The anatomy of a UX writing job interview: what you need to know

The anatomy of a UX writing job interview: what you need to know

Heather McBride shares her UX writing interview experience and discusses in detail what you can expect in your upcoming UX job interview.

Heather McBride
April 28, 2020


I spent months training to be a UX Writer. I took classes, read books, and created user-centric test cases. 

I even started to attribute a bit of celebrity status. I found myself “collecting” these writers on LinkedIn

None of this made the interviewing process less daunting (and my intimate knowledge of the background of those poor people may have come off as a bit creepy). 

I’d worked in other industries and was in the process of leaving an academic career, but UX interview processes are in a class of their own.

In past careers, there would be a need and I was the solution. In UX interviews, they aren’t just looking for someone to fill a role. Trust me, in the UX field, a position will go unfulfilled until the perfect fit is found.

What does a UX writing interview look like? 

Each company is different but there is usually a…

Recruiter Call

Their first job for a UX writing interview to make sure you’re what their clients need (and not a psychopath). 

The horrible recruiters don’t care about you. 

A horrible tech recruiter is likely making minimal money, are sometimes trying to fill positions from half-way around the world, and are simply ticking boxes. Their success is in the volume of applicants that they process. 

The truly bad recruiters push your resume through when you aren’t even remotely qualified for the position. 

This can cause problems later on if your name’s recognized for positions you do qualify for. Interview your recruiters like you are interviewed. Don’t allow just anyone to represent you.

On the other hand, great recruiters are amazing resources. They can become your coach after you pass this first gauntlet. A really great recruiter does everything in their power to make sure you’re prepared for the next step of the interview process. 

When looking for UX writing work, I’ve spoken to amazing recruiters at Facebook, SurveyMonkey, and some equally excellent recruiting companies who provide staffing for Microsoft. 

They all hold one thing in common, and that’s a genuine interest in the people they’re placing. 

The signs of a great recruiter include:

  • questions about your passion for writing
  • interest in processes
  • enquiries about other relevant experience
  • and a thorough knowledge of the position they’re helping fill

They also follow up with additional information about the company if they pass your application on to the hiring manager.

This leads to your second phone conversation:

The Hiring Manager

You should’ve done some research for this call. If possible, get familiar with the company’s style guide, the products, and even the manager(s) you’ll be speaking to. 

LinkedIn is an excellent resource here. Keep in mind, however, that any activity can be seen by the profile owner. 

Be transparent about that research. Some recruiters invite you to read company biographies of the UX team. If they invite you to look at any aspect of their company, be sure to do it. 

During the actual interview be able to ask several questions about the company and reserve one or two for the “do you have any questions for me” section of the interview. 

Some questions you can ask are:

  • What’s the UX writing workflow like in this company?
  • Can you describe what an average day would be like for me?
  • How do teams currently collaborate with each other?

Most importantly, you need to be able to articulate your writing process and describe your role in two or three projects. 

The trick to any UX writing interview is to make it a conversation. This isn’t always within your control but is usually key to moving on to the next point in the process. They should already know that you’re capable of doing the job. 

This is the point where they decide if you would fit in well with the team. Be yourself. Try to relax and enjoy the conversation. Pretend you’re describing a project you’re passionate about with one of your favorite people. 

This process could be repeated again, with a larger conference group or another key member of the team. 

I’m currently interviewing for a company where I’ve had four phone interviews and another scheduled. At this point, I’ll tactfully ask where I’m in the interview process if the position isn’t offered to me.

If your interview is successful, you may be one of a few people chosen for a…

Face-to-Face Interview

While the time between the last successful phone or online conference interview and the face-to-face interview is the worst, this is often the final interview in the process. 

Occasionally there is a second face-to-face interview to decide between two equally qualified applicants (I mentally call that “the dual”) but usually, the face-to-face interview is the final hurdle between you and a job offer. 

Most face-to-face interviews I’ve been to have a similar structure. 

#1. An introduction 

First, you have an introduction to the company or a little tour of the office. Sometimes you have to sign in or be issued a visitor badge. Then one of two things will happen. 

#2. Portfolio presentation

You may be asked to give a portfolio review to the group, as a whole. If this happens, plan on taking the group through two of the most impressive projects in your portfolio. 

Make sure your portfolio is easily accessible and well organized. 

And, I can’t stress this enough, focus on your process. 

From start to finish, explain your actions and thoughts for each step of your writing journey. Explain what worked, what didn’t work and why. If you worked with a partner or a team, describe your collaborative workflow and how you navigated to reach final decisions together. Also, if you have it, use numbers or data to strengthen your argument when it comes to testing or research.

This is more important than anything else featured in your portfolio. The ability to describe your process is paramount here. That said, some companies skip the portfolio review and jump into interviews with key members of the UX team. 

When I interviewed with SurveyMonkey, I was taken into a small meeting room and the interview was structured as several back-to-back, one-on-one interviews with each member of the UX team. 

In this particular instance, I met with the head UX Writer, the Vice President of Customer Service, the head UX Designer, and the hiring manager, who I had interviewed with by phone earlier. 

The total time spent interviewing was about three hours. While that may not seem like a long time, try talking about yourself for three hours straight. Describe your work for three hours. It can be exhausting and you can feel fatigued long before they’re over.

Some ways to lessen fatigue is to:

  • prepare diligently for the interviews so your responses come out naturally
  • request or take bathroom breaks when given the opportunity
  • practice stress reducing techniques like mindfulness and breathing exercises
  • clear your schedule after the interview to rest
  • spread out your interviews in the week if possible

The best way to get through the face to face interview is—again—to make the interview conversational. Bring your curiosity and interview your interviewers. Ask questions as you go, but be sure to have one or two questions to ask at the end of the interview. 

 

  • What’s currently the biggest UX writing challenge at this company?
  • What does being successful in this role look like to you?
  • How can I make the biggest impact? 

What type of questions should you expect during a UX writing interview?

How do you defend or justify your work?

Since everyone has an opinion on words, UX writers often spend a lot of time defending their work. This question is to see if you’re able to defend your work and UX writing in general. This is a good time to advocate for your users, use data from research and results from testing.  

Describe your experience working with designers, researchers, developers and leadership. 

Each company has its own team culture and they want to see if you’d be a good fit and have the appropriate experience to thrive. Speak candidly about your previous experience collaborating with coworkers. What was the workflow like, what were your individual contributions and how did you navigate working across teams.

Imagine you’re put into a certain, specific scenario at the company. What actions would you take?

It’s likely they’re asking a real life situation that you’ll be put into if you were hired at the company. Ask as many questions as you need to to give an appropriate response. Answer honestly and as best you can detailing all the steps you would take as if you were truly in that situation.

Also be prepared to answer questions on any of the following topics:

  • general understanding of digital product development processes and environments
  • questions to establish how much you know about product design and research
  • questions about the tools you use

Then what?

Most interviews don’t end with a handshake and offer. Be willing to wait for a few days or even a few weeks before you know the results of the interview. 

No matter how well the interview goes, other factors can cause you to lose the position. Keep applying for other positions and use your interview to encourage other places you interviewed to expedite the process. The best position to be in would be to have several offers to juggle. 

While the UX writing interview process can be long and daunting, it’s important to keep in mind that many UX teams are talented and high functioning because this process is in place. They look for people who can not only do the work but also grow as the field grows. 

Heather McBride is a previous student at UX Writers Collective and is now the Senior Content Writer at TEDxSeattle.


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