I lead the Product Design Team here at Glassdoor and 90% of my job is hiring the right people for the right design roles. It is the single most important aspect of my role. I am banking the success of our product and the success of my team on those hires. So we as a team really want to ensure that each designer has an opportunity to be successful. Really, the better the new hire does, the better the team does. Because of this, we’ve refined our interview process to evaluate candidates from a variety of levels.
I am going to walk through our expectations and give you some hints about how to think not just about the interview process but your career as a product designer.
Start with thinking about the context for the team hiring you. This process can be stressful for candidates but keep in mind the stresses that are associated with hiring a new team member. The team is likely short-staffed or they have lost a team member. The interview process takes time and effort away from their previously scheduled work. Add to that future workload preparations for onboarding and training new team members. This context must be thought of throughout the entire process and showing that you understand your audience is a key aspect of a good designer.
Evaluating Job Descriptions
The first thing that we do once a position has been allocated, either through budget or backfill, is writing a job description. In the past, there was a tendency to just copy the previous role description and toss it in, a quick and simple solution. Now we know that to attract motivated designers we have to focus on the ‘why’ in our job descriptions. If we focused only on what we need, we run the risk of filtering down only a match for a list of skills needed for defined tasks. If we lead with ‘why’ a candidate would want to work with us each day, then we get better candidates that are excited about our mission, to help people everywhere find a job and company they love.
When you are reading job descriptions, pay attention to if you can find the ‘why.’ That is the starting point to evaluate if you are going to be a fit. The main problem with most job descriptions is that they describe a job as a list of goals and results. The designers we are looking for are motivated less by tasks and rewards and more by a sense of purpose. Design is part of the knowledge economy and designers and researchers are particularly emotionally invested in the outcome of their work. We are not just looking for a job, but for improving other people’s experience and taking on a mission that aligns with our own values. By focusing on the why in job descriptions, you relate better to the hiring team and understand if you are a good fit within the overall company value structure. Using this as an initial evaluator will help narrow your search early (If you want to read more on ‘why’ please read Simon Sinek’s, Start With Why and Daniel Pink’s, Drive).
Traits We Look For
Initiative: Our team is focused on Design being an equal partner in the direction of our company and product. In order for this to be successful we are looking for designers who when they see something that needs to be changed or built, they go after it. They partner with PMs and engineering to work towards a common goal. Too often I see designers that are waiting to receive tasks. But we want our team to be partners in the entire process and we believe that a strong product comes from everyone’s contribution.
Thought leadership: This is partnered with Initiative. We are looking for someone who can make a statement about design or a product, evangelize their perspective, and drive action. The trust they have developed through being an expert in their position and scope of work. We are big on empowerment here. Each designer is responsible for an area of our product. I rely on those designers to tell me what to do for their area. They need to not only be able to have the idea or direction for the design but be able to champion it through our process. Through this, other areas of the company start to come to design asking advice and direction.
Ability to explain your designs: Sometimes it’s not what you did, but it’s why you did it. Our job is to take what we have in our heads and build something that brings people along that experience. Being able to explain not what has been done but WHY it was done that way is paramount. There are a lot of stakeholders in any company and often more energy is spent convincing people of directions and the reasoning behind that direction than the actual design itself. If I ask a designer why they chose to do something and they respond with “it felt better” or “I liked that colour better” then it takes away from the thought leadership aspect. However, if you are able to respond with “the research and testing said x” or “based on our user's expectations from this study” then you are grounding the decision in fact and presenting yourself as an expert on the outcome.
Passion: Design is a wide and varied practice and there is a lot of different roads to and skill sets that make up design as a field. What we want to see is that you are passionate about the industry and the career you have chosen. We want to see a willingness and desire to learn more and grow. We want to see pride in the work you have produced and excitement about doing more challenging projects.
Portfolio and Presentations
Currently, for our interview process, we request that you present some projects (30 minutes) to the team and then do a whiteboarding exercise (30 minutes) where you choose from three different problems to tackle.
For the project presentation, I would recommend finding a project that has some relevance or connection to what we are doing here at Glassdoor. Show something that you think might resonate with the team. If you don’t have anything, speak to why you chose the project. If you can connect it back to Glassdoor somehow, it shows you are thinking about the team, the product, and their needs. The decisions you made and why you made them are much more important than the project itself. Explain the process and the contributions you made towards the final outcome. Remember, it’s about you and the work, not the project itself. One of my pet peeves is when someone presents their portfolio on their personal website rather than making a presentation. I have already looked at the website before you came in. I want a story that speaks to who you are as a designer and how you can contribute.
For the whiteboarding exercise, there is no right answer. We are not looking for a miracle design direction, we’re evaluating your process and approach to design. Approach the problem as you would any other project and showcase the process you would apply. Worry less about the outcome and more about how you describe the decisions and reasons behind the direction you took. In the past, we used to do a take-home project but it just ended up being another portfolio piece to the team. We find being able to interact with a designer when they are approaching a problem gives us a lot more insight.
Interview Questions We Might Ask
Here are a couple of questions that we may ask in an early-stage interview. The questions can vary, but the key to a successful answer is to understand why the question is being asked and to structure your response accordingly.
In your opinion, what is product design? Product Design is an extremely interdisciplinary domain connecting business, psychology, technical skills, and so on. We want a potential hire to understand that, and explain how they’ve applied this knowledge in their previous work. The answer to this question is about learning how the candidate thinks about design, their role, and approach. Do they think broadly about the industry or just about pixels on screens?
Tell me about a product you have used recently that really nailed the UX. Once again the product isn’t the priority here. We want to hear that you evaluate products outside of work. It’s important to us how you evaluate those products and what reasoning you provide about that product and its experience. This shows you are passionate about design and lets us know that you can describe the thoughts in your head about a product in a clear and concise way.
Jordan Girman is the Head of Product Design at Glassdoor.