I just retired the zoom interview technique I have been using for the past few months. You might hate it, but it was fun and had some real benefits. Decide for yourself.
It seems long to read, but it went quick in a 30 min interview.
I ask the candidate to imagine going to a design conference.
“There are 2,000 attendees. Designers are mingling. There is a juice smoothie bar. Some sessions have regular speakers with session names like [How to make a Figma Library] or [How to present to executives]. Other sessions are discussion panels.”
I then show them this picture and make sure they know what a panel is.
“A friend runs up to you at the conference. He happens to be a coordinator of the event. He says that he desperately needs your help. A discussion panelist is missing someone (they are sick). The topic is [Designer Portfolio Websites]. You don’t need to prepare. It starts in 5 minutes. Can you please help and sit in on the panel?”
I expect them to say “yes”.
“You go to the room and they get you on stage and put a mic on your lapel. The moderator stands up and welcomes the crowd and introduces the panel. It is you, Glen Lipka, Jamie, and Mary.”
I ask the candidate to give the moderator a name. Janice is common.
“Janice asks some questions of Jamie and Mary. Jamie seems a bit aggressive. Mary is a graphic designer and seems nice. Janice asks you a question.”
Finally, whew! We can ask the candidate I question. The whole thing above takes a couple of minutes, but it set the stage for them to be relaxed and focused.
“Janice says that most portfolio websites are nearly identical in structure.
- Hi! My name is __________
- I am a _________ Designer
- 4 Project squares
- Click a project, get a super long scrolling page
- About page has 2 paragraphs
- That it
Janice asks if this is a good idea or a bad idea? Should everyone have the exact same structure?”
At this point, the candidate says what they think. I am checking for the following:
- Do they realize this might not be a good thing?
- Do you know at all what differentiation is?
- Do they have any ideas?
- Can they explain their thoughts coherently?
“Janice asks Jamie what he thinks. He says ‘YES, use the exact same website. Make it great for bots to crawl.’ She asks Mary. Mary thinks ‘NOT SURE. I got into design to be creative and the same layout is really limiting.’ Janice asks Glen for his thoughts. I say ‘I look at 20-40 portfolios at a time. 700 in the last few months. So having the same site is a bit mind numbing. Any difference at all, animation, color, layout, ANYTHING… it will wake me up and Ill be more likely to pay attention. Janice comes back to the candidate and wants to know if she has any final thoughts.”
At this point, I am testing:
- Do they change their minds with new information?
- Do they see that differentiation is important?
- Do they have interesting thoughts about the design process?
“Janice moves on to the next question. She says that most about pages are just text and a picture. However, yesterday she saw one that had a bunch of links in the text. The links went to pages dedicated to their hobbies, artwork, poetry, design books they read, experiments, etc. It has like 10 links to 10 interesting pages. What do you guys think? Is this a good idea? A bad one?
- Jamie: About pages are stupid. I don’t even have one. No one cares.
- Mary: I think its cool. I wish I had more time to do it.
What do you think?”
They answer. I am hoping they have something coherent to say.
“Janice asks Glen and I say this is a no-brainer. If people don’t click the link, nothing bad happened. But if the link is there, maybe someone is interested. If they are, great. You gave them something. The -click event- is the universal signal to say you are interested in knowing more. Give the user a chance to express what they want to see! – Janice asks the candidate for final thoughts.”
- Do they see the obvious logic?
- Are they defensive?
- Do they change their minds with new information?
- Do they come up with other ideas that are interesting.
“Let’s take a question from the audience.”
I ask the candidate to pretend to be the audience member and they can ask anyone on the panel a question. I find it interesting what they ask.
“Janice thanks the panel and the audience. Round of applause. You exit the stage and they take the mic. Your friend finds you and thanks you profusely. They give you a free ticket for a juice smoothie. You go home feeling good that you did something cool today.”
When you interview someone, they are nervous. They have also practiced their answers and know what you are going to ask. I think of it as Interview Theater. You don’t really get a good feel for who they are and what working with them would be like.
By creating a situation where it’s not you, it’s Janice asking the the questions and also they are not responding to you but rather a fictional audience, the candidate will actually relax and speak more freely. Additionally, you can use Jamie and Mary to give antagonistic responses without it feeling like YOU are fighting with them.
It creates a different point of view. So far, candidates have said they liked the style and felt more relaxed.
It is a little long to set up. If I went the traditional route, I would probably get 1-2 more questions in. Also, some people were so freaked out by public speaking that they said no to the request. This surprised me because it isn’t real. Human psychology is fascinating.
Next Session Plan
For my next series of sessions, I am actually going to lower the bar and jump to giving more people the home exercise and have them send it in. T^his only works in certain markets for certain levels. It will work for me now, but I will see if it has it’s own drawbacks.
I am considering publishing the take home exercise here.
I believe in transparency and helping designs succeed. This is why I post these things. A designer I hired was contacted about an upcoming interview with me. She said, “It’s all on his blog. Just read it.”
I wish everyone gave the answers to the test in advance.