What I have learned from conducting hundreds of web design job interviews

In my last article I talked about how to get a web design job interview.  Over the last six years I have conducted literally hundreds of job interviews, mostly for web design or development positions.  I wanted to take a moment and share some of the insights I have uncovered, mistakes I have seen, and what I am looking for when I conduct an interview.  If you follow the below advice you will standout from 90% of the other candidates.

Be prepared


There are two questions that I always ask, but to which I rarely hear the right answer.

One of the first questions I ask is “what do you know about the position you are applying for?”  What I really want to know is if you bothered to do any research about our company.  Usually the answer is only what the recruiter told them.  Strike one!

When I received a call-back for an interview with the company I currently work with nearly seven years ago, I found out everything I could about the company before I went into the job interview.  I was excited for the opportunity, and it showed in the amount of information I gathered beforehand.  I expect the same of anyone else who really cares.  If you don’t even know what our company specializes in, then you probably don’t care much for this job; any old job will do.


Another way to be prepared is to practice.   Prepare in your mind what you will say to different questions.  Have a friend give you a practice interview.  You  would not believe the difference that a little forethought and preparation can make.  Have your friend evaluate your answers and give you tips on what sounded good and what didn’t.

If you have been freelancing primarily, you probably haven’t talked with someone else about the different technical terms involved in web design or development.  You can’t use those terms with clients, and your friends will get sick of you really fast if you start going off on the amazing new Photoshop tool you discovered today.  Practicing with someone is a good way to flesh out those terms and ideas and put them into words.  It will also get you used to bragging on yourself without sounding arrogant or obnoxious, which is a talent all in itself.

Be Honest

Somewhere in the middle of the interview, I like to ask you to tell me about the biggest mistake you have ever made in a job or with a client and how you handled it.  We all make mistakes, and I have made some pretty bad ones myself, so whatever you tell me here, within reason, is not going to shock me or rule you out for the job.  On the contrary, an honest answer will give you a fighting chance.

First, giving me a real answer tells me that you are honest.  If you are willing to tell me about mistakes you have made in the past, then you are more likely to own up to mistakes you will make when working for me.

Second, giving me a real answer tells me that you are self aware.  Being self aware means that you understand yourself and that you know you are not perfect.  How you handled the screw-up then tells me that you can learn from your mistakes, and you are willing and capable of growing.  From this I can conclude that you are worth investing in. Through hiring you, I am not just getting what you are capable of now, I am getting what you will be capable of in the future.

Third, giving me a real answer about your biggest mistake tells me that you have experience.  Someone who has made mistakes has lived and worked in the real world.  If you haven’t made any mistakes then you are either 1) inexperienced or 2) a liar.  Either thing makes you ineligible to work on my web design team.  Strike two!

A related question that you may hear is “What is your greatest weakness?”  The above rules to answering the mistake question apply here as well, but I have another warning.  Do not give me a BS answer where your biggest weakness is really just a turn on your biggest strength.  The most common answer I hear is that “I am a perfectionist.”  Oh, poor you, you like to do things right, and I am supposed to be impressed that the worst thing about you is actually an advantage because you don’t settle for less.

Really what you are telling me is that you think I am an idiot and I won’t see right through your answer.  Strike three.

Of course, I also like to ask some technical questions.  This will vary greatly depending on the position and the expected skill level.  Here are some examples of some of the very basic questions that I start with.

Q: What is the difference between a Class and an ID?
Q: What is the difference between a Div and a Span?
Q: What does document.write do?
Q: How would you remove the background from a flat file logo?
Q: What would you do to touch up a drab looking photo?
Q: What do you do to make sure your websites are widely accessible?
Q: What browser do you primarily use and why?
Q: What methods do you use to ensure that your websites work in all of the major browsers?  Which browsers do you test for?
Q: Tell me the top SEO strategies that you implement for your clients.

These are very basic questions.  If you can’t answer them, then you don’t have enough knowledge or experience to apply for anything but the lowest entry-level position where they plan on training you.  If you give good answers to these questions, then I will move on to more difficult questions.

Be Yourself

Most importantly, be yourself.  Don’t try to be someone you aren’t.  I want to hire someone who will be the best fit for the job, and if you lie about who you are, then both of us will lose.  You don’t want to be a part of a work place that is straight-laced, all serious business if you are the type of person that likes to joke around, or vice-versa.