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Tighten Up Your Product Design Interview: Prepping and Reaching Out

Maya Patterson is a Product Designer at Facebook

Afrotech is right around the corner and it’s a chance to shoot your shot with the companies you want to work for. All this week I’ll be helping you tighten up your interview-readiness and teaching you how to feel confident during the job hunt process.

I’ve interviewed dozens of Product Design candidates and I’ve seen them make the same (correctable) mistakes. Below are 3 trends i’ve seen among people interviewing for product design roles.

Don’t forget to check out the end for links to helpful resources.

Trend 1: We don’t have an “ask”

It seems we’ve cracked the LinkedIn code. We’re really good at finding and applying to open design roles. We’ve also become great at reaching out to designers we aspire to work with and hiring managers we want to work for. All of this is great, but let’s pump the breaks for a minute.

When talking to hiring managers, a common point of frustration has surfaced –– many candidates lack a specific “ask.” Hiring managers will have an inbox filled with potential candidates pinging them for help, but what they’re asking for is unclear. Do they want a full-time job? An internship? Do they just want an informational interview?

Black people in America have operated within a system that wants us to keep our heads down  not ask too many questions. We’re not expected to ask for what we need and we have to break out of this mentality when it comes to our career.

So let’s start there. Know what you want and ask for it. Hiring managers can’t read our minds and they also don’t have enough time to guess. Here are some examples of what not to do:

  • “I came across the [design] article you wrote. If you’re up for it, I would love to connect and talk more!”
  • “I’d love to connect with you and get any pointers or advice that you may have.”
  • I would love if you’d take a look at my case study.”

I’ve been both sent and received these kinds of messages. Instead of articulating exactly what you need you’re asking the receiver to invest time in trying to figure it out.

Next time you reach out, be explicit about the type of help you need. For example:

  • I came across the [design] article you wrote. Can I shoot you a few specific questions I have about transitioning into design?”
  • “I’m really interested in working for [X company]. Do you have 30 minutes to talk about the work you’re doing and the culture?”
  • “I’m sending my revised portfolio to hiring managers. Does this case study meet the quality you would look for in a candidate?”

By clarifying exactly what you’re asking for, the type of responses you receive will be drastically different.

Trend 2: No portfolio

Okay, so have y’all ever found a design gig that sounded exactly like the type of work you’d love? Or discovered a manager whose values directly align with yours?

Several times I’ve been so hyped about a potential new role that I quickly stalk the hiring manager online, hop into their DMs, and shoot my shot. Here’s a real example of me doing that:

Hi [redacted] just wanted to stop by and say I absolutely loved your Medium post on [design impact]. It was extremely useful but also inspiring to hear about your values. I’d love to hear more about how you’re hoping to build out the product design team.

There are a few things wrong here. First, I had an ask but it wasn’t clear. I should have ended by saying “I’m looking at product design roles in the Bay. Would you be open to chatting about the work your team is focused on and the skillsets you’re looking for?”

Fortunately, this hiring manager was open to chatting with me.

We had a great informational interview. It was clear he was interested in my potential. Then he asked a very fair question. “Can you send me your portfolio?”

Guess who didn’t have an updated portfolio together? 🙂

Don’t be like me. Don’t flex in your warmup and blow it during game time. I put the hiring manager in a frustrating position because I didn’t have my things in order. Portfolios take a lot of work and can be a huge time suck. To get around this, try to have at least one project packaged up in a deck that you can send via email. Make sure the project you choose best demonstrates your design capabilities.

Trend 3: We don’t know how to talk about ourselves

Many Black people are first-generation college grads. Even if we aren’t first generation, our legacy doesn’t always extend back far enough to help prepare us for the intricacies of Corporate America. Many of our non-black peers have been exposed to not only a large variety of professions but also the language used in those professions.

I’m not advocating for the overuse of buzzwords, but understanding how to leverage industry phrases as you discuss the value you’ll bring is an important piece of the interview process. Certain phrases can help managers zero in on how your strengths might fit into their team structure.

When asked about yourself and why you’re interested in X company, here’s what you should be able to communicate:

  • The specific design skills you have (e.g. I’m a Product Designer operating in a generalist capacity, but I really love rapid prototyping and visual design)
  • Why you’re drawn to the company or role (e.g. I read your interview where you discussed how your team is tackling Augmented Reality. I’m really interested in stretching my design skill sets in this area)
  • Your current state in the job hunt process (e.g. Currently, I’m freelancing for a few e-commerce startups but I’m actively looking for roles at a company with a larger design team. I’d love to be considered for your open product designer role. Here’s my portfolio. I’m excited to hear back about the next steps.)

Putting yourself out there and connecting with hiring managers is a great first step, but it’s not enough. We need to refocus some of our energy in how we approach our potential employers. As you draft up your next elevator pitch, don’t forget to sprinkle in some of your own authentic personality (as much as you’re comfortable with).

Now that we’ve talked about how to best approach your interview process, we’re ready to start talking about assets. Part 2 of this series will focus on fine-tuning our portfolios, that’ll be dropping tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are some other resources to check out:

A framework for intentionally choosing your next gig

Some helpful tips on crafting your next email

My advice as a senior in college looking for a UX job

 

Maya Patterson is a self-taught Product Designer at Facebook creating new ways for people to tell their story. She’s most happy designing experiences that are culturally relevant and solve real people problems. In her spare time, she writes articles, advises designers on how to navigate the design industry, and listens to a lot of Beyoncé. Find her on Twitter if you want to continue the convo @mayagpatterson.

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