How to prepare for UX whiteboard challenge

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Let’s start with a quick flashback of one of my past interview experiences.

It’s been a busy week getting ready for an on-site interview with a company I  want to work for. The interview day started off with a portfolio presentation. As the coordinator walked you over to a 1:1 session with the next interviewer, she told me that everyone thought you delivered a great presentation. For the 1:1 interview, a Senior Designer walked in and wanted to do a whiteboard challenge, which I have never experienced before. The challenge was difficult because wasn’t sure where to start, so I took a while to think and struggled to draw up a solution. After the on-site interview, I received a rejection email but the recruiter was kind enough to give me feedback saying that everything was great but the whiteboard challenge could use some work. Thinking back, I was nervous, not understanding the problem enough, and didn’t have a process in mind to tackle the problem. Since then, I’ve deliberately worked on this portion of the interview and eventually got to a comfortable place.    

What interviewers are looking for with whiteboard challenges?

Since a design candidate may have already gone through portfolio review and phone screening to get to the on-site stage why are companies conducting whiteboard challenges? Having been involved in the designer hiring process, there are a few things that can still be teased out with a whiteboard challenge.

Process knowledge

It is easy to learn and follow a design process especially if the designer graduated from either a Bootcamp or other education programs. While it is great that the designer seems to have experience with various UX methodologies based on the case study. It may not be clear whether the designer understands the benefit of each methodology and whether the designer can strategize the design process. The whiteboard challenge can verify whether a designer can plan and navigate to a potential solution.

Collaboration skills

Vetting designers’ collaboration skills through a whiteboard challenge is more effective than asking about their experiences through a conversation. By providing a sample problem to solve together, the interviewer can uncover the following:

How to prepare

Knowing what the interviewer may be looking for, directing the preparation towards the following areas will be helpful.

Solidify your design process

No one can predict what problem you’ll receive as whiteboard challenge but we can ensure that there is a solid process to follow that will guide you to a solution regardless of the problem. Become familiar with the areas you should consider so you can set yourself up to solve the problem effectively. Some common areas/questions to think about are:

By knowing these questions by heart and establishing a process to follow, you can focus your attention on brainstorming and solving the problem rather than trying to figure out what you should be doing next.

Get ready to be engaging

Your interaction with the interviewer(s) is important. Whiteboard challenge is not just an exercise to watch you think out loud. You are expected to make assumptions, ask questions/feedback, and even defend your design decision. Don’t be afraid to raise questions especially in the beginning as you wrap your mind around the problem. Based on your design process, define and practice when you should engage with the interviewer. Develop the mindset of having the interviewer as a collaborator and the habit of reaching out.

Absorbing common UI patterns

When you start sketching out the solution. It’s very much about coming up with design patterns on the spot. You can cramp your design pattern knowledge the night before the interview but you ought to develop the habit to review and memorize design patterns on a daily basis. Dedicated however much time you can to explore different apps, websites, or even Dribbble to see how others tackle UI problems. The more you know, the easier it is for you to come up with a design when solving whiteboard challenges.

Anticipate the unexpected

It is likely you will get a curveball during the design challenge to see how you react to changes. You should be prepared to be stopped and asked to explain your decision or to make adjustments to what you just proposed.

TL;DR

Preparing a process beforehand to help you think about any problem so you can use the time efficiently for problem-solving instead of process planning. Develop the habit to familiarize yourself with common design patterns and engage with your interviewer. Last but not least, get yourself mentally ready to be challenged with questions and defend your design decisions.