This week I am sharing a series of posts to reach design candidates in far-flung corners of the Internet to fill this UX/UI designer role at Mozilla Foundation, and to improve the quality of design candidates everywhere! Check this post for a listing of all the topics as I post them.
Preparing for an interview
I’ve said this in previous posts this week, but it is astounding how many candidates make it to the first interview without knowing anything about Mozilla or the position. It’s worth doing a bit of research beforehand. Doesn’t have to be a lot, but at least Google the company – there’s a lot in our recent history to be aware of. Mozilla is a big organization and nearly everything we’re doing is open and online so it’s hard to humor any excuses for not doing this.
Also, Google who your meeting is with. Why wouldn’t you? I expect that you will probably read my tweets and maybe glance at an article I’ve written, and if a topic I’ve written about comes up in an interview and you are able to speak to it, that’s interesting. It’s a little awkward perhaps but nice because I know you care about this interview.
Questions I ask candidates
What follows are a bunch of questions I normally ask in interviews. Maybe you want to take these and practice with a partner or friend? I did a lot of this early in my career and it never hurt. I felt more prepared and at ease at least, which was half the battle.
- What brings you to Mozilla? Why do you want to work here?
What I’m looking for: I want to know if you care about our mission but I also want to know explicitly how you found out about the position. It’s an easy way to gain mutual ground off the bat, if there is any, and it’s solid information for me to put to use when posting future positions. It’s a good question for me to gauge a candidate’s sincere interest in the position, too. If someone is just dipping their toes in the water to see what’s out there, I am less interested in them than in the candidate who says Mozilla is the only company they applied to.
- How did you get started with design?
What I’m looking for: That you take design seriously. I tend to fall on the word-ier, head-ier side of design, but that doesn’t mean you have to. I just want to know that you carefully consider your design decisions, that you’re able to back them up, that you are confident in your abilities. It doesn’t matter to me if you were trained at the most prestigious university or if you were self-taught, but I would like to understand your approach to learning and staying current in the industry.
- Where do you look for design, illustration, UI inspiration?
What I’m looking for: Does anything inspire you? What kinds of things get you pumped up? I want to geek out with you. It’s great when someone can do this easily with new people; I’d hope they could bring a similar openness and excitement to brainstorming sessions and everyday work.
- Do you have experience working remotely?
What I’m looking for: We’re a remote team whether you choose to work out of an office or not. Traversing time zones and not getting lost in that world requires communication superpowers. Experience with this mode of working means you’ll know it has its ups and downs and are willing to work with them. If you don’t have experience working remotely, it’s not a deal-killer if you can work out of a local office (NYC, Toronto, Portland, Vancouver, SFO) but in that case it helps to demonstrate effective communication skills through writing, showing up to meetings on time, etc.
- What are you looking for in your next position?
What I’m looking for: I want to know if Mozilla is a good next step for you. Can we offer you the kind of career growth you are looking for? We want happy employees and won’t get that if we have mismatched expectations. It also shows you are thoughtful and self-aware.
- What are your salary expectations?
What I’m looking for: I want to know if your financial aspirations are way out of our budget. Under-asking can also be a flag that the candidate doesn’t have quite as much experience as I’d thought. Neither is right or wrong necessarily, but there is a happy medium and it pays (often literally) to do research prior to the initial interview. Check out AIGA’s design salary calculator and ask around to friends for the going rates.
- Would you call yourself perfectionist?
What I’m looking for: I feel like this is the only trick question I ask and now that I’m giving away the secret I may have to get smarter about how I interview! But, this is not a yes or no question. The correct answer is “Yes and no.” A lot of people clearly identify as a perfectionist or not, and it’s totally okay to embrace that tendency, but a good candidate will be able to speak to the value of shipping and of working to deadlines. I love perfectionists; I often am one myself. But at Mozilla we design products iteratively and we need designers who can work to a certain level of quality, pushing the designs when needed but also able to let go when it’s time to press publish.
Questions candidates ask
I do appreciate when questions come naturally out of a conversation, and I do leave some minutes at the end of an interview to address any concerns a candidate may have. It’s okay to recycle these particular questions, they are the most common or impactful ones, but I urge you to think about your own values and experiences and to formulate unique inquiries that will be helpful to you in making a decision about the position.
- What kind of projects will I actually be working on?
The best question, and not frequently asked! At the Foundation the design team separates its work into product buckets. We have Learning Products (Webmaker app and webmaker.org), Learning Networks (teach.mozilla.org), and our ongoing Engagement work which includes communications, fundraising and Mozilla Advocacy.
Right now we don’t have full coverage of our Learning Networks and Engagement work. (This could probably be said of all these buckets though). Some of this outstanding work is high level product thinking and strategy, and some is complete execution from the beginning concepts and UX thinking down to working with engineers, or getting your own hands dirty in pixel implementation.
Given the depth and breadth of work at Mofo, we try to find good matches within the team for skill-sets, people chemistry, interests and growth. Because we’re doing a variety of tasks there is room to move people around a bit. Designers in the org are expected to help make big decisions about new features, lead discussions, think big, implement well. It’s a lot to expect but also a huge opportunity to drive the direction of large-scale products.
Lastly, the design team works together frequently whether by reviewing each others’ designs in weekly critiques or pitching in illustration skills for a sister project. For as much as we like people to be able to focus on a single project at a time, there are many opportunities to hop into other projects.
- What is the design team process like?
Our team is writing a Design Handbook about our process with everything you need to know and then some. Read it here. We’ll also be documenting and updating some of our material linked from our work hub, http://build.webmaker.org/design.
- Will I be able to continue practicing my dev and design skills?
Absolutely. This is something we care deeply about, and as recently as last week we had a discussion with designer-engineer hybrid folks to try and figure out how we could better support people with mixed skill-sets. We often have small tasks for prototyping new features that are prime for someone who wants to pick up new skills and there are plenty of people within design and engineering teams that make good mentors. We have many designers with engineering skills and engineers with design skills and people all over the organization with surprising backgrounds – so just because you fall under one team’s umbrella certainly doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do something other than what your job title dictates.
- Do I have to learn dev skills?
Not by my book. As any good interactive designer, you should be deeply aware of the possibilities and constraints of technology but that doesn’t mean you need the skills to actually produce shippable code. Design is deep enough to specialize.
- Can I work remotely?
Chances are good! The Foundation’s design team is scattered between Portland, Vancouver, Toronto, NYC and my small hometown in Paris, Ontario. So you will be working remotely with this team to some degree regardless of where you are. You can choose to work out of an office in one of our main hubs (Toronto, San Francisco, Portland, New York, Vancouver and possibly London). Many people work remotely part of the week and saunter into the office for snacks and camaraderie later in the week. The more experienced you are with remote work the more likely we are to accommodate a full-time remote situation for a new hire, otherwise it can just be too hard on a new employee to feel like they’re working in isolation and not connecting with a team.
- What tools does the design team use?
Half of us use Sketch and the other half use Creative Suite. It comes down to preference, though those of us not yet on Sketch have active goals to make the switch given we’ve heard great things about it. Designers should feel free to use whatever works for them, whatever can get the job done quickly and well. If a sketchbook can do the trick and is fastest, awesome. If it’s better to animate it in AfterEffects, or to make a gif, go for it. We try new online tools all the time as well – currently Redpen for design feedback, Invision for prototyping, Google slides for gathering ideas. We have a corporate subscription to Google app so we use Drive for file-sharing. For bug tracking and project management type tasks we use Github, sometimes Bugzilla. For real-time communication we use open source software Etherpad, for collaborative note-taking, and Vidyo for, well, video calls. Mofos tend to be willing to try anything that helps us work quickly and efficiently.
By this point, you should have a good understanding of what Mozilla’s hiring process looks like, some tips to improve your cover letter and portfolio, and now a whole arsenal of questions and answers up your sleeves. You should be set to apply for any open design jobs (including ours). Tomorrow will be my last post about design hiring for the week and it’s a fun one – I’ll introduce you to a few Mozilla Foundation designers, talented colleagues I’m humbled to call my team. Seeya then.