On Interviews and Evangelizing User Experience

I received a rejection email the other day from a man who had interviewed me for a job. I haven’t been rejected many times in my interview history, and I don’t think I’ve ever received a rejection email. So I find myself reflecting on it. I’m not sure if any further action on my part is expected, required, appropriate. Do I thank him for considering me?

It was a strange interview. A phone call. I don’t like interviewing over the phone. I feel handicapped without the social cues that come with face-to-face interaction. Also, I was sitting outside our midwife’s office (my wife was inside – we’re expecting our first baby), so the setting was not ideal for focus.

So I was unfocused, but not just because of the setting. I was complacent. I’m content with my work situation right now, so I don’t need a job. I approached the interview with the attitude that he needed to convince me, not the other way around. I suppose I was a little bit cocky. I expected him to be convinced already, and to offer me the job (eventually). The wrong attitude.

Also, he started the interview – a 30-minute phone call – by asking if I had any questions for him. This threw me a bit. Wasn’t I the one being interviewed? Shouldn’t he be asking me questions? When he finished answering my first question, he asked me, “what else?”

Eventually he asked me something – his only question during the entire call, as it turned out. It was a good one. To paraphrase: “Tell me about your experiences evangelizing user experience within an organization. How would you go about doing that?”

My answer was terrible. I rambled on about the importance of diplomacy and challenges around organizational politics (although I didn’t use those terms). I do think diplomacy and organizational politics factor in to the process of evangelizing user experience, but they’re hardly the most important considerations. It’s not the resonant or inspiring stuff.

I’ve worked hard to evangelize user experience in several organizations, through a variety of challenges and obstacles, so I’m disappointed in my answer. If I’d had more time to think about it, I would have started with the ‘why’ of it.

I believe I’m in the delight business. That’s the real goal of user experience design. Engineers can get on board with this idea as much as anyone. Who wouldn’t want to be in the delight business? I’ve helped engineers get excited about delighting customers. I’ve encouraged them to be a little competitive about it even.

Next I would have talked about science. User experience isn’t touchy-feely. It isn’t based on some designer’s intuition. You might start there, but there are lots of robust tools and processes for testing and validating. Quantifying success. Demonstrating objectively that A is better than B.

Finally, I might have talked about diplomacy, but I would have talked about how I would lead the conversation. It’s important to get engineers to talk about what’s working, what they’re good at, what’s going well. A lot of engineers are good designers, and it’s much more important to rally around what’s great than to identify the problems.

Ultimately, I don’t think it was the right job for me. The company is interesting, even important. But I don’t have enough of a connection to their industry or market. Still, I wish I’d put my best foot forward.

Not to make excuses, but a 30-minute phone call isn’t hospitable to best feet. When I interview people, I send them my most important questions in advance. I usually give candidates an assignment as well. Otherwise I’m only seeing their improv skills, their ability to think on their feet. This is an important skill for sure, but not the cardinal one.