Mastering product design interviews

Demystifying the design job search process

Dan Shilov
May 1, 2019 · 5 min read

Interviewing for design can be tough. You’ve made your portfolio. You’ve applied to jobs. You hope for the best but no one calls back. Worse yet, you don’t even know what’s happening on the other end. Is the job still available? Did they already pass on me? What’s happening?

Interviewing for UX design is a journey of many steps

Getting a job doesn’t have to be this difficult. I’d like to share a process so that you can position your best self forward. This isn’t about getting a job in UX with no skills or faking your way in. Rather, it’s an opportunity to set the right context for your skills so that you have a good chance of finding a job that fits your skills and sets you up for success.

Who is this for?

If you’re a user experience designer, product designer, interaction designer looking for your next (or first!) role — this series is for you. Over the last decade I’ve worked with various companies—from large corporations, lean agencies, to small and mid-size startups. As a designer I’ve been responsible for evaluating new talent and sat in on countless whiteboard interviews, app critiques, portfolio presentations and peer interviews.

Companies struggle finding the right candidate too. Finding an excellent designer who is a great cultural fit can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. It’s hard to gauge fit through an online portfolio alone which is why there’s an exhaustive (and at times exhausting) design interview process.

Knowing what companies expect from designers will give you a better idea of how to prepare and what to present at critical moments.


The Product Designer job search journey

This is a work-in-progress and we’re in this journey together. Each week I’ll cover a different part of the job search process and I’d love to get specific feedback along the way — what’s helpful, what’s missing, and what else would you like to see? Feel free to send me a message or comment. Most of all, good luck and enjoy the journey!

1. Assessing your design skills

Be true to yourself. Know where your strengths and growth areas are.

Craft, Collaboration, Mindset

Assessing your design skills

Start with this framework to evaluate your strengths and growth areas

Assessing your craft skills as a product designer

Evaluating your knowledge in interaction design, visual design, tools, platforms, research and psychology

Beyond craft — essential collaboration skills for product designers

Assess how well you work with others, show progress, and get things done

Growth mindset for designers

Your thinking behind your work is more important than your current skills today


2. Managing your design career

Before diving into a flurry of activity it helps to step back and reflect on what kind of designer you are, your values and principles, what you bring to the table and where you want to grow next in your design career journey.

Hiring your product design job, part 1: finding the right environment

Identifying a company that supports your growth and helps you reach your potential faster

Hiring your product design job, part 2: choosing worthy problems

Choosing between in-house design or design agency, consumer or enterprise, emerging or maturing platforms

Hiring your product design job, part 3: location, specialization and impact

Considering your location, if you want to specialize in an industry, and impact you want to leave behind

Bringing your whole self to the product design job search

Standing out by highlighting your personality and superpowers

Jump start a design portfolio that gets interviews

Starting your portfolio with this template to land the phone screen

Bonus: The ultimate product design portfolio checklist

Use this list to double check your work before sending it to your dream job

Bonus: What hiring managers look for in a product design portfolio

Structure your case studies and move fast with this handy template.


3. Applying to jobs passively and actively

You’ve done your portfolio, you’ve updated your resume. Now it’s time to try out a number of methods and techniques to get your name out there,

Five strategies for applying to UX and product design and jobs

Skipping job boards to make a strong personal connection instead

Networking for designers

Getting out of your comfort zone and connecting authentically

Putting your product design job search on autopilot

Making your online presence work hard for you while you rest

Waiting proactively in your job search

Taking ownership and moving the process forward with email and other effective channels


4. Getting ready for the interview

Setting yourself up for success when you’re there in person

Passing the UX Design phone screen with flying colors

Preparing your pitch, telling your story, and asking questions to land the onsite interview

Design exercise solutions that land offers

Principles to follow, real world case study that landed a big offer plus lessons from failed take home design exercises

Getting ready for the on-site product design interview

Arrive with confidence, prepare for the unexpected, and leave your interviewers excited to work with you


5. Interviewing in person

Congrats! Your hard work and preparation paid off. Now let’s make an impression that knocks their socks off during your on site interview.

Crafting a compelling story for your on-site design portfolio

Creating a gripping narrative that gets your interviewers excited to work with you

Presenting your design portfolio in-person

Using public speaking techniques to amplify your message and engage your audience

Crushing the product design whiteboard challenge

Use this systematic approach to take on the challenge, avoid common mistakes and practice better with these tips

Acing the app critique

Six frameworks to consider plus extra resources and exercises

Bringing your best self to product design behavioral interviews

Learn how to build rapport and communicate effectively with product, engineering and research peers

Wrapping up with a post-interview retro

What to do next when your interview ends


6. Retrospective

This is an opportunity to step back and understand what went well during your interviews and what could have been better.

So you didn’t get your dream design job, what’s next?

Turn failure into success with these tips

You’ve landed your dream design job — now what?

Doing your due diligence and making an informed decision on your offer

Get the product design salary you deserve—part 1

Negotiation basics, understanding your compensation package: salary, equity, and perks

Get the product design salary you deserve — part 2

How to demonstrate your value and reach a mutually beneficial agreement

Quitting your design job in style

Break the news, leave the camp better than you found it and prepare for your next gig

Bonus: Getting let go and letting go

Bouncing back after being laid off

Your first 90 days in a new design role

Ramp up fast and become the most valuable design contributor in your organization

As this version of the series wraps up thank you to to everyone who contributed and helped out. I’m now updating and consolidating the articles and interview resources under one banner — if you’re interested, sign up.

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