My Interview Journey of becoming a Product Designer

Looking for a new job is exciting but at the same time, it can be draining if there are too many stop signs on the way. I have been on the job search for about 5 months now, after resigning from my previous position as a Visual Designer at Universal. Of course, many of my colleagues and friends told me not to quit before I landed a job, but I don’t regret one bit about making a bold move. At Universal, a lot of the work that I did weren’t getting shipped and 99% of the work that I did is still in fact on the hard drive. They probably won’t see the light of day anytime soon. As a designer, this can be demotivating and disheartening.

After resigning, I quickly found a freelance job and started working there for almost full-time while looking for a new job. In the 5 months, including initial phone interviews, I have completed about 53 interviews. Here are some valuable lessons I’ve learned on my journey to landing my dream job.

An outstanding resume and portfolio are your tickets to an interview.

Here are some great examples of portfolios for inspiration:

There are so many opportunities, and so many cool products out there. About 200+ new jobs posted every day for UX, UI, Interaction, and Product Designers. (It’s a great time to be a designer!) Before applying to any of the positions, I think it’s very important to know what you value as a designer. Instead of looking at short-term goals, considering where you want to be in 5 years will help you set your next career destination. A lot of people apply to as many jobs as possible to see which one will bite. I don’t fully support this advice because it could not only waste your time, but also waste the companies’ time.

As for me, I am a generalist and I’ve been a solo designer for about 4 years. Since I’ve done many end-to-end designs, working with specialists who can entice and teach me their expertise was the main focus. To accomplish this, I aimed to work for big companies or start-ups that are already well established. It actually took me a while to find out what I wanted. Write down what you value, your interests, strengths, weaknesses, what you’re thriving, and missing in your current state. By looking into yourself, it’ll help you guide where your dream job is at.

So at this point, you’ve done your soul searching and applied to jobs that interest you. There are some invitations for initial discussions and you need to be ready. It could start with an HR interview, a design presentation through Google Hangout or Zoom, a phone call with the design director, a design challenge, or even an HTML/CSS live coding test. Ask the HR for tips on what to expect for the interview. I recommend breaking down their job description to understand what they look for in this role. Most importantly, read all of their latest news, articles, study their product, and look into what they value as a company. You should become fairly comfortable with their product, their market, and their user base.

It’s essential to show that you‘re absolutely thrilled about this opportunity. If it’s an HR interview, they might ask you, “What are your weaknesses and strengths” or “why this company?”. Some of the non-typical questions that I was asked by HR’s were, “What are some recent books that you read? Could you tell me what you learned?” and “What are some volunteer or outside work you’re doing other than work? If it involved team work, what did you learn?”. These questions were asked by big corporate companies to see what I value outside of work.

Sometimes, HR’s also ask your salary range on the first call. Although salary talk can be very tricky, have confidence in yourself! Think about your talent, skills, and how much value you can bring to the company. Research your current market salary on paysa:

For initial design presentation or calls, I was asked, “Tell me about yourself”, “What is your design process”, and “Walk me through one of your projects”. Before the presentation, if you have the chance to ask questions, ask what kind of designer they are looking for. Not many people know the right definition for a UX, UI, Interaction, Product, and Visual Designer. It’s important to know what they want before you start the interview. By knowing what they’re looking for, you can focus on that specific part of the project more during the call. Above all, the position and role should match with what you’re looking for at your next job.

For instance, when I applied for positions at larger companies — although the title was Product Designer — they were clearly looking for a UX designer/researcher, and more focused on how you solve UX problems than the way you design. So for this role, I centralized my presentation on the research side, thoroughly explaining how I performed the user tests, and how I solved the problem with the test results.

On the other hand, smaller companies were looking for a unicorn or a polyglot designer-researcher — a designer with an understanding of UX methodologies but also with an extraordinary visual taste. For this role, I walked them through my whole process and focused more on the final design to show I can successfully deliver a project and own a product.

When I received design challenges, my initial thoughts were, “Are they wanting my ideas? Or free work?”. However, if you want to work at this certain company, it’ll help you understand their product much more by doing the challenges. Although many companies only want you to spend about 2 days to finish the assignment, you should submit your best work. This is the part that will get you to the on-site interview.

The challenge might ask you to redesign part of the company’s current product, or it may ask you to come up with an improvement direction. Try to be creative and not give obvious answers. If this is a start-up company, they might have some constraints within the company, so try to think as if you are part of the team. For redesigns, I recommend starting with: research, competitors, personas/users, critiquing their current design based on the research, sketches, iterations of low-fidelity mock ups, and the final design.

Invitation to on-site interviews are always exciting, but it can also be scary too. I’ve had on-site interviews that were through video chats, but from my experience, the companies who fly you out is a good sign. I haven’t had great experiences where they don’t fly you out. To me, it’s a red flag — I’ve had experiences where the company canceled the final interview in the last minute and where I didn’t hear back from the HR about the next steps after the final interview.

Every company does the on-site interview differently but in my experience, at bigger companies, I presented 1 project to about 10 people on the projector for 40 minutes, Q&A for 20 minutes, 3 one on one interviews for 30 minutes each: lead designer, content strategist, and product manager, and then finally the whiteboard challenge. At smaller companies, they wanted to see more than 1 project and had more culture questions regarding work ethics than technical.

For the presentation, careful and thorough preparation is a key to success. It’s your bread and butter — the time to show off your designs. Try to pick 1 or 2 projects to present and I recommend creating it on Keynote or Powerpoint. Remember, the on-site interviews are long, so entertaining your interviewers are important too. One thing that helps keep their attention is making the presentation appealing with lots of pictures and visuals. (On one of my presentations, I added a funny meme to show what users were feeling at user tests and I had good responses during the interview.)

It’s always good to present a project that is related to the field. If you don’t have a project that is related to the company’s area of focus, try to connect bridges somehow to show that your skills can help their product. Think of it as a show and tell and try to story tell by introducing the product, research, users and personas, design iterations, all the way to the final design. While presenting, try to say things like, “through this process, I’ve learned…”, “I expected this, but I found out…”, and “I would’ve done this differently now since…”. Acknowledging what you didn’t know before and what you’ve learned through this process is essential.

This part of the interview is difficult because you don’t know what they’re going to ask. However, don’t be afraid! There are no right or wrong answers. It’s more about how you think and solve a problem. Ask questions, think out loud, and write down your thought process. For me, I usually start with asking a bunch of questions: the goals, users, problems, and any information I feel that is missing. Then, I create a persona and tell a story about the character in order to show a user centered thought process. Whiteboard challenge can be terrifying because it’s unpredictable but with practice, you’ll get better and better. Have fun, be confident, and imagine as though you are pitching an idea to your colleagues and friends.

Here are some links that can help you prepare for the challenge:

This is it. You’ve earned it. Now is the time to negotiate the offer. Try not to accept the offer right away, because when you get the verbal offer, you might not be in the right emotional shape to negotiate. You should say, “I’m really excited about the opportunity. Could you just give me a couple of days to think about it?” Don’t be anxious to lock down the offer yet, companies usually understand. On the next call, ask if there is anything else: it could be the base salary, sign on bonus, stocks, relocation assistance or flexible work hours. Always ask! The potential downside is that they say no, but the upside is too high to miss out on. Pure fear and self-doubt is your biggest obstacle, so be bold and have confidence! After all, companies will pay for talent.

Sometimes you might have multiple offers, and you might be waiting for the other offer to get back to you. It can be stressful to buy time, but it’s doable. Ask for a short extension and some companies will understand where you are coming from. Being wanted at multiple places might make it difficult to choose where you want to go, so remember your goal from the beginning and follow your heart. If you’re having trouble choosing which company to join, make a table with the role, team, compensation, future prospects, and learning. Also ask yourself, “Where will I be happier?”. Most of all, what does your gut say? This whole process might be complicated, but don’t be stressed out and enjoy being wanted.

If you haven’t had any luck yet for your interview, don’t be discouraged. It doesn’t mean that you’re not qualified. From my experience, I think finding a job is like looking for a parking spot in Los Angeles or New York City. Some spots might have a meter, some spots might be too narrow or small, but after driving around block to block, at the right time and at the right place, you’ll eventually find one that fits you. I’ve done more than 50+ interviews to find my dream job, and being good at interviews also takes practice. Never give up and despair. Have confidence, be yourself, and believe in your work. Your hard work will eventually pay off.



Product Designer

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store