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Brief Considerations on Design Topics: 20. Interview Logistics

I’ve written in the past on the topic of Job Interviews, and my focus then was on some key recommendations for both applicants and employers, and how can both sides get the best out of this exercise. Since then the job market has shifted quite dramatically, but there are some additional suggestions I’d like to add to what I had previously written.

Document everything. Meaning, create an excel spreadsheet, or a numbers document, or a google sheet, notion or coda document, whatever software package you prefer, where you keep track of all the positions you apply for. Always make sure to document the position you applied for, the date of the application, the source of where you found the position. Also make sure to include the date of first response, who you interacted with (the HR person or hiring manager), and the dates of interaction. Additionally include fields for outcomes, and notes on the process. This helps you understand the number of times you’ve applied to a position for instance, the type of interactions you’ve had with the organization, and even if based on rejection messages, those are organizations you’d consider applying again. As a personal example, I’ve been tracking all my applications for years, and I usually abstain from applying to Organizations after 5 unsuccessful applications (ones that haven’t resulted in a single selection even for a chat with a hiring manager).

Pay attention to Red Flags. There’s a variety of red flags that can appear during a hiring process. As an example, when I started my career in the US and was applying for Interactive Designer opportunities, I had organizations ask me to complete “Design tests”, which wasn’t (and sometimes still isn’t) unheard of. What was unheard of, is the fact that one of them was using that test to capture/pitch for new client engagement. And that hadn’t been communicated to me. In that particular case, the people I interacted with stated I wasn’t getting the position since my Design test hadn’t gotten them the client they pursued (which in hindsight could have been a truthful statement or not). So I basically worked for free, put myself in a dire situation with my current employer at the time, for a situation I was not fully aware of. There’s plenty of less than scrupulous situations taking place in the job market, but as job seekers, our goal should always be to ask questions that make us as comfortable as possible, while for those posting those positions, the goal should be to be as transparent as possible. For that matter, I continue to be against Design tests, not only because of situations such as the one I just described, but also because unless you clearly indicate what’s the context for the assignment, and how much you’re willing to pay someone for that time, you should never ask anyone to work for free, even if you justify it with “We’re trying to assess your abilities”. If you want to check someone’s abilities, particularly with Designers, look to their portfolio, ask them to present one (or more) of their case studies, and be prepared to ask that professional all types of questions. If you’re a good hiring manager, and have done your homework, that should suffice.

Another example of a massive red flag. I interviewed for a leadership position a few years back, had a great first conversation with a recruiter, quickly followed by a conversation with the hiring manager. I was informed the process was going to be a lengthy one since the position had just opened. 3 months later the conversations were still going. I ultimately spoke with 10 or more people, and after all that time was informed that I was not getting the position. Most organizations have since then changed their stance, and now inform applicants of the duration of their recruiting process. However, if something is taking this long, and as a candidate you’re investing this amount of time, be weary of never ending conversations, that ultimately lead nowhere (I’ve read quite a few similar situations to these on LinkedIn). Some organizations have figured out ways of going through a hiring process and decisioning in 3 to 4 weeks, so 3 months or more is puzzling.

Do your homework. I mentioned this on my prior article, and am going to reinstate it with a different prism. Before reaching out to someone, be it the applicant applying for a job or an HR professional reaching out to a candidate, make sure you research who they are. Go through your data (the data I mentioned on point 1), check LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, Portfolios, all the information that is available about the organization and/or candidate. I’ll give an example of why not doing this type of assessment can be awkward (and damaging). I went through an interview process with a company in Boston a while back. I got through all the interviews, and against my better judgment agreed to do an unpaid Design test. I presented my findings to all the stakeholders, had follow up conversations, and then never heard back from anyone from that organization. I sent a follow up email, but got no response. 6 or 7 months later I got an unexpected email from an HR person from that same company (not the same person I had previously interacted with), stating they wanted to check if I was still interested in the position, and if I was available for a conversation. I had a conversation with that person, and it quickly became apparent that this individual had no idea what had transpired during my application process. As it turns out, they had hired someone, and since then had parted ways for lack of “cultural fit”. I mentioned their team had never informed me of anything in terms of my prior hiring journey, to which the person apologized for their lack of communication (awkward moment 1). I was then informed that the hiring manager enjoyed my work, and that everyone had equally enjoyed their discussions with me, and was asked if I would be willing to engage again in the process. He then proceeded to ask me about salary expectations, namely if they had differed since we had last spoken. For the sake of seeing where this was going, I responded they had not. And once again, the professional on the phone mentioned the range was higher than what the position paid (awkward moment 2). Keep in mind, this was back before pay transparency was detailed in job postings. I was informed the conversation would be relayed to the hiring manager and that a follow up session would be scheduled. I didn’t hear back from this person for a few weeks once again, and finally got an email stating that while they appreciated my experience, they were going to focus on finding someone locally, and if I ever moved to the Boston area to “look them up” (awkward moment 3). This is a perfect example of what not to do with candidates. This organization basically raised quite a few red flags: ghosting a candidate, under-preparing for a conversation without enough contextual knowledge of the situation (or the candidate for that matter), and finally, being patronizing and dismissive towards a candidate based on a situation they caused once more. Doing your homework means being respectful of each other’s time. Be professional, be respectful, and be coherent with what you aspire your brand to be (both for the candidate and employer).

Have initiative, but also know your place. This point is going to probably be a bit more controversial, but here’s what I’ve observed and think is worth keeping in mind. LinkedIn and Networking are really important aspects for professionals these days. I use Linkedin on a daily basis since it provides pertinent information across a variety of topics, and it’s also a way for me to keep track of what colleagues, past and present are doing. However I started noticing a trend, where the platform has become a marketplace for sale of services (understandable), but also for individuals who believe they can bypass hiring processes by reaching out to people they think can give them “insights” or an “angle” on what the hiring manager is looking for. This is something that colleagues of mine have mentioned, and that I’ve experienced in the past as well. While I always appreciate the opportunity to network with other Designers on that particular platform (even quite a few that I do not know, which Linkedin discourages us from doing), I do believe we all have to be self-aware enough to realize there’s a process to everything, and that being aggressive in one’s approach is not going to make you more endearing to other colleagues or speed up the process itself. On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve had experiences where people who had been hiring managers for an Organization I interviewed with, connected with me on LinkedIn since there was a rapport during that interview process (even if the job offer never materialized). And to be quite honest, I cherish when that happens, since I truly love to exchange ideas with other professionals who love Product Design and truly know their craft. I’ve had an example where a hiring manager whom I interviewed with moved on to a different position, and years later reached out to me for an opportunity she was hiring for in the new organization where she was currently working on. At the time I appreciated the reaching out from that colleague, and ultimately agreed to interview with that organization, since I truly admired her and our interactions. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced about the position and the organization itself, and I should have mentioned that to her (lesson 1). I went through the hiring process, which was quite efficient, and was met with quite a few unexpected and awkward moments during that process. That included panelists on the interviews telling me all that the position did NOT entail, and enumerating all the reasons I was not going to enjoy it (oh and also a “working in real time” session). I didn’t move further in that process, which I was relieved to hear, however what ultimately disappointed me was the fact that my colleague didn’t follow up or even acknowledged the situation. People are going to state there’s potential liability issues, however remember she had reached out through Linkedin, and had actively engaged using that personal/professional connection. What I’m saying is, be self-aware enough to also communicate with people to wish them well when something doesn’t move forward, so that the continued respect and appreciation can remain (lesson 2). Being coherent, professional, polite, and courteous may seem like common place and self evident traits, but these days they’re rarer and rarer.

Interviews are always a unique experience for both parties involved. It’s akin to shaping a connection with a stranger with a rapid expiration date (or time). You have to showcase yourself and the organization in ways that are truthful, honest and clear, while remaining professional and also humane. And while all this should be fairly standard, at times it feels like unheard practices.

Henry Ford wrote:

“Before everything else; getting ready is the secret of success. Don’t find fault. Find a remedy.”

Brief Considerations on Design Topics: 20. Interview Logistics was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.