Tony Aubé

@tonyaub

How I Got a Design Job at Google

In the span of two months, I interviewed at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google for design roles. Here’s everything you need to know if you want to do the same.

2019 brought a lot of changes for me. After four years spent leading UX/UI at Osmo, I felt it was time to work on something different. So I took the jump and interviewed at four of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. I ended up receiving three offers, and joined Google.

If you’re interested in doing the same, this is the right article for you. Below, I break down the full interview process. I provide tips and examples for every step. In the conclusion, I also compare the companies and explain how they are different.

The Interview Process

The process took about two months back to back. It was mostly the same for every company:

  1. Reaching out
  2. Phone call with a recruiter
  3. Design Challenge
  4. Prep for on-site
  5. On-site interview
  6. Follow up and decision

1. Reaching Out 🔍

The first step is to get in contact with a recruiter. There are a few ways to do it:

  • For Facebook and Apple, someone had already reached out to me on LinkedIn, so I just wrote back.
  • Google has been my dream company since I moved to the Bay Area. I’ve been sending my resume and applying for various positions on their careers page every year. I never got a reply. This time, I reached out to an ex-colleague who now works there. He gave me a referral, and I got an email from the recruiter the very next day. If available, referrals are the best way to get a foot in the door at these companies.
  • As for Amazon, I gave a talk at XRDC back in October. This is what got the attention of one of Amazon’s project lead. I got to meet her on the day of the event. We had a two hour chat, and she invited me for an on-site.

2. Phone Call (30 minutes) 📞

Once connected, a recruiter will usually call you to have a chat. The call is very informal and shouldn’t be stressful. The recruiter wants to understand:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you specialize in?
  • Why are you looking for a new job?
  • Why are you interested in this company in particular?
  • What do you want to work on?
  • Why would you be a great candidate for the company?

At this point, the recruiter will also ask for a portfolio and a resume they can forward to the internal designers. This is what I sent:

Because most of what I’ve done at Osmo was related to children, I worried I would have a hard time convincing recruiters that I could work on different types of products. It wasn’t the case at all. For product design roles, recruiters look mostly for great design and positive impact, and I had plenty of it.

3. Design Challenge (1 week) 💻

Google and Apple gave me a design challenge. Facebook and Amazon didn’t. Both challenges were unpaid.

Google gave the option to choose among 3 design problems. I can’t disclose them, but they were about re-designing everyday things and were unrelated to Google. The challenges came in the form of a 3 pages PDF document, each explaining a problem to solve. It felt a lot like being back in design school.

Apple’s asked to redesign one of their apps. Some people have an ethical issue with that. There have been cases in the past of other companies implementing and even patenting people’s design. It’s important to be mindful about that. However, I don’t think this would be an issue in this case.

I passed both design challenges. Here are a few tips:

  • Make an impression. I remember a promising designer who interviewed at Osmo. Everyone was excited about him joining the company. We gave him a paid design challenge. What he sent back was ok, but not great. We felt he could do better, so we ended up not hiring him. When you do the minimum, it shows, and it communicates you’re not that interested in the company.
  • Go above and beyond. If the recruiter tells you it’s an 8 hours assignment, take 12. If the recruiter asks for wireframes only, give them fully fleshed out UI. If they ask for a UI, give them an interactive prototype. Going beyond the requirements shows you care about joining. That being said, recruiters are also looking for an intelligent use of your time. If your solution is bad, saying you spent 30 hours on it won’t help. It will be a huge red flag. Be strategic about how you spend your time.
  • Show you can handle the full design process. For Google, I included deciding which problem to solve as part of my design process. I did research for all three options, picked one, and explained why. Then I did user interviews, wireframes, the UI, a prototype, a few user-tests, and even a bit of branding and logo design. As for Apple, I know how much they care about details. So after I designed the solution, I spent twice the time polishing the UI. I even created a fully animated motion prototype. Both recruiters told me they were impressed by my deliverables.

4. On-site Interview (1 day) 🤝

If everything goes well, you will be invited to an on-site interview. This is the most stressful and exhausting part of the process. All four companies followed a similar formula:

  • Show up around 9-10 am.
  • Portfolio presentation (~1 hour).
  • General interview (45 min).
  • Lunch buddy (~1h).
  • Technical interview (45 min).
  • Design review (45 min).
  • Whiteboard exercise (45 min)
  • Walk out around 3–5 pm

Google and Facebook interviews were at their HQ, which are incredible. Unfortunately, I did the Amazon and the Apple interviews at one of their satellite offices, so I didn’t get to see their HQ.

Facebook and Amazon reimbursed the full cost of transportation to the interview. Apple and Google didn’t offer it. I didn’t ask.

Portfolio Presentation (30 min to 1h): The first part of the on-site is a Keynote presentation. You will present your portfolio in front of 5 to 10 people. They are a mix of recruiters, designers, managers and engineers. The recruiter will call you a week before to help you prepare.

The first 5 to 10 minutes are about introducing yourself, your background, education, etc. Then you need to present 2–3 design projects (~15 min each). The last 5 minutes are for questions.

Few tips:

  • Show the full design process, from early brainstorm sketches to final pixel perfect mockups.
  • For every project, disclose: how long was the project, how big was the team, what was your contribution. If you don’t, it will be the first question that comes up. Do everyone a favor and say it upfront.
  • Rehearse. You want to be able to recite your presentation without any notes. Rehearse in front of your friends and other designers. Ask them for feedback.
  • Bring a notepad and write down everyone’s name. You will meet most of these people again throughout the day and probably will have some follow up discussion with them. Remembering their name will facilitate those discussions. Plus, people like it when you remember their name.
  • If you’re interviewing at Google, use Google Slides. If you’re interviewing at Apple, use Keynote ;)

General Interview (~45 min): This one is usually with a higher-up manager. It’s very laid back, similar to the phone interview. They want to know more about you, your background and fill in some of the details you might have not properly explained during your presentation.

Lunch Buddy (~1h): Around noon, someone will take you out for lunch. You will eat at one of the companies’ cafes (or a nearby restaurant in the case of Amazon). The recruiter might tell you this is informal and not part of the interview. This isn’t true — the lunch is definitively part of the interview. This is where they determine your culture fit. In other words, whether the team would get along with you. Be friendly and enjoy the free lunch. Use this occasion to ask personal questions. Here are some good ones:

  • How do they like their job?
  • What do they hate the most about their project/job/company?
  • How is the team morale?
  • How is the work-life balance?

Technical Interview (~45 min): This one is about your technical skills as a designer. Here, they want to make sure you are hands-on and able to deliver real work. They might ask questions such as:

  • What software do you use?
  • How do you deliver assets to the engineers?
  • How well do you understand the technology you will be working with? (HTML/CSS, Swift, IOS, Android, Unity, etc…)
  • Do you have any complementary skills? (3D, animation, photography, illustration, etc).
  • I was even asked to open up my computer and show my project files. This is something I also did back when I was interviewing candidates at Osmo. It’s a clever way to see if you’re organized. Can you easily find a file? Do you properly group and name layers?

Design review (~45 min): This interview is about understanding your taste and eye for good design. The recruiter will most likely ask you to open an app on your phone. It could be an app you already own, or they could ask you to download a brand new one you have never used before. Here are some questions to expect.

  • What is your first impression of the design?
  • How’s the onboarding experience?
  • Is this a well-designed app or not?
  • What do you think of the color palette? The logo design? The icon style?
  • What would you improve in terms of UI? In terms of UX?
  • Why do you think they did X this way? How would you do it better?

If you have a habit of always judging the design of the interfaces you use, this should be easy. If not, get into that habit ASAP.

Whiteboard exercise (~45 min): This one is about evaluating your design thinking and process. The interviewer will give you a design challenge. The room will have markers and a large whiteboard on which you can draw some wireframes. This is likely the most stressful part of the day. Here are some important things to remember:

  • Take your time. Understand this is about the process, not the result. The interviewer doesn’t expect you to come up with a perfect and polished solution.
  • Don’t start designing right away. This is a trap. The challenge will be very broad on purpose. The recruiter expects you to narrow it down. Start by asking questions. For example, if the problem is “design the perfect gifting experience,” you can ask: Who will be using this? What kind of gifts are we talking about? Who are they giving it to? How would they normally do it? What are the main pain points when giving a gift? Then, you can pick one of the pain point and start mocking up around it. Also, don’t assume the solution needs to be a mobile app. Think outside the box.
  • Be comfortable with uncertainty. You might get to a crossroad where two solutions are possible. Present both of them, list their pros and cons. and pick the one you think is best. You can always say that, ideally, you’d want to test them both, but for the sake of the exercise, you’re going with this one. Sometimes, it’s ok to move on even if you’re unsure.

Walk out. At the end of the day, the recruiter will pick you up and walk you out of the building. They will ask you how you feel about your day and tell you what to expect next. Great job, you did it!

5. Follow up (1 -2 weeks)

Next, the team will take some time to discuss and make a decision. This can take a few weeks. Understand that you aren’t the only one interviewing, and that they won’t make a decision before they’ve met everyone.

The recruiter might ask you to send additional information, or even come back for more interviews. In my case, Apple asked me to come back for a half-day with higher managers.

In the end, I got offers from Amazon, Facebook, and Google. I didn’t get Apple because they felt I was lacking in a specific technical skill.

How much should I ask for?

Once you pass the interview, you’ll be asked about your salary expectations. This can be stressful. It helps if you have a good idea of what you are worth.

Levels.fyi is a great tool to compare salaries across these companies. You can also look on Glassdoor, and ask people on Blind, an anonymous community for tech employees. For graduates, a total compensation between $130 to $160k seems to be the average.

How do the companies compare?

While these four companies have achieved massive success, they each did it in their own unique way. Internally, they have very different cultures and ways of doing things. Here how I believe they differ the most:

Amazon has the best interview process — hands-down. 🥇

For the most part, the on-site were pretty similar. Except for Amazon.

Prior to the on-site, your recruiter will have you review Amazon’s 12 leadership principles. During the on-site, every interviewers will ask you for specific situations where you displayed these principles.

The key word here is specific. For every example you provide, they will grill you on the details. “When did this happen?” “Who said that?” “How did you react?” Etc. The questions are set up in such a way that you can’t bullshit your way out of them.

Amazon is different from the other companies because they are very explicit about the traits they look for. They make sure make people don’t make stuff up. If the candidate doesn’t have the traits, they won’t hire him, even though they were perfect for the job.

Going through that process changed the way I interview people. I am now much more intentional and specific in what I am looking for. It is worth interviewing at Amazon to learn how to conduct a proper interview.

Google and Facebook seek talent first. ⬆️

Google and Facebook believe in hiring smart people first, and then giving them the freedom to do what they want. This bottom-up approach has been very successful for them. For example, Google Cardboard was created by an employee messing around, and it kickstarted Google’s entire foray into VR.

This philosophy is reflected in their interview process. When you interview at Google or Facebook, you interview for the company first. Your team and project are a bit of an afterthought. If you prove to be good enough, you are hired. Afterward, they will bring you on-site again, but this time, you get to interview the teams, and you pick the project you want to work on.

Here’s a good example of this. I failed my first interview at Facebook. The team I was interviewing with hired someone right after my on-site. However, my interviewer liked me enough to recommend me to another team where he thought I would be a better fit. I did the on-site again and got the offer.

Amazon and Apple seek to project and team fit first. ⬇️

Amazon and Apple, on the other hand, focus on how you can contribute to one specific project. They have a top-bottom approach, where leadership initiates the projects, and employees follow. If you are not a good fit for the project, they wont hire you.

This is what happened with Apple. While they liked me as a candidate, they determined I was missing a specific technical skill required for the project, so I didn’t get the job.

Apple and Amazon are the most secretive. 🤫

Most people know Apple is a very secretive company. I was very surprised to discover that Amazon was just the same. Some of my interviewers had no idea what was the project I was interviewing for. And neither did I. My recruiter gave me a few cryptic clues. “It’s related to X industry.” “It’s a consumer-facing product.” “It’s for Y demographic.” On top of the stress of the interview, I also had to solve the puzzle of figuring out what project I was interviewing for.

  • That being said, Google and Facebook are also secretive compared to most companies. It also depends on which project you are working on. For example, Facebook’s cryptocurrency project is extremely secretive.
  • Google, Facebook, and Amazon are pro-writing and public speaking. Not Apple. For the past 4 years, I’ve been into giving talks and sharing my ideas on Medium. Google, Facebook, and Amazon were thrilled to learn about this. They encourage writing on Medium. Some of them even offered to fly me off to my future conferences. As far as I know, Apple’s employees are only allowed to speak at WWDC events.

Facebook and Google have the best benefits. 😌

To be fair, all four companies provide incredible benefits and are among the best places to work in the world. They pay top of the market salaries and provide incredible career opportunities. But if you’re looking to get pampered, Facebook and Google are the places to go.

  • Google and Facebook provide free breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week. The food is delicious and healthy. They even have smoothies and bubble tea bars. Eating at work can save you about $5 to $10k in a year, but the biggest benefit is that it saves you a ton of time. Instead of worrying about what to eat for lunch, or if you will be back in time for your meeting, you can just focus on work.
  • Depending on which office you work at, you might also get free massages, on-site haircuts, laundry services, and more.
  • For families. Facebook provides 4.5 months of parental leave for both men and women. Google provides 3 for men and 5 for women. They also give you a cash bonus.
  • I believe all four companies have on-site gyms, and provide private shuttle bus services. The bus is great. It reduced my commute from SF from 1h30 to 45 minutes. They have tables and Wi-Fi so you can work while commuting.
  • Google 20% time is still a thing. It means you can choose to spend one day per week to work on a project you believe provides the most value to the company. This is a great way to get to know other teams and projects.

Facebook and Google are more laid back.

When I got the Facebook and Google offers, I was told to expect onboarding to be slow. These are huge companies, and it usually takes a few months for new hires to get familiar enough to start having an impact. This contrasted starkly with Amazon and Apple, where I was under the impression that I would need to hit the ground running.

This is a broad statement of course. In the end, every team and project have different expectations. But overall, Google and Facebook cultures seem to value work-life balance a bit more.

This can be good or bad depending on your personality. Some people are very driven, they want to work hard and have impact quickly. Others get a lot of value in taking time off and clearing their mind. Whichever you are, make sure to understand whether your team’s expectations are a good fit for you.

Closing thoughts:

Don’t get fixated on one company 🚫

Although Google was my dream company, I interviewed at many other places. I was ready to join any of the other companies if it hadn’t worked out.

Looking back, I was very lucky to get the Google offer. The timing was ideal and a lot of details lined up perfectly. Had one of these detail not worked out, this article would have had a different title.

Understand that joining any of these companies involves luck, and luck is a numbers game. Interviewing at different places also helps with the following:

Get competing offers 💰

This is necessary to get a higher salary. With three offers in hand, I had a lot of leverage to negotiate. In the end, there was a 45% difference in salary between the very first offer I received, and highest one. I would break down this process, but Bay Area Belletrist already did a great job at explaining it.👇

How I negotiated a $300,000 offer in Silicon Valley

Build your network 📣

This has been a lesson in how important networking is. As I explained in the first step, every conversation with recruiters started from my network. For 4 years I sent my resume to Google without any feedback. Then, I asked for a referral, and I got a phone call the next day.

“But I’m an introvert.”

That’s ok, I’m an introvert too. You don’t need to be extroverted to network. In my experience, the most effective networking strategy time is to do interesting things and share them publicly.

It can be posting your best designs on Dribbble or Behance, writing articles on Medium, or giving talks and conferences. If you put yourself out there long enough, you will eventually get noticed. Recruiters will start messaging you on LinkedIn.

Another efficient way to build your network is to interview every year. To this day, I have interviewed at over 50 companies in my career and I maintain a great relationship with most of the people I have met. Every once in a while, one of them messages me about a new interesting opportunity.

Look beyond FAMGA 👀

Facebook and Google might be the most popular companies in Silicon Valley, but they are far from being the only one doing great work.

A lot of people want to join these big companies because they look good on a resume. They provide validation and status, which people usually seek early in their careers. But over time, these things fade away, and feeling like you do important and meaningful work becomes more important.

The same goes for money. These companies pay a lot, but most people I know who made life-changing money did so by joining smaller, lesser known companies, at the right time.

Silicon Valley provides some of the best opportunities in tech. Keep an eye open. If you get too fixated on a company, you could miss out on the biggest opportunity of your career.

Don’t forget to hit 👏 if you enjoyed or learned something from this.

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