Airbnb Product Design Interview

An extra from The Product Design Interview book

When I finally came around to joining a bigger design organization last year, I dove head first into several big name companies’ design interview loops. Though draining, it was this time around that I realized that an onsite interview also serves as a mechanism for candidates to evaluate fit.

Reflecting on the Airbnb interview process, I realize a lot of my success was luck — the fact that I had a very relevant case study about designing Meetup’s event creation from scratch while interviewing for Airbnb’s hosting team role played a huge part. It helped the interviewers see a seamless fit, and we had a lot of shared vocabulary.

Airbnb’s design interview process reveals a lot about how they view the design team (and the team in general) with an emphasis on people and their story. No take home challenges, the phone screen is with the direct hiring manager who asks about your story, and two unique rounds that neither have anything to do with design, nor will you be interviewed by anyone you’d be working with directly.

Note: I did this entire interview virtually.

  1. Recruiter screen: 30 min
  2. Portfolio Review *— Virtual
    45 min · 1 interviewer, usually a hiring manager.
    *they say portfolio review but expect the manager to ask you some “story” questions e.g. What is a travel experience that changed your life, or how does Airbnb fit into your narrative
  1. Portfolio Presentation
    1 hour · 6–8 interviewers
  2. App Critique
    30 minutes · 1 interviewer
  3. Communication & Collaboration
    30 minutes · 1 interviewer each
    • Design Manager
    • Product Manager
    • Engineering Manager
  4. Cross-Functional*
    30 minutes · 2 rounds
    * the typical loop will refer to the previous section as “cross-functional”. Here, it means you will be speaking with 2 interviewers who have not reviewed your resume and do not know which role you are interviewing for. The goal of this round is to evaluate you as a person.

Recruiter screen

Airbnb’s design recruiters don’t always work closely with a team. Though the interviews are for specific roles, candidates are considered for all open roles across teams and levels during the interview process. This makes the recruiter screens more accessible in that you have to meet a minimum bar for design quality and experience to move forward to the first round.

When the recruiter asks about your background and experience, you should carefully consider the narrative you share because this will dictate if you talk to hiring managers for senior roles or junior ones. Overshooting is not a good idea since Airbnb is known to place designers about a level or half below from the rest of the industry. Overselling may put you in an interview loop that is difficult to pass.

The Airbnb design team is well aware of their impression in the design industry, so when asked about what you’re looking for in your next role make sure to call out the high caliber design team and challenges unique to the role or teams at Airbnb.

General Advice

Prepare your story, and really think about it. While most companies will ask about your story, few will weigh it as highly as Airbnb. Everything from why you got into design, why you continue to do it, how travel fits into your story — it’s all going to matter for this interview. At times, it may feel like you are under a microscope or that it’s encroaching on personal life territory — in those moments you should feel empowered to either dig up an answer from your professional life, or ask for a different question. Especially in the Cross-Functional rounds, the interviewers were mindful of reminding me I can always ask for another prompt.

As for the work — the design team prides themselves on their visual design skills, so spend some extra time on your presentation and clean up those high fidelity designs you want to share.

Get the complete 7-page Airbnb Product Design Interview Guide here and sign up for the waitlist for my upcoming book The Product Design Interview📚

Author of The Product Design Interview · @etsy ex @meetup @okcupid @mint · nishthadalal.com