Tips For A Remote Product Designer Interview

By: Tim Pacific
Man peering through magnifying glass

You get an email from a company you applied to and see they want to set up an interview. Congrats! You keep reading and realize the interview will be over a video call, and they want you to present a project or two. Here are a few tips to help you succeed in nailing the remote product designer interview.

Interview Prep

Test Your Set Up

If the video link is provided to you ahead of time, which it should be, check whether there’s any software you need to download to run the video, microphone, or sound. If you can, try with someone else joining the call to verify that the sound and video are working.

Do Your Homework

Much like an in-person interview, you should know as much as you can about the company going in. Find out who their clients are and what projects they work on. If they have a blog, this is a great place to start digging around to see how they think and communicate. If you know ahead of time who will be on the call, do a Google search. Find out about those individuals. Many professionals are active online outside of a company blog.

Bonus: Drop some of your new found knowledge in the interview. As an example, “I saw the case study for client X. Can you tell me a bit about how the process went for that project?”

Attire

This is a remote interview, what do you wear? It feels casual, but it’s still an interview, so treat it as such. Dress as you would going into an office for an interview. This is the first time meeting these people, and they are evaluating you. You don’t want to come off too casual, you want them to trust you as a professional. They want to know that they can put you in front of clients and you can carry yourself in a professional setting, so show that you know how to dress for the situation.

Video Background

You’ll find a ton of suggestions with a simple Google search about what your background should be. In my opinion, this one can be a bit overanalyzed, and you should be fine as long as there is nothing distracting or inappropriate in the background. Can I see your sink full of dirty dishes in the background? Your unmade bed? That would be distracting. It’s best to use a neutral background like a bookshelf or houseplants. (Not only are they calming, they show you read and have the discipline to keep a houseplant alive.) If you go the bookshelf route, just be aware of the book titles that are visible.

You also want to avoid other people and pets from coming into and out of the frame. Is there someone in the background walking back and forth behind you? It can be really distracting to the other people on the call. Ask them to stay out of the room for the duration of the interview.

The Interview

Introduce Yourself

You’re going to be asked to tell the interviewers a bit about yourself. They’re not looking for your full story, but they do want some highlights that relate to how you got to where you are. After your introduction, they should know about your career journey, where you want to go next, and why you applied for this job with this company specifically. Explain why you’re interested in this company and position in your introduction. You’re going to get asked about it, so you might as well get out in front of it and address it here to reinforce your interest.

Make a Presentation

When presenting your project of choice, don’t just open a browser window and go to your website and start scrolling. They have likely already seen your website. In many cases, the project you’re most proud of may be the first one on your website. So it’s likely the first one they looked at it when evaluating your design portfolio. Take the time to put together a quick PowerPoint, Keynote, or any type of presentation and show them some things we can’t see on your website. Show how the sausage is made; that’s why everyone is here. They want to see your process, not just hear about it.

Putting together a presentation shows you are invested in getting this position and put in effort to prepare for the call. Show sketches, user insights, failed prototypes, and any other artifacts you have, not just the polished pieces. If you don’t have much more, you might have too much on your site, or you need to sketch and iterate more.

As a bonus, show something you’re currently working on in addition to your presentation and invite the interviewers in. Open up raw files, show feedback notes, show how you’re documenting choices. It can be risky and feel unnatural to show work at this stage in a design interview, but I’ve found that it can indicate you’re comfortable sharing your work and it can provide an even deeper insight into your design process.

Be Clear About Who Worked On Projects

Be specific. At the very start of your presentation, say what a project is, who worked on it, and what tasks you were responsible for. It takes a team to make great work, and no one is expecting that you made what you’re presenting all by yourself. Highlight how you worked together to achieve the user goal. When you call out the other players on a design project, it shows you’re collaborative and a team player.

Identify a Clear Problem

What is it you are trying to solve? Why is this project meaningful? Provide enough context to the problem for everyone to be able to evaluate the solution. This should be crystal clear. This sets up everything else your about to show us.

Tell the Full Story

As said above, everyone is here for the details. Did you do a bunch of user interviews? Show some of the results. Bonus points for highlighting insight quotes. Did you do a bunch of preliminary sketches? Show them. Did you user test wireframes? Describe what you learned and how you made adjustments. Did you collaborate with the internal team? Talk about it. Describe how often you met, how you facilitated feedback, and what you did with the feedback. What happened after design sign-off? Were there other pieces to work on? Did you assist the developers? Did you participate in any QA? Did you just clap your hands like a blackjack dealer and move on? The people interviewing you don’t know, so tell them.

Don’t Talk Negatively About the Client

Putting poor design decisions on the shoulders of the client shows a lack of accountability and awareness. The interviewers don’t know the context of the relationship between you and the client, and for the most part, that’s irrelevant. They’re evaluating your work and your process, not the client. If you start blaming the client for poor decisions, it might mean that you didn’t do a good job of letting the client know about the trade-offs and consequences of their decisions. In the end, you’re responsible for your work. Stand by it.

Ask Questions

Being in a remote professional environment has a lot of nuances. You don’t get to immerse yourself and see how people are interacting or how teams are set up. So ask about it. You should know enough about a company and have enough interest to ask a lot of questions. If there are multiple people on the call, make sure they are all answering the questions so you aren’t just getting one perspective. If they’re not answering initially, just ask if they have anything to add to what someone else said.

Some questions for remote teams: What challenges has being remote presented? How does the company stay connected despite being remote? What is something about the company you feel works really well? How do you seek out and conduct feedback sessions remotely? What would you expect of someone in the first 30 days after hiring them? If you could change anything about the team or company what would it be?

Pause

Video calls can be awkward for trying to get a word in. There’s going to be a lot of back-and-forth questioning and people talking. Make sure you are pausing every now and then to allow room for a follow-up question or for someone else to speak. You don’t need to be talking the entire time. An interview should feel more like a conversation. A healthy back-and-forth.

Be Vulnerable

As an interviewee we all want to come off as polished as possible, but this can sometimes lead to being inauthentic. There’s nothing wrong with talking about mistakes you’ve made as long as you include what you learned from those mistakes. Did you jump into a role too quickly? What lessons did that teach you? Did you handle a part of the design process wrong? What did you do to correct it? Being open and honest shows that you are able to make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward professionally. It also shows that you’ve already made these mistakes and dealt with them so it’s not something the company should worry about happening again.

After the Interview

Follow Up

Being the interviewer also takes time. They have taken time to look at your resume and review your design portfolio. Take two minutes, the day of the interview, to send an email to those on the interview thanking them for their time. If you don’t have everyone’s email, ask for it, or ask the person whose contact information you do have to pass along the thank you.

DockYard is a digital product agency offering exceptional strategy, design, full stack engineering, web app development, custom software, Ember, Elixir, and Phoenix services, consulting, and training. With a nationwide staff, we’ve got consultants in key markets across the United States, including Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Nashville, Austin, Philadelphia, and Boston.