In the interest of providing more clarity over our hiring process, this article will attempt to answer some of the questions that people who want to apply for a UX design job at Wikimedia may have...
By Lucy Blackwell : Senior Design Manager
We’re a mission driven organisation on a quest to support every human being in freely sharing knowledge. We’re a non-profit operating one of the world’s top five websites, Wikipedia. We believe that those who are passionate about our cause will be the best contributors to our mission. Here’s our mission and these are our values.
So first things first, check them out before going any further, and just be honest… is this what you’re into? If so, why? We want to know! It’s also totally fine if it’s not, but we really only hire people who are as passionate about our mission as us.
Top Tip: The best way to show us your passion for the role is in a cover letter.
We need to know that you have all the design skills needed to do the job. We have high standards in the team which we want to uphold, so we’re looking for people who are motivated to do their best work with us, people we can support to grow and evolve here.
Our job descriptions outline the specific skills we’re looking for in each role, but just to briefly summarise, for any of our UX designer roles we seek folks that can envision and create experiences that reduce complexity. English Wikipedia has just celebrated its 20th birthday, and we are a fairly small design team for the size of our main website, so there are many legacy UX issues to be addressed. Designers at Wikimedia need to be able to break down a complicated existing experience and come up with a much simpler, clearer solution.
We are a highly user-focused organisation with two key user groups on Wikipedia; the readers, and the editors (who we refer to as our community). Our community is very active and engaged, with many of the editors volunteering huge amounts of their time to write and edit content on Wikipedia. They have lots of great perspectives to add and are often the drivers behind the changes we decide to make on our platform(s). This means that for designers, we look for people who are comfortable, or excited by the opportunity to be very engaged with the community throughout their design process. We value a transparent work style using open source platforms and public task boards.
And lastly, we are a truly global product. Wikipedia is available in around 300 languages. We design for everyone! This means that many of the design decisions we make have to consider carefully the global reach of our platform. In addition, we need to make sure the platform we’re evolving is accessible too, so we do require a basic knowledge of how to apply accessibility standards to your designs, as part of our interview process.
Your portfolio is going to be one of the best ways for you to show us your work before we’ve met. We review portfolios to decide if we should chat further. No portfolio = no interview. For designers, portfolios are often more important than your CV or resume, this is because this is the place we can see how you think! When we look at portfolios we are trying to understand a few key things which are:
- Do the people you are designing for come first in your process?
- Do you have the ability to simplify complex problems?
- Do you communicate your ideas and process clearly and simply?
- Do you deliver effective solutions and pay attention to detail?
As a hiring manager, I’ve had the privilege of looking through hundreds of portfolios over the years, and in my experience the ones that stand out are always those with 3 or 4 solid projects that clearly frame an interesting problem they had to solve and explain to me how they did it.
I know designers spend hours and hours making their portfolios. As you focus on the design of your portfolio, don’t forget the UX of your portfolio too. Your core user is going to be a recruiter or a hiring manager. That’s me! So here’s a few of my user needs…
- I need to be able to scan your portfolio in less than a minute, and find something that makes me want to look longer.
- I need to see your best work first. (I don’t need to see everything you’ve ever done)
- I need to see your thinking process and how you break down problems.
- I need to know what your specific role was in the projects you’re presenting.
- I understand that some of your work maybe under NDA, so I need you to tell me about this work in another way, like a blog post.
Top Tip: Keep it simple and just show your best work.
On our job descriptions we state ‘The right person is better than the right set of experiences.’ Of course we need to know you have the design skills, but we’re less concerned with ‘where’ you developed those skills. What we feel is more important is if you’re a great collaborator and can communicate your ideas clearly. This is not an optional skill, we actually see this as a core requirement for working in our team. This doesn’t mean you have to be an extrovert though, you might have developed your own unique way of collaborating and communicating with others that fits your personality and abilities. It also doesn’t mean english needs to be your first language, we just need to know that you can communicate your ideas in english to us.
As we’re a global organisation, it’s really important to us that our team represents some of the different aspects of the communities we serve. We’re always looking to bring different perspectives into the team, because fundamentally we know that diverse teams deliver better products. This is why we’re a fully remote team. By hiring in many different places in the world, we have the best chance of attracting a wide-range of perspectives. We currently have designers across 12 timezones from India to the USA.
Top Tip: In the interview, come prepared to share specific examples of how you’ve collaborated with people and overcome challenges.
The UX designers in our team sit at 4 different levels based upon experience going from UX designer to Seniors, Leads up to Principals. For each role, the job title and job description will show you what level of experience we’re looking for and what our expectations for your skills at that level are. Generally we won’t hire someone if they are over-qualified, or under-qualified for the level of the role we have listed, as this creates inequity in the team.
We’ll normally mention how many years of experience we expect someone to have at the level we’re recruiting for on the job spec, but this is purely a guide. We know that people grow and develop at different speeds and this is fine, so we’re really assessing your experience based upon the skills you demonstrate in your work.
One of the tools that we use to assess what level someone is at is a design task. We’re very aware that this is now a fairly controversial debate in the design community, for lots of good reasons. We recently took a step back and reassessed the pros and cons of design tasks, but ultimately came back to the decision to continue to ask UX designers and Senior UX Designers to do design tasks in a time-boxed manner.
The reason for this is that we have found that our design tasks serve a few key purposes:
- They allow us to see how candidates approach a problem within a time constraint.
- They give the candidate an opportunity to demonstrate their thinking process to us.
- They allow candidates to be assessed more fairly against other candidates in the process who may have wildly different backgrounds.
One thing we have realised, is that people with more time often spend longer on their tasks than the suggested time period. Whilst this clearly shows their passion for the role, it doesn’t feel entirely fair to those with other commitments that simply couldn’t put as much time into their task. So, we’re now trialling a slightly different approach to the process in our next recruitment round, in the hopes that we can make things a bit fairer and less of a burden on candidates.
We’ve now explicitly time box the task to a maximum of 3 hours. We’ll ask the candidate to let us know what time and date suits them to do the task, then we will send the task out at that exact time via email. The candidate is then required to return the task by email within 3 hours.
Our interview process
For each role, a hiring team is put together, each with specific roles in the hiring process. We have a step-by-step approach to interviewing, where you will have a series of interviews with different people from Wikimedia. Whilst there maybe some overlaps in questions, generally we try to make sure different areas are covered in different interviews. This process allows us to gather a collective view on a candidate. On average it can take approx. 1-2 months to complete all the steps in our process, although we’re currently looking at ways to speed this up. At any stage we may decide not to proceed further with a candidate as we don’t want to waste anyone’s time. Our process is continually evolving, but here’s where it stands today:
Step 1: Interview with Recruiter
Discuss your experience and why you’re interested in working at Wikimedia.
Step 2: Interview with Senior Design Manager
Discuss your background and design skills and where you’re looking to go in your career.
Step 3: Design task
Task will be sent out at a time of your choosing, upon which you will have 3 hours to complete the task and return it by email.
Step 4: Panel interview with Designers, Product Manager & UX Engineer
Part 1 - Designers: Present and discuss your design task, followed by UX and design focused discussion about how your design approaches and ways of working.
Part 2 - Product Manager & UX Engineer: Discuss how you collaborate, agile development processes, accessibility guidelines and design systems.
Step 5: Interview with the Senior Director of Strategy and Design
Discuss product strategy and other related questions specific to your application.
Top Tip: The interview process is as much for your benefit at ours. We try to leave time at the end of every interview for your questions, so come ready to ask all the things you want to know…
Well that’s it for now, but we’re always looking to evolve and improve our processes. We’re keen to be sure our hiring process is a good experience for you, the candidate. If you’ve got any thoughts that could help us improve this experience, do let us know. We’re especially interested in how we could make our hiring process even more inclusive. Thanks for reading!