I’ve interviewed a lot of product designers over the last couple years. To help inform my hiring recommendations to my team, I try to find out what each candidate is passionate about, what their strengths and growth areas are, and preferences regarding the kinds of teams on which they like to work. All in the span of about 40 minutes.
I have a list of go-to questions I ask during those interviews that’s evolved over time. I slightly adjust these questions depending on who I’m speaking with (early career designer vs. experienced designer, specialist vs. generalist, etc.). In any scenario, these questions give me the strongest signal about what a candidate would bring to our team and what it’d be like to work with them, while keeping the conversation enjoyable for both sides.
Here are the questions, along with what I’m hoping to get out of each:
Being a product designer is unique because it requires a wide range of skills. Which parts of being a designer have come naturally to you? Which have you had to put more effort into?
from Sophie Shepard
I usually start each interview with a little chit-chat to get everyone comfortable, after which I usually segue into this question.
The first part of this question tells me what someone is naturally drawn to, what gives them energy, and why they chose to become a designer. Hearing someone talk about the skills they value also tells me how they view their role as a designer.
The second part of this question focuses on self-awareness and growth. Things they realize are part of the job but aren’t necessarily doing at a high level. How do they identify new skills and take steps to learn them? I’m hoping to hear the candidate has a growth mindset and is not stuck in their ways.
Julie Zhou offers another, less formal way to ask this:
For understanding their weaknesses:— Julie Zhuo (@joulee) May 12, 2021
Imagine you could work with the perfect partner to start an ambitious project together. What kind of person would you be looking for to best complement you? What skills would they have that would balance you?
All projects aren’t alike, but how do you generally approach new projects? How do you decide where to start?
This question tells me about a candidate’s framework for approaching design problems. How and when do they engage different members of their team? How and when do the employ things like research, journey maps, Figma, code, Keynote, data analysis, etc.? I often probe a little, asking them to tell me more about a detail they mention. Even when interviewing more senior designers, it’s helpful to know how they use the tools in their toolbox.
I’m hoping to hear that someone is familiar with a wide variety of tools (and knows when to apply them), is an effective collaborator, and knows how to balance speed and thoroughness during a project.
Tell me about something you did to address a problem that nobody expected you to work on.
from Julie Zhou
This question tells me about someone’s proactivity and product sense. How well do they understand the business? Do they identify and pitch projects for the roadmap? Can they look at a feature or listen to feedback, understand the job to be done, and identify better alternatives?
I love to hear about how someone plays an active role in what gets worked on and doesn’t simply design based on requirements given to them. The best product designers work on problems instead of projects.
What is the best team you’ve ever been on? What made it so great?
from Sophie Shepard
This question tells me what someone values when working with others. Most folks answer the second part of that question by saying the team communicated well and supported each other. In those cases, I ask for examples. How did the team communicate? How did the team use meetings, chat, email, project management software, etc.? How was the team supportive? How did it overcome adversity? How did it foster an inclusive environment?
I learn if people care about working with other high performers vs. mentoring/being mentored, if they prefer having clear direction vs. full autonomy, having a lot of process vs. no process, supportive feedback vs. constructive feedback, if they care more about the process or the final product, etc. - Sophie Shepard
I’m hoping to learn about the candidate’s working style, what environment the candidate thrives in, and what they’ve struggled with in the past.
Have you worked with a distributed team? How did it go?
Our team is distributed across timezones, so I often ask about the candidate’s experience working remotely. What challenges have they faced and how did they overcome them? How did they communicate? How did they organize their day?
Most candidates have experience working remotely because of COVID, so I often probe a bit to see if they’ve truly embraced it or if they're only doing it because they have to.
How do you ensure the best possible design ends up in the product?
This question tells me how someone guides the implementation of their design. How do they work with engineering and QA? Do they regularly review their work as it’s translated into code? Do they report issues? Do they maintain documentation? Designers don’t need to know how to code, but I’m hoping to hear that someone plays an active role in getting their work into the product and doesn’t simply throw their designs over the wall to engineering.
Creating Dribbble-worthy designs and meticulously red-lined Figmas is all for nothing if the design never makes it into the product.
What is your favorite product in terms of design? What specific decisions do you admire from its creators?
This is a fun question that I usually leave towards the end to lighten the mood a bit. This question gives me an insight into someone’s taste. Do they talk about visual design, product growth, the platform, integrations, business model, the technology?
I love answers that teach me something new about a product I know or tell me about a product I didn’t know about. There’s really no wrong answer here, though I give a slight edge to candidates who speak passionately about a product or problem space, or talk about something unique (rather than Apple, Spotify, Airbnb, or another one of the usual suspects).