You’re reading an excerpt of Land Your Dream Design Job, a book by Dan Shilov. Filled with hard-won, personal insights, it is a comprehensive guide to landing a product design role in a startup, agency, or tech company, and covers the entire design interview process from beginning to end, for experienced and aspriring designers. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.
For your on-site, it’s important to have the basics covered. That means eating well a few hours before and getting proper rest. Think of this as a test. You have the knowledge and skills, now it’s important to demonstrate your major skills and accomplishments in one go.
Gather Your Belongings
If this is a full or a half day of interviews, it will probably be demanding, so be sure to bring your:
laptop (even if you’re presenting on an iPad, have it as a backup) with a charger
notebook, sketching kit (or at the very least pen and paper)
Now you might scoff at some of these. Getting rest? Excitement? Who cares! I’ve been doing design for years. While it’s important to bring your whole self to the interview, it’s also important to show interest—after all, you’ve selected this company to interview with, and if at all goes well, you’ll be working with these folks everyday.
important If you are interviewing in-person it helps to check with your company contact (usually the recruiter or a hiring manager) about dress code. Even if the dress code is informal, it helps to dress a level up to show that you’re serious about the position.
Show Your Excitement
In addition to evaluating you on your skills, your potential future employers will also be looking at you from a behavioral perspective. They want to work with someone who is enthusiastic, easy to get along with—in other words, a good cultural fit.
Culture is a loaded term. That said, it’s in your interest to appear engaged and enthusiastic about the interview. The team is excited to talk with you, and they hope that you’re just as excited about the opportunity.
storyOne time, after a friendly chat with a head of product, I got passed for the role due to my lack of enthusiasm at the interview. I thought the interview went well but was later told that I came off as too professional. I took that lesson in stride and applied it to all of my on-sites since. I knew I mastered it when a founder at another company sympathized at the end of my on-site interview, “I can see how excited you are about design and this opportunity; it must be draining at the end of the day, so please take some time to rest afterward.”
Lastly, if you’re starting to feel stressed out—you’re actually excited. As professor Jamie Jamieson’s research on stress suggests (recounted in Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress), it’s not that high performers don’t feel stress, it’s that they ascribe this stress to be a positive force that helps them reach peak-level performance.
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In one study, participants were asked to give a speech. Those who thought of stress as a positive force were rated higher and appeared more confident compared to those who were asked to ignore their stress response. So take that lesson to heart—if you’re starting to feel overly stressed, take a deep breath and reframe your mindset as an exciting and positive force.
Get There on Time
When it’s time for the interview, I usually figure out my transportation options so that I can get there at a comfortable time, about 30 minutes before the start. This leaves you a ten-minute buffer in case something goes wrong, ten minutes to sign in, with ten minutes to settle in or get a quick office tour before you start. You definitely want to leave yourself enough buffer so as not to shortchange yourself by being late.
Have a Backup Plan Ready
Finally, it helps to have a backup plan in case technology fails—maybe your laptop dies, maybe there’s no internet connection. It’s surprising how often simple things that should work fail during moments that matter. To prepare, aside from having your portfolio downloaded locally to your laptop, have it as a backup on a thumb drive or a private online link that you can access.
Good Luck and Enjoy the Process!
Interviews can be grueling, but if you’ve done all this work up-front, you’ll thank yourself later. With prep done, you’ll arrive with confidence, on time, and will have a process in place when facing the unexpected.