The second I saw what a rival candidate had created for his interview, I knew I was in trouble. I had no chance.

I was interviewing for a university Master’s degree course in 3D design and animation but they were unexpectedly interviewing in pairs.

So there I sat, watching in disbelief, as the guy paired with me pulled out these amazing biscuit tins he designed himself.

Yes, biscuit tins.

It might not sound like much but they were really impressive, especially for someone still learning their craft. They weren’t ordinary biscuit tins. They were uniquely shaped with a nice graphic design on the lid, making my already pathetic character animation look even worse.

The biscuit tins were even nicer than this one from Fortnum & Mason

My animation may have well been my character packing his bags and walking out of the door, shouting “I’M OUT!”. I wanted to do storm out myself but I was mesmerised by the beauty of the biscuit tins.

He didn’t even need to bribe the interviewers with actual biscuits. The tins were completely empty. They did all the talking.

I learned an important lesson that day. The best thing you can do when interviewing, is to do something unexpected and impressive to stand out from everyone else.

You can probably see where I’m going with this but the amazing thing about this advice is almost no one else does it. You’re practically guaranteed to stand out.

How to Stand Out

You’re a designer, so get designing. Do what the biscuit tin guy did with his 3D skills and use your design skills.

Study the website or app of the company you’re applying to and pick out one aspect you think needs improving and then... improve it!

Whether it’s reworking a user journey to improve conversions, or redesigning a UI element to make it more usable, redesign it the same way you would if it was actually your job.

(If you’re unsure what to do, see an example towards the end of this article for what I would do if I was interviewing at a specific company.)

Do the work and bring it with you on a laptop/iPad. Wait for the right moment, and surprise your interviewer(s) by saying, “I’ve got something I would like to show you, if that’s ok”. At the same time, grab your device from your bag.

There’s something very dramatic about it. It grabs attention.

If it’s a remote job, you can simply share your screen on the video chat and walk through your work, just as you would if you were in the same room.

Free Work can Pay

You'll no doubt have been told by “experts” to never work for free but it’s terrible advice. In this case, it shows you’re keen to:

  • work on their product
  • go the extra mile
  • think outside the box
  • take the initiative

You’re also giving the interviewers an insight into what it would be like if they hired you and you were actually working for them. This project is the closest you will be to working at the company without actually working there. It helps reduces a potential concern they may have.

Stand Out Even More

Write up the process of your redesign. Show your design thinking and explain the benefits your changes will have. Print as many copies as you need to give to everyone attending the interview.

Hand your physical report to them at the end of the interview. Surprising them with it just as you’re leaving will add an extra dramatic moment.

If it’s a remote job, email the interviewer(s) to say thank you and share it with them then.

It’ll act as another reminder of you, as well as your great work.

Example of Work to Show

Let’s say you were applying for a design position at American Express. Have a look at their website or app and see what you would highlight as something to improve.

Here’s how I would improve American Express’s app as an example of something you could do. I focused on one aspect of the design I knew I could improve and then documented the work.

The article you see there is an example of a report you could print and hand out.

This is quite a simple example. You could do something more complex if you choose. Additionally, you could prototype something in order to get a better feel of the new design.

What to do if you’re asked to do an assignment

You may be asked to do a small piece of work or test/assessment. In this case, you’re on a level playing field with everyone else. Or are you?

Do the design work/test they’ve asked for and do an extra piece of work as well.

It might be a squeeze to fit them both in before your deadline. If that’s the case, see if you can do something smaller in scale as your extra piece of work. An additional piece of work, even smaller, is better than nothing.

Thank you, biscuit tin guy. You helped push me towards the design career I have now by teaching me a very valuable lesson.

Hopefully you’ll also be thanking the biscuit tin guy one day.