Learn from my mistakes: how to not completely bomb a job interview

Halfway through my group interview, the head of the UX team asked me, "Did you even read the job description?"

Mike Reed  –  published Feb. 20, 2020

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Nuclear bomb going off in coral islands

I strolled to the main doors of corporate campus main office feeling pretty cocky. A brisk day. Sunny. I nailed another job interview the day before. I’d been on hundreds of interviews and presentations - freelancing for 7 years. This was cake.


Three hours later I stumbled back though the doors feeling humiliated and stupid. There was a dark stain on front of my white dress shirt. Sweat mark. I was the comic who got on stage and no one laughed. I had a bottle of bourbon at home. Maybe if I drank enough, I could erase today from my memory. Not possible.

So please learn from all the mistakes I made...

Read the job description. No really, read it.

Don't just skim it like I did. Reading the job description will help guide what you present and why and tailor your responses to questions.

I presented the exact wrong thing, a long case study where I did everything end-to-end: researcher, wireframing, prototyping, designing. I went on and on and on until one of the senior UX designers interrupted me..."Yeah, great but this isn't really relevant to this job."

They wanted a specialist in research. If I bothered to really read the job description, I would have noticed this.

Call ahead about the technology

I walked into the conference room. Whipping out my Mac, ready to get started. Their video hookup had a different plugin than mine. Not good. It took 30 minutes to locate an adapter. 30 minutes of twiddling my thumbs uncomfortably in front of the entire team. The interviewer agitated. I was putting him behind schedule.

Especially if it's a group interview with a large main TV, call ahead, plan ahead. Making a team wait never makes a good impression, even if it's not your fault. Plus, the time you lose means rushing though everything else.

Tailor your portfolio

Along with reading the job description, research the company too. Especially any products and case studies. If they're a medical device maker, find something in your portfolio could be relevant to the user interfaces of their devices. If they're a sportswear e-commerce website, dig out that old case study about the checkout UI you designed and user tested.

This isn't to say you have to completely redo your portfolio per company. Rather, make sure you present the right things in the right way to market yourself to the company.

What worked in one interview, won't necessarily work in the next

Image of back of Mac computer with sticker of ax man chasing the apple icon.

The day before, I nailed an interview. One-on-one. A warm setting. Great conversation. He enjoyed my case studies and portfolio.

Stone faces greeted my exact same portfolio presentation. I was interrupted constantly. "Why didn't you...?" "That's not..." Their questions were fast. Unexpected. Unfamiliar. A joke I used about my freelance experience didn't crack a smile. One woman looked at her watch. Another rolled his eyes.

In front of the room, I started to sweat. I dabbed my face. I was crashing.

Rehearse common questions

Toward the end of the interview, one of the senior UX designers took pity on me. She threw me a softball.

"So, what does UX and design mean to you?"

I'd been ask that question plenty of times. I had a number of answers to that question. But how did I make sure it worked with this company? I paused...and paused...my eyes on the ceiling...and finally I stammered out a word salad answer filled with buzzwords I would normally never use. The woman stared at me after my answer. If she were a cartoon, her jaw would have been on the floor.

Rehearse common questions you think you'll be asked. Ask them in different ways. Even if you've answered them a thousand times, the night before, answer it again. Don't trust yourself just to wing it. Putting in 10 minutes of work before an interview will save you weeks of wincing at the memories.

It might not be a good fit

I woke up the next day. Noon. My head felt like a cracked egg. The sunlight pouring under my covers hurt my pupils. I logged into my email and wrote a polite note withdrawing myself from consideration.

Every company and team has their own unique culture. Sometimes, you just don't mesh. That's ok. It's better you realize this during the interview than 3 months after accepting the job offer.

And remember...screw ups happen. Interviews bomb. You'll sweat though your shirt enough to show spots. Stammer. Drone on and on. Spew crap answers. Feel humbled. But as long as you can take something from it, learn and adjust...you’ll be fine next interview.