Interview advice for freelance designers

Interview advice for freelance designers
January 20, 2022

I’ve recently been on the other side of the interview process as I sought a freelance designer to replace me in my previous contract. After what felt like some pretty bad interviews I figured I had some advice to share about how to interview well. These are strategies that I’ve personally been using across all new business conversations. So here’s my 7 point masterclass on how to ace interviews. Settle in...

1. Be reassuring

It’s your job to make the interviewer feel like they’re in safe hands. They’re ultimately worried about whether you can actually do all the things they need you to do. The best way to give reassurance is to give specific examples. If you’re asked “Can you do user research?” “Yes.” doesn’t cut it. Try instead to say something like, “I recently designed, conducted, and synthesised and large qualitative study for my client that uncovered a new product offering.”

Here’s another counter-intuitive way to reassure someone. Tell them something you’re not great at and why. It’ll make them feel like you’re humble and honest. I go with something like “I’m not so good with quantitative analysis, I usually rely on the skills of a great product manager to work with me on those aspects”. This works for me because if it were a job with lots of quantitative analysis I wouldn’t want it anyway. It also establishes that I’m a team player and self aware; I know what I’m not good at.

2. It’s your interview, take control

I don’t mean be overbearing and steamroll the process. It may help to recognise that most interviewers hiring for contract roles decided how they were going to run the interview just moments before the call. They’d much rather be getting on with their work but here they are fumbling their way through candidates so they don’t end up with a gap in the team. Your job is to get this train wreck of a process on a track that feels like it’s a joy to ride. The only way to do that is to gently take control. How? It’ll come with time and experience and a bit of point 6. But the following is generally a good start:

  • Research the company and what they do, prepare some questions that show you’re thinking about their problems in the right way and also that you’re vetting them as much as they are vetting you.
  • Select case studies in advance that are relevant or have all your case studies to hand, well rehearsed, so you can select on the fly. Either way, you’ll want to say “I’ve got two case studies I’d like to show you today”. As opposed to, “What should I do? Perhaps I should show some work?” It’s a small change but that’s the difference between projecting control over the situation or seeming like you’re unconfident and lost. Bonus points if you tell them why you feel the case studies you’ve chosen are relevant. “This is also a consumer app” or “It’s a different industry but very similar problem”.

3. Tell stories

The interviewer saw your work, it looked good and they decided to have a call. Great. They don’t need to see the same thing again. What they need from you now is a story. The epic adventure that was your recent project where you overcame all adversities to lead your client to the holy ground. Your website is a terrible way to tell this story.

Have a deck that is specifically designed for this purpose. Not the portfolio you sent, not your website, a presentation deck. Little or no words, strong imagery, and no Lorem Ipsum anywhere. The simple structure to repeat is Problem, Approach, Solution, Result. Keep it light and impactful, emphasise why at every step of the way.

4. Assume the interviewers know nothing

This is tricky to get right but too many candidates dive into the work without giving enough context. As an interviewer you just sit there wondering what the hell you’re looking at. Assume the interviewers know absolutely nothing about your projects or past clients.

Worked for BBC? Everyone knows BBC right? Yes and no. Tell them something they don’t know and why the client needed to hire you. Try something like this, “BBC’s iPlayer is the most popular streaming app of any traditional U.K. channel. They hired me to improve sign up rates so that…”

5. Skip the life story

When asked to introduce themselves most candidates give a long-winded story of their career. “I started 10 years ago, worked here for 3 years, worked here for 2 years, went freelance...” I’m half asleep at this point. It’s easily done, I’ve done it myself many times. Never again. Here’s what I say: “I’m Sam, I’m a product designer, which means I work across the entire life-cycle of a digital product. From early stage research and discovery right the way through to production. I specialise in working with large organisations to develop new ideas but I’ve worked with many Startups too.” Then stop talking. Your ability to be efficient with your words will be a breath of fresh air.

6. Make friends

I hesitate to write this one because tbh it makes me sound like a complete sociopath. But here goes. You will ultimately be hired because they like you. If it’s between you and another equally matched candidate there won’t be any pros and cons list drawn up it will literally be on vibe. Sad, but true. So use this to your advantage by getting them to like you. I take two approaches to make this happen:

  • Overshare something personal that will help you relate with the other person. Both got kids? A light-hearted moan about how school isn’t long enough, or how nursery is a godsend; Parents love to feel like they’re not alone in their negative emotions. IDK figure it out, practice this in conversations with colleagues, you’ll be surprised how quickly people let their guard down.
  • Ask questions to turn the interview into a conversation. Current affairs, the client’s competitors, some industry news. Whatever, it doesn’t matter, just establish a back and forth to break up the often robotic nature of the interview process.

7. Fix up, look sharp!

This is so simple but most people overlook it. It’s less about what you’re wearing or how you style your hair, no one cares about that tbh. But what does look incredibly professional is when you share your screen and everything looks nice and organised.

Tidy your desktop, digital and physical. Close your apps and tabs. Only two things should be open on your computer, the video call and your presentation. There’s nothing worse than watching a candidate fumble around trying to find which tab they were on.

Test your connection and get the best camera and mic you can afford. This is your livelihood, your ability to communicate effectively is wholly reliant on this little piece of tech that costs, at most, £200. That’s a few hours work. Make that investment. And no, the camera on your mac does not cut it.

OK that’s all I’ve got. Now go get that gig.


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