A product design intern’s resource for design students and romantics
It was the beginning of my first year working towards my MSc in Digital and Interaction design at Politecnico di Milano. After dabbling in a range of industries — I was a cook assistant, au pair, wedding photographer, you name it — I had decided to pursue a design career at any cost. Even sleep. With determination and a beginner’s portfolio, I landed a job at a small digital agency as a UI-UX Designer Junior, where I could experience first-hand what it was like to be a designer in a digital field. Working and studying at the same time gave me more confidence in myself and in my skills. Conscious of the long path ahead of me, I was scared, excited, and supremely aware of the fact that curiosity and commitment can lead to great things.
You’ve Got InMail
I remember it was a cold January day when I logged into LinkedIn, seeing that I had a new message.
My name is ****** and I’m a University Recruiter at Facebook in London. We noticed your resume on the LinkedIn platform which led us to take a closer look at your studies and experiences…
Naturally, a string of thoughts entered my mind: “It has to be spam…Oh My God!…Oh My Lord!…Oh My My!”
Then, I picked my jaw up off the floor and replied to the recruiter with my portfolio and CV. After reviewing my materials and determining that I might be a strong candidate, the recruiter suggested we set up a phone call to discuss the Facebook Product Design internship and my experience in more depth.
The phone interview began with the recruiter sharing more about the internship program, Facebook’s company values, and its design approach. After a brief introduction, it was my turn to share more about my work and what fuels my passion for design.
At the final stage of the phone screen, the recruiter asked me to present one of my projects in 10 minutes. I thought it was important to select a project that showcased a variety of my skills and, importantly, my design process. I justified my design decisions and explained the reasoning behind all of my choices. I knew that I wasn’t speaking with a designer, so I avoided using design buzzwords and defined my terms in everyday language.
I was pleasantly surprised that the recruiter shared immediate feedback and wanted to schedule a portfolio review.
TIP: Selecting topics of conversation
With limited time to make an impression, consider talking about the following:
- Extra activities (workshops, hackathons, online courses)
- Personal side projects (podcasts, meet-ups, design communities)
- Identity as a designer (strongest skills, depth and breadth, passion areas)
- Design approach (human-centered design, activity-centered design, system design, genius design)
- Design interests (typography, user interviews, coding)
Show and Tell
I had a 45-minute conversation with a designer. An awesome one, for sure. There weren’t any awkward ice-breakers, phew. With introductions, the designer put me at ease, and I felt comfortable to present my best and authentic self. We walked through two projects together.
Time really flew during the interview. I tried to maintain focus and presence in the conversation, while also thinking ahead and making the most of my time. In my case, preparing what I wanted to talk about before the interview helped so much, especially because I am not a native English speaker.
At the end of my portfolio review, I had a short five minute break, and then I was asked to do an app critique.
TIP: Picking the best project
A lot of students work on several types of projects, but I felt it was important to show digital products (after all, this was Facebook!).
- Be sure to have enough material to showcase your interaction and visual design skills
- Explain your design process carefully to communicate your product thinking
Be ready to have an open conversation with your interviewer. They might ask you to elaborate on a topic or to walk them through how you’d approach hypothetical scenarios like, “what if you had this other piece of data from the research?”
Master the Critique
A new designer and a new 45-minute conversation ensued. An awesome one, as well. I was asked what kind of phone I had and then to download a popular mobile app — in my case, Spotify — to provide a design review of it.
At the end of the app critique, we said our goodbyes, and I was told I would hear back from my recruiter within two weeks. AKA the longest two weeks of my life.
TIP: Starting with users, always
Who is the primary audience for this app?
Secondly, what is the primary problem this app solves for users?
TIP: Compiling a list of criteria
Whenever I have to provide an app critique, I always find it useful to write down a list of criteria to reference while I’m speaking.
- App navigation
- information architecture
- menu style (hamburger, tab bar, floating button, tabs)
- task flow
- channel of interaction
- page / view layout
- onboarding / checkout experience
- able to do what’s intended / unintended?
- Business / Scalability
- capture new more users
- make current users spend more time and money
- potential expansion areas (features, countries etc.)
Mastering an app critique technique requires time. Try to put some time in every day to review different apps. Try conducting an app critique with your friends. You can define a time limit, share different points of view, and take notes. Read as many app reviews as possible and take a look at the app store’s feedback too—it can be a great stimulus!
After six working days, I received an email from my recruiter. She was excited to catch up with me and asked me if I could chat in 15 minutes. At that moment, I was in my old office on the 7th floor of a big skyscraper in the heart of Milan. It was almost 2:00 p.m., and I grabbed my headphones and sprinted out of the office. On my way out of the building, I ran into the CEO of my agency, who was visibly puzzled by the fact that I was running out of the office just after the end of my lunch break. Once I was outside: Milan had never been so noisy. I was in the middle of the city in rush hour with honking, shouting — the works. The recruiter was calling, so I put on my headphones and to my dismay…I couldn’t hear a single word from the phone call.
After a couple of days in total darkness, without knowing if I got accepted and being too embarrassed to ask, the recruiter wrote me again to ask me for some personal information about my university course. “It must have been a positive answer then,” I repeated to myself.
Three days later — and fittingly on Valentine’s Day — I had the offer I’d been hoping for. I consider it to be one of the happiest moments of my life.
Extra tips and tricks
- Always wear your headphones if you’re on the phone or using video conference
- Try to be in a quiet space, where you can really focus
- Ask thoughtful questions, preparing them in advance if needed
- Show your passion and your personality
- Read articles online about other people’s interview experiences
- Look for resources about Facebook Design
If you’re interested in designing impactful experiences, you should apply to Facebook. This article is a way to share my personal experience, and your interview process may vary.
A special thanks to Elisa K., Harriet P., Kat T., Carlo J. and Amy W. for their incredible support.
If you are interested about illustration, please leave a comment below.