BMW needs no introduction. The company is known and respected the world over, a brand synonymous with luxury and pride.
Working on any aspect of BMW's design is a dream job, so of course we had to invite the company to this series. Daniel Myer kindly gave us all the inside advice about how to land a coveted spot on BMW's visual design team.
Hey, Daniel! First, can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do at BMW?
I'm one of the senior UI and visual designers here at BMW. I’m part of the core U.S. design team located in Chicago. Together with our colleagues in Munich, Germany, we design the Connected Drive app for BMW and MINI.
It’s important for us to maintain the overall BMW brand language (as implemented within the vehicles “ID” onboard display), but within a unique mobile design experience. Our team is also tasked with developing, maintaining and implementing the style guide for both apps as well as giving art direction to other key markets.
I’m involved in strategy, art direction, brand and motion design. Primarily I focus my efforts on two key areas: the first is “LBS” (Location Based Services), which is anything to do with trip management or vehicle mapping. The second is vision casting concepts, and explorations around future design states of the app and experience.
Would you say the majority of designers you hire have been pre-selected and headhunted by your team, or do you get a lot of cold applications as well?
Headhunting is the most common onramp to employment here at BMW. The company is proactive in the pursuit of talented and articulate designers. Almost every designer starts as a contractor. It’s quite a long tenure before being offered an internal role. I’d encourage a designer to be patient, keep improving their craft and update their portfolio often, as well as business network sites like LinkedIn.
Say we decide to send a cold email. What kind of message gets a reply, any secrets for us? Or should we just fill out the job form?
Someone being bold, putting themselves forward and expressing an interest to work with our team is a good thing. Being proactive in general goes a long way here. Additionally, you could reach out with a message over LinkedIn. Be clear about what you want and what you are good at.
"It helps to show work that relates to BMW or another luxury vehicle brand, even if it’s purely conceptual. It will get passed around quite a bit and discussed."
How important is a complete portfolio? Can we get away with not having a portfolio when interviewing at BMW?
BMW is a global leader in the area of design. We have some amazing designers who are passionate about engineering great experiences. We tirelessly re-work every detail of the design to improve it. As part of our process, we are involved in weekly review meetings where we need to present the designs for review and overall buy-in. Thus, a designer wanting a place here needs to have strong design chops and be able to articulate the ideas behind the design clearly.
We care very much about design, the process of design and how it will work. A big part of what we do is service-design oriented. Therefore, the projects in your portfolio or book should be compelling and strategic. This is a great place to communicate how you’ve used a specific design approach to solve a problem, and make the product or service more usable and engaging.
I used previous apps and working prototypes when presenting my portfolio in an interview with BMW. It helps to show work that relates to BMW or another luxury vehicle brand, even if it’s purely conceptual. It will get passed around quite a bit and discussed. It can set you apart and help position you for an initial meeting.
Tell us one thing you never want to see again on a portfolio.
For me, I’d say a lack of creative range. Yes, it’s useful to have a well-honed skill that is laser focused in a particular area. However, it can be rather tedious to see all the same things.
Anything you wish you saw more?
There is definite value in a portfolio that’s diverse and showcases a wider range of design thinking and skill. Showing your ability to think outside a given set of lines and emerge with something new and innovative helps further set you apart. Show your most creative stuff (the projects where you had more freedom to have fun with it) and your most challenging stuff, (the projects with the most restrictive guidelines). Both have a story to tell.
Besides having a portfolio, do you like the idea of designers being invested in other interests, for example blogging or being otherwise active in their community? How much do you value side hustles?
Being on the team is about design. However, being part of the team is about culture and comradery. BMW has a very diverse U.S. team and everyone feels welcome here. There are lots of sports and activities that further drive the team culture. It’s about designing well together as a really cool team.
Say I make the first pass and get invited to an interview. Can you describe the interview process as briefly as possible?
The process can vary based on the role. For me, I was contacted by a recruiting agency that worked directly with BMW to source senior creatives. That’s where most of the conversations happened initially between me and BMW.
The recruiter set up the interview. It took about a week. I went in and met the three design leads and several product owners as well as various development team leads. I presented my portfolio to each group. All total, the interview process lasted about 4-5 hours. I was given an offer the following week.
What are the biggest mistakes you see designers make when applying for a job at BMW? Are there any specific things that keep bothering you?
I’ve not seen this very often here with my BMW colleagues. They’re an especially top-notch design group. However, in other settings I’ve observed designers be too tense or nervous, and it drowns out their personality and creativity. You’ve made it this far, so you’ve done a whole lot of things right! Breathe, smile and share your previous design work with confidence. The key elements at this point are the creative conversation, as well as presenting yourself and why you would bring value to the company. We want a chance to get to know you. It’s important to get a sense of how you would fit with the rest of the team and what value you will contribute to the design effort.
Do you remember a specific application or interview that impressed you?
Not recently. However, I do recall a few of the most memorable designers I’ve worked with. One was Jon. Although he didn’t take himself too seriously, he did take his design craft seriously. He could create great visual designs and communicate the idea behind them quite well. His easy going, ebullient approach was refreshing and made buy-in easy for him. He was such a joy to work with. Although he is no longer with BMW, I think about him and his ability to bring people together often.
Another designer who left a real mark was Nicole. She was a truly gifted UX designer. Her ability to clearly communicate design ideas with a relaxed ease was also a real inspiration. In both cases, their clear and light-hearted, personable approach made it easy to communicate and share ideas. They helped elevate the team around them in so many ways.
I couldn’t agree more. Being an enjoyable person who people like to work with can be just as important as your skill.
Do you expect candidates to be big BMW fans as well? Say you found the perfect candidate skill-wise, but they don't express a huge passion for BMW cars. Is that a problem?
No, I don’t think it’s any sort of prerequisite to working here. One of my favorite cars besides BMW is a Volvo. As employees we do get to drive the fleet of amazing BMW “test” cars (the new 8 series being my favorite) so that we may better understand the vehicle and the thinking behind the CID “central information display” design. It doesn’t take long to become a fan. Come on, it’s BMW!
Would BMW hire someone who is a culture fit over someone who has more industry experience and hard skills?
BMW Group has five core values. Responsibility, Appreciation, Transparency, Trust and Openness. BMW from the top down is focused on an individual being a cultural fit and a team player. Obviously, you need to have a certain level of design skill and understanding.
That aside, there are many opportunities that encourage growth in your skill level. We have workshops and demos which are really fun and bring people together. Additionally, the luxury and quality of the brand, the collaborative nature and the engaging attitude of the team around you foster motivation and help elevate a designer’s skill level.
Do you take design interns? If yes, how do I get in and where do I apply?
Yes! BMW does hire design interns and usually has a lot of them on the team. UX designers, UI designers, researchers...they’re always really, really cool. I’ve enjoyed sharing with them and I’ve learned a lot from them. You can find intern postings and apply right here.
How do you think BMW is different when hiring new talent compared to other companies?
I would say it can take quite a bit longer than normal to get an internal role you want, since most everyone starts out in a contract role. It takes a lot of mental toughness to keep producing your best work at a high level while being patient in the process. Don’t misunderstand, it’s a great company to work for. I feel excited to get to do what I do.
Thank you, Dan! It's not often we get such honest, practical advice – especially from a large company like BMW. It's much appreciated and we learned a lot. Readers, if you want to apply for a design job at BMW, here are your main takeaways:
1. Be patient and willing to do your time.
Many designers start out as contractors with BMW. If you're willing to start there to get your foot in the door and prove your value, it could lead to a full-time job later.
2. Knowing how to present yourself and your work is key.
Daniel says a big part of the job is presenting work internally to get buy-in. BMW will expect you to present your work and yourself confidently. The designers who were most successful at BMW knew how to make that seem effortless.
3. If you don't have related work to show in your portfolio, conceptual work could help.
Obviously it's ideal to show work that relates to the job you want. But if you don't have experience working on apps or for a luxury car brand, that doesn't rule you out. BMW could still see your skills through conceptual work.
For more inside advice on getting jobs at places like Nike, BBDO, Electronic Arts, Shopify and more, catch up on our other How to Get a Job at X interviews right here. Almost all companies were specifically requested by readers. If you're looking for a design job at a company not featured here yet, let me know on Twitter.