How to shifting your mindset about the design interview process can help you become a better candidate and designer.
Job hunting is not a comfortable process for most of us. It’s been more than a year since I’ve joined Algolia, and I still often reflect on the process that got me here. I remember while in the midst of it, I sometimes felt frustrated, self-doubting, and confused. With some distance now and being on the other side of the table as a hiring manager, I can reflect on it and realize that the process was an amazing opportunity to strengthen some of my core competencies as a designer. Here are some ways in which the interview process can make you grow if you embrace it.
It Will Strengthen Your Storytelling
Storytelling is hard and, personally, I wish I had more opportunities to practice this skill day-to-day. When you’re interviewing, however, you have the chance to tell stories all day long. It is an essential skill for any designer looking to mature in their career.
Use the interview process as an opportunity to learn to frame past experiences and approaches to design problems. Design hiring managers look for intentionality in design decision-making, which may be difficult to convey without showing the full picture and context to your thinking. Especially in a field where the user acts as a focal point for our work, framing the problem and solution through the users’ story is an effective communication approach.
This skill is going to serve you long past your interview process, so use the opportunity to practice it now.
It Gives You a Chance to Practice and Improve Your Craft
Those dreaded take-home assignments/ whiteboard exercises. Haven’t companies realized by now that they are not a good way to judge skills, because they don’t provide a realistic setting/problem for the candidate? What about prompts that solve company problems? Free work! Don’t they consider that candidates are applying to multiple jobs while working full-time, so spending time on each assignment adds up? What about candidates with obligations?
Sure, some companies haven’t realized all that, but if you want to work there, you’ll still have to do the assignment. Instead of complaining about it, look at it differently. How often do you get to work on an a design problem without PMs or devs telling you it isn’t possible? How often do you get to explore a variety of different design challenges you encounter in the recruiting process (e.g. re-design the grocery store checkout experience; create a mobile search experience; design dashboard for people moving homes; design a dog-walker app for Apple Watch, etc.)? Those are some fun problems to think about! And they really can be challenging.
At first, I grumbled about all of the work I had to do, but I quickly realized that I was actually having fun. We all know that to grow as a designer, you just have to practice design. Here, I was forced to do design exercises all day, which made me think about new problems, new user types, practice asking lots of questions, and go through the design process “my way” as I had fewer constraints. I was also able to improve my execution skills, because knowing that my Sketch files and prototypes would be thoroughly scrutnized, I approached my deliverables with more diligence.
It is an Opportunity to Ask for and Give Feedback
Another essential skill for a designer is ability to give, receive and learn from feedback. The interview process is one of the best venues to hone those skills. In some cases, the company will test this skill directly. In others, you can proactively develop the skill yourself by asking for feedback, and by providing it. As a hiring manager, I look for candidates with high emotional intelligence and well-developed soft skills (or potential in this area). You can showcase some of those skills by providing actionable, thoughtful feedback on the product or even the recruitment process.
It May Prompt You to Reflect and Adopt a Growth Mindset
During the interview process, you have the opportunity to reflect on your past experiences and take some lessons from them. It’s a chance to come to terms with failure and grow from it, and it’s an opportunity to re-frame your thinking about situations in the past. I always ask candidates about tough experiences, because I am interested in the framing of the problem more than the experience itself. How does the candidate present the situation? What terms do they use? How do they speak about others? Do they still sound upset and bitter about it or have they been able to extract key learnings and move on? As designers, we’ll continuously need to shake off failure and from our own and others’ mistakes. I’ve rejected candidates in the past because they framed situations in a black-and-white manner or have not reflected on their own contribution to the problem.
Ultimately, as a hiring manager, I am looking for someone who’s hungry and who uses every opportunity to become a better version of themselves as a designer and human being. I want my team members to be people who use experiences as stepping stones, not turn them into baggage.
I didn’t come to these conclusions overnight. I used to dread the hiring process. Having been on both sides of the table has helped me understand that the process is a unique and not-too-frequent opportunity to re-evaluate my own past actions, to sharpen my hard skills, and to understand where I still need to grow. While exhausting and stressful, I feel like I come out of the process a better version of myself than I went into it.