Questions to ask an employer

When it comes to UX interviews, it’s easy to feel like you’re the one getting grilled. But remember, you’re interviewing the company too.

You may spend a third of your life (~8 hours) for years at a job. So you might as well determine if a company is right for you.

When it comes to job interviews, we often see it as a one-way street, with the interviewer holding all the cards. In reality, though, it’s a two-way interaction. You are also interviewing them to see if their company is the right fit for you. Sure, sometimes desperation means you don’t have that luxury, but hopefully, at some point, you’ll have options and you’ll get to choose the company that’s best for you. A large part of determining that is the questions you ask at the end of the interview.

Beyond that, asking questions shows your interest in the job and the company. Q&A often only consists of a few minutes at the end of an hour-long interview, but it’s the final impression you’ll make, and according to one-third of HR managers, it can make or break your chances of getting the gig. When they inevitably ask you if you have questions, not having any indicates that you don’t really care about the position and are seemingly only going through the motions of an interview; conversely, asking good, incisive questions shows you’re knowledgeable about the field and sincerely curious about the job.

The goal with your own questions is to just get a better picture of the company as a whole and your potential role in it. You don’t want to get too detailed — save that for the follow-up interview, or when they offer you the job. For instance, you don’t want to ask about salary or benefits right off the bat; that will make it seem like you’re only interested in money, and not the position.

Elsewhere online, you can find lengthy lists of 30-50 questions to ask at the end of an interview. That’s far too many, however, and makes you pick and choose out of your head based on the scenario. In this post, we’ll give you just a few options from a few different categories that we think are the most important. You want to have at least 3 questions to ask, so come prepared with at least 6 just in case some get answered in the course of the interview.

Position

What does success look like for a designer at the company?

What is a day or week in the life of this position like? Can you show me an example of a project I’d be working on?

This is fairly straightforward. You obviously want to know what the daily/weekly workflow and tasks will be. For many jobs, it’s hard to nail down what a consistent day/week looks like, so the answer you get may be vague. But hopefully it’s enough to get a feel for whether you’re a good fit for the position. This is one that is often answered before the end of the interview, so be sure to have a back-up.

What is the history of this position? Is it newly created? If not, why did the previous person leave it?

It’s beneficial to know the history of the position you’re interviewing for. Is it newly created? If so, you have the opportunity to set the standard. Has the position seen 5 employees in 5 years? You may want to think twice about taking it. This can be uncomfortable to ask, but is necessary on your end to know what kind of role you’re getting into.

What’s the team structure? Who does the UX manager (or team) report to?

This question gives you a sense of the team dynamics and who will ultimately affect your work.

Do you notice that UX designers have a seat that the company’s table, or are they at the mercy of other teams? Does the UX director (if there is one) fall under the creative director, or are they equals?

Can you walk me through how things are made here? Let’s say there’s a new project and you have a kickoff meeting…what’s the UX process like until launch? Post-launch?

You want to know about the team’s UX process – or lack thereof. See if they have some sort of process set up. And it’s not always a bad thing that they don’t – some teams may admit they need a more rigorous product development process than what’s currently in place, and that’s where you come in.

It’s also a litmus test of the team’s UX maturity. Based on their answers, you can tell how advanced their skills are and if they can/can’t mentor you.

What are some things that new designers could do in their first 30 days to set them up for success? What does onboarding look like for new team members?

This question helps you gauge what qualities the team values, and if the manager has given any thought to how to prep new designers. Do they do any sort of onboarding for new employees? Will you be given the right resources or made to hunt for them yourself?

Why is this role open; what specific need has the team identified that makes this role necessary?

What specific problems are the design team solving today?

Future

Is there room for advancement or career training in this position?

If the answer is no, you may not want the position. If the answer is yes, it’s helpful to know what you can aspire to. It also signals to the interviewer that you have ambition and that you set your sights high.

Is there an opportunity for mentorship within this position?

This is somewhat dependent on the individual. For some folks, it’s very important to have career mentorship from a manager or executive; if this is important to you, ask away. This will signal to the interviewer that you are interested in growth — nobody wants a static employee who plateaus in their first week.

Success

How will you define success for this position?

When expectations are vague, feedback is hard to come by, and you may be held to standards you didn’t know existed. You want to know exactly what they think a successful employee will accomplish in this position. There should be specific goals, too, versus something broad like, “Increase sales through marketing and advertising.”

What are the most important objectives for this position in the first few months?

This is a follow-up question to the previous, and is important because how you kick off a new job is crucial in determining your future at that company. Will you immediately establish yourself as a go-getter, or as mediocre and inefficient? Knowing some immediate objectives will help you make sure you’re on the right course. You can also determine if the expectations are reasonable; if you’re asked to do too much in the first few months, it may be an unfortunate sign of things to come.

How long do projects take to launch? Can you give me some examples?

The portfolio is the designer’s bread and butter. And there’s nothing more annoying than working for a company in which projects don’t launch or take forever to launch.

Again, productive designers are happy designers, so you want to make sure you’re in an environment that’s actually shipping things.

Let’s pretend I’m finishing up my first project here – what are the expectations of how design artifacts should delivered?

Helps you identify how the team communicates (or not) and how things are shipped. Do you need to annotate wireframes? Can you sit with developers and work out issues with them, or are they all remote? The question also helps interviewers think of you as an existing employee.

How does the design team decide what to prioritize?

Tell me about a time a designer went above and beyond; what did that look like in practice?

When the team disagrees about something, how do those situations get resolved?

Company

What are the 5- and 10-year goals of the company?

This tells the interviewer that you’re thinking about the future, and that you care about where the company is going. You’ll get an idea of whether this is a company you want to stick around with or not.

What’s your vision for the UX team? What about for the whole company?

You want to work on a UX team whose members (or at least the manager) have passion for what they do. That means that they yearn to be better tomorrow than they are today – how do they do that? Is the team constantly improving itself, learning, and looking for new ways to add value?

The second part of the question identifies how the UX team sees itself in the context of what value they bring to the rest of the company.

I’ve asked the 10 questions above during my own interviews (on both sides of the table) so they’ve been tested in real life. But use them with caution :)

Earlier, I said that the above questions are best saved for the end of the interview when the conversation opens up. What about during the interview?

Tip: When in doubt, mirror what interviewers are asking you, and make it a conversation.

If they ask you what your UX process looks like, ask them about their process. If they ask you about how you approach user research, ask them how they do user research.

What’s the company culture like? Do co-workers eat lunch together? Do you have regular team events?

You see this question a lot in lists like this, but it’s often too vague. Asking simply “What’s the company culture like?” leaves a lot of wiggle room for the interviewer, and can be hard to answer. Asking some specific questions along with it helps you get a better understanding of the specific environment. You can also ask about after-work activities, about collaborating on projects, etc. The culture of where you work will go a long way in determining your satisfaction with the job.

Can you share an example of effective collaboration between designers and their partners at the company?

Tell me about a time things weren't going well on your team; who raised the flag?

Where does design show up in the production process today?

Who is the most prominent advocate for design at the company today? How do they advocate for the function?

Questions For the End

Do you have any concerns about my qualifications?

This is a tough question to ask, but one that really sets you apart from other candidates. It may even throw off the interviewer, but in a good way, and will hopefully get them to voice some honest thoughts they have about your resume. If they bring up a couple problem areas they see, you can address them confidently and ease their fears. Hopefully you can go into the interview anticipating any concerns they may have, and be prepared to reassure them that you’re the right candidate.

What are the next steps in the interview process?

This should always be your last question. This is simply for logistical purposes, and hopefully outlines whether there are more interviews, any homework for you (like writing or design tests), and what the timeline is like for hiring.

References