Interviewing with Startups: Tips for Designers

While some designers are fundamentally more qualified than others, interviews can completely change a team’s perception about a candidate. Sometimes a designer we were lukewarm on crushed it and we immediately wanted them to join, while other times a dream candidate blew it and we’d leave their presentation bewildered.

Looking back, some informed preparation could have gone a long way toward helping candidates put their best foot forward. If you’re about to go in for an interview at your dream startup I highly recommend doing the following:

1. Organize Your Work

Choose a few select projects and be ready to go deep on them. This means going beyond the visuals and into your process and decision making. Many startups will ask you to present your work and background. Be prepared to do this virtually and in front of a group. For each project, you should be able to answer:

  • What problem were you solving?
  • How did you know you were solving the right problem?
  • How did you collaborate with others?
  • What were your metrics for success?
  • How did this design specifically succeed or fail in achieving the goals?
  • What other ideas/iterations did you try?
  • What did you learn from this project?

2. Do Your Research

You should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the startup interviewing you and their domain. If they ask you to give insights to current products and strategy, your answer should never be, “I don’t know, I’ve actually never used your product.” Also be ready to answer:

  • What interests you about this company?
  • What do you love about the product?
  • What are opportunities for this company to improve?
  • What inspires you about their mission?
  • Why do you want to work there? What are you looking to gain by working there and what do you think you bring to the table?

3. Develop Your Career Story

Companies want to see intentionality behind your career path. It lets the startup know you’re thoughtful about developing yourself. Things companies look for:

  • How long have you worked at your previous companies and why did you leave?
  • What’s your process of thinking through where you want to work?
  • What are you trying to achieve in your career? Having an answer to this lets you and the startup know if you are a good fit.

4. Prepare Questions

Companies often end interviews by letting you ask questions. What you ask can inform the interviewer into your thought process and level of seriousness. Some of the best questions I’ve gotten include:

  • How would you see me best fitting into your team?
  • How does design currently work within your company?
  • How do you develop and grow designers?
  • Why do you get up every day to work here?
  • What does the world look like in 5 years if you guys achieve everything you want?

5. Develop a Relationship

Before formally interviewing at a startup, spend time getting to know the people there. Go out for drinks, interact with them through their product, and go to events they put on. There’s a big difference when you step into a startup interview and see a few friendly faces: you’ll be more relaxed, more confident and more likely to present a compelling story about yourself.

We hope these tips are helpful. If you have any more, please share with us!