MetaLab creates products and interfaces that are attractive, thoughtful and a joy to use. They work with the world's top companies — just look at Slack, Uber, Amazon, TED, Apple, and Google, to name a few.
Oliver and Ryan, creative directors at MetaLab, have grown the design team from two people to 30. They play a big role not only in hiring, but also leading the design team and overall quality of MetaLab’s projects. So it worked out perfectly that both Oliver and Ryan were up for answering my questions about getting a job at MetaLab.
Hey Ryan and Oliver, let’s get right to it. Looking at your current design team, how many of them came through internal referrals and headhunting, and how many came through the traditional application process?
Honestly, it’s a huge mix. We’ve only had a more formal talent team within the last 14 months. Before that, it was a mix of a few people (Oliver, Ryan, Tim, Elexa, Andrew) scouring the internet from time to time. Basically it was whoever had time. Now at the size we’re at, we’re lucky to have Georgia, who heads up the design hunt. She does a bulk of the communication once we identify someone (? Blessed! Additional thanks to Elexa and Erica!). Recruiters sometimes get a bit of a bad rep, but they’re incredibly helpful for a team. The logistics for grooming through new candidates alone is a nightmare.
Candidates who’ve been referred or headhunted tend to make it the furthest in our screening process, but the bulk (90%+) still come to us through the traditional application process via our careers page or a third party site. In terms of searching for people, we find a pretty big chunk of talent via Dribbble. Being such an active design community, it’s a great tool for reaching out.
How important is a visual and complete portfolio for you? Can I get away with not having a portfolio when interviewing at MetaLab?
Although “portfolio” can mean different things to different people, it’s super important that we have an easy way to view a collection of your best work. Going the extra mile and making sure it’s easy to consume, well-presented, and filled with helpful context about your projects tells us a lot about your communication skills. Ideally a portfolio should be more than just a collection of pretty thumbnails and mockups — it should speak to your problem solving skills.
For more senior talent (who will be primarily off the tools), a different type of portfolio is OK, but still fundamentally necessary. It’s hard to fully understand and appreciate the scope of one’s accomplishments without anything to help tell your story when you’re not there.
Tell us one thing you never want to see again on a portfolio. Anything you wish you saw more?
Seeing more work presented in case study format would be so helpful. Major bonus points for an animated prototype/flow. There are more than enough tools out there to add motion to your work (Principle, Framer, Flinto, etc.). Also, positioning yourself properly in terms of skill and experience. Trying to come off incredibly senior when you’re actually quite junior could end up hurting you. Be honest about the work you’ve done, what you’ve learned, and the things you’re interested in learning more about.
"Seeing more work presented in case study format would be so helpful."
Besides having a portfolio, do you like the idea of designers being invested in other interests? For example being active bloggers or otherwise outspoken in their community?
Obviously we love well-rounded people and if you have passions outside of design that’s great. If design is your one true love, that’s OK too! We’re not looking for anything specific — whether in terms of interests or engagement with online communities. What’s most important is that you have a healthy, sustainable approach to your work. It’s important to spend quality time outside of your tools, the office and work projects so that when you need to bring your A-game, you’ve got the energy, focus and creativity to do so. So to answer your question, yes, we do value when someone is invested in other interests or hobbies. It’s pretty cool when they’re able to bring those learnings back to their team and projects.
What are the biggest mistakes you see designers make when applying for a job at MetaLab? Are there any specific things that keep bothering you? Please complain to us! (:
Presentations! Both in terms of form and content. Our application process involves a test project and it’s surprising how often people deliver it in a format that makes it hard for us to consume (different combinations of folders, documents, and file types). If you’ve taken the time to put together all that work, don’t skimp on the presentation — make it easy for us to look at and understand what you did. In that sense the presentation itself is an additional way for us to assess your communication skills.
And remember: You should be showing and explaining your process and work thoroughly. The exercise isn’t just about the final product, it’s about how you got there. We want to understand how you think, solve problems and how you deliver that information back to an audience.
Do you have a favorite story of an application that really stuck with you?
One of our more memorable hires was for one of our current designers. She was still wrapping up her schooling when we interviewed her and ended up offering her the job. She participated in a lot of company events for months before she was even technically employed. We definitely didn’t expect her to participate, but when she did it was all sorts of awesome.
Say I make the first pass and get invited to an interview. Can you describe the interview process as briefly as possible?
The first step after we review your application and portfolio is an introductory call with our people ops team; they’ll want to hear about your background and why you’re interested in MetaLab. Next up is the test project that we’ve mentioned above — you’ll be given one week to complete it. If the test project looks promising you’ll get an opportunity to meet our creative directors for a more in-depth interview. Since we hire remote designers, any of these interviews could be on a video call or in-person, depending on where you’re located.
Would you hire someone who is a cultural fit over someone who has more industry experience and hard skills?
We’re huge on culture fit (i.e. no ego and you’re not an asshole) but pretty solid design chops are necessary for us to move ahead with a hire. Whether you’re straight out of school or a seasoned designer, you’re bringing something special to the design team.
What are the secondary skills you look for in a designer, besides common soft skills? For example, do you prefer business skills over coding skills?
Great question. I think at the core, we’re looking for people who are passionate about product design. It might sound silly, but you can really tell who sees this as more than just a paycheck. Those who go the extra mile in their applications really stand out. There hasn’t been a formula developed for a perfect hire. We just look for genuinely nice, passionate and talented people.
How do you think MetaLab is different when hiring new talent compared to other tech companies or design studios?
We look for all our hires to be well-rounded product designers, not specialists. It’s core to our process for designers to be able to participate in projects from concept to completion. We don’t hire designers who just do UX or just do visual design. You should be interested in growing and practicing a broad set of skills.
"We look for all our hires to be well-rounded product designers, not specialists."
And finally, do you hire people from outside the U.S., either on a remote basis or by helping them get a visa? I’m sure many of us are wondering about that.
A third of our design team works remotely outside of Victoria and Vancouver, where our offices are located. We’re also open to helping people make the move to Canada if that’s their preference, once they’ve worked remotely with us for at least six months.
Ryan and Oliver - thank you! You’ve provided some of the most unique answers in this series, (I’ve found it fascinating to compare these interviews to see how each company is different) and I know they’ll be a helpful to anyone hoping to work on your team at MetaLab.
If that’s you, dear reader, here are some takeaways to remember:
Nr. 1 - MetaLab hires through Dribbble.
Unlike many companies featured in this series who have said otherwise, MetaLab notices outstanding work on Dribbble. Put your stuff out there and keep it updated.
Nr. 2 - Animation in your portfolio will get you major bonus points.
“Major bonus points” being Ryan and Oliver’s words exactly. If you want to make an impression, add motion to your portfolio work to explain how and why things work the way they do. Think of motion as a tool to give the viewer context, rather than just adding motion for the sake of adding motion.
Nr. 3 - Polish your presentation.
MetaLab takes note about how you deliver your work. That means the presentation matters as much as the work itself. Spend time refining the presentation and make sure your message comes through.
Nr. 4 - MetaLab hires remote designers.
This may be nice news for you!
Nr. 5 - MetaLab is looking for designers with diverse skillsets — not specialists.
This is interesting because the sentiment “jack of all trades, master of none” is often thrown around in the design world, as if being good at several things is negative. Not the case at MetaLab. They are looking for product designers with broad skills who can see a project through every phase.
That’s all for now, friends. Stay tuned for more interviews with fantastic companies you might work for someday.