Raymond Lee, FounderBy Raymond Lee, FounderJuly 8, 20205 Minutes

Interviewing with Tech Companies @SF Design Week

How do you land an interview at a tech company such as Facebook? What is their process, and how can you prepare for each component? Participants Kate Lydon, Head of Design, Nextdoor and Christine Sadrnoori, Product Designer, Facebook had some great suggestions along with the moderator, Amy Stellhorn, Founder and CEO of Big Monocle.

Kate’s process: If someone is referred to her, that is a big plus. Knowing that someone she trusts also knows and likes the designer has a big impact on her. So, before applying, see if you have a connection to the hiring manager.

She loves a cover letter. Surprisingly, not too many people take the time to write one. If they do, it is often boilerplate. However, she sees it as an opportunity for the designer to explain their value proposition. The ideal letter demonstrates how your skills and experience will address the needs of the company and solve their problems. That’s why it needs to be specific for each role. Her advice: make it interesting, real, and personal.

When showing your portfolio, you need to be able to “narrate the story of the work.” She allows about 30 minutes for you to do this. That’s a lot of time, so you should practice, but don’t just give a spiel. Allow some breathing room for questions so that interviewers can draw out aspects that interest them: What was the problem you were addressing? What were the difficulties and design tradeoffs? Why did you choose the solution you did? Who were your collaborators (and do you give them credit)? Did you measure the success of the new design? What was the outcome?

What is the employer looking for? Kate wants great problem solvers and great designers. You can see why narrating the portfolio is so important. It helps show how you define a problem, approach solving it, work with others, and measure the outcome. By the way, she also favors those who have a high degree of self-awareness: aware of your strengths, but also awareness and ability to candidly describe your “areas for growth.” How do you produce good work despite your weaknesses? (Hint: partner with someone who is strong where you are weak.)

When she presents a design challenge to a candidate during an interview, she is not looking for a solution. She wants to hear how fluidly the candidate thinks through the problem and what questions they ask to pull the problem apart. “I want to see the creativity of their thought process.”

Christine’s process: The hiring process at Facebook is now 100% remote. After submitting your resume and portfolio, a recruiter calls to conduct a phone screen. If you pass the screening, two rounds of interviews follow.

The first round of interviews involves an “app critique,” where you choose an app and let the interviewers know what you like and what you would change. You then engage in a conversation about your background; specifically, you describe what interests you and what projects you’ve taken on. Finally, you’re asked if you have any questions about Facebook.

The second round of interviews is called a virtual onsite. You have another app critique with a different group of people, a background conversation with the hiring manager, a problem-solving exercise on a virtual whiteboard, and finally, you give a 30-minute presentation on your most impactful or challenging projects.

When presenting your portfolio, Christine suggests that you balance showing and telling. Don’t go too broad, trying to show all your work. Highlight a few projects and the thinking behind them. Don’t go overboard on the process. The interviewers are all very familiar with the product design process. Focus on what might have been unusual, the tradeoffs you had to make, and how you made decisions.

Wondering how to handle a whiteboard or design challenge? Christine says to expose your design thinking. Use a framework, such as: problem, objective, success criteria. Christine wants to see if you are intentional, proactive, and whether you can navigate with confidence.

Hopefully, these suggestions will give you more confidence, as you know what to expect and can prepare.

Raymond Lee, Founder