We won’t ask you how many golf balls fit in a bus or how many times a day a clock’s hands overlap – nothing like what Google became famous for. While there's some value in seeing how candidates react to curve-ball questions, they don't really add much to a 45-minute interview. We also won't ask you to attend an all-day session with a series of interviewers.
I think the hiring process at GitLab is way simpler and more efficient. A successful candidate has to go through four stages of interviewing before receiving an offer. Altogether, we spend around 2-3 hours with them, so we need to ask the right questions to be efficient.
I'm so confident in the efficiency of these questions that I’m completely okay with sharing these publicly. What you answer matters less than how you answer them.
1. Can you speak to the difference between information architecture, interaction design, usability, and user research?
I was asked this when was interviewing for the Senior UX designer position at GitLab. I wasn’t expecting such a ‘basic’ question, but I immediately realized how ingenious it is.
Here’s what’s so brilliant about it: We're testing if the candidate has solid foundations for being a UX designer. With enough experience, explaining these terms should be a piece of cake, whereas struggling can be a red flag. Even if a candidate doesn’t have a formal education, they should be able to provide descriptions with their own words and ideally throw in snippets from their past experience.
We don’t focus on the correctness of the answer so much as the body language and level of confidence the candidate shows when replying. Someone who’s not experienced in these UX basics can Google the terms before the interview and even prepare notes but we’ll pick that up. The lack of confidence will be obvious in their body language, their voice, and the words they use to describe the terms. Candidates who lack experience all tend to use similar, generic descriptions for these terms and seem to talk a lot, but don’t actually say much.
We don’t focus on the correctness of the answer so much as the body language and level of confidence the candidate shows when replying
2. Pick an application you like/dislike and explain why.
This may seem like another basic question but it’s great for finding out what kind of a designer and person the candidate is. This is what we're looking for:
We’re interested in your opinion about the product as a designer, and we want to see if you talk about it with passion. If you love the product, the passion will be clear through the words you use to describe it and whether your eyes light up when you talk about it. The same applies for a product that you dislike: you should dislike it with passion.
This question tells us immediately if the candidate is passionate about being a designer or not. I’m often surprised at how many designers out there became designers only because it’s hip or well paid. These are not good reasons for becoming a designer – passion for creating things that improve people’s lives is.
Attention to detail
We want to see examples of candidates talking about small visual design and UI details; about seemingly insignificant but delightful UX solutions that can make a user’s day. The way a candidate talks about visual design gives us an insight into candidate’s skills in this area (what they notice, what they learn and how they use and adapt elements in their own work). We’re looking for well-rounded people who can cover the whole design process.
If they talk about things that aren’t good, we want to hear how they would improve them. Everyone can criticize; few can find good and feasible solutions. In most cases, I really don’t need to see the app that the candidate talks about. The way they describe it usually tells me enough to make a judgement. Good candidates describe things so well that I can imagine them without looking at the product.
Everyone can criticize; few can find good and feasible solutions
Communication in design work is key, so being able to accurately describe the problems or the delightful things in a product or an app is a good indicator of those skills.
User’s point of view
As a designer, you should always consider other users and how they experience things. This can be the crucial point of the interview. If you only describe the app from your point of view and based on your experience, it will be a potential red flag. You shouldn’t have to conduct user testing to imagine what other people could have problems with. For example: are certain UI elements or the font size really small? This could be a serious problem for older people or people with certain health conditions. Does the app behave consistently? If not, it could cause usability problems. These are the sorts of things that we want to hear our candidates talk about – empathy for users is key.
I have to give bonus points to candidates that take the initiative and offer to share their screen or show me their phone to show me the app they talk about. The candidate is in a challenging moment, outside of their comfort zone, and it’s reassuring to see them take the initiative in such occasions.
Our interviews aren’t tricky
If you’re a passionate designer with an appropriate level of experience for the position, that will be clear from how you speak about design and how you think about user problems. I prefer to see passion and commitment to the design profession than a formal education and numerous years of experience in a non-challenging environment. We look for well-rounded and passionate people with a wide range of skills matching their experience. If you think you’re a good match, you’re welcome to apply to our open positions. We look forward to meeting you in our interviews. Good luck!