Job interviews
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Job interviews

Last edited
Feb 5, 2023 9:01 AM
In-class slides

At some point in your design career, you'll interview for an internship or job. Congrats! (It might not be obvious, but interviewers usually hope that you do well on the interview too. It takes valuable time from both parties!)

Here's our advice for how to navigate the process.

Common interview types

Different employers will have different interviewing processes, because each employer is looking for different skills.

Some are long and rigorous, taking an entire day (Big Tech, mostly) and some are more casual, just talking through your work with one or two people.

Here are some types of interviews you may encounter:

Recruiter phone screens & informational interviews.

Usually the first contact. Meant to get a sense of some of the more basic stuff — if you're available, if you're the right level for the role, if you have the basic technical skills, if timing is right, etc.

Portfolio reviews

These are the bread and butter of most interviews, where you walk through work you've done in the past. Typically around half an hour, but can be longer. These are meant to get an understanding of your work, but also your ability to present well and describe problems — it's a challenge to describe complex projects to strangers with no context, quickly.

Whiteboarding / design exercises

You're given a prompt to work on live, in the room, usually with a whiteboard — e.g. “Design a car stereo system, design an elevator for 100-floor building," etc. Sometimes they're collaborative with other designers, sometimes they're solo and you can't ask your interviewer for more context. You're meant to think out loud and walk through your questions and assumptions. They're meant to test your thinking and decision-making process, not test your ability to come to an ideal solution.

App critiques

Analyze the design of an existing app that both you and the interviewer are familiar with. It's meant to see how you analyze / critique existing products and how well you can describe what you see, what assumptions you make about why decisions were made, etc. It's usually a conversation between you and one or two designer interviewers.

1:1s

Chat individually with potential coworkers — peers or leadership. These are looser, but can be useful for figuring out how you think, and understanding what you're looking for in a role.

Lunch interviews

Some firms have more social interviews where you chat with designers over lunch/coffee. Mostly to give you a chance to ask about what it's like to work there. Also to see how you do with unstructured conversation & make sure you're not a creep. (Don't be a creep.)

If you have a choice of food, try to pick a not-too-messy food that you can eat while having a conversation. Burritos, burgers, and wings are tricky. Don't choke on your food!

Take-home design assignments (these should be paid!)

Basically homework. Some firms will give you a small project to do on your own time. (It's a red flag if they don't pay for it, meaning they don't value your time. Unfortunately, most companies don't seem to pay for these.)

Before the interview

Ask your point of contact what to expect.

  • Are there particular types of projects they're interested in hearing about? Are they interested in apps, websites, branding?
  • If you're going for more than one interview, e.g. a full-day onsite interview, what types of interviews will there be?

Research the company & research your interviewers. Know what kinds of work they do and what their goals are.

Be on good behavior in public social media.

At the interview

If in person, arrive 10 minutes early. Bring your laptop with your work samples ready, and a laptop charger.

If a video call, make sure you’re in a quiet, well-lit area with a good internet connection.

If a phone call, make sure you’re in a quiet area with good cell service.

Make sure all your devices (laptop, phone, wireless headphones) have enough battery to get through the interview.

Talking about your work

Know your audience. You don’t need to walk designers through every detail of a mockup.

Remember, it’s a conversation! Plan natural pauses, and ask if people have questions.

Introduce projects clearly and slowly. Don’t talk too fast.

When in doubt, start by saying what problem you were trying to solve, then show final artifacts, then explain the process of how you got there.

Examples of questions about projects you might get asked:

What was your role in this? Who did you work with?

What was the timeline?

How did you test these ideas? What was the research process?

What was the insight that drove [this design decision]?

What was the most difficult part of working on this project?

Who were the stakeholders? How did you measure success?

If you had more time to work on this project, what would you work on?

Examples of general questions:

What kind of work do you want to be doing more of?

What do you do outside of work?

Why are you interviewing with this company? Why are you interested? This might sound like a basic question, but you might be surprised at how often interviewees don't have an answer.

What is your dream project? What would you work on if money was no object?

Remember, you're interviewing them too.

This is your chance to learn more about how the firm operates, and what the designers there think of it — always ask the interviewer stuff! Here’s some examples...

What's been the hardest/most frustrating part of working at this company?

What are the biggest challenges the design team is facing this year?

Why are you working here?

What have you learned while working here?

How does this compare to your previous working experiences? What was the biggest adjustment you had to make, if any?

Assessing culture and work-life balance

  • When is the office empty by? When do you usually leave the office by?
  • Have you had to work weekends? How often?

Assessing the growth of the company / team

  • How much is the team/company planning to grow in the next 3 months? In this year?
  • If it's a startup — what kind of runway do you have? How is your funding?

Getting a better sense of what it takes to succeed at this job

  • Can you describe the best experience you've had working with a designer at this company?
  • For people who've joined this company in similar roles and skill levels, what set apart the people who were good, and the people who were really great at it?
  • What would success look like for the person who fills this role in 6 months? In a year?

Always have some questions in the back of your pocket. You don't want to end an interview without any questions.

After the interview

🙏
Send a thank-you note!

Even if you get rejected, send a follow-up email asking for any additional information or feedback.

It’s not the end of the relationship! Don't burn any bridges. They might hire you later (at the same company or their next company), or refer you to roles elsewhere.

Later in your career, many interviews won’t look like formal interviews.

Interviews later in your career might look more like getting coffee or lunch with someone who might want to hire you, or “visiting the office.” Even if something feels informal, be prepared to show/talk about your work even if you don't expect it!

It's a common strategy for trying to hire people who aren't actively looking for a new job. It's especially common in tech startups, where they may not have invested in formal recruiting processes. (It's a sadly-too-common joke in Bay Area tech that you can't tell if someone wants to be your friend, date you, or hire you.)

As you get more senior, more recruiters and hiring managers will reach out to you and see if you're interested in interviewing. Even if you're happy in your current job, we encourage you to regularly interview around at other companies to meet new people, to see competitive salaries and offers, and to stay sharp. The full process may be time-consuming and tiring, but an initial conversation — particularly if it's with a hiring manager rather than a recruiter — can be well worth the time. 

Resources

Students Who Design: Design interviewing 101 — focused on tech design internships

Buzzfeed’s product design interviewing process — hear from the *interviewers* how they evaluate candidates

Julius Tarng's example solution to a take-home design exercise — complete with Figma file and video walkthroughs!

Design test compensation — for figuring out how much you should be paid for take-home design tests