Design & Technology
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 process took about two months back to back. It was mostly the same for every company:
The first step is to get in contact with a recruiter. There are a few ways to do it:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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:
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 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.👇
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.
The most effective networking strategy I've found has nothing to do with conferences, cocktail hours, cold emails, or any of the common ideas you hear. 1) Do interesting things. 2) Share them publicly. Like-minded people will come to you.
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.
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.
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