Frequent questions I have received over the years.
What do you think it takes to land a design job specifically at Google?
It takes skill, knowledge, and luck. The first two are somewhat measurable through interviews. The latter is fickle by definition but also important—things are always in flux and roles can open and close quickly because hiring managers are eager to have a person working for them as soon as possible. Even if you tick all the boxes, having a bit of luck by being in the right place at the right time is critical. At the same time, if you don’t manage to go through the whole process, it doesn’t have to mean you’re not good enough; it might be that it just wasn’t your day. In that situation, you can always try later.
I have X years of experience in the industry. What are my chances?
I honestly don’t know. X years of experience is usually not a metric that tells much. Google hires people just out of school and also those with decades of experience, so there isn’t one predefined level of skills that’s required. Similarly, two people with the same number of years of experience can vastly differ in skill.
What do different UX roles mean?
- Interaction designers (often called UX designers in job postings) think about mental models, user flows, on-screen interactions, and information architecture. It’s the most common UX role at Google. They often do visual design themselves in smaller teams, but it’s supported by existing design systems and patterns.
- Visual designers work on design systems, typography, icons, illustration, photography, branding, but mostly in digital environments. In everyday terms, it’s graphic design.
- User researchers find valuable user and business insights by talking to people (qualitative researcher) or crunching numbers (quantitative researcher).
- UX engineers are front-end developers who know a fair amount about design.
- UX program managers are setting processes, driving operations, and managing programs in a UX organization.
- UX writers make text in user interfaces clear and understandable. They are designing with words. Writing is hard.
- There are also other roles like motion and industrial designers, and different associate and support roles.
How does the interview process look?
The interview process is a combination of reviewing your portfolio, phone screen, and several onsite interviews. After the COVID-19 outbreak, most onsite interviews are still performed virtually.
An interview is usually focused on only a few topics. By going through several interviews, you will:
- present your portfolio and key projects, and answer questions about them
- make a heuristic evaluation of a website or mobile app
- describe how you would start a new project and lead it to the end
- solve a small design problem
- explain how you tackled a challenging situation, either in terms of product complexity or people
- demonstrate you have a basic understanding of technical possibilities and constraints of contemporary hardware and software
It might seem like a lot, but if conducted well, those interviews will seem like a long and pleasant conversation with colleagues from the industry. And don’t worry, everyone was afraid just like you will be. I was too. Enjoy the ride.
How should I prepare for the interviews?
Three things come to mind:
- You should be appropriately skilled and knowledgeable for the seniority of the open role. Going into details is beyond the scope of this post. As an overly generalized example (for an interaction designer), you’ve read these books and can comfortably discuss and apply topics from them.
- Recruiters, interviews, and hiring committees are your users. Think about their needs in their current environment (ambiguity, lack of time, pressure). How do you provide and present all the necessary information about yourself so that they can make the best decision about you? Two negative examples I often see are dry presentations that only show finished work (no process) and typos.
- Breathe and calm down. If you’re too agitated, you won’t be able to establish rapport or give it your 100% even if your mind is like an encyclopedia.
Who do you think could be my future boss at Google?
Unless a specific team has contacted you, you probably won’t know until you’re at the end of the process. There are thousands of people working in UX at Google, so it’s impossible to say who would be your boss. Many recruiters use generic job posts for openings because they always have an open pipeline, and assign candidates to teams depending on current needs and the fit between a team and the candidate.
That being said, try to find out as much as possible about the team you might join if you have a venue for that. Choosing a team is more important than choosing a project.
“Even if I don’t succeed, I look forward to feedback on my skills”
Unfortunately, you won’t get that kind of feedback. There are several good reasons for that:
- Interviewers often don’t know their final decision during the interview. My experience is that I have a hunch of where this might be going, but I only come to the final decision when writing detailed feedback with structured rubrics and expectations. There were occasions when rubrics and objective references changed my mind. If I tell a candidate, “You were great,” and then say no hire to the recruiter, that would not be fair and sincere. So the official policy is not to say anything during the interview.
- In recent years, Google hired tens of thousands of employees each year. That’s a lot. The interview process is optimized for getting the right people to the right positions at scale, not for mentoring or coaching. (There are other forums where many Googlers mentor externally. I have done that too.)
- Current process already takes a lot of time. When I’m interviewing, I spend five hours on average preparing, attending the presentation, taking notes, conducting my 1:1 interview, writing structured interview feedback, and making the final decision. That is almost one full day of work gone, and the most frequent decision is no hire. Writing additional and meaningful feedback for the candidate aggregated across several interviewers—who might come to different conclusions—would add several hours more to an already expensive process.
Several tips from me
- If you don’t know something during an interview, that’s OK, just say “I don’t know.” Never try to fake it. Faking is difficult to hide. Once an interviewer catches a glimpse of that behavior, your chances of getting hired plummet.
- Ask questions to understand and define the problem you’ve been given. I’ve seen many times how people jump right into problem-solving without finding out any goals, needs, or constraints.
- Don’t use isometric mock-ups.