How to Put Your Stuff Together and Get a Job as a Product Designer: Part 3

December 8, 2021 • 
5 min read

This is the third article in a three-part series offering tips on how to get a job as a product or UX designer. Part 1 covers your resume and LinkedIn profile. Part 2 advises on your portfolio website.

Part 3: Interviewing

If you have stood out enough from the hundreds of resumes and portfolios a hiring manager has looked at, you’ll start the interview process.

From my point of view, as a design hiring manager, it’s all about mitigating risk. How do I know if you will do great work with us? How do I know that you’ll fit in with the team and positively change our dynamic? How do I know that your contributions will help get us to where we need to be?

Ultimately the interview process is very much like dating: we’re figuring out if we’re right for each other, slowly engendering trust, and showing interest—without overdoing it.

The interview process will vary for each company, but in general, it’ll be:

  • An introductory screening call
  • An interview with the hiring manager
  • Interviews with other team members

Intro Call

The first step in the interview process will be the introductory call. From the hiring side, this is known as the screening call. Usually, it’s a recruiter, and their job is to screen out applicants who don’t have the right qualifications and then gather a few essential pieces of information.

After the call is scheduled, have a couple of things ready beforehand before getting on the phone. The most important thing to do ahead is to research the company. Use Google, LinkedIn, and all the modern tools at your disposal to learn the basics of the company: what they do, what they sell, who their target users are, who their clients are (if an agency).

Also, have your salary expectations in mind. Most employers will pay market rate salaries similar to other companies of their size. A seed-stage startup will not be able to compensate you as much as Google. Do your research on GlassdoorPayscale, or other sites first. Shoot for maybe a little above average, but certainly, have a minimum in mind depending on your personal circumstance.

During the call, be prepared and be professional. A good recruiter will ask you about your salary expectations and your timeline (in case you’re interviewing elsewhere as well). If you pass the screen, you’ll probably talk to your future boss next.

Follow up with a thank-you email within an hour.

Hiring Manager Interview

Hopefully, your recruiter prepped you well for your first interview with the hiring manager. These interviews can take many forms, but in general, you’ll introduce yourself, talk about your work, and then there will be more of a Q and A.

In these interviews, as a design hiring manager, I’m trying to understand the following:

  • What is your relevant experience to the role I’m hiring for?
  • What is your process?
  • How do you collaborate with others?
  • What’s your communication style?
  • Are you a good presenter?
  • Can I see you as part of the team?
  • Will you be a positive addition to the team?

The biggest mistake I’ve seen candidates make in interviews is not being specific enough. I will usually ask a question like, “Can you walk me through a recent project, focusing on your process and how you worked with others?” The answers I usually get are very high level. As an interviewer, I want to hear details because details demonstrate an excellent grasp of a subject. So if you rattle off the typical design process without going into details, it doesn’t give me confidence that you can do the job.

Be very, very familiar with your case studies. And lean on them as detailed examples. You might be asked to walk through a case study or two. Be able to do talk through each project in about five minutes. Tell stories!

Art Kilinski, Group Creative Director at NVIDIA, says, “Be ready to show your portfolio and be on camera if it’s a remote interview.”

The hiring manager may or may not have looked at your portfolio beforehand. Personally, I would, but sometimes we run out of time. So don’t assume.

After the interview, follow up with a thank-you email within an hour.

Helpful Tips

  • Refresh yourself on the company.
  • Read up on your hiring manager.
  • Have a 30- to-60-second summary of your career so far. Don’t spend 10 minutes recalling every line item in your resume.
  • As a bonus, put your case studies into a slide deck format (Keynote FTW!). I would rather not have you scroll through your website because I’ve looked at your work before.
  • Have stories at the ready about how you collaborate with others and about how you resolve conflicts.
  • Every company has a different video conferencing system. Give yourself enough time before the interview to download and install the software. Test it out and get familiar with it. And know how to share your screen.
  • Have a list of non-generic questions to ask the interviewer. A good designer is also curious, so I expect to be asked questions about the company, the team, and the role.
  • Be professional and take it seriously. The job market may be hot right now, but employers are looking for professionals. Don’t look like and behave as if you just rolled out of bed.

Panel Interviews

It’s rare these days that you’ll only speak to the hiring manager and get hired. However, if you pass the previous gauntlet of interviews, you will likely meet and be interviewed by your future teammates. The same advice from the section above applies here. Be kind and professional to everyone you meet. They could be your future colleagues, and how you treat them will reflect well or poorly on you.

Remember they are testing to see if you will be a great addition to the team. Do you have the skills to help? Or will you be a drag?

Follow up with thank-you emails within an hour. If you don’t have their emails, ask the recruiter for them.

Design Challenges

I am opposed to speculative work. Even if you’re just out of school, you should not perform work for free. With that said, coding challenges are the norm in the tech industry, and, increasingly, so are design challenges.

A fair design challenge should not take an excessive amount of your time, nor should it be directly related to the company or product itself. In other words, if the company you’re interviewing for wants you to redesign their product’s dashboard over the weekend, that’s not kosher. Run the other way.

Employers will say that the amount of time you put into a take-home assignment like this signals how enthusiastic you are about the position. So, my advice here is to do enough where it’s a reasonable effort and demonstrates your skills. But don’t spend so much time that you are resentful if you aren’t hired.

I’m more of a fan of the live whiteboard challenge. This time-boxed exercise helps me experience what it’s like to collaborate with you. You can show off your strategic thinking skills in a limited time setting. You will need to prep for whiteboard challenges if you have never done them. Have a plan of attack before going in. Maybe even practice a couple of times with a friend first.

  • Be familiar with the tool you’ll be using. If your interview is in person, it’ll be—obviously—on a whiteboard. But if it’s over Zoom, then you may be asked to use Miro, FigJam, or something else. Inquire beforehand about what you’ll use and make sure to know how to use it.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Break down the problem and define it into something you can solve within the allotted time.
  • Talk through everything you’re doing.
  • Sketch!
  • Collaborate with the interviewer and make decisions with them.
  • Keep track of time.

I will admit that the interviewing process is probably the most nerve-wracking. It isn’t easy talking to people you’ve never met and giving them a sense of who you are and how you would work with them as a colleague. It is scary to be vulnerable and put yourself out there to be judged. This process is an artificial construct.

Communicate clearly and genuinely. Be professional, yet yourself. If your work is good and you present yourself well, that should be enough to make a lasting impression with your interviewers so they can see a possible future with you on their team.

Good luck!