Interviewing for web pros

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Seal the deal

Make no mistake about it: whether you’re a new or seasoned web pro, prospective clients want to interview you. Maybe they were referred, or possibly they found your website. Perhaps they already think they want to work with you. But it’s often the in-person interview that seals the deal.

Think like a candidate

I like to approach interviews with the tried-and-true political candidate debate prep methodology:

  • Prepare for the obvious questions
  • Rehearse and enlist a stand-in opponent for productive role-play
  • Prepare additional “talking points” for opportunities that arise

Even a candidate with previous experience will prep for each debate, with special focus on anticipated opponent responses. Similarly, you’ll want to prepare for each interview with the prospective client in mind.

Let’s address each of these steps in turn.

Preparation for the obvious questions

We can easily create a list of straightforward, should-be-asked questions. Yes, it’s a lengthy list… but even as someone new to the web pro gig, you should already know most of the answers and be ready to respond.

Your background

  • How long have you been in this business?
  • How did you get into web design?
  • What sort of formal training have you completed, or were you self-taught?
  • What did you do before you were a web designer?
  • Are you a member of the local chamber of commerce or other organizations?

Your portfolio

  • How many sites have you designed (developed, built, created…)?
  • Can you provide work samples and references?
  • Can you show me your work for clients whose business is similar to mine?

Your process

  • What criteria do you use in deciding whether to accept clients?
  • How long does a typical site design project take?
  • What’s your favorite aspect of the work?
  • Are there parts of the process you don’t handle?
  • What’s your preferred method of communication?
  • How — and how often — will we be in contact?
  • Do you respond to emails or calls outside of normal business hours?
  • Do you have a backup when you’re on vacation or out of the office?
  • How do you like to receive feedback, and how do you integrate it?
  • Where do you go for design inspiration?
  • How do you incorporate current design trends into your projects?
  • Do you offer maintenance services post-launch?
  • Will you design the site so I can take over maintenance post-launch, and will you train me to do that?

Your admin & financial details

  • What does a typical site design project cost?
  • What is your admin process for engagement, such as a proposal, a contract, or an NDA?
  • Do you require a deposit?
  • Do you accept online payments, PayPal, Venmo?
  • What do you ask clients to provide to get the project started?
  • Do you charge extra for requests outside of business hours?

Your network

  • Do you partner with others to accomplish specific tasks? If so, which ones?
  • Do you have preferred vendors for hosting, domain registration, email platforms, and anything else I might need?
  • Do you have recommended resources for copywriting, collateral design, logo design, photography, videography?

Rehearsal and role-play

You may think you have the answers down pat, but never underestimate the value of rehearsing. That means talking through the responses out loud, not just in your head. Ask someone you trust to play your pretend prospective client. Provide them with suggestions and encourage them to generate follow-up questions based on your responses. It’s fine if they wing it or go on a tangent, as clients will surely do that too. Encourage honest feedback:

  • Are your answers succinct and to the point?
  • Do you sound confident? Cocky? Collaborative?
  • Are you using too much techno-speak?
  • Are you saying “um” or struggling to find the right words?
  • Are you rambling off-topic?
  • Are you making eye contact?

Before your rehearsal session, practice speaking out loud in front of a mirror. Better yet, capture the session on your phone (or record on Zoom!), and watch the replay.

Talking points

Now, forget all about interview questions, which focus on what clients think is important to know. Surely your insightful stories would allow them to learn more about you on a personal level. It’s unlikely clients would question you about some secret fact you want to share.

However, you can prepare a few stories that I like to call “vignettes” — quick tales that are both entertaining and illustrative of why you’re the right choice. Then it’s just a question of finding the opportunity to sneak them into the conversation.

Here are 10 topics to consider for vignette prep, along with some of my personal examples:

1. Previous projects

The best examples illustrating your expertise usually come from previous projects and shed light on a particular challenge you resolved, or a technique you used to come to the rescue. Even stories outside of web design can showcase your problem-solving, communication or teamwork skills.

2. Previous clients

Of course you’ll have done your homework on any existing information available, such as the prospective client’s LinkedIn profile or current website. Take a few minutes to prepare stories about your successes with clients in similar market spaces.

3. Past recognition

Relevant web design awards may be challenging to work in without sounding like you’re bragging. But what about others? If the conversation turns to productivity, organization, or process, I’ll humorously mention being voted “Most Organized” in my high school senior class, saying that even school peers recognized my special skill, which has proven incredibly useful in my web pro career.

4. Your unique selling proposition (USP)

If you’ve done your business setup homework, you’ve identified your unique selling proposition. It could be anything from the quality of your work, to your niche market expertise, to your uber-responsiveness in answering calls and emails. Some call this the UVP (Value instead of Selling) but it’s the same concept.

However, a prospective client is unlikely to ask “What’s your USP?” They may not even be familiar with the concept. Instead, be ready to bring it up to illustrate the value you provide, and why it’s a benefit to your clients.

5. Your pre-web design professional journey  

Many now making their living in web design didn’t start out there. Maybe they were programmers, or artists, or writers, or someone looking for a complete 180-degree shift from their current career. Clients may ask how long you’ve been in the business, but won’t ask about your professional journey to get there.

I got my web design start when I was managing a high-tech company’s IT department in the mid-90’s and websites were a brand-new concept. A few years later, when I was ready to launch a work-from-home business with kids still in school, I had experience and recognized the burgeoning market. Mentioning this transition allows me to show I also have experience from the business world.

6. Your niche market

There might be an interesting vignette about how you came to specialize in a niche. I had built precisely TWO websites for orthopedic surgeons, when one was elected President of our state’s orthopedic professional association. He brought me in to redesign the association site and I was soon receiving inquiries from practices across the state, so it was a niche I never consciously sought!

7. Ongoing services

If you offer a post-launch care plan or maintenance program, it’s an opportunity to educate clients, who may not realize what goes into post-launch site support. When discussing new design projects, I mention that I will toss in a month of free Care Plan work post-launch, so that they can see the value before deciding if they want to continue with it.

8. Complementary services 

If you offer content writing, photography, logo design, or any other related services, be sure to say so. Also share information about your reseller account and the ability to offer great deals on hosting, domains, email, and more.

9. Your network

Mention your network of trusted Power Partners. Perhaps you know a logo designer, or have a partnership with a local printer for related collateral. Maybe you’re a klutz with a camera but you know professional photographers and videographers (that’s definitely my situation!).

10. Your volunteer work

I have found that prospective clients like to hear that I’m actively engaged in both my local community, and the web community at large. Referring to pro bono web projects may resonate with potential clients, especially if they are in your local community. Do you speak to students about web design? Mentor those new to the business? Participate in an industry advisory board? All are helpful in showing them who you are, in addition to the work you do.

Conclusion

How to optimize your interview process? Prepare, prepare, prepare! You never know when a prospective client inquiry will enter your inbox, so there’s no time like the present to get started. And it just takes three simple steps. To recap:

  1. Prepare for the obvious questions.
  2. Engage in role-play with a stand-in.
  3. Prepare your list of vignettes and be ready to mention them.

You know the value you offer. It’s up to you to make sure prospective clients recognize it as well!