Cracking product design interviews

I Wish I Knew These Things About Product Design Interviews

Try seeking a second design job if you think finding a first one is hard.

I recently came across the above quote in a tweet, and while going through the grueling job search process, and I couldn’t agree more.

It’s true af.

I bet you must have nodded in agreement if you have already gone through this.

Let’s get right to the point: this is a story of how I went about looking for a job, what mistakes I made, and what I learned as a result.

I so wish I knew these things beforehand, hence, I am writing this essay for anyone who is trying to look out.

A brief backstory: 

As of writing this (Aug’22), I have completed 3 years in design mostly on my first ever design job at udaan. I have written about my experiences here and here.

Prior to that, I used to be a UI developer.

After about three years of working at udaan, I decided it was time to move on.

My primary reasons to make a move were:

  • I wanted to experience building a product in a different domain than e-commerce.
  • The learning and the work part have started stagnating for me.

While I was passively thinking about making a switch as a senior product designer, I believed that there was adequate demand for me in the market because I was receiving recruiters’ direct messages rather frequently.

up until my first interview, where I stumbled.

And that was bad. I was crushed. 🙁

That’s when it dawned on me that getting through interviews successfully required both preparation and practice.

And I had obviously made the mistake of not actively working on my case studies while being in the peacetime period.

It took me a while and a couple of interviews to get a hang of it and come out victorious.

Here are some statistics about the job hunt process. 👇

cracking product design interviews
Stats from my Job Hunt

Let’s get started:

Based on all of my experience conducting and attending interviews, there are generally six main steps to moving from point A to point B.

While point B is getting the job, point A is the position of wanting to change jobs.

cracking product design interviews

Let’s break it down into what these sub-parts are:

  1. Finding the companies you want to work for and approaching them (HR Call).
  2. Explo/Intro Round
  3. Portfolio Evaluation
  4. Brainstorming/Assignment Round
  5. Product Round (Optional; Subject to Organization)
  6. Culture Fit Round

1. Finding the firms you want to work for:

Realistically, getting a job in the Indian design industry still relies heavily on personal recommendations/referrals. Followed by recruiter agencies and the TA team directly reaching out to you.

In my situation, I sought recommendations from a few companies and also connected with a recruiter agency called CredHire, and those people were quite helpful.

Contrary to popular belief, I had no success with cold outreach.

By the way, you might need a template like this to keep track of all the companies you are applying to. This is where you may download it.

cracking product design interviews
Notion Template for Job Hunt Process

🔗 Link to the notion template 🔗

Additionally, the following criteria are ones you might take into account when looking for companies to work with:

What is your career objective? 

You may start by considering the following:

  • Moving to management roles
  • Money
  • Mentorship
  • Domain change
  • Better work-life balance.

Decide which company best fits the bill by comparing it to the others based on these criteria. I have stated earlier about mine, I wanted to switch domains and move towards a craft-focused role.

2. Introduction & Exploration

After you have been referred or your application gets shortlisted, A senior or an HR representative from the interviewing organization will speak with you during this very basic round to see whether you are a promising applicant or not.

They could query you on things like:

  • How did you enter the design field?
  • What makes you excited?
  • Why are you considering a change?

You might hear from them things like:

  • What is the company’s design culture like?
  • What are the role expectations like etc.?

Here,  my advice would be to be absolutely open and honest about your aspirations, whether they are financial or career-related. 

3. Portfolio Round

Personally, I was a little nervous going into this round because I hadn’t actively managed my portfolio while working.

The following are measured during portfolio rounds:

  • Proof of work
  • Explorations (Various variations explored before arriving at the final solution)
  • The rationale for choosing a certain direction.
  • Ability to articulate.
  • Evaluating your essential competencies.

If you do not document your work as the project progresses, you may find it difficult to do so afterward and you may need to do several iterations before you have one or more excellent case studies.

You might be wondering one or more of the following things:

How many case studies should be included?

Any in-depth case study would take 40–45 minutes to present and you should have about an hour to do so. It can be necessary to plan ahead and leave time for questions and responses.

According to that reasoning, you might just require one well-written case study, and you can create a second one if the panel requests more. In my situation, I had three case studies published.

Important considerations for presenting your case study?

  • Mock practice before presenting your case studies. Do this so that you know what are your most impressive points and where you get stuck.
  • Make it visual.
  • Also, you may use the following framework to structure your case studies 👇
Product design case study structure
Product design case study structure

Which presentation platform should I use?

In order to exhibit my case studies, I used Figma’s prototype mode. Another option is to show directly from the Figma file, but make sure the structure is sound.
Also, for the link sharing, I used notion as my portfolio website.

One piece of advice that helped me a lot 👇

Run your case study by several people as another piece of advice. I used ADPList and spoke with Vaibhav Bhasin, who was gracious enough to offer helpful advice.

4. Whiteboarding Round

cracking product design interviews
Whiteboarding Round Problem Statement Examples

You are graded on the following during the brainstorming sessions:

  • How well do you comprehend the problem given to you?
  • Follow-up inquiries.
  • From how many perspectives can you tackle the issue?
  • Your strategy and justification for going in a particular direction
  • Ability to articulate.

I did not want to opt for “Take Home assignments” because I felt that it becomes too much to handle alongside my day job.

Instead, I used to request whiteboarding sessions as a substitute. To my surprise, most of the companies agreed to it.

Sessions for brainstorming last anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.

Note: I am yet to write on how to approach your whiteboarding solution. Once, I am done, will update it here. In case, if you want to know about it immediately, hit me up here.

5. Product Round

cracking product design interviews
Product Round Examples of Problems

Some companies may do it, some companies may not.

However, over here, you will be quizzed on a few strategic questions and evaluated on:

  • Thinking strategically
  • How quickly can you find solutions?
  • The ability to scale up methods.

6. HR or Culture Fit Round

You have undoubtedly succeeded if you have survived to this round.

You must now bargain over the compensation aspect of the matter.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to establish an expectation for the range you’re looking at right away from the start, but DO NOT QUOTE EXACT NUMBERS prior to this.

Conclusion

After ~7 interviews later, I decided to join Quizizz (A platform for teachers and students) as a senior product designer, and as of writing this, it’s already been a month and I am loving it.

In case if you have made it this far, remember:

It always takes longer than you anticipate, but it will be worthwhile in the end. So, persevere.

I also want you to be aware of the following: While rejections are occasionally inevitable and a crucial part of the process, you should not blame yourself only for them. Just a matter of time, really.

See ya and all the best.

In case you liked the essay and if it helped you in any way, please let me know either through Twitter or LinkedIn or through the comments down below. That’ll keep me motivated to write more such essays.

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