Preparing for a UX writing interview
UX Writing is a (relatively) new field, though writing roles in tech have been around for quite some time. A UX Writer might also be called a Content Designer, Content Strategist, Technical Writer, or a handful of other titles.
What matters is that UX Writers deal with words and the design of words and how they impact users within digital spaces like apps or websites. It’s a growing field that is (finally) becoming more and more important to the design of digital products. So how does one land such a role? Aside from having a resume and probably a UX writing portfolio, a writer will need to be prepared for the all important interview.
Some companies require a writing test before the interview; others have one after a first interview but before a second. There are so many factors that go into hiring positions, it’s important to be prepared and confident in every interview you land.
There is a ton of advice out there about those various stages of content role interviews. But the in-person (or in-Zoom) meetings are often the most important thing you’ll do. And while it’s hard to prep for any test when you don’t know the exact questions, there are some things you can do to better navigate the nerves that come with interviews.
Shortcuts – jump straight to
Use the interview as a way to see if the job is right for you
How to answer “Tell me about a time …” questions
Get ready to explain your “work and design process”
Multiple people interviews: a chance to get to know the team
Expect unexpected questions
Use examples from non-tech experience
Tailor your own questions to the interviewers
Remember that you got the interview for a reason
Serious about becoming a UX writer?
Use the UX writing interview as a way to see if the job is right for you
One of the most important things to remember while you’re interviewing for a UX writing (or any tech writing) position is: If you don’t know the answers to the questions, then that might not be a job you should be doing. Unfortunately, UX writer job descriptions are not always helpful because companies often have differing thoughts on what UX writers actually do.
Once, I interviewed for a position that had been advertised as a UX Content Strategist role but turned out, they really wanted a Content Director AND UX Writer in one. First of all, it was obvious to me that they would never find the right person because those are two very different roles. But more than that, I quickly realized they wanted someone far more senior than me. And while the pay sounded nice, I knew from the questions that I wouldn’t be the right person for the role at all. The questions in the interview alone were stressful, I could only imagine the stress of doing the actual job!
By the way, that job posting was up for months after my interview because they couldn’t find the right person. And I checked the company’s career page recently and they’ve finally broken down the role into two positions: a UX Strategist and UX Director. 🙃
How to answer “Tell me about a time …” questions
You’re already nervous and then the interviewer starts with the “Tell me about a time …” questions.
These can be very daunting. You have to think fast on your feet while trying to explain what is likely a complex situation, all to prove a very specific point and … what was the original question again? Sometimes, I get to the end of a ramble and wonder, in a moment of panic, if my example actually told the interviewer anything at all.
The best way to prepare for these questions is to choose a few different work scenarios from your experience that were difficult, complex, problematic, or super successful. Try to think of examples of all of these, not just one that was problematic. Interviewers also want to know about your successes and it’s important to highlight that. As strange as it sounds, you are selling yourself in an interview.
Write out a bunch of notes beforehand for each of those scenarios and include how you solved problems, approached issues, and gained buy-in from your teams and stakeholders. Keep the notes handy or review them just prior to the interview so they’re fresh in your head. So, when the interviewer asks: “Tell me about a time you had to juggle multiple stakeholders to achieve a near-impossible product goal,” you have an example ready to go. (That’s not a real sample question I’ve been asked … but in our industry, it very well could be.😅)
These questions may seem scary at first, and entry level UX writers might not get asked or understand this question, but these are always my favorite to answer because there are no wrong answers. Hear me out. You talk about how you develop and design content. This is usually based on your experience at various companies and how they handled their processes as well as tricks and habits you’ve learned along the way.
But if the interviewer doesn’t resonate with your process, it’s truly okay because that means you might not be the best fit for their company. And while it may seem like you really, really, really want that exact job at that exact company, if their processes don’t align with the way you work, you won’t be happy there in the long run. The most important thing to remember when asked this question is to be honest about the way you work and the way you like to work. By setting these kinds of open expectations with interviewers who are potential co-workers, you’ll (hopefully) avoid a lot of conflicts and headaches in the future.
The preliminary interview went really, well but now you have to meet with people on the design or content team—PEOPLE PLURAL. 😱
First, take a few deep breaths. I know many of us (myself included) can be introverted, so meeting multiple people at once can be anxiety-inducing. But there are good things about meeting lots of team members in this scenario. First, there’s a chance they are as introverted as you are, so know you’re probably in good company. Second, this is a chance for you to meet designers and writers who are just like you. They like to talk about nerdy design things. They like discussing design and development processes. These are your people.
Use these interviews to feel that team out, to get to know them, to see how they work. If you feel some level of camaraderie with a team in an interview, then more than likely, that interview is going well. If it still feels a bit awkward or forced, then maybe that’s not a team you would feel comfortable working with regularly anyway. I had this exact experience happen last year. I had an interview with one company that was okay but nothing special. But the following week, I had an interview with a different company and I felt like I was just talking to colleagues who were as quirky and fun as me. And guess what? I got the second job and I really enjoyed my time working with that team and that was foreshadowed by the way we interacted in the group interview.
Then there are those really tough questions out of nowhere and put you on the spot.
For the record, I hate these questions. I’m not the wittiest of people most of the time, and I prefer having conversations rather than trying to put another person in a spot where they have to scramble. But it might happen in an interview.
Once I got asked to name my favorite website with the best Help / Support features. My mind literally blanked. For me, it’s so much easier to talk about all the sites or apps with help features that leave me frustrated than it is to think of a site that I loved. I scrambled to think of something, but in the end, that was a question I didn’t answer well (and also a role I didn’t end up getting.)
But, I do think this example was about more than just the question itself. It was also about the lack of connection I had with the interviewers. When you connect with people, interviews often feel more like conversations. Sure, you’re doing most of the talking, but it’s a conversation where you’re happy to share your ideas and opinions. If you’re not connecting well with the team, like I wasn’t in that scenario, then those questions don’t feel natural; they feel forced and awkward. Which wouldn’t be ideal working conditions either.
Use examples from non-tech experience (even if it’s not about UX writing)
Your experiences are valid. Even if you don’t have a ton of specific tech or writing experience.
A question that I was asked at least three or four times is: “describe a time you had to explain something incredibly complex to a person who knows nothing.” This question is actually one of my favorites because I get to fall back on my non-tech experience to answer it.
One example I use is that I was a classroom teacher and if I didn’t explain something well, I would be stuck with thirty unruly kids for an hour, so I got very good at explaining complex directions very succinctly. I’ve also used my experience as a kickboxing trainer as an example because I have to explain a very complex physical motion in a very easy-to-digest way and sometimes I’ve only got seconds to do so.
In all my interviews, those answers have always hooked the interviewers, whether I got the job or not. They’re different enough answers to be interesting and memorable but relevant enough to show them how I can break down complex topics, no matter the subject. And yes, I do explain how those examples tie into how I approach content and writing—always connect non-tech things back to the current role you’re interviewing for! Whatever experiences you have, whether they’re in writing or tech or a different industry entirely, they are valid; use them.
Tailor your own questions to the UX writing interviewers
Do you have any questions for them? Hint: Yes, you should! It shows that you’re truly interested in them and in the role.
This opportunity will usually come up towards the end of an interview. Now, I always try to make the question relevant to the interviewer. If the interviewer is from HR, I’ll ask about hiring processes or the next steps. I’m not going to waste their time by asking about the daily tasks of the UX Writing role; they might not know.
When talking to teams or managers, I’ll often tailor my questions to that person’s role. If the interviewer is a fellow content colleague doing a similar job, I’ll ask what the daily schedule and tasks are like. If it’s a manager, I’ll ask about their management style or I’ll ask a specific question about the role, something they can expand on to help me understand the scope.
Once, during a team interview, I felt really comfortable with the team and I asked if they were for or against Oxford commas. We laughed and had a great side conversation about grammar and users. (And yep, I got that job.)
So, yes, I always try to think or plan out a few questions to ask in advance but I also always make sure they’re tailored for the person I’m talking to and the rapport we have going.
My final piece of advice is fairly simple but easy to forget sometimes. Try and remember—they chose to talk to you because you have something they want, something they need.
Whether it’s your writing prowess or your UX know-how, remember that you are the expert in whatever that is they want (even if you don’t feel like one.) Be confident in your experiences, no matter what they are.
Writing and content interviews aren’t always about what you know (or who you know), they’re about how you work. How do you learn things you don’t know? How do you communicate with teammates? How do you deliver updates and deliverables and feedback?
These are the things that the interviewers are trying to discover about you. They want to know who you are. It’s okay to mention your hobbies, your passions. It’s important that people see you as a whole person, not just a tireless worker bee. And if those stiffs on your Zoom call don’t want to know you, then they’re not worth your time or your talent. When you land an interview with people who see you and want you, you’ll know it. And (hopefully) you’ll land the job too.
Good luck with your interviews and I hope you have some good conversations. I’m rooting for you!
For total clarity (and so you know that this interview advice is based on my own experience), here are a few of the big-name companies that I’ve had some sort of interview with:
- Wells Fargo
- Charter Communications
- Alaska Airlines
- And finally, the latest: Google. The job I started this month! 😁
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