HCI Students’ Questions: Answered (Part 2)

Let’s take a crack at a few more questions from HCI students. I’m going to give a real thorough answer to one question, and knock out a few more with a simplified response. If you haven’t done so already, check out part 1 of this article.

  1. What are professionals & hiring managers looking for in a designer?

    This is a topic that’s particularly near and dear to my heart at the moment. I’m in the process of hiring Interaction Designers and User Researchers at GrubHub as we speak. There are a number of things we’re looking for, including:

    • Writing Skills – Good writing is an indication of an organized mind. If you are unable to throw together some specifically tailored prose explaining why it would be great for us to work together, getting to the interview stage is a non-starter. If you’re not comfortable with your writing skills, practice! There will never be a better place to learn to write than while you’re in school. Take some classes that require lots of writing. Oh, and have someone read over your application materials before you send them in. It would be silly to get rejected from a job you really want just because you made a few typos.
    • The ability to speak in-depth about your past projects – By the time I’m talking to someone on the phone, they’ve impressed me with great application materials and personal history. The phone interview is your chance to start talking about who you are and what you’ve done. I want to know that you’ll be able to communicate with coworkers who may or may not understand what your job is all about. If you can’t explain the stuff you’ve already done, how can I expect you to explain the stuff that is yet to come?
    • Proof that you’re motivated (and excited) – Yes, the job application process is the time to go above and beyond. If you’re asked to write a paragraph, add a little visual diagram. If you’re asked to write a little code to do X and Y, throw in a little Z, just for flair. Prove why you’re going to be awesome to work with.
    • An understanding of the technology you’ll work with – No, you’re not expected to be an engineer (unless you’re applying for an engineering job), but you will be expected to communicate with engineers on a detailed level. If you’re applying for a web startup and you have never touched CSS, it’s time to start learning. Once you’re comfortable with that, teach yourself a little jQuery for good measure.
    • User-Centeredness – Not only should I be confident that you can sketch, build wireframes, do a little coding, and lay out page that doesn’t make me cringe, but I should also be confident that the users that my company caters to will be at the forefront of your mind. If you’re not asking questions about users during the interview, you’re doing something wrong. Questions about the user research methods we currently employ should be asked, as should ideas about what else we could be doing to assess and improve our users’ experience. That’s the whole job, in a nutshell.
    • And, of course, knowledge of all the methods you should have studied in school – This is not a test, but yes, the basics should be there.
  2. What did you learn at school that you use at work?

    Everything. Literally, everything I learned at school I’ve used at work at one point or another.

  3. What can students do to get the most out of the program?

    Everything. Don’t sleep too much. Get to know your peers and professors. Learn what kind of designer you are. For that matter, learn what kind of person you are.

  4. What do you wish you learned in this program?

    Sometimes I wish I learned more about how to actually implement things. In the end though, that’s something you can learn on the job or after school is out, so I don’t have many regrets in this category.

C’est tout for now. Enjoy!

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