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Nailing the Interviews

uxdesign.cc – User Experience Design — Medium | Eytan Davidovits

How to Get a Job as a Product Designer — Part II

Tips to getting an offer

Illustrations by Carrie Curtin

I’ve broken this topic into two posts. If you haven’t read Part I, check it out: Setting yourself up to interview.

Once all of your materials are in order, it’s time to begin searching for a product design position. Do your due diligence to understand which companies and design teams could be a good fit. Some simple preparation can increase your chances at getting an interview, and ultimately, an offer. Here’s an outline of the typical interview process many tech companies follow:

1. Landing an interview

  1. Try emailing hiring managers at companies you are interested in, asking them if they have any relevant availabilities based on your skillset. Attach your resume and portfolio PDF (if you have one), so that they can quickly see your background and consider you for a position. Send an email even if you don’t see open positions — you never know what can come up.
  2. Find good designers at companies you like and reach out to them to meet for coffee. And when they offer you a time, accept it. Learn more about the company, its recruiting process, and the things they look for in candidates. Picking the brains of people you find interesting or admire can prove tremendously useful, and making the extra connection won’t hurt. If you make a good impression, maybe they’ll think of you the next time they have an open design position.

Do: If you’re a junior designer, try to work at companies with larger design teams. Starting out, it’s very difficult to learn and grow, especially if you’re the only designer at a startup. Being on a big team allows you to learn from experienced designers by bouncing ideas off them and getting feedback. Some companies even offer new-grad programs designed specifically for junior designers (IBM, Facebook, DropboxGoogle).

Avoid: Applying through a public career page. If you have a direct connection at a company that you’re interested in (if you don’t, try to make one), reach out to them, tell them that you’re interested in a certain position, and ask what they would recommend. If you’ve made a good impression on them, they might offer to refer you internally, which will drastically improve your chances at landing an interview.

2. Phone screen

Phone screens can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. Usually, these calls are meant to understand more about the candidate, their experience, their ability to talk about their work, and their enthusiasm for the company. My trick for these is to have a Google doc with answers (in bullet points, preferably) to common design interview questions (see ‘Formula’ below for the actual questions). With this “cheat-cheat,” you can reference your notes during the phone screen and make sure you’re concise and straightforward. The questions can vary, but here are some common ones I’ve come across.

The Formula:

  1. Background:

“Tell me about yourself.”

Be prepared to answer what you’re currently doing, what you’ve done in the past, and the role you want in the future- present, past, future.

“Why are you interested in [Company Name]?”

Talk about what drew you to the company (the mission of the company, the talented team, the product), but don’t oversell it.

2. Design Background:

“How did you get into design?”

Talk about how you got into design, what led you to continue developing that passion, and where and how you’ve applied it.

“What kind of designer are you?”

You can be anything from a design researcher, to a UX designer, to a visual designer. List one and briefly explain why it’s your focus. People tend to ramble about this and miss answering the question, so make sure you’re prepared to answer this question clearly and concisely.

3. Conflict Resolution:

“Tell us about a time you had a disagreement with a coworker and how you resolved it.”

It’s important to show that you work well with others, even in times of conflict. Again, be specific but concise.

4. Portfolio:

“Walk us through one of the projects in your portfolio.”

Choose the most applicable project to the company where you’re interviewing, and make sure you walk the interviewer through it in about 5 minutes. Detail the main points, but make sure not to get lost in the weeds. Interviewers might ask questions about how you validated your design decisions or why you made certain visual decisions. If it has been a while since you worked on the projects you’re presenting, make sure you brush up on your own work. You should be able to address every design decision.

5. Questions:

“Do you have any questions?”

The questions you ask the interviewer are just as important as the answers you give. Good questions should touch on: how the team works together, the product design process, and questions that indicate interest in the product and/or the industry.

Don’t: Ramble! Answer the question and give a brief explanation. Use the Google doc to track what you’re saying. Don’t give unnecessary details or go on unrelated tangents.

3. On-site

Presentation of portfolio

This is your first in-person impression as a designer, so it’s important to make a good one. Your interviewers will sit in on this presentation and use it as a reference for talking points in later one-on-one interviews. This should be a presentation; not a sketch file or a demo of an app. It’s important to show the background of the project (research, iterations, etc). Find out how much time you have and practice your presentation multiple times. You can type out presenter notes in the deck, but make sure not to rely too heavily on them. The last thing you want to relay to the interviewers is that you aren’t familiar with your own work.

The Formula:

  1. Title page (personalize to each company)
  2. Overview of the presentation
  3. About you (basically the answer to the “tell me about yourself” question)
  4. Project 1 and 2 (should roughly follow your portfolio)
  • Goal/role
  • Research
  • Iterations through to final visual design
  • Final product (gifs/videos of it working)

5. Closing slide (Q/A)

Do: Make sure you know the screen size beforehand so you can adapt the deck appropriately.

Do: Have a backup of your deck on a thumb drive with default computer fonts in case it gets plugged into a computer without your special fonts.

Do: Make sure your presentation is perfect (i.e. high-res images, no spelling mistakes, no widows or orphans).

Don’t: Show a working prototype, unless you’re 100% sure everything will work flawlessly (otherwise, take screen recordings and put them in the deck).

Don’t: Sell the company to the interviewer — they already know why they work there. On the flip side, also don’t speak negatively about your previous company — it doesn’t reflect well on you.

One-on-One Interviews

These can vary widely from company to company. Most will be general interview questions similar to the phone screen, and some will include design challenges. Completing the design challenge is often a large stumbling block for interviewees. Here are some tips on nailing the in-person design challenge:

The Formula:

  1. Listen carefully to the prompt so you understand the problem. Is it a visual redesign or full product rethink?
  2. Identify who the users are.
  3. Before designing, get to the root of the problem and solve it, rather than just worrying about UI.
  4. Write out possible high-level solutions with pros/cons, then combine or delete
  5. Show your creative abilities. Whiteboarding and brainstorming are theoretical so there is no need to get caught up with the nitty gritty.

Do: Design multiple options and iterations.

Don’t: Run down rabbit holes and hang on to one design

Conclusion

Getting a job is difficult, but time and effort pay off. This is by no means the only way to do things. This is what I’ve seen work from my personal experience. If you have any questions feel free to reach out.

Thanks to David Mostovoy, Andrew Kaye and Andrew Coyle for editing help. If you liked this post, please hit the green heart below!

I’m a product designer at Flexport, helping to build the operating system for global trade. Say hello! Or follow me on Twitter or Medium.

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Nailing the Interviews was originally published in uxdesign.cc on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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