Journey to Landing my Experience Design Internship at Airbnb

Many people have reached out to me about the interview process for Airbnb’s design role, so I decided to write about it. This is solely based on MY experience, and does not reflect Airbnb’s stance on recruiting process.

Introduction

Ever since getting into UX at my school (Savannah College of Art and Design) in 2016, Airbnb was one of the companies that I admired and respected. I was so fascinated and inspired by Airbnb’s design-centric culture and how that was directly translated to the services and features of the product.

When one of the 30+ designers I messaged on Linkedin replied back to me with an available date for lunch, I flew off to San Francisco. I was excited- it already felt like a dream come true, just to meet a designer from Airbnb

I still remember stepping into the Airbnb office, and not being able to process what I was seeing. Magnificent, beautiful, and breathtaking are all just understatements to describe this heavenly “office”.

The host took me to the cafeteria, where as we had lunch she talked about her role as an experience designer at Airbnb. Throughout our conversation, I felt completely enchanted by her experience and work life at Airbnb; I noted in my head,

I hope I can work here someday. No, I HAVE to. I WILL.

I opened up few questions to address the mystery behind Airbnb’s hire for designers. (At that time, I’ve never seen any job postings/mentions for designers) It wasn’t easy facing the harsh truths.

  • Airbnb is the dream place for many designers
  • They have the best connections, resources and access to the best designers whenever needed
  • They don’t have an internship program

(Oh. Adios Airbnb.)

Leaving the office, my footsteps weren’t as light as when I walked in.

Application Process

Well, fast forward one year from that day- Here I am, with an offer to Airbnb as their Experience Design intern (It is Airbnb’s first year hiring design interns) Like mentioned above, I would like to share my application and interview process, that could potentially help you prepare for your interview. (This process is strictly based on my personal experience, and will not be same for everyone)

  1. Applying for Airbnb Design Position

In December 2017, I started to see Airbnb job postings on their site and Linkedin. I applied to every design position regardless of what it was (Design technologist, production design, etc…) just hoping that I could get an interview. At the same time, I knew that another way that I could approach Airbnb was to apply to the KPCB fellowship program.(http://kpcbfellows.com) When the program application opened up in January, I submitted my application right away and crossed my fingers for the best. To this date, I have no idea know from which portal the recruiter got my resume in her hands.

2. Phone Screening Interview

On January 28th, I received an email from the recruiter to move forward with the interview process: I scheduled my interview for the earliest day available, (it’s always better to schedule your interview earlier than later).

On February 28th at 11:00am, I picked up a call from San Francisco.

Hello, I’m ___, production designer at Airbnb. I believe you’ve applied to our production design intern role here for this summer.

I had thought that my interview was for the product designer role, and not a production role. Although they sound very similar, the work is completely different. My knowledge with producing and implementing precise visuals to different specification was very limited, and it was definitely not an area I felt confident in. Feeling shocked, I triple checked my email to see if it had been a mistake. It wasn’t. I had just mis-read my email the whole time.

After a brief introduction about myself, and the designer’s role, he jumped straight into few questions regarding the production design role.To recall some of the technical questions, I remember being asked about my process to formatting graphics and visual assets across different mediums, and how to create reusable, systematic design all across those mediums. Other questions aimed to see what my process would be when it came to communicating my designs with the engineers to produce them. I was freaking out the whole time and I honestly had so much trouble answering many of the questions as I had never prepared for them before. Near the end, the interviewer asked me some other general questions to find out more about my passion, and who I am as a person. Here, I talked about my passion for co-creating and designing for marginalized communities, and why I believed in the importance of experience design. I knew that this wasn’t an interview for the experience design role, but I felt like it would be completely pointless if I tried to suddenly craft a new passion for a field that I didn’t know much about, just to “pass” an interview.

Right after the interview, I had never been so sure about an upcoming rejection email. Just as sure I was with the rejection when I didn’t hear back for around a week and a half after the interview, the recruiter got back to me:

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but we got amazing feedback from the team from your phone-screen, but they also noted you would be an incredible fit for our Experience Design role (which it sounds like you also have a passion for).
We just posted the requisition today and chatted with the team about you. I wanted to connect to see which role you’d be interested in continuing forward with.

I couldn’t believe it at first. I double checked this time to see that I wasn’t mis-reading anything again. It felt like a miracle. (I was 1000% sure I had failed the interview.) I replied right back that I wanted to proceed with the interview process for the Experience Design role. Due to few upcoming offer deadlines from other companies, the recruiter helped me schedule my final “Off-site: Final Video Call Interviews” that same week.

3. Final Video Call Interviews

For the final round, I was scheduled 4 interviews with different people in the Airbnb through their video call system, all on the same day. There was a 15 minute “break” in between each of the interviews. I was given a link prior the interview to join, which I then tested my screen share, microphone, and the space before the interview.

The 4 different interviews aimed to look at my core values, experience design skills, production design skills, and communication skills.

Because it’s Airbnb’s first year for hiring design interns, I couldn’t find any resources or past experiences anywhere (hence, why I’m writing this article!), so I decided to look at the title of these interviews as keywords, and prepare a list of things I wanted to share at some point of the interview. I tried to see the 4 interviews as a whole, and be strategic with which points I was going to hit for which part of the interview.

a) Core Values (30 mins)

For this interview, I had an amazing opportunity to interview with someone who takes care of the trust and safety side of Airbnb. As someone who’s passionate about emerging technology, but also worried about how that could become a threat and danger to the world, it felt like we were on the same page even though we were from completely different backgrounds. From reading the Airbnb design blog since the beginning, and believing in Airbnb’s mission, I talked about how and why I truly saw myself as a cultural fit for Airbnb.

Some of the questions asked were: “Why Airbnb?”, “What is your background?”,“Why design?”, “What motivates you?”

b) Portfolio Presentation(45 mins)

Airbnb will request you to send a presentation prior to the interview, but if you believe that your digital portfolio is the best medium to deliver the work (like myself), it’s completely fine to present from your online portfolio.

For the portfolio review, I asked the two experience designers to choose a project they wanted to see from my portfolio. I had few projects along with my Airbnb Redesign project. I realized that they could easily understand the context of the Airbnb redesign project, and thought it would better to show them creative work outside of the same “work” they see everyday, so I eliminated my redesign project. I ended up choosing only one project to talk about because I was aware that Airbnb is very design-process driven, and I believed that going through one project in detail to show my design thinking, and intentions behind every decision was the most important.

By the time I had finished my presentation, there wasn’t much time for questions left, and they invited me to ask them questions instead. I utilized that time to ask them few questions, regarding their process of co-creating with users during their design process.

c) Production Design Skills (45 mins)

(It was originally a 30 minute interview, but my interviewer decided to call 15 minutes early- which I thought was awesome!)

For this interview, I talked with an amazing and funny Design Group Manager. This was the most challenging interview where many technical questions were asked. First series of questions aimed to understand your overall process and your individual workflow as an experience designer. The other good section of questions aimed to understand how I would work with other people such as production designers, developers, and product managers to develop a product.

Some of the questions asked were: “What kind of designer are you?”, “What would you do on the first day of your work?”, “What is your design process?” , “How do you communicate with developers with your design?”, “What kind of questions do you ask regarding your work to your peers?”

d) Communication Skills (30 mins)

This interview was very similar to my first interview regarding my core values in the sense that it felt more like a conversation than an interview. A different design manager at Airbnb established a comfortable setting by talking to me a little bit about his background and his work in the beginning. During our conversation, I was able to up and talk about my real self, beyond just as a designer. I talked about how I got into design, why I love design, and what kind of designer I yearn to be in the future.

Some of the questions asked were: “What is your superpower?”, “ How do you resolve problems?”, “ How do you work in a team?”

Personal Thoughts

Package Yourself, then Story-tell it.

One of the things I learned from my Airbnb interview experience is that interviews should be comfortable for both the interviewer, and the interviewee. Don’t expect the interviewer to be the one to keep on asking you the questions. For example, I sensed that within the minutes of my communication skills interview, the designer wanted me to show the real- me. It would be awkward for him, even as an interviewer to keep on asking questions around that. Interviews are all about storytelling- frame the story so that you’re hitting the different elements that the interviewers wish to hear. Airbnb definitely values communication skill for all of their employees and I believe that strategizing your story within the interviews will not only make the interviewers’ jobs easier, but also have a long-lasting impression of you. As can be seen in Airbnb’s interview process, your portfolio and design skills are just one aspect of what people “evaluate” on. Being self-aware as an individual as well as a designer, and being able to clearly communicate that to the audience is as important. (This is my personal opinion after interviewing with other companies, and not just with Airbnb)

Earn your Luck.

To be completely honest, even though I felt like I had done well on the interview, it just didn’t seem realistic that I would land a design internship at Airbnb. When the recruiter called me with some feedback and the offer, I couldn’t believe it at first, and started crying. I feel very lucky, but at the same time, I truly believe that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Even when I was devastated after realizing that I had no hope for Airbnb at that time, I kept on improving my Airbnb redesign project, and brainstorming potential features of Airbnb. As cliché as it sounds, “Nothing is impossible” when you put your mind and effort to it.

All the people I interviewed with at Airbnb were friendly, open, and incredible people. I have witnessed why Airbnb is famous for their people. Be yourself; show your passion for design, and passion for Airbnb’s mission that you believe in. Good luck!

If you want to see what my first week of my work looked like, visit my youtube vlog!

https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=YDhJHprnVeY

If you have any other questions regarding the interview process with Airbnb or any other companies I’ve interviewed with, feel free to hit me up on Linkedin!

https://www.linkedin.com/in/hwanghah-jeong-954654124/