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How to land a UX engineer internship without losing your sanity

Suyash Thakare
Mar 23 · 18 min read

Don’t stop applying — some companies are still hiring!

COVID-19: Job market insights and search strategies from experts

Let’s admit it — job hunting can be a nightmare. On top of that, if you’re in school and seeking your first internship, you are better off being prepared for what’s coming at you. The good news is that there are quite a few articles out there that will provide you with valuable tips on how to land a UX internship. However, instead of compiling general tips and strategies, I wanted to write down personal experiences and journeys that (mostly) MS-HCI students at Georgia Tech went through for their summer 2019 internship hunt. A process that has been dominated by ATS and automated rejections can use a human touch. That’s where I hope this article can come in to guide and inspire you to land the best possible internship you so deserve. And yes, several of these tips and strategies can be utilized for landing a full-time job as well.

Meet my peers — Tae, Junjie, and Darsh.

Each one’s experience has been divided into four parts -

  1. Getting ready for the internship hunt
  2. Finding opportunities and landing interviews
  3. Interviewing
  4. Reflection

Tae Prasongpongchai

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Portfolio | LinkedIn

Background — Computer Engineering/Science

The main differences between hardware and software UX are the platforms you’re working with, the technologies and interaction types in your toolbox (physical interaction, gestures, physical buttons, etc.), and extra considerations like form factor and ergonomics. The UX engineer intern position that I was in had a lot to do with 1) designing (especially ideation) the interactions, 2) building functional prototypes while keeping in mind the constraints like form factor, how/where could required components fit in the devices, how robust the detection could be, power requirements, etc. (As a hardware UX engineer, this is the main focus) and 3) Testing the prototypes to make recommendations to the team.

Getting ready for the internship hunt

When do UX engineering internships for summer usually open? When did you start applying?

At my time, they opened in January. I started applying for both design and engineering roles in the same month.

The Google UX engineering internship for this year opened in Fall 2019, though. Most other positions I applied to were UX design roles.

What job materials did you prepare to seek an internship in UX engineering?

Resume, portfolio, cover letter. I wrote a cover letter only for companies that required one. I’m writing a cover letter more often now for my full-time job search. A cover letter can help you form a more cohesive narrative of your profile and help highlight certain parts for a particular company. The worst thing that could happen if you submit a cover letter with an application is just it’s not being read. On the other hand, if they do read it, your application can seem more focused.

It seems like specifically for Google, they don’t really care much about the cover letter, at least for design and engineering roles. Their application form reads, “We think your work speaks for itself, so there’s no need to write a cover letter.”

How did you tailor your resume for this role?

I had one common resume for design, as well as engineering. My resume was focused on UX design in general. My background and skills sections already show my engineering side. I wanted to do UX prototyping/engineering in a design team and not in an engineering team.

I made my roles in the academic UX projects clear in my resume (e.g., saying “UX Designer/UX Researcher” next to the project name). I focused more on the problem I solved and the impact I made (or possibly could have made).

How did you tailor your portfolio for this role?

I wrote end-to-end UX case studies focused on design. I visited http://cofolios.com/ to find out some of the best portfolios of interns at companies I wanted to work for. I wanted to understand what to include in my case studies and how to structure them.

Finding opportunities and landing interviews

Once you thought your job materials were ready, what strategies did you use to find internship opportunities?

I applied to about 30 companies. I was selective because of my US visa status — I would have to return home soon after I graduate. I wanted to work for companies that were well-known back home in Bangkok.

I looked up opportunities online using Google jobs, Linkedin, and google search in general.

How did you build a network which can help you with referrals?

For Google, I had a referral from an alumnus of the HCI program I knew.

I applied online for all the other companies. I was still trying to figure out professional networking at that time.

What were some helpful online resources (websites, blogs) that were crucial in your search?

I read articles on other people’s experiences with the job hunt, on how I should tweak my resume as well as portfolio and how do I go about cracking interviews when I proceeded to that stage with companies. I asked for in-person feedback on my resume and portfolio from folks who graduated last year from the HCI program. Also, when Google was on campus, I attended their portfolio review session.

Interviewing

What was the interview process like? How did you prepare for different types/stages of the process?

I interviewed with 1 company each for UX design and engineering.

I interviewed with Google for the UX engineering role.

Google’s application process starts with you filling out a questionnaire, which was mainly about your skills and interests. This is used to match you with a specific team. You then proceed to the team matching phase. It takes about 1.5 months to two months for team-matching irrespective of the role. You hear back from the teams that want to interview you. You start with a general UX interview and then have a specific interview for the teams who are interested in speaking with you.

Both of my interviews were phone calls. The first interview was with a designer and lasted for about an hour. It happened to be more specific for the hardware team because there are few UX engineers at Google doing hardware UX design. Otherwise, for software teams, you might get interviewed by another UX engineer at Google. During this call, I had a portfolio review for 1 or 2 end-to-end UX projects.

The second interview lasted about an hour too. You talk with the team about what they do and what your role will be. It was a live coding challenge with two prompts. The first one was platform-specific. I was asked to write some Arduino code. The second prompt was an algorithm task. For UX engineering roles, they don’t have high expectations of you w.r.t to the algorithm prompt. Usually, the way coding interviews go is by you starting with a brute-force solution, then optimize it further and further. However, for this interview, they seemed to be ok with my first brute-force-ish solution. You still need to know some computer science basics like time complexity, though. You talk them through what you’re doing while you code. Be sure to mention any assumptions you may be making. Before the interview, They told me how to prepare for the coding challenge. Your solution doesn’t have to be 100% correct, as in the code doesn’t have to be runnable straight from what you typed. If you are not sure about something e.g., what argument does the substring() function take, just make assumptions and let them know. What they want to learn is whether you can code and how you approach the problem. It’s sort of a whiteboard coding challenge. You will be coding on Google docs for this. Apparently, the interviewer had looked at my portfolio earlier and asked me specifically to talk about a hardware project in my portfolio during the same interview.

If you pass the second interview, you’ve very high chances of getting an offer. Your application goes through an internal hiring committee. I heard that some candidates don’t get through this stage, though.

What are some of the best practices for portfolio presentation?

Make your design decisions clear. What did you change along with the design iterations? Why? While presenting, be prepared to jump between high-level and low-level details. Some might ask you to provide a high-level walkthrough and then prompt you if they need more information or vice versa. Be prepared for a 15 min presentation as well as an hour long.

What surprised you during the interview process?

For UX engineering interviews at Google, you usually get a coding challenge first and then have a portfolio walkthrough. When I hopped on to my first call, it turned out to be a portfolio review, which kind of caught me a little off guard. I was prepared, though.

It was also surprising to not get asked many questions during the portfolio review. I was only asked clarification questions meant to make sure the interviewers were following along with my story.

How did you deal with rejections?

I didn’t worry about them too much. When you start to get a few, you get used to them.

Did you change your strategies as a result of your learnings during the interview process?

You get better at storytelling and presenting, in general, the more portfolio review sessions you have. You start to understand what the interviewers are looking for and accordingly talk about certain aspects of your case studies while excluding others.

Reflection

In hindsight, can you think of anything you would have done differently?

Georgia Tech has a dedicated career fair called Interactivity for UX jobs. I could have been at Interactivity full day and made the most out of it. I could have made a lot more useful connections there.

I should have applied to more companies and talked to more people for finding opportunities as well as getting more feedback on my resume and portfolio.

Curious to know about what Tae learned during this internship? Read his article.

Junjie Xu

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Portfolio | LinkedIn

Background — Double major in Psychology and CS

Getting ready for the internship hunt

When do UX engineering internships for summer usually open? When did you start applying?

I applied for design as well as engineering roles. I saw a few positions open in Fall for some of the large companies.

I applied to about 5 engineering roles, including the ones at Zillow and Google. The role at Google opened in January (which opened in last December for the current summer). Other positions opened sometime early in the Spring too. All of my other applications were for UX design.

What job materials did you prepare to seek an internship in UX engineering?

Resume, cover letter, and portfolio. If I really wanted to work at a company and thought I might be a good fit for it, I wrote a cover letter. I had a template for it.

How did you tailor your resume for this role?

I had separate resumes tailored for UX design and UX engineering. The engineering resume focused more on technologies I had used for my previous work projects. Also, my prior work experience was in full-stack development. For the engineering resume, I changed the order and placed my work experience above the academic projects.

How did you tailor your portfolio for this role?

In terms of case studies, my portfolio was tailored for design, but I had coded it myself.

It helped me land the Google internship because they check if you coded your portfolio with the code inspector built in all the browsers. Also, even though it’s UX engineering, they expect you to understand the UX process.

Finding opportunities and landing interviews

Once you thought your job materials were ready, what strategies did you use to find internship opportunities?

I mostly looked up opportunities on LinkedIn and Glassdoor. I had about 70 applications, including both design and engineering roles. Most of my applications were purely online. I had a couple of referrals from the people I knew from my undergrad.

As surprising as it might sound, I got into Google without a referral.

How did you build a network which can help you with referrals?

I didn’t try to build a network for my internship hunt. My connections were more organic — they were with undergrad peers I had studied or worked with. Looking back, I should have tried reaching out to more people outside of my current network, though. I would have definitely landed more interviews.

What were some helpful online resources (websites, blogs) that were crucial in your search?

LinkedIn and Glassdoor. I researched about the UXE role on Medium.

Article referred:

https://uxplanet.org/ux-engineers-what-we-are-2b0c4d10b3a6

https://medium.com/google-design/why-full-stack-developers-make-the-best-ux-engineers-1ddbff6c1739

Interviewing

What was the interview process like? How did you prepare for different types/stages of the process?

I interviewed with about 3 companies each for both, UX design and UX engineering.

For SAP, it was a hybrid design/developer role. I had a call with the recruiter. They wanted to understand my background and share details about what the team does and also provided me with a chance to ask any questions I had. They ghosted me after that.

For Google, I first filled out a questionnaire. Around the end of Feb, I heard back from the recruiter. The first round was a technical interview with a UX engineer.

It involved a live coding challenge where I had to use HTML, CSS, and Javascript. They asked me to do simple tasks meant to test if I knew these languages. We also briefly discussed a project I did for my Information Visualization class here because I had used front-end technologies like Javascript. I prepared for the interview by searching for front-end engineer interview questions online and studying the articles I found.

The second interview was with a hiring manager. He wanted to get to know my front-end tech stack. We discussed the pros of cons of front-end frameworks like React. We also discussed different prototyping tools and when to use which. For instance, if you have an information visualization project or you’re working on some novel technologies, you would instead code the prototype for testing. Otherwise, it would be difficult to show the users what the prototype can do. It’s also not feasible to purely design such prototypes. I was also asked a question or two about my career goals.

What are some of the best practices for portfolio presentation?

I didn’t have a portfolio review session.

What surprised you during the interview process?

It took me about two to three weeks to go through the interview process with Google. They got back to me with a decision in seven weeks. As you might expect, by that time, I had absolutely no hopes to receive an offer from Google. As it turned out, they did extend an offer. Never give up.

How did you deal with rejections?

You feel bad after the first few rejections, but after that, you stop caring.

Did you change your strategies as a result of your learnings during the interview process?

I became more aggressive in talking to recruiters and hiring managers around April because I was then left with limited time to find an internship.

Reflection

In hindsight, can you think of anything you would have done differently?

I would suggest applicants not to be scared of reaching out to recruiters if they’ve any questions or concerns during an interview process. They should also reach out to designers at companies where they want to work and request them to share feedback on the portfolio as well as ask them how they approached internship hunt if they’ve interned as a UX engineer before. Polishing your portfolio is even more crucial if you’re aiming to be in a design role. It’s also essential to find out what you’re good at and focus on finding an internship role that matches closely with that.

Darsh Thakkar

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Portfolio | LinkedIn

Background — Bachelors of Technology in Computer Science

Getting ready for the internship hunt

When do UX engineering internships for summer usually open? When did you start applying?

I applied to UX engineering roles, including those focused on data viz (visualization). I also applied for Product management roles.

UXE positions open up at different times, depending on the company you want to work for and what year you’re applying for. Some may not have a UXE role. Such roles might instead be called front-end engineers or UX developers. Create alerts for these keywords on LinkedIn.

Especially for UXE, you need to start building up your network in mid-Fall, even though most will open around Spring. Try to figure out what working in these roles entails. If you have a chance to connect with the hiring managers, see if they can tailor the position to have a UX component along with engineering (if they don’t call the candidate hired for that role, a UX engineer).

What job materials did you prepare to seek an internship in UX engineering?

Resume, cover letter, and portfolio. I wrote a cover letter only for companies that I really wanted to work for. Instead of writing about my technical skills, I used to talk about my personality and working style, as well as why I was interested in that particular company.

How did you tailor your resume for this role?

I had separate resumes for UXE, Data viz, and PM. The data viz resume was close to the general UXE one but tailored towards the former. I had shared links for my data viz projects on my portfolio and resume so that the recruiters and hiring managers can easily access them while they screen me. For each project description, I used the STAR framework.

For my UXE resume, I focused on the UX process and prototyping as well as collaborating with engineers, designers, and researchers. I also placed my UX projects above other projects. I had mentioned my UX skills too.

On the other hand, my Data viz resume was focused on data. I also mentioned my computer science skills, like machine learning. I had some stuff about data science and how it relates to data viz. DataViz and Data Science usually fall under the same org in some companies.

How did you tailor your portfolio for this role?

I had a basic UX portfolio. I didn’t want to do hardcore UX. One of my case studies was an end-to-end UX project, while the others were data viz projects. I had converted my Data viz projects to UX case studies — they showed my thought processes for developed prototypes. Start with a problem statement. Do discounted research and design. Have your project’s code on the Github repository and link your portfolio to it.

Finding opportunities and landing interviews

Once you thought your job materials were ready, what strategies did you use to find internship opportunities?

I applied to about 40 UXE/DataViz roles. I had 5/6 referrals. Since I directly came from my undergrad here, I didn’t know many people. I had to expand my network — I mostly approached strangers and alumni of the HCI program.

Networking is vital for niche roles as UXE. I used to connect with employees at different companies during career fairs and then reach out to them on LinkedIn when I saw relevant openings. I also connected with alumni of the HCI program. For my UPS application, I was able to use my connection at the lab I worked with at Georgia Tech.

Applying early or as soon as you see, a relevant job post is more important instead of waiting for a referral to apply. Landing interviews and offers are not just about having the right skills. They are also about applying for positions early or reaching out to the right person at the right time.

How did you build a network which can help you with referrals?

On LinkedIn, reach out to hiring managers and recruiters at companies you want to work for. If you show genuine interest, they might add you back. Don’t ask for referrals directly. Ask if you could learn more about what your desired role looks at their company. Give them a chance to get to know you better. This approach doesn’t always work, though. In any case, having hiring managers in your network is pretty good, even if you don’t end up getting a referral from them. It helps you connect with more people. If you have the time, try to share your work on LinkedIn with the right hashtags to get more visibility for yourself. I didn’t do it, but I’ve seen others successfully pull this off. The connections that you make during the internship hunt might help you during your full-time job search too. Some companies get 100s of applications. Referrals are essential in skipping the line, but keep in mind that they don’t always work.

What were some helpful online resources (websites, blogs) that were crucial in your search?

I used to read UXE articles about what companies look for in potential candidates applying for this role.

Interviewing

What was the interview process like? How did you prepare for different types/stages of the process?

I interviewed with about 8 companies. 2 in Fall and 6 in Spring. Some of them included UPS, Yahoo (Front-end), Facebook (2 different roles — one of which was data viz related). I got an offer from UPS and a local Atlanta startup.

Here’s what the procedure looked like for UPS — I had a phone call with my potential mentor/manager on the job. This phone call lasted for about half an hour. They asked questions about my resume and shared what kind of candidate they were looking for.

The 2nd interview was with my mentor again, along with the team lead. It was a video call that lasted about 1.5 hours. I shared my Data Viz case studies. They asked me technical questions on my prototype, like the problems I faced while dealing with large datasets and how I implemented the prototype. There were also questions along the lines of the following — given a problem and some data, how, if at all, would you leverage Data viz, if it is the right approach. They also asked questions around my process as well as the challenges I faced.

In general, if you don’t have a referral, your first round might be a recruiter screener. You might also have a whiteboard coding challenge. For front-end or UXE roles, they would test your coding abilities w.r.t HTML, CSS, and Javascript. For Data Viz roles, you can usually use any coding language you’re comfortable with. For the latter, they might also check how acquainted you’re with Data viz principles.

For different stages of the interviews, the preparation required is usually the same, at least for the internship hunt. I tried reaching out to folks who had done that particular internship before to know their perspective on what I should prepare for. I asked them how their process was and if they had any tips or guidance on how to prepare for an interview for an X role at Y company. I also tried to read any material I could find online about the same such as on Glassdoor or if anybody had written an article about it.

What are some of the best practices for portfolio presentation?

Show the prototype you made at the start of the case study. For UXE roles, they expect to see a working prototype first. Provide the code as well — they want to know you coded it yourself. Show that you can understand the UX process, but keep in mind they’re hiring you to build the prototypes.

Code your portfolio. Some companies like Google might use this criterion for screening out candidates.

What surprised you during the interview process?

Few companies asked me product-oriented questions which I wasn’t prepared for. These questions were aligned more towards product thinking rather than product design, computer science, UX, or data sci. When I say product thinking, I’m referring to questions that are more aligned for PM interviews, such as estimation and metric framing related questions.

How did you deal with rejections?

There are many factors involved beyond just your skills. Even if you have a handful of interviews, keep applying because you can’t predict the outcome of your ongoing applications.

Did you change your strategies as a result of your learnings during the interview process?

For my full-time job hunt, yes. I now reach out to many people on LinkedIn, trying to get in touch with the right person. I also tailor my resume for each role that I apply to based on the job description keywords.

Reflection

In hindsight, can you think of anything you would have done differently?

Apply early. I could have got more interviews from companies by researching them and tailoring my applications accordingly.

Do things outside of academics if you can — attend conferences, participate in competitions, or start a student club. It’s not always possible, though, especially if you’re in grad school.

Yay, you made it till the end!

Pat yourself on the back. You’re already ahead of the curve.

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it to be useful! Please feel free to drop a comment below if you have any questions.

Special thanks to my wonderful peers, Tae, Junjie, and Darsh, for sharing their experiences. I also thank Tushar for talking to first-year MS-HCI students looking for an internship this year to ensure I was asking the right questions.

Georgia Tech MS-HCI

Writings from the HCI Master's students at Georgia Tech

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