culture

Demystifying the Whiteboard Exercise at Mark43

Hannelore McElheny
Design Director

If you are reading this article in preparation for an on-site interview at Mark43, congratulations! We take our on-site interviews very seriously, and strive to deliver the best candidate experience possible. This post will fill you in on an interview format we often use, referred to as our Whiteboard Exercise. This interview is not intended to make you feel awkward, or put you on the spot–we conduct it because it helps us get to know you as a candidate. This format gives us a way to evaluate specific qualities that relate directly to our work processes. 

What makes up a Whiteboard Exercise? In this interview, we use a whiteboard and marker (or a digital tool like Freehand, for remote interviews). Your role will be to solve the prompts, using the whiteboard as a medium to communicate your thought process. Depending on the team you are interviewing for there may be one or two people in the room with you. One person plays the role of the collaborator, brainstorming ideas and talking through different approaches with you. The other person acts as a timekeeper, stepping in to redirect the conversation when needed. If there is only one facilitator they will play both roles. 

In this interview we are specifically evaluating you on the following skillsets:

Problem Identification

  • How do you approach the challenge? 
  • How do you identify problems and solutions? 
  • How do you explore problem spaces?

Problem Solving 

  • How do you prioritize features? 
  • How do you respond to challenges, roadblocks, or new information? 

Collaboration

  • How do you get people excited about your idea? 
  • How do you match or manage the energy in the room? 
  • How do you respond to feedback or prompts? 

Delivering Value

  • How do you choose which idea to explore? 
  • How well can you evaluate the user impact of individual solutions? 
  • How do you test or think through your ideas? 

There is no “right” response for the skillsets we test. Each skillset is evaluated on a sliding scale with gradients towards different approaches. We want to see your natural approach so we can evaluate how you would fit into the team or role you are interviewing for. It is also worth noting, there is no right answer to any of the prompts as well. You are free to solve the prompt in any way you like. 

Some pitfalls we commonly see during the whiteboard interview are:

Not wanting to “drive”

We have all been in meetings where the person holding the marker hijacked the conversation. This interview is not a test to see if you will do this. We want you to run this meeting! You will be evaluated on the content on the board so you should be in charge of what ends up there.

Fixating on one idea early in the process

It can feel uncomfortable to let go of an idea you feel really confident talking about, but that’s the fun of this exercise. Go wide and explore! Use the facilitator(s) in the room to bounce ideas off and brainstorm. Test ideas out loud and get feedback.

Resisting help

If you find yourself getting lost or feeling overwhelmed, you can lean on the facilitator for help. We brought you in for the interview, so we want you to do well. It’s okay to let us guide you back to the prompt. That is what the facilitator is there for.

Hopefully we’ve shed some light on the Whiteboard Exercise at Mark43. We are curious to hear your feedback! What do you wish you knew before going into an on-site interview? Respond in the comments below. 

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