What to expect in a product design interview

Excerpts from The Product Design Interview — waitlist for the book is now open, extras available for download.

Recruiter Screen

30 minutes — 45 minutes

This round usually lasts about 30 minutes and is the initial screener. You can expect to speak with a general recruiter if it’s a smaller company or a recruiter who works with the product team in general, specific to the design organization or if the company is really big some smaller design teams or sub-organizations have team-specific recruiters. In general the recruiter will ask you questions to see if you fit the job description.

Preparation: Read through job description, research the recruiter, team and role you applied for.

Design screen

30 minutes — 1 hour

This round takes a few different forms — it could either be a casual conversation with the hiring manager or a designer on the team. The call itself will focus on who you are as a designer, your design experience and contributions, and your design process. Some interviewers may do an informal portfolio review by talking through a recent project or walking through a case study on your portfolio. You may also have a conversation about your career goals and your ideal next role in this round. You will have some time to ask the interviewer questions about the role, what they’re looking for and anything else on your mind.

Preparation: Design process, abridged recent project walkthrough, questions for the interviewer.

Design challenge

5–10 hours

This is a step some companies add in either after the recruiter screen or before the full onsite round. You could defer doing the challenge to later in the process by talking to the recruiter or hiring team about specific concerns, but for some this may not be an option to ensure they pursue all possible interview options. Companies and recruiting teams will tell you to spend about 5 hours on it but unfortunately it may take closer to 8–10 hours. The issue here is that if you spent the prescribed amount of time, there’s no guarantee other candidates won’t spend longer so it’s in your best interest to first set up expectations on the contents of the deliverable, fidelity of the designs, etc. before jumping into the challenge itself. Once you have that information you can time-box yourself and focus on the most important parts that the hiring team wants signal on e.g. interaction design, visual design, or something else.

Preparation: Follow-up questions about the challenge, UI Kits for wireframes, dedicated focus time.

Onsite interview

5–8 hours

In normal times this would be either over one full day or two half-days spent at the company office with different members of the team, getting a quick peek into office culture, informal lunches, and an office tour. In the remote world this would be a series of video calls with panels and interviewers.

Preparation: Good sleep, positive and confident mindset, granola bars and water.

Portfolio review

45 minutes — 1.5 hours

A typical onsite interview will kick off with a portfolio review where you will share a few of your proudest design projects in a formal presentation to the interview panel. Most interviewers from the rest of your day will be present in this round and it will help them get context of your work, background and set them up to ask you relevant questions in the breakout interviews. The recruiting team will help you prepare this presentation by telling you what the team likes to see — e.g. how many projects to include, how long to spend on each, what skills and process steps to focus on (e.g. final designs, research, explorations and iterations, etc.). The panel will ask you questions either during your presentation, between projects, or at the very end. They may reserve some questions for the one on one conversations.

Preparation: Compiled deck with chosen projects, timed practice sessions, peer review of deck

App Critique

45 minutes — 1 hour

Some companies will have a round focused on how you analyze and critique products that are out in the real world. You’re expected to co-select an app with your interviewer who will most likely be a designer. Once you choose the app you go through the product together and talk about what’s working well, what you would do differently, think critically about how the design team landed on the flows and product that is currently live, speculate as to what success looks like for the design and product teams, and whether they’ve achieved it.

Preparation: Practice sessions individually or with a peer

Problem solving

45 minutes — 1 hour

This round has a few different names — white-boarding, problem solving, collaboration exercise, design exercise. The format itself can vary slightly based on the type of prompt you are given but you can typically expect to spend about an hour with designers and sometimes product managers solving a problem on a whiteboard (or collaborative tool for remote interviews) and sketching out possible solutions. Prompts for this round can range from elevator button designs or driverless car designs to specific UX flows like optimizing booking / purchase completion on a website.

Preparation: Practice for prompts on the spectrum of broad design problems to specific UX design flows, structure for how you’ll approach the prompt, familiarity with the remote collaboration tool for remote interviews.

One on one conversations

30–45 minutes each

You can expect a series of 1:1 conversations with key members of your immediate team. If you’re interviewing for a specific role you’ll most likely meet with your future Product Manager, Engineering Lead, UX Researcher, and a few designers you would work closely with if you were to join. In addition to this you can expect another 1:1 conversation with your hiring manager. The primary goal of the cross-functional conversations is to get a sense of your working style, collaboration skills, and how you’d approach tough situations with each of your stakeholders. In each session you’ll also have a few minutes to ask questions.

Preparation: Think about how you work with research, product, and engineering. Background information on the team, questions specific to each area of practice.

Excerpts from The Product Design Interview — waitlist for the book is now open, extras available for download.

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