Putting a great portfolio together and explaining projects on paper comes naturally to some, but here at Futureheads, we’ve noticed that talking about work during an interview is not always straightforward.

So I thought it would be useful to follow up Andrew Roger’s blog on creating a great portfolio by sharing some tips on how to talk about your UX work when you’re at an interview.

Hopefully, this advice will come in handy whether you’re just starting your career in UX, or if you’re more senior and looking for some pointers.

Remember the STAR System

We advise using the STAR System (Situation; Task; Action; Results) as a framework for talking about your portfolio in an interview because the technique enables you to create a linear narrative for your projects.

Bear in mind it’s best to limit your initial pitch to five minutes, with plenty of pauses to allow the client to chip in and ask questions. This also allows the client to redirect your approach if what you’re talking about isn’t aligned with what they’d like to discuss.

Situation

By far the most important part of the STAR system. Many candidates dive into the project specifics and higher-level solutions, but it’s crucial to put your work in context: Who, what, where, when and why?

  • Who was the company and what were their goals and needs?
  • What was the platform: website/app/CRM/CMS?
  • Who exactly did you work with: How many UX designers, researchers? Size of the team? What was the hierarchy?
  • How long was the project? How did the schedule and time frames break down?
  • What problem were you trying to solve (arguably the most important thing to front up)

Interviewers first want a situation overview. If this comes later, your interviewer will have to back-pedal through what you’ve already discussed to gather the correct context. I can’t stress enough how important it is to introduce the situation first and foremost.

Task

This easily follows on from your intro and is essentially what you were assigned by the company to accomplish. Discuss your exact role within the project, including your approach. Talk through the journey from project kick-off through greenfield research, design iterations, and delivery.

Action

Paint a picture of your thought process – how and why you came to your solution, including how you overcame problems along the way. Remember that there is no such thing as the perfect project, so don’t shy away from discussing the challenges, as hirers are always interested in hearing about what went wrong and the problem-solving processes that evolved. You can talk about specific design details (e.g. this flow happened this way) but you should offer clarity on how you arrived at these insights. Always remember that great UX successfully merges business needs with those of the users, so any interesting insights (and how these were gleaned, i.e. what research methodology) should be discussed.

Do however be mindful that it is possible to talk in too much detail. Stick to a few salient insights and design decisions but direct the focus towards the bigger picture.

Result

Talking about the end product offers you a chance to shine, and to introduce quantifiable details about your work. If something didn’t work out with a particular team member, or legislation hadn’t been considered, or there were other restrictions out of your control, don’t be afraid to say!

Clients respect hearing a story about why a project failed, and it gives you the opportunity to talk about what you learned from the experience. (NB: make sure you take a positive approach to avoid seeming cynical and negative – it’s a fine line!)

Top tips

  • Don’t be too literal with the timeline from start to finish. Simply create a good narrative about how you transitioned from the research, or however the project began; describe how your scribble on a napkin became a well-designed end-product.
  • Take the interviewer on a journey with you; create a visual picture so they can see what you were doing, not just the end result.
  • It’s okay to ask the question: “Are there specific projects in my portfolio/types of projects you’d be interested in hearing about?” This is a perfectly reasonable question, but don’t be offended if they haven’t read through the entirety of your profile.
  • Offer to walk them through a prototype, but don’t insist upon this. Specific prototypes may be less relevant to the person interviewing you – they may not derive much value from this, particularly if they’re more of a layman.

Before the interview: Preparation is key

  • Do your homework. Before you start talking about a project, make sure it’s one the company will be interested in. Avoid projects with no relevance to the job on offer.
  • Rehearse beforehand. Practice in front of the mirror or in front of friends, or record and listen to yourself talking about projects.
  • Just as you utilise the space in your CV by only including the relevant information, carefully choose what you want to say.
  • An interview should be a two-way street – clients don’t want to hear a monologue.
  • Time yourself, you’d be surprised how quickly 5 minutes goes by when you’re talking about a project you loved!
  • Demonstrate a clear undercurrent of knowledge about how the business works and you’ll stand out at interview, communicating the parts of a project you enjoyed the most are the sort of things you might get the chance to do at this new company.

Use visual cues

  • We advise that you use a slide deck of imagery. Your usual portfolio should include a 50% images and 50% text split, but the slides you demonstrate at interview should be mainly visual. If there’s too much text, your interviewer will spend more time reading than listening to you.
  • Slides should be in a logical order and act as a visual cue for you to talk through the progression of each project. Again, keep your slides short, concise, and light on text, except for statistics to demonstrate context.

Think about your audience

  • Ensure you use the right level and tone according to who your interviewer is. It could be a hiring manager who’s a UX expert or a CEO who wants to bring UX onboard (common with freelance positions) or an HR Manager. The latter two may be less impressed by overuse of discipline-specific terms or buzzwords, whereas the former will be interested in your understanding of the UX craft.

If you’d like to discuss any of the above points in more detail, please get in touch at chris@wearefutureheads.co.uk, I’m always happy to offer advice on how to shine at interview.

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