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Tighten Up Your Product Design Interview: Slaying the Interview

Maya Patterson is a self-taught Product Designer at Facebook. This is part 3 of a 3 part series designed to help you plan, prep, and perfect your product design interview.

I’ve interviewed dozens of Product Design candidates and I’ve seen them make the same (correctable) mistakes. Afrotech is almost here and it’s one of the best events to shoot your shot with the companies you want to work for. The goal of this series is to help us tighten up our interview-readiness and feel confident during our job hunt process.

Parts 1 and 2 of this series were about prepping for your interview and building out your portfolio. Now that you’ve prepped and done everything you need to do, let’s talk about what to do during the actual interview.  

Let’s get into it.

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

A Bird’s Eye View of the Process

The product design interview process varies company to company, but generally there are a few high level milestones you can expect.

  • An initial phone screening with a recruiter or hiring manager.
  • A remote portfolio review and/or exercise with a product designer on the team
  • An on-site interview that will involve multiple rounds of interviews with a range of stakeholders

Admittedly, the process can seem overwhelming, but I promise it’s doable. By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to tackle any stage of the process.

The Initial Phone Screen

Congrats! A recruiter or hiring manager discovered your [portfolio](link to second article) and has hopped in your DMs. This step is the most chill part of the process.

The recruiter’s main objective is to assess your current job status, your willingness to explore new opportunities, and understand what you’re looking for in your next role.

The majority of phone screens will be focused on answering questions you have about the role, while assessing if your skills are a good match for the team. The recruiter will spend a lot of time talking about the products you’d be working on and the culture of the team. Go into the conversation with a list of questions that help you decide whether you want to continue pursuing a role with the company.

Even though you’ll be nervous, try to keep the tone of this conversation lighthearted. At the end of the day, recruiters are typically really nice. They want to see you win (because that means they win too)!

The Remote Portfolio Review

If your recruiter thinks you’ll be a good fit, they’ll recommend that you chat with a product designer on the team. This is where the real interviewing begins.

The interviewers at this stage are assessing your skills at a more granular level. They’re trying to determine the value you could bring to the team. You’ll probably be asked to do a 45-60 min portfolio review. This is probably my least favorite part of the interview process because it’s notoriously difficult to give remote presentations.

Here’s a few tips to help you nail it.

  • Export your portfolio into a deck. This reduces the likelihood of poor internet connectivity ruining your flow. Now you’ll have total control over what your interviewer can see.
  • Practice your presentation aloud until you have it timed down to the minute. You’ll be asked to walk through 1 or 2 projects. If you choose 2, make sure that both aren’t long case studies. You don’t want to be rushing through a huge project with only 5 minutes left.
  • Plan for pauses and interruptions. Your interviewer will probably interrupt you to ask questions. This isn’t a good or bad sign. They’re likely digging to better understand a decision you made and why. Articulate how you got to that solution and don’t be afraid to talk about your mistakes.
  • Know that it will feel awkward. Keep in mind that you might not be able to see your interviewer’s face as you present. Don’t let this phase you. Just share your work as you practiced and bring good energy to your voice.

At this step in the process, your ultimate goal is to demonstrate your skills and process as thoroughly as possible. If the interviewer can’t get a good sense of your capabilities they won’t be able to recommend that you move on to the next step.

The Onsite Interview

You made it! Your remote review went smoothly and your interviewers are excited about your potential. This final step usually is an all-day venture. You’ll be talking to more product designers, a manager or two, and maybe a few cross-functional peers (e.g. developers, product managers, user researchers).

Because the day is long, I always recommend heavily prepping for the parts of the process you can control (i.e. portfolio review). This allows your mind to save energy for the less structured parts of the interview (i.e. problem solving exercise). Your in-person portfolio review will be relatively short since you’ve presented it previously. Try to show as many visuals in your deck as possible and have a bit of fun with it. Share the mistakes you made, the wins, and the unexpected. Bring in qualitative and quantitative data points wherever you can to back up your decisions. And don’t be afraid to crack a joke if that’s your style.

After the portfolio review you’ll move on to design exercises and 1:1 interviews.

The problem solving exercise is typically done on a whiteboard. The prompt will probably be broad and device-agnostic (e.g. “redesign the ATM”). Remember–there is no right answer. This exercise provides a real-time example of how you solve problems. Before you jump into solutions, always ask your interviewer a ton of questions about the user, constraints, and goals. Use the whiteboard to write down your thoughts, doodles, and wireframes as you think through your answer. Take your time and talk aloud about the reasoning behind your choices.

A critique can either be a walk in the park or a total disaster. Most interviewers will allow you to pick an app, so think ahead about apps you have design opinions about. The goal of this exercise is to demonstrate your skill level in areas like, interaction design, UX design, visual design, user empathy, business goals, etc. Focus on walking through various user journeys, while mentioning why you think certain UX/UI decisions were made. Vocalize if you would do something different and say why. The interviewer should rarely have to probe you for more details. The worst thing you can do is state exactly what’s on the screen.

Finally, 1:1s should be semi-relaxed 30-40 min conversations between you and your future manager and/or peers. They’ll be assessing how you best collaborate and work through common friction points. Come prepared with a list of questions ahead of time tailored to each function. By the end of the day, your goal is to feel confident about your decision to work at that company.

Stay Grounded and Do You

Above all, remember to be in tune with your values, your worth, and what keeps you fulfilled. The interview process can seem like a one-way assessment, but it’s just as important for you to feel fully comfortable in your new role.

Hopefully through this series  you gained a firmer grasp on how to succeed through the process. If you have more questions, I keep my DMs open. Find me on Twitter @mayagpatterson.

Finally, here’s a few interview-focused resources:

A framework to help you determine if a company is a good fit

A fun read to exercise your design eye–perfect for nailing critiques

An in-depth breakdown of an entry-level product design interview

Bio:

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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