When you’re looking for an internship, there can be pressure to have all the right stuff—enrollment in a design program at a prestigious university, prior internship experience at big name companies, completed case studies of real world projects, and more. However, if everyone had these same things, it would be pretty boring and make the candidate pool feel very homogenous.
At Slack, we’re aware that there is great talent everywhere, not just at top design schools. We also know access to a degree in Product Design isn’t available to everyone. That’s why it’s our priority to create an interview process that is inclusive of all designers. Instead of fancy accolades, candidates who express a unique point of view, have been proactive in carving their own path, and come to the table with a lot of enthusiasm grab our attention most.
If you’re looking to stand out further, some of the folks at Slack and I are here to give you some behind-the-scenes tips on how to become a memorable candidate in your interview process.
Tip #1: Don’t be afraid to show you’re a real person
Of course you want to be polished and professional in an interview. But you can also be real in our current hybrid reality.
During the pandemic, I interviewed candidates calling in from their childhood bedrooms, with interruptions from family members, roommates, and pets. It was refreshing to see some who embraced their circumstances and gave a fuller picture of who they are as people. Being human is something we welcome here at Slack; those who I work closely with have become well acquainted with my young daughters and two cats, who regularly make appearances in my calls!
“My grandmother was a guest star in my interview. Scene 1: She ended up locked out of the house (I heroically let her in). Scene 2: She reentered the interview to bring me a bowl of fruit as a thanks. I’ve never felt penalized at work for the less-polished moments in my life, starting from my very first interview. The context of your every day life is a welcome addition here; it can be a renewing force in a virtual world.”
-Isha Kumar, Product Designer (summer intern 2021, now full-time employee)
Tip #2: Always ask for advice
After giving her portfolio presentation and answering questions from the interview panel, one candidate used her remaining time to ask the panelists “What can I do better next time I present my work?”
The conversation that followed gave us two key pieces of information. First, insight into how this designer would conduct themselves on a team—curious, lacking ego, seeking multiple perspectives, and always striving to improve. Second, her question exhibited a growth mindset, something we value at Slack. We weighed all these traits more heavily than other factors. We ultimately extended them an offer, first for a summer internship and eventually to join the team full-time.
“This was me! Every part of the interview experience was a first—first time calling a university recruiter, first time working on a case study, first time presenting my work to a panel of designers—and I knew asking for feedback from those who’ve participated in countless interviews would generate valuable insights that I wouldn’t have discovered myself.”
– Mika Isayama, Associate Product Designer (summer intern 2021 turned full-time employee)
Tip #3: Share your experiences—to show us how you think
We have all students who make it to a final round present on the same design challenge. That means everyone, no matter their experience, gets the same opportunity. This has allowed us to hire interns with no industry or internship experiences and from non-traditional design schools, ensuring we’re hiring the most inclusive cohort possible.
When sharing speculative design projects (especially if you’re redesigning aspects of the Slack UI)), be mindful of your audience. These are professional designers who have deep knowledge of design decisions that led to the Slack UI you experience as an end-user and may have even worked on some of the very features you’re reconsidering/critiquing!
Share from your own experience (“As a student, using Slack with my classmates, I noticed the following and that led me to tackle this question, or informed x assumption”). Providing context around what inspired you to improve upon the Slack experience is very compelling—these are the types of valuable insights we attempt to surface through our own user research and conversations with customers.
“When presenting your work, it’s important to share a story. Ask yourself: How does my background, my education and the work I’ve done tell a thread about me as a person and the best designer to come work at Slack?”
-Pedro Carmo, Principal Product Design (intern hiring committee member, mentor to summer intern turned full-time employee)
Tip #4: Create and maintain connections with the people you meet throughout your interview process
People change roles and companies, but the longevity of your career will be determined by the relationships you maintain. You can start building these lasting relationships while interviewing for internships in school. Even if you ultimately don’t get the role, there is tremendous value in staying in touch.
Connect with panelists on LinkedIn, send thank-you notes, and remember: If you don’t get the role the first time, that’s OK and normal! These are competitive positions, but following up with your recruiter once a quarter to share with them exciting things you’re working on or exciting things you’ve seen about Slack in the news is a great way to stay top of mind. Maintaining connections means you could be considered for a future opportunity at the same company or somewhere new—that person could move on themselves and keep you in mind.
“Internships are so incredibly competitive, and we have such limited spots. While I won’t be able to give offers to every candidate that interviews, I do always ask them to keep me updated on their career journeys. This helps me to advocate for them in the future and has sometimes led to them getting an internship or a FTE offer!”
– Christina Fromson, Senior Recruiter (primary point of contact for our intern candidates)
At the end of the day, the old adage is still true: Be yourself! Many candidates make an effort to tailor their initial presentation to be very Slack-specific and adopt Slack’s style guide. While this is appreciated, we see this in our internal presentation all day long!
Your personal website and presentation are the one opportunity you have to show us who you are as a designer and demonstrate your aesthetic sensibility without adhering to the constraints of a project or brand guidelines of a company. Don’t forget to take advantage of this freedom! Showing us who you are and what you care about is what we’re going to remember most long after we’ve hung up our Zoom call.