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.
You’ve wrapped up your final design interview! At this stage, you might have an interview lined up right after or you may be early in the interview process with other places. Regardless, it helps to step back and reflect on the day. Also, don’t forget to close strong by thanking your interviewers for their time. Some say that thank-yous are passé. I disagree. Sending a specific and thoughtful email is an extra touch that reinforces your interest in the role.
Figure: Post-Interview Retro
To begin, grab a piece of paper and fold it twice to make three columns: celebrate, improve, learn.
Celebrate: What Went Well?
When we’re in the middle of interviews, things happen fast. Sometimes there’s little room for thinking, and if you’re an introvert you may feel overwhelmed by the constant barrage of questions. So it helps to step back after the interview and celebrate the things that went particularly well:
How did I set myself up for success during the interview?
What question(s) did I pass with flying colors? What made it good?
How did I closely connect with one of the interviewers?
story During one exhausting day of interviews, I bonded with the founder over our mutual love of cooking, enough to exchange tips and recipes (and perhaps also to show that I was serious about it). In the spirit of bringing your whole self to work, it was a small thing that helped us connect.
For interviews that went poorly, look for highlights in specific moments. Capitalizing on things that you already do well helps build confidence in a process that sometimes feels opaque.
Improve: What Could Be Better?
As you step back, try to view through the eyes of an outside observer, as if you’re watching yourself and the interviewer from the sidelines.
How did you come across?
What did you miss?
What could you have done better?
How you frame your response matters. For example, if you’re talking about conflict—make sure you communicate that you’ve learned from it and not blame the other party (even if they were to blame, it doesn’t matter in an interview setting).
Other times, an opportunity for improvement isn’t necessarily a mistake but a missed opportunity to put yourself in the best light possible. Perhaps there was a particularly thorny problem that you were able to solve because you made a connection that others didn’t see, based on your previous experience or learning outside of work.
The point of this prompt isn’t to beat yourself up over small mistakes. Instead, it’s a chance to think about areas of opportunity and what’s in your control. Prioritize and work on those first—your future interviewing self will thank you.
Learn: What Did You Find Out?
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.Maya Angelou
Another thing to note is what you learned and how you felt during the interview.
story “What’s your favorite brand?” asked the hiring manager during an on-site interview. I paused to think, as brand wasn’t my forte, but gave an explanation for why I thought Airbnb was doing meaningful work in experiences. “I hate Airbnb. What’s your next one?” she shot back. Later she proceeded to tear apart my portfolio. This interview was enough for me to learn everything I needed to learn about this company’s culture.
The interview is a two-way street. You and the interviewer get to know each other and build a shared understanding.
What looks good on paper may not be the reality. Alternatively, a seemingly subpar job description can be amazing because of the team. One of my colleagues shared a lesson in how her friends, a husband and wife, optimized their job search. The husband sought out new industries and companies that are on the cusp of making it big. The wife paid more attention to the immediate team members. Both ended up successful, but the wife was happier.
At the end of the day, it’s about the people you work with, so it’s important to ask yourself if after the interview you still want to work there:
Does this culture resonate with my values?
Can I be successful here?
Does the environment set me up for success?
Were there any red flags?
Look back on your original job criteria. Now that you’ve applied to jobs and interviewed at companies, was there anything new that you learned about your dream job or yourself?
You’ve wrapped up your product design interviews and are now waiting to hear back. But a few days later you get that dreaded reply thanking you for your application, but it’s “not a good fit at this time.” What happened?
Figure: A Generic, Cryptic Email
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