Hired.

It was recommended to me by an ex-Google & Uber designer.

It’s not a lengthy read (248 pages). And it helped me set the right mental foundation for interviews.

A lot of this section comes from this book.

So, if you’ve never been in an interview before, I highly recommend getting it.

But let’s get into the meat of the article.

Before the interview

Know what the interviewer(s) want

This may be the most critical tip I can give.

Empathy is important.

You might hear that designers need to empathize with their users.

Well, why not apply it to the interview process?

Imagine you’re in a portfolio presentation.

What does the interviewer want to know? What kind of projects does the interviewer want to see? What kind of design process are they looking for?

Understanding what the interviewer(s) wants can help you tremendously in your preparation.

Again, every interviewer is different, and this won’t apply to everyone.

But it never hurts to step in the interviewer’s shoes.

Familiarize yourself with the company

If you want to get into a company, you should know the ins and outs of the business.

This includes their products, culture, visions, competitors, and recent news.

And always expect a question like this:

Why did you decide to apply to XXX?

Your answer to this question will dictate whether you did research. Treat this as an opportunity to showcase how much you want to work for the company!

Also, it’s great if you’ve used the company’s product. But it’s even better if you can talk about what you like and what can be improved about the product.

Opinions matter.

Practice your opening pitch

One of the very first questions an interviewer will ask is this:

Tell me about yourself.

This is often called the “only question you must be able to answer.”

You typically have around 2-3 minutes to tell a story of how you came this far into the field of UX Design. Focus on crafting a concise and unique opening pitch to impress the interviewer!

Here are some resources to help you prepare:

Triple check your interview date and time

Time zone is a pain.

Make sure that you know exactly when the interview will take place. Mark it on your calendar.

Dress smart casual

People might say this is insignificant.

I don’t think so. I believe that every single detail during an interview can be a game-changer.

Will you want to hire someone who wears a hoodie or a button-down shirt for an interview?

Arrive at least 10 minutes early

Do not be late. Period.

Find a quiet room with no background noise

For every interview, I will always book a library room with a clean background.

The interview itself is already stressful. You don’t want any other distractions during the interview.

Prepare thoughtful questions

This is very important.

Towards the end of the interview, the interviewer will always ask

Do you have any questions for me?

This is your time to shine! Come up with specific, thoughtful questions to ask.

It means that you care!

During the interview

Start with a good impression

When you enter the call, wave! Say, “Hi! This is (Name)!”

Be warm with your greetings.

Because it turns out: The first impression matters a lot.

A study by MIT confirms this: During the first 30 seconds, the interviewers will make their mind up about you. And they’ll spend the rest of the interview confirming that bias.

So, try to leave a good first impression in the first 30 seconds!

Sit up! Look engaged

Don’t slouch on your chair.

It signals that you’re not excited about the interview and the job role.

Be honest and don’t be shy about not knowing certain things

We all make mistakes.

During an interview, you’re not expected to be 100% perfect.

It’s okay if you don’t know something. Ask to clarify or explain.

Sometimes, displaying vulnerability can be beneficial.

Ask appropriate questions

This stems from the preparation I mentioned earlier. Some of the questions you can ask are:

  • “With the recent (name of the conference), what are some of the updates you’re most excited about?”
  • “What are some of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on at XXX?”
  • “What do you like most about working for XXX?”
  • “What challenges might I encounter if I take on this position?”
  • “Is there anything in my resume or background that could be concerning or I should address?”

And please do not ask:

  • “How much will I get paid?”
  • “Who is your competitor?” - you should know...
  • “I heard your company is ...” - gossip about the company

The bottom line is to stay curious and thoughtful.

After the interview

Send a thank-you note. Always

Please send one to your interviewer(s) and the people who have helped you along the way. You may think it’s not important, but I believe it makes a huge difference.

Reflect on your interview and make improvements

Nobody gets it right the first time.

I’ve made countless mistakes during an interview.

But what matters is after the interview, you reflect, identify the mistakes, and fix them.

With each interview, you’ll grow in confidence as you actively make improvements.

Stages of UX design interviews

Now onto the more specific stages. I will go over: 

  1. Phone screen (recruiter/HR) 
  2. Portfolio presentation
  3. Behavioral interview
  4. Whiteboard challenge
  5. Design challenge/Take-home assignment
  6. App critique

Phone screen (Recruiter/HR)

What the interviewer wants

  • Confirm that you’re an actual human being who can answer questions well

How to prepare

Expect the usual rounds of questions

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to work at XXX?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Can you tell me about your experience at XXX before?

Here is a Google Doc I used to prepare for my interviews. I didn’t answer every single question on here. But I think it’s a good start.

Quick tip(s)

Make them your ally!

Recruiters are on your side! They’re hoping that you’re the real deal and the right fit for the position.

Put your prep document on the side

Only do this if it’s a phone call. But feel free to look at it for reference.

Have questions ready

Make them open-ended. Use them to show your familiarity with the company and the industry.

Hiring manager interviews (Multiple)

Here, the number of interviews varies from one to many. Google has seven, so it really depends.

Typically, the hiring manager will be product designers or design managers. Here are some of the common hiring manager interviews:

Portfolio presentation

What the interviewer(s) want

  • A presentation with a clear structure (not your website!)
  • Two projects if given 30 minutes OR three projects if more time
  • A stupidly clear and straightforward design process that showcases your thinking.

How to prepare

This stage is your chance to flex your past works!

I will suggest starting by selecting some projects based on the given timeframe. Some deciding factors may be:

  • Is it an end-to-end design project?
  • Is it a project you’re very proud of?
  • Is it a project that directly relates to the job role?
  • Is it a project where you had to collaborate with cross-functional team members?

If any of your projects is a “yes” to these deciding factors, add them in!

After you’ve chosen your project, it’s time to create presentation slides.

You can use any tool. I used Figma for all my presentations.

For reference, here is a standard process I follow for the presentation:

1 - Setting the Scene

  • My Role
  • What is (Project Name) / Story

2 - Problem Context

  • The Problem Statement

3 - Research

  • Goals & Methods
  • Key Findings

4 - Synthesis

  • Personas
  • Information Architecture
  • User Flow
  • Opportunity Areas

5 - Exploration

  • Sketches
  • Mid-Fidelity Wireframes
  • User Testing
  • Design Changes after User Testing

6 - Final Designs

  • High-Fidelity Prototypes
  • Mockups

7 - Learnings

Also, if you’re interested, this is my Figma presentation for one of my design interviews.

high fidelity prototypes
Sneak peek of one of my projects I presented

Quick tip(s)

Display your final designs at the beginning

This gives the interviewer a good expectation of what’s about to come. No more grand reveals.

Here are some helpful resources I looked at:

Behavioral interview

What the interviewer(s) want

  • Know if you’ve done your research and preparation
  • Understand you as a designer & how you work as a team member

How to prepare

Here are some common questions to get started:

  • Tell me about a time you had to work with others that went well.
  • Walk me through a project you recently worked on.
  • Tell me about a time you had to work with others that didn’t go so well.
  • How do you work with cross-functional teams?
  • Describe a challenge you faced and how you handled it.
  • What’s your biggest design failure?
  • What’s the most innovative idea you came up with before?

In case you missed it, here’s the Google Doc with a list of common UX interview questions.

Quick tips

Use the STAR method

This method is gold. Learn more about it here. You can use it for any question I mentioned above.

Over prep is better than no prep

Go over all the common behavioral questions and rehearse your answers!

Smile! Relax :))

Remember, the interviewer is a human too. Make the interview more conversational!

Ask thoughtful questions

You know the drill. Do your research and ask good questions.

Here is a helpful video I looked at:

Whiteboard challenge

What the interviewer(s) want

  • Understand how you think on the spot
  • Get a sense of how you work with other team members

How to prepare

Look at different articles, videos, and real-life examples of whiteboard challenges.

Even better: Find a designer to practice with.

Also, it’s good to have a clear process. Here’s the process I followed for a challenge:

Background (10 mins)

  1. Context
  2. Goals
  3. Platform
  4. Constraints
  5. Success Metrics

User + Market Research (10–15 mins)

  1. Type of user
  2. Demographics
  3. Existing solutions
  4. Potential personas
  5. User preferences
  6. User journeys

Ideation (5–10 mins)

  1. Low-fidelity wireframes
  2. User flow

Quick tips

Do not jump straight to design

This is important. Always ask clarification questions and try to understand everything before you start designing. Jumping straight into a solution is one of the worst things you can do as a designer.

Think out loud

The point of a whiteboard challenge is to let the interviewers know how you think. So always speak out your thoughts!

Remember: the point is not to be right

When the interviewer challenges you or suggests alternatives, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong or a bad designer! Throw that thought away! The point is to work with the designer to create a workable solution!

Enjoy the collaboration process

I know it’s hard. But try not to treat this as a whiteboard challenge! Treat this as a collaboration exercise. Ask questions and communicate frequently with the designer! It’s as if you’re already in the company working with him/her! Feel free to ask them:

What do you think about this?

Is there anything I’m missing or should consider?

Write down everything

Use a whiteboarding tool to do this if virtual. Whimsical, FigJam, or Miro are all great options.

Here are some resources I looked up when I was prepping for the whiteboard challenge:

whiteboard challenge
Screenshot of a whiteboard challenge I've done

Design challenge

What the interviewers want

  • A clear and logical design process that showcases your thinking

How to prepare

This is another opportunity to flex your design muscles!

What I’ll suggest is to focus on the research and show how your findings led to your designs! Here’s a standard process that I follow:

Phase 1 - Research

  • Understand Assignment
  • Desk Research
  • User Research

Phase 2 - Synthesis

  • Persona
  • User Story
  • User Journey
  • User Flow

Phase 3 - Ideation

  • App Requirements
  • Information Architecture
  • Assumptions
  • Constraints
  • Tradeoffs
  • Low-Fidelity Wireframes
  • Mid-Fidelity Wireframes

Phase 4 - Final Designs

  • Hi-Fidelity Wireframes
  • Visual System

Phase 5 - Reflections

  • If I have more time...
  • Learnings

Quick tips

Say no if...

...they’re asking you to design their product. That’s free labor. Don’t do it.

Be holistic

Think about the user journey, assumptions, constraints, and trade-offs. These considerations will help you make more focused and effective design decisions.

Don’t focus on the small UI details

Remember: You don’t have that much time. Showcase what’s most important!

Don’t make over-work obvious

If the company gave you a time limit, feel free to go over it. But don’t make it obvious that you spent more than that. You can easily tell an applicant worked on an assignment for over 20 hours vs 8 hours.

Here are resources that I looked at when doing the take-home assignment:

Also, here is the design challenge I did for Roblox.

high fidelity mockups
Sneak peek of my design challenge for Roblox

Product critique

What the interviewer(s) want:

  • Check if you’re up to date with the current design guidelines and the recent app design trends
  • Know if you can both see the details and the big picture

How to prepare

Here are some things you can do to increase your chance of getting the critique right:

  • Download the most common app
  • Understand the app and your interaction with it. Understand the app’s purpose, target audience, your initial reaction, how did this app come to your attention, and more.
  • Learn about the most recent design guidelines (app, desktop, or novel UIs)

Quick tips

Tell a story

Talk in a way that interviewer can easily understand. Telling a story is the most effective way.

Be willing to learn

Don’t be afraid to ask for the designer’s opinion. You’re young and still learning.

Here are some helpful resources:

Conclusion

Going through an interview is a stressful, but valuable experience.

You get to understand yourself better as a designer and a human being. You begin to know what you lack and start to improve yourself.

To wrap it up, I will like to end with a final tip:

If you’re nervous, that means you care deeply about the role. View your nervousness as excitement!

I wanted to write this post to help anybody in their application process. I hope this article will give you some insights and tips to succeed in the interviews.

Here are some final resources about the UX design interview process: 

And that’s a wrap!

Thank you for being awesome and reading this far! :)

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn or by email. Will love to set up a casual call and chat!

Read Next