Main illustration: Daniel Fishel
We know it’s hard to apply and interview for a new job. So if you’re considering a design job at Intercom, we won’t make it harder by forcing you to read our minds or guess about what we value. Instead, we’ll tell you exactly what we look for – and why it matters to us.
When you interview for a design job, the process is usually mysterious: did you say the right things? Show the right work? Are the job and organization right for you? We’ve experienced many interviews like these ourselves, so we want to demystify how we hire and interview designers at Intercom. Instead of making you guess what we care about, we’ll just be open and tell you.
You might wonder if this is a “cheat sheet” – it’s not. Our experience has shown us that people perform best when they know what’s expected of them, so we think interviews should be a transparent, two-way evaluation. Being open helps us to better understand you and your experience just as much as it helps you understand us, our expectations, and what we can offer you. We’re confident this won’t help people game our system, but it will give you the best chance to show us your strengths.
“You might look at what’s below and feel intimidated, but this isn’t meant to be a checklist of all the things you need for us to hire you”
Just like our products, our hiring process has a strong focus on conversational design. One of our former design directors Jasmine Friedl and her team helped us redesign how we talk with candidates so that our conversations are more accessible, efficient, and respectful of your time while reducing the impact of our biases. We hope that by being open about our process, we can help you overcome any impostor syndrome and make the best choices for yourself as you move forward.
You might look at what’s below and feel intimidated, but this isn’t meant to be a checklist of all the things you need for us to hire you. For example, I didn’t have many of these things in my toolbelt when I was new at Intercom, so we help you to grow over time.
The foundations we build from
Intercom’s R&D principles
Intercom’s mission is to make Internet business personal. Our vision is to bring a messenger-first, personal experience to all customer and business communication. Our principles help us make decisions about strategy, roadmaps, design, and more. They also help us align on the best steps forward when we’re faced with many competing options. We use them to make sure we repeat our successes and avoid any known failures.
All together, our mission, vision, and principles inform and guide our daily work – they’re part of what makes us different. Take time to consider them before you apply and ask yourself if our values are compatible with yours. That’s important because our hiring process is meant to be a two-way conversation about how you and we could work together.
What we look for in your design work
Our expectations for product designers show you what we look for in your work. We’ve tried to make these clear so you never have to guess what we care about. And remember: it’s okay if you’re still growing in these areas of your practice.
How we think about the outcomes and impact of design
We defined these expectations by asking ourselves what we care about most in designers’ work and what’s led to success at Intercom. In our conversations with you, we’ll look for how you apply these skills in your work and actively seek to grow stronger in them. That’s important to us because we don’t just use these expectations to evaluate people who apply for our open roles – they’re also what we use to evaluate the performance of designers on our team.
“We’ll want to see how you influence product strategy, define the problem, understand the system, collaborate with others, and more”
So while we appreciate all the work you share with us, we’ll want to see samples that show your experience in these particular areas. For example, we might really admire your visual design work, but we’ll also want to see how you influence product strategy, define the problem, understand the system, collaborate with others, and more.
Intimidated about creating a portfolio? We often see minimal design work samples that are just text links with some context about the work – and that’s great! Using screenshots and brief descriptions, these designers show us:
- What the project was
- The problem(s) it solved
- Their role and process
- What they accomplished
That last point is important to us because we care about how you understand the impact of your design work. We love seeing high-quality designs, but we’re also interested in how you determine success. So we’ll ask you open-ended questions like “How did this solve the problem?” and “What changed because of your work?”
What to expect in your conversations with us
Our company and products are built on conversations. So we want to make our conversations with you as valuable, straightforward, responsive, and human as we can.
Before we talk with you, we’ll try to understand your end-to-end product work, your design quality, how you consider problems and your design process, and any results that you drove. In your resume/CV and work samples, we’d love for you to show us the impact of your design work (what did you achieve? What changed because of it?) as clearly as you can.
You can strengthen your application by reviewing our product designer job levels before you apply so you can see the expectations we have of designers.
Our first conversation helps us get to know you and your background while helping you get to know us. We’ll ask about your past work, what motivates you, and what you’re looking for next in your career. We’ll share more info about our teams and products, the designer role, compensation, benefits, and more. A good ending to this conversation is that we both feel confident about our next steps forward… even if that’s to part ways.
Hiring manager project review
This conversation focuses on your design experience and how you approach strategy, execution, and collaboration in your work. We’ll ask you to walk us through one of your recent design projects that shows a range of different skills. Then we’ll ask you questions focused on how you consider products, competition, problems, customers or users, your colleagues, and more as part of that effort.
Full disclosure: we used to ask people to do a design exercise at home. The Design team doesn’t do this now because it disadvantages people who don’t have time for extra work (like parents, caretakers, people with multiple jobs, and, well, everyone).
So instead of giving you homework, we’ve redesigned our conversations with you. Your deep consideration of your past work is a far better indicator of your potential than any imaginary design challenge we could ever create. And we’d much rather have a conversation with you than make you fill out a form.
Virtual onsite interviews, part 1
This is a series of two conversations focusing on your design work along with how you work with cross-functional partners.
First, we’ll ask you to present your design work to a small audience made up of a designer, a product manager (PM) and an engineering manager (EM). Similar to the hiring manager project review, they’ll look for a range of design skills across strategy, execution, and collaboration behaviors.
Then you’ll do a deep-dive into one of your projects with just the PM and EM. They’ll have questions focusing on your approach to products, strategy & vision, working with constraints, consider trade-offs, and how you execute with teams. They’ll be curious about what you value in your collaboration and how you help teams advance toward their goals.
Virtual onsite interviews, part 2
This is a series of two conversations focusing on how you solve problems and critique the work of others. Then we wrap up with a final conversation with the hiring manager for your role.
First, we’ll ask you to work alongside a designer and researcher to solve a problem together. As you work together, we’ll prompt you to consider how you might understand the problem and who’s affected by it, diverge and converge potential solutions, and sketch out a lightweight, low-fidelity solution to better understand how it might work.
Next you’ll engage in a critique of a third-party software product (not Intercom) with two designers. Here we’ll be looking to understand how you understand problems, think through workflows, focus on the details, and prioritize areas to iterate.
Finally, you’ll meet with a hiring manager to cover any open questions that either you or we might have. We’ll also ask for your feedback on all of the above conversations and the interview process as a whole so we can continue making it better.
5 ways to stand out
These final tips are based on what we’ve seen drive the most success at Intercom. You may not have all of these skills when you start – that’s okay, we’ll help you develop them!
Quality isn’t just surface deep
We always look for modern, simple design work that shows the fundamentals of design. But we also care about the deeper details: product strategy and scoping, interaction design, information architecture, systems design, and more. So we’ll want to understand how you have an impact on quality below the surface.
Know how you work best (and why)
We admire adaptability, but not if it means you stop sharing your opinions. We’re not looking for people who always say “Yes” or who think just like we do. So we love when people share how they work and why their process has been successful. New people help us evolve how we think, design, and build. We don’t want to work in a bubble, so we hope you’ll challenge us to keep growing and improving.
“We love when people understand how they drive impact in their designs and in the products they ship”
Focus on outputs and outcomes
It’s great to see outputs of your work like user journeys, conceptual models, wireframes, prototypes, and more. But we’ll also want to know about your outcomes and impact: what you achieved and what changed because of it. We love when people understand how they drive impact in their designs and in the products they ship.
The Project Logic Model, adapted by Josh Seiden from the Kellogg Foundation
Be curious and self-aware
We love people with humility, who are curious about how they work with others, and who seek to improve their relationships. We look for active displays of growth mindset and greatly value kindness and generosity. That doesn’t mean that we never argue or disagree – we do, and often! – but it’s always done with visible respect and understanding for each other.
Ask us hard questions
We’ll have lots of conversations with you, so please ask us anything you need to know to make a good decision. We know there are companies that penalize questions like these, but we’re not one of them. If you can ask us hard questions in an interview, then it’s likely you can also question our strategy, roadmap, design work, and more – we really value that!
Please apply ❤️
We know it’s intimidating to apply if you’re uncertain of yourself, your design work, or us. It’s especially hard if you’ve been excluded in the past or were told that you weren’t good enough.
Listen: we still want to hear from you. If you’re experiencing doubt, please know that we’d still like to see your work and celebrate your accomplishments. Even if we decide not to move forward with you – or if you decide not to move forward with us, which is a very possible outcome – our goal will be to make sure you still have a good experience.
Remember: You don’t need everything mentioned in this post for us to hire you – I’m living proof of that! So if you’re feeling uncertain, please know that it’s normal, we understand it, and we’ll take great care in working with you.