Help Us Design a Better Design Interview Process

Hello Elpha!

I’m currently working with an early stage startup to redesign their interview process for a founding principal product designer role. The team is at ~10 employees today with one other designer on the team. This candidate will report directly to the CEO to start and can grow into the Head of Design over the next few months as the team scales.

I am seeking feedback on our existing process today and hope that you can share with us your thoughts on how we can improve.

The interview process today:

  1. [30 mins] Introductory call with the CEO to go over the role, questions about the company and the candidate’s high level past work history.
  2. [30 mins - 1 hr] Candidates have the option to send a short video walkthrough of a prior work where they are asked async questions OR jump on a live call with the CEO.
  3. [90 mins] Design case study with a designer on the team and the CEO. Candidates are given a design prompt for a popular app and are asked questions that explore their first principle thinking and aesthetic design. They have the option to do this live with the product designer (recorded for the founder to watch) OR do a take home which is followed with a live chat.
  4. [60 mins] Product design case study over a live call with the principal product manager. This session is recorded. Candidates are given a design prompt for a popular app and are asked questions around how they would approach design research, ideation process and collaboration style with product.
  5. [30 mins] Behavioral interview with the CEO.
  6. [30 mins] Candidate meets with various members of the team on a single call to get to know the team.

Some notes about the existing process:

  • Total interview time on a call: 4.5 hours. Estimated prep time across all of the stages ~10 hours.
  • There are six different stages that are scheduled separately. There is no official “onsite.”
  • During the two case study sections, candidates are asked if we can record the sessions for other team members to view async.

Questions:

  1. Is this process too long?
  2. Are there any stages that should be removed? Added?
  3. Do you prefer to have each session scheduled separately or a few consolidated into a virtual onsite?
  4. What are your thoughts on being recorded during the case study?
  5. How might we make this a more joyful experience for candidates?

Thank you. I appreciate you all.

minanilchian's profile thumbnail
Hi Cindy!My honest feedback is that this is too many steps. I’m seeing more and more highly qualified candidates express that they will not engage in much more than 3 interview rounds.I might reduce case study interviews to one interview in which a candidate brings in a project/homework that they haven’t been expected to spend more than 60 minutes on. Beyond that it feels like a candidate is being asked to do free labor for a company they aren’t even working for. I turned down an interview because I wasn’t comfortable with how much I was being asked to prepare
CindyTong's profile thumbnail
@minanilchian I agree with these points! Something we could explore is offering payment for sections of the interview process in addition to shortening. Thank you for sharing.
jennyromano's profile thumbnail
Hi Cindy!- Personally I feel this is too many step, both for the candidate and for the company.- Also, having the CEO in so many of the calls feels unnecessary: I'm sure your CEO is a busy person, and spending so much time on almost all rounds must be taking up a lot of time. Furthermore, candidates may feel intimidated by starting from the get go with the CEO- I feel some of the steps can be aggregated. Example, assuming you keep step 1 and 2 as they are, I'd personally prefer to jump on a call than send videos - does that mean I'll have two consecutive calls with the CEO? Couldn't it be aggregated, and made maybe into a 40-45 minute interview if necessary? (I wouldn't have the CEO do this).- Can the Product and Design tasks be aggregated? I know you wouldn't go into the same level of depth, but I would try to understand with the team what they're looking to assess and challenge them on whether A, B and C are really needed. This will be very hard, but it's for the teams' and the candidates' benefits.- I would not accept being recorded, it would make me hugely uncomfortable.Writing this as CEO of a small startup (smaller than the one you're talking about) who spent an enormous (really enormous) amount of time interviewing people before realizing we needed a much more streamlined and less time consuming process :) Happy to jump on a call if you want!
CindyTong's profile thumbnail
@jennyromano Wow thank you so much for this thoughtful overview. I'd love to chat over a call, can you book time with the link above or DM me to share some times that work well for you?
jennyromano's profile thumbnail
Booked!
MorganLucas's profile thumbnail
I think some of the steps could be reorganized; Especially #6. Why talk to the people you're working with so late in the process? I'd probably put it as #2. You could also combine #1 and #5 into the same point and make it maybe 45 minutes.Remember; No amount of questions is going to get someone to drop the facade of pleasant, agreeable behavior in a job interview.
CindyTong's profile thumbnail
Agree! Thank you for the tips.
Yes, this is obviously too long and I would avoid a company that thinks this length, being recorded, and having 2 interviews with a CEO is appropriate. I have rarely seen 15 minutes be a valuable feedback session either. It would be useful to look up hiring processes at companies like AirBnB when they were starting out to see how their processes evolved.
CindyTong's profile thumbnail
Thank you for the frank feedback and great tips!
jlsigadel's profile thumbnail
Here's my thoughts as a designer who has interviewed a lot (more than I would like tbh): - Like others have said, I would limit the interview with the CEO to one interaction (probably makes the most use of their time as well)- Ideally it shouldn't take a team of people to sign-off on the same portfolio/case-study so I would limit that to one stage. This can be prepped in advance with those async questions. If there's a specific case study you want to learn more about from their portfolio, let them know (not sure why no one does this..) - A portfolio review is going to be much more helpful than any "app critique" since it's work that the person spent effort and thought designing. I would just get rid of the prompt altogether. No take-home exercises. - If you *have* to do an exercise, I would tailor it more specifically to the candidate and what you need to know in order to move forward. This should be done live (not on their own time) and should (ideally) be more about the design thinking process/collaborating with others more than anything else.- Don't record people, especially when it comes to someone sharing their past work.The typical interview process these days seem to be something like:Stage 1: Recruiter screen, basic questions & background Stage 2: Portfolio review with hiring manager / design lead Stage 3: Portfolio review with larger design team Stage 4: "Onsite" with cross-collaborators (PM + eng), behavioral review with People team, 1:1 with CEO As far as scheduling stages separately on bundling them as an "onsite" I think it depends on the candidate's preference.
CindyTong's profile thumbnail
Thank you!
cristykoebler's profile thumbnail
Completely agree with the points made here. If you continue with an exercise, you can consider scaling it down to no more than 1-2 hours of prep (that would mean drastically scaling down your expectations of what they should complete) and paying the candidates for their time. Ideally, you're only putting your top few candidates through an exercise, so paying a few hundred dollars for each to complete the exercise shouldn't break the budget. But for a designer, it feels like a better use of time to talk through their portfolio. That's a direct reflection of their skillset.I'll be honest, if I went into an interview process that had the CEO this involved, including knowing that the founder will watch my recordings, I'd have some reservations about their ability to step back and let others do the work. This sort of feels like a micromanager situation. Maybe that's not the case, but that's the vibe it's giving to me.
CindyTong's profile thumbnail
Really great point about the signals the current process gives on the vibes of the CEO. Thank you for sharing!
kellygebo's profile thumbnail
1. Total time seems fine but the amount of sessions seems like a lot. Our current interviews request 3 bodies of time but overall more time I think than what you do.. 1. non technical (60 min) 2. technical (60 min) 3. final stage (5ish hrs)2. I think you could combine some of the working sessions into a single afternoon and it might feel less cumbersome schedule. We also compensate the candidate for final interviews since it's such a big time ask.3. I see your 1 & 2 being round 1 & 2, the rest all combined into a single session. The scheduling tetris should fall on the team not the candidate. With how hot the hiring market is at the moment, I think you might lose people to positions where the hiring team could move more quickly.4. I think fine as long as the candidate approves it and if they say they aren't comfortable that doesn't impact their overall rating5. As long as there is space for the candidate to ask questions / connect with the team in a 'human' way (like talk about non-work topics), I think you should be good. Cultural fit is just as important on both sides and is harder to get a feel for remotely so make sure there is time for it.I think we do a pretty good job if this outline is helpful: https://thoughtbot.com/playbook/our-company/hiring
CindyTong's profile thumbnail
Thank you for this thoughtful response and for sharing what Thoughtbot does!
My opinion here is re: a related but slightly different direction. As someone that has interviewed extensively and has also just heard way too many interview horror stories largely around how they're never-ending (I had a friend do 16 rounds of interviews only to get cut - and this was pre-covid and the vast majority of those rounds were in-person, so she ended up wasting almost an entire year's worth of vacation days to do it) - I truly feel like interviews should be paid, even if just minimum wage. I recognize it's a bit easier in a virtual world but my god, when I was aggressively job-hunting back while working in finance, I didn't go to a doctor for TWO YEARS because I was "saving" my vacation days for interviews, and I was almost never allowed to take time off. I'd do interviews in the stairwell at work, phone interviews on holidays and evenings (I'm in NYC but was interviewing on the west coast for a bit), etc. I've actually heard of some companies starting to do this (paying applicants) and I think it just makes SO much sense. Friends of mine who are working moms that hate their jobs don't even have the time to interview for roles where there are case studies because they're already so overwhelmed and overworked (particularly in finance). I do think that two case studies are too much.