How to Immediately Determine if a Candidate has "Senior" Potential

And how to sound like you do

Question Everything, Even if You Know You're Wrong

Often when interviewing a candidate (especially for a senior position) I will either ask their opinion of a current topic in UX, or ask them to posit one of their own.

And then I will say, "that can't possibly be true."

I cannot recall where I first learned this technique. It might have been from Joel Spolsky, but I'll be damned if I am going to find the post. The point is: see how the candidate responds. At least in the consulting world, it's fantastically important to know how a person is going to deal with doubts, contrary attitudes, and the opinions of ill-informed clients.

Not too long ago, I was reading this account of John Carmack's interactions with Steve Jobs, and happened on this gem:

Part of [Steve's] method, at least with me, was to deride contemporary opinions and dare me to tell him differently ...It was often frustrating, because he could talk, with complete confidence, about things he was just plain wrong about...

There's possibly a tendency to view people who confront you like this as bloviating airheads, and in some cases that's not an inaccurate judgement. But it's often instructive to take a breath and ask yourself, "why are they challenging this point when it's so obviously they're mistaken?"

At least sometimes, the interrogator isn't being stubborn or dense; they're attempting to gauge whether or not you can:

  • Intelligently advance your point of view
  • Handle someone who seems impervious to facts

The first of those two points is critical: you are being asked to advance your point of view, and not defend it. And thus second point: sometimes, when working with clients, you will need to make a convincing argument without resorting to facts.

If You Have to Use Evidence, You've Lost

This seems terribly counter-intuitive at first, especially to people with backgrounds in the hard sciences - but I'm even more surprised when "creative" folks seem to miss the point that half (or more) of their job is selling the work they've done or want to do.

When you work with any client - and particularly in a field like Experience Design, UX, Visual Design, etc., where the "goodness" of an approach can seem to be as much a matter of opinion as anything else - it's hugely valuable to be able to understand and use to your audience's emotional perspective and their cognitive biases.

"People," as Agent K would say, "are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals."

This is the secret to your success as a Experience Designer or Researcher: Learn how to carve a path through the wave of emotionally-drive opinion and perspective.

  • You will want to cite "best practice."
  • You will want to appeal to expert opinion.
  • You will want to refer to research you've personally done in the area
  • You will want to offer to "test the idea."

All of these are interesting and noble ideas, and all of them are useless and misdirected in the context of presenting a pitch, a concept, or your work to a client.

Ask Yourself, "What is the Feeling?"

"People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals." We react, adjust and reposition ourselves almost before we even know what's happening, or why we're doing it. Absent a practiced and well-developed ability to assess a situation before reacting to it, we often chose a least-worst path forward, rather than an optimal one.

It's useful at times like these to take a step back and assess:

  1. is there an emotional component to the resistance/opinion you're encountering? (Yes, usually.) 
  2. Is it purposeful? (Not often, but sometimes.) 
  3. Can it tell you something about the person? (Usually.) 
  4. Can it tell you something about the circumstances they're dealing with outside the context of what's happening in the moment (That's typically the issue at hand.)
  5. What does that tell you about the path forward? (Everything.)
The resistance you encounter - with clients, colleagues, staff or customers - tells you something about the "weather" surrounding your current situation. Think deeply and carefully about the factors you can't see - the pressures of the business, the expectations of another team within an organization, even the performance metrics at play for your client - and try to understand those more deeply as you advance your solution.