The awesome humans over at productdesign.tips asked design managers from tech companies "What potential product designers should demonstrate in their portfolio and CV to have a better chance of being invited to a product design job interview?" Here's what we all had to say.
UX Lead and Product Design Manager at Facebook, formerly Google
As there are many insightful and highly detailed guidance written on how to prepare for a product design interview, I'm sharing some of the key things I've learned over-time as a designer and what I look for as a manager.
Take a holistic approach and make an impression
Remember that hiring managers have very little time to review your portfolio and resume before they make a decision on whether to pursue you as a candidate. In order to secure an interview, the best thing you can do is to make it easy on us to see how awesome you are.
Leverage your network for referrals, we're all in this together, and definitely don't be shy to reach out to hiring managers online. To me, this shows initiative and taking charge of your own career.
Take an eco-system approach to your Portfolio, LinkedIn and Social Media so they tell a cohesive story. Do a Google search on yourself and see what links, images, tweets etc. come up to make sure your online persona is well crafted and representative of a strong design candidate.
Finally, continue to improve and develop yourself through classes, securing mentorship and being active in the design community. Know your strengths and areas for development. Get really good at delivering and receiving crit on your design work.
Start with a better portfolio
Keep it simple — Remember that hiring managers have very little time to review your portfolio and resume. Get to the important stuff quickly, without a lot of bells and whistles that only distract. After all, I want to see your work.
Demonstrate your process — Don't just show final, high-fidelity designs, I want to know how you got there. Sketches, stickies, journey maps and anything else that helped you craft your project is great.
Clearly articulate what you've worked on vs. others on the team — ie. "I designed the interaction model, wireframes and prototype..."
Similarly, describe the team you worked with — Who was on your cross-functional team? Show me you have experience working with diverse teams.
Research is key — Even if you didn't have a dedicated researcher on the project, what did you do to inform the work with insights, user needs and goals.
Treat LinkedIn like it’s your resume
Ensure it's up to date and connects to all the right artifacts like your portfolio. In many companies, your LinkedIn profile can be a substitute for your resume.
2 pages or less — The more you can reduce the cognitive load for me and surface most recent and high impact work, the better. You can always put a note at the bottom that says "earlier work experience can be provided upon request" that lets me know there's more.
Contact info — Make it easier for me to reach you. It's surprising to see how many resumes bury email, portfolio and phone number starting a scavenger hunt for me.
I don't know what I don't know — Refrain from using company specific acronyms, internal team/project names and systems that I'm most likely not familiar with.
The phone or video conference interview
For Phone interviews verbalize social cues — Since I can't see you, a lot of non-verbal cues and gestures (headnods, eye contact etc.) are lost. Make sure your energy and enthusiasm come across in an authentic way.
Test any conferencing links and systems in advance — You don't want to waste any precious time trying to get wi-fi up and running at the last minute.
Get projects/presentations set up ahead of time — If you are expected to present a project, make sure it's all ready to go on your computer.
Work closely with recruiting — Gather as much information you possibly can about expectations from you on the day and what to bring with you. It's always good to have your presentation on a backup thumb drive and to bring additional connectors, chargers etc.
Create a stellar presentation — Make sure you have a strong narrative for the onsite presentation. It's all about the storytelling. Again, show your process, how you approached the design problem, what tools you used, how you incorporated research, other team members, and show various fidelities of design artifacts inline with the project's progression.
On the day
Arrive 15-20mins early — Last thing you want is to fight traffic or wrangle with a parking meter and stress out right before your interviews.
Be calm, be yourself — I want to get to know the real you, so don't shy away from being authentic. Remember that you are also seeing if we are a good fit for you. The assessment goes both ways.
Take time to answer questions — Don't rush through answers. Take a pause to consider it, ask follow up questions to better understand and state any assumptions you're making.
Alternatively, ask good questions — Do your homework on the role, company and interview panel (if you get the names ahead of time). Know what you're looking for in your next career move. You're likely going to be there for a while, so use this time to understand the culture, how things work and what the leadership is like.
Send "thank yous" — This isn't required, but a nice touch. if you have a way to reach out to folks who interviewed you, don't hesitate to thank them for their time and consideration.
Some of my favorite questions and what i'm looking for
- Describe your high-level design process?
It'll depend on the project, but can this designer describe their end to end workflow and the various people, systems, considerations, tools that go into it? How much focus is there on the end-user? How do they work with others? I'm also looking to see if they talk about how the different disciplines play into their process, whether they talk about constraints and how they measure success.
- As a designer, what motivates you and what demotivates you?
This tells me what the designer is passionate about, what they like and don't like about the role, their level of grit, tenacity and creativity.
- Describe a challenging project that didn't go well? What would you do differently if you could do it all over again?
Can this designer take responsibility for their role in projects. How do they find themselves accountable and learn from experiences to make the next project even better?
- In your opinion, what is a really well designed product? What do you like and what don’t you like? How would you improve it?
Most designers are highly opinionated about experiences whether digital, physical or experiential. As a result, we're always thinking about improvements. I'm looking to hear that this designer is always looking for ways to iterate on and improve upon ideas.
- What drew you to this role and why in this company?
What is about company X, now that makes you want to work here? What about the role sounds most interesting? Ideally, it aligns with your passions, career goals and strengths.
Finally remember, the UX community is small all cross paths many times over our careers, so take the opportunity to make connections with fellow Designers. Good luck - you’ve got this!
Product Strategist and Designer — 10+ Startups, $60M Invested
In my opinion, some things potential product designers can do or keep in mind when preparing for interview opportunities or being invited to interview would be as follows:
- In my career, most opportunities came to me through my website/online portfolio and social media. The one consistent thing that I've always done is to make sure that I only display work that I am proud of and would want to do more of. I recommend keeping the number of workpieces from around 3 to 5. This allows your viewers the luxury of getting through all, if not most of your chosen work, instead of getting lost in a vast sea of options. This also will force you to spend less time cherry picking for others while increasing your chances of working on projects/for companies you will enjoy.
- Don't be afraid to be yourself. Companies, agencies, and individuals are just as likely to hire you based on your personality and how well you connect to their mission and vision.
- Do your research on the companies, agencies, or individuals you want to work with. Knowing as much as possible about them is a value add and even more so it allows you to identify potential problems you may be qualified to help solve.
Bonus: 5 interview tips
- Don't talk about your work, instead, try to give context. You want to showcase the way you think more than anything and illuminate your process.
- Ask your own questions. The interview is as much a vetting process for you as it is for the interviewer. You'll want to ask questions such as "If you were given a magic wand that would give you the perfect designer what would that look like?", "Right now with where your company/agency is currently at, what would you need from a designer like me?" or "What is it like working here from operations and cultural perspective?". These types of questions will help the interviewer trust that you know what you're getting into as well as provide you with valuable information as to what they value most. Knowing this allows you to shift your answers to fill those needs. Keep in mind, this does not mean make things up or lie, but to find ways that you genuinely fill those needs.
- Only provide context on the work you're most proud of and want to do more of. If you only expound on these then you will increase the likelihood that working with the company, agency, or individual will be joyful throughout your time with them.
- Let's address the question that gets a lot of people, "Can you tell me/us a little about yourself?" An effective and surefire way to answer this is to briefly touch on how you became interested in design as well as why by touching on your early background in design. This highlights your motivations, passions, and driving factors. However, the real key is pinpoint the turning point when you shifted your focus into product design. For example, "...around 2009 is when I really started to understand the product design process and the true value of user-centered design as well as why being data-informed when making creative decisions is a critical component in developing valuable solutions."
- Last but not least, one vital part in my opinion that is often overlooked is touching on your strengths in regard to soft skills. Soft skills like communication, empathy, self-motivation, adaptability, etc. Addressing these skills help in multiple ways such as displaying self-awareness, how well you fit with the current team dynamic and can open the door to possibilities for more responsibilities.
Senior UX/Product Designer
1. Do yourself a favour and curate carefully the opportunities you apply to.
Applying for roles you don’t qualify for (skills, seniority, etc) or you’re not the ideal candidate (it can be anything from previous experience to cultural fit) or make unreasonable demands to candidates (like a week’s worth of work for a design challenge), is a waste of time and energy you could be putting into roles you actually have a chance. Be selective and focus only on relevant opportunities.
2. Understand the process, context and users specific for each opportunity
Who is handling your application: HR, the hiring manager or someone else? These people have different needs and want to see different things in the documentation you provide in your application. Create multiple versions of your CV to use in each particular case.
At a macro level, the market is currently obsessed with (design) process, designers facilitating workshops and post-its =) They expect to see that in your portfolio.
3. Present yourself as a desirable candidate by focusing on what the organisation values
It might require some practice but you can tell what an organisation values (and how much) by the job spec. It’s a mix of different things like technical skills, soft skills, experience/seniority, personality, etc and it tends to be uneven, laying heavily in 2 or 3 of them, although sometimes just in the technical skills (“can you do the job?”).
Knowing what they are allows you to build your application around it and stand out from the rest.
4. Tailor your portfolio for each opportunity
“Product Design” means different things to different people. Try to understand what they think it is from the responsibilities list in the spec or from the LinkedIn profile of current/past Product Designers in the same organisation.
Cherry pick carefully your case studies, work samples, etc and assemble a portfolio tailored specifically for each opportunity.
5. Add a little bit of “you” in it
In an effort to boost “professionalism”, 99.9% of CVs and Portfolios out there are void of their author’s personality. Again, beware of your audience, but don’t be afraid to show a bit of your personality.
6. Build > measure > learn
Leave your ego out of this and treat it as another UX project. Ask for feedback, test assumptions and try to improve every aspect of it. This is not about you as professional nor as a person. This is about finding a toolkit and a framework to present you as the best candidate for the roles that suit *you*. Good luck! =)
VP, Product & Design at Flashfood
One of the most important things to demonstrate in a portfolio is your process, design thinking, and meaningful solutions. In your CV, it’s important to have relevant roles front and centre, but a portfolio is a MUST to get invited to an interview.
Of course, a candidate with a clean eye-capturing portfolio that entices hiring managers to explore into the case studies is a major advantage. However, the bulk of bettering a candidate’s chances to be interviewed belongs in the content of the case studies. Are they showing their best work? Are they showcasing a real problem and how they’re approaching it? Are they showing artefacts in a logical way? Is their explanation concise and relevant? Do they use appropriate research methods? Do they draw strong and appropriate solutions based off of their observations and data? Do their designs show solid technical skills, patterns, and are accessible? If so, they’re probably going to be invited in for an interview.
Sr. Manager, Product Design at Cars.com
I always kick off the interview process by asking the potential candidate to share their story. I deliberately keep it open-ended. How someone introduces themself in a professional context, details how they work, and shares what they stand for helps me identify key qualities that will make them successful in the role I’m hiring for (or not.) It can be extremely illuminating.
When it comes to a portfolio, show your work. I am always way more interested in learning why the candidate made certain choices and how they implemented their decisions than I am in the actual final deliverable. Ultimately, I want to understand how the candidate approaches solving problems. How did they frame the work? What data did they seek to inform their decisions? Why? An ability to articulate their reasoning and demonstrate thoughtfulness in influencing outcomes, which occasionally might even involve challenging other perspectives, is incredibly valuable.
Product Design Manager at Google
When I am looking at portfolios of potential design candidates, especially new college graduates, I primarily look at two things — firstly, I try to get a good sense of diversity of projects in their portfolio, how they communicate the problems, their process and the final solutions. I should note that quantity of projects isn't important but its valuable to showcase your experience with different methodologies around both problem framing and solving.
Secondly, I try to assess the candidate's role related knowledge and where they are strong at vs not — do they have first hand experience designing and conducting user research, interaction and visual execution skills, how they use prototyping to help with their design process etc. This assessment helps us decide if we should proceed with the candidate and also forms the basis for what I want to learn more from the candidate during a phone interview which is often the next step in the process.
Michael J. Morgan
Design Manager at Chegg Inc.
Aside from having smart, intentional designs, I find that designers often overlook these three areas:
- Narrative — Storytelling should be at the core of a strong portfolio. Create a clear and consistent story across your projects.
- Concision — You are likely one of the hundreds/thousands of portfolios received. Cut through the noise with clarity.
- 3. Grammar — Please. Please. Please. Check for this. Don’t spell “design” wrong (I’ve seen it).
- Grammar — Please. Please. Please. Check for this. Don’t spell “design” wrong (I’ve seen it).
Senior Product Designer @ Netflix
The biggest question I have when looking at a product designer's portfolio is how they got to the decisions that they made. A beautiful final product is nice, but I want to know what user problem you're solving, how that user problem led to your various design explorations, and ultimately how you decided on the final solution. Be honest about the decisions you made just based on your gut — we all have to make decisions like that in design — but do your best to show when your designs are informed by user research, business needs, and best-practices.
Design Manager at OpenTable
As a hiring manager, I’m looking for portfolios that show a balance of process, craft, and a clear understanding of the user and business. The best way to do this is to create short sections on their site that discuss the user problem, business goals, research, sketching, wireframes, iterations on the design work, visual design, and project impact. I’d also recommend they note their role, responsibilities, who else was on the team, and the project duration.
Think of a portfolio as a balance of show AND tell. By “show” I mean that they should have sketches, wireframes, iterations of screens, all the way to visual design. By “tell” I mean they have 3-5 sentences, not multiple paragraphs, describing the user problem, business goals, research, and why those led to the design decisions they made. This also means that a designer shouldn’t treat a portfolio like Dribbble with only images of screens. I will say no immediately because I don’t know who else worked on the designs much less the design decisions behind them. It's a delicate balance to strike so I'd recommend that designers show their portfolio to a few experienced designers for feedback.
Design Manager at Catalant Technologies
As a hiring manager myself, here are some tips for designer who is looking for the next big thing
1. Do your research
Know the company you are talking to, understand their product, their core value, their team. This would really impress your interviewer if you process a deep knowledge of what they do
2. Be a good sales person
Leave an impressive first impression is good but what’s better is to sell yourself as a product. Understand user’s pain point , demonstrate how you can make team better and drive things forward
1. Don’t drill down that one project you loved for 40 mins, there are more things you should talk about.
2. Process is good, but it needs to tie back to realities
Structured design process can demonstrate good education and training , but it would backlash you if you can’t apply it to real day to day work
Product Design Manager at Zendesk
There's a certain level of design process and quality that a candidate needs to demonstrate to make it past an initial review. But I think it's also important to distinguish yourself from other candidates with a unique design and by showing your true self in your portfolio and resume. A portfolio site that doesn't look exactly like every other one that I've reviewed that day, case studies that are well written in your own voice and prove your ability to tell a story, a CV that illustrates a beautiful design sense and quickly communicates the most relevant information on it, and so on.
Head of Creative and User Experience
When interviewing product designers for opportunities on the team, I always seek out first what their ambitions look like. Too often I am taken down a pathway of previous work, with or without previous teams. To get my attention, I want to understand what makes you tick, what makes you stay up late thinking about solving or tirelessly revisiting a concept because it isn’t exactly “right”. To me, this helps me understand the breadth and depth of your inspiration and how creative thinking can solve for it.