Published On Jan 23, 2018
Recommended Reading: How the LinkedIn design team hires
Ginny Borelli, LinkedIn's head of design recruiting, sat down with Sarah Alpern, Head of UED (User Experience Design) to talk about how they hire design talent.
Ginny: Hi Sarah, I’m excited to chat with you today about how our team goes about hiring designers. Before we dig in on how we hire, I think your story is really interesting for people to learn about, because we've hired you twice!
Sarah: Yes! My LinkedIn story is definitely a unique one. I started back in 2007 as a Principal Designer, when there were just 200 employees in the whole company. I grew up alongside the company over the next 6 years, designing many aspects of the product. I eventually left to build the design team at a local startup, but then came back 2 years ago to take on a leadership role over our horizontal design team. I am what we call a “boomerang” employee. I just recently took over as Head of UED, and am so excited to now be leading the entire org!
Ginny: Well we're thrilled to have you back! To start, I would love to just have you share a bit about the User Experience design team here at LinkedIn.
Sarah: Sure, our team is made up of over 240 individuals - which includes designers, researchers, writers, and a design program management team. We are part of the larger product organization and as the Head of UED, I sit on the product executive team. Our design team is located in Sunnyvale, Mountain View, San Francisco, New York, China & India, and most sit embedded with their respective engineering and product teams.
Ginny: Knowing that a large part of our team is product designers, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on what makes a strong product designer here at LinkedIn?
Sarah: At LinkedIn, we hire end-to-end designers. We look for people who enjoy working on all aspects of the design process. This includes working closely with our User Researchers, leading all the interaction design, thinking through flows and wireframes, and also the visual design. We have an incredibly talented Design Systems team that creates and updates our UI pattern library and works closely with our product designers to create a scalable, consistent design language. Not only is the end to end work important but so is participating in the conversations around strategy. We want designers who are able to influence the product roadmap and constantly ask what are the right problems to solve, what are the big opportunities, how do we create engaging and valuable experiences?
Ginny: Let’s take a moment and talk about hiring referrals. Knowing that many of our UED hires come from employee referrals, how would you suggest leveraging your network to find your next great design job?
Sarah: We do a lot of our hiring through referrals. I think the best case scenario is getting in touch with someone you know who can speak for you as a person or to your skills. It is great to get noticed by the work you have done through someone who can speak to that rather than applying cold. If you don't know someone personally at the company you're interested in joining, check out your college alumni network or see if you have any connections in common.
"It is great to get noticed by the work you have done through someone who can speak to that rather than applying cold."
Ginny: That’s great insight, thanks for sharing. Let’s move onto interviewing. When you’re interviewing, what do you look for in a designer?
Sarah: First off, we obviously spend a lot of time looking at past or current work. But, when reviewing a project, we don’t just want to look at the final design. We are looking for designers who can answer the following questions: What was the goal of the project? How did you measure success? Who were you designing for and how successfully did your solution meet their needs? How did you consider industry standards or best practices? Did you think through the end to end flows, and also sweat the details of each experience?
What also stands out for us is how do you collaborate with your partners? How do you share ideas? How do you take (and give!) feedback? At the end of the day, we are looking for talented designers who are passionate about creating great designs and experiences, really care to understand the problem they are tackling, are able to communicate how they solved for it, take feedback well and are great collaborators. We also love to hire designers from diverse backgrounds, who bring something very different to the design compass. When I'm interviewing someone, I'm looking beyond the necessary skills to be successful as a designer here. I'm constantly asking myself, what else can this person add to the mix of the team? If someone has a background in coding, they can be a great bridge to our Engineering partners? We recently hired a designer with a consulting background who’s been really successful working closely with product partners and helping the team think deeper about the metrics they're designing for. Others that come to mind came from Animation, PR, Education, and even Music backgrounds!
Ginny: Great, thanks for sharing what you’re looking for in a designer. Beyond interviewing someone, what stands out to you in a strong portfolio?
Sarah: Personally I think the most important project that you're showcasing in your portfolio is your portfolio itself. This is the first design experience for your audience; the look and feel, personality and brand, and the usability of the portfolio are all important. I like to think of it as kind of a user centered design project in itself. You are as good as the projects on your portfolio, and I’d recommend showcasing the ones which truly represent your skills and experience as a designer.
"You are as good as the projects on your portfolio, and I’d recommend showcasing the ones which truly represent your skills and experience as a designer."
When I'm looking at a portfolio for a candidate I'm interviewing, I want to understand the context of their projects and really use their portfolio as a way to tell a story. I not only want to understand the goal of the project but also understand what was their process, results, and even what they would have done differently. I appreciate when a designer is able to tell a compelling, easy to understand story in a succinct way. For me, also, I love when a portfolio shows a sense of your personality. The About section is often one of the first sections I go to when I'm looking over a portfolio.
Ginny: Could you share with us what the interview process looks like for a designer at LinkedIn?
Sarah: Absolutely! Talent is our #1 priority here at LinkedIn and something our Design team really focuses on. Our current interview process is:
1) The team reviews your portfolio and previous experience
2) You have a phone call with the design recruiter on the team
3) You chat with two members of our team (either over the phone or onsite)
4) Design Exercise (either take home or onsite)
5) You come in for a final interview - Presentation (tell us about yourself, present your exercise and a piece from your portfolio)
- Lunch with a member of our team
- Four interviews with designers
Ginny: Thanks for talking us through that! I’d love to hear what are your own tips and tricks for making a great interview as a designer?
Sarah: Sure, here are some of the tips I’ve learned over my years interviewing great designers:
• Do your homework on the company you're interested in! When candidates ask me thought-provoking questions about LinkedIn, showing their interest and passion for the space and challenges, I'm always impressed.
• Be ready to talk about what didn't work. When candidates can convey things they may have done differently or learnings from a project, that always speaks volumes.
• Share things that you are currently working on, be it a side project, a key opportunity for you or something that you have always wanted to improve. Tell me about how your are making progress on it. This tells me a lot about your own growth and learning mindset.
Ginny: That was incredibly insightful, thank you so much Sarah for sharing your own experiences and insights on hiring designers here at LinkedIn.