Samihah Azim

Samihah Azim

Sr. Product Designer

INFJ | Sr. Product Designer @Postmates, prev. @OneMedical. Mentor @StateDept @TechWomen. Arabic calligraphy. Living in interstitial of logic & human emotion

10 action items

Questions to ask in an interview to understand the culture of a team and company

    • The questions you ask to understand the culture of a company and design team are contextual to what you yourself value. Jot those down. Your questions should help answer if an organization exhibits the traits that you value.

    • Figure out the values that are most important to you for your next opportunity.

      Is it collaboration? Is it a team that values people uplifting each other? Is it an inclusive work environment with a diverse workforce? Is it a company that values employee growth? Is it where colleagues regularly get together outside of work? Is it a company that's mission-driven? Jot down what you value. Ask questions that help answer if the organization exhibits the traits you value.... See more

    • Ask about process and how designers interface with cross functional peers.

      While it's important to know about the design team, you're likely going to work closest with your cross-functional peers (my advice here is primarily from the lens of working at mature organizations. It's perhaps different for newer teams). What you likely want to find out here is what the designer to product manager, designer to engineer, designer to insert-other-cross-functional-peer working relationship is like. You also may want to ask questions that help answer if designers are involved in product strategy and if the Design to PM relationship is a true partnership where design is coming in at Quarterly Planning, or if it's more of a waterfall process.... See more

    • Find out if a company has a set of values.

      A lot of companies have these. Both Lyft and Facebook are great examples of organizations that have a solid set of values that are shared and explicitly listed. Once you've found out what an organization's values are, you can ask questions that help answer how it permeates throughout the organization, how/if it helps to drive decision-making and its impact in practice, and how the values shape the organization. What you want to find out is if the values are contrived and there as lip-service (or because all the cool kids are doing it), or if the values are there to shape and guide the organization. The idea of "culture-fit" is often perceived to be a euphemism for not hiring people that aren't like the hiring committee (and often negatively impact marginalized groups), while "values-fit" recognizes the importance of having different voices while maintaining an inclusive and ever-evolving culture.... See more

    • Figure out how inclusive the product development team is.

      Sometimes you can get a sense of this from walking through the office (typically, you'll get a tour of the office before your interview starts or at some point during). While I believe diversity is multi-faceted and goes beyond gender and ethnicity, I also believe that an organization where you can visibly see diversity values inclusivity more than organizations where it's not evident. In my experience and the experience of friends, when it's not visible, when there aren't many women in leadership positions, when there aren't many women in product development (design, eng, pm), the organization is more resistant to a diversity of thought, is less collaborative, and bad behavior may be rewarded, forgiven, or overlooked.... See more

    • Look at how inclusive your interview panel is when you're at an onsite.

      Similar points as the above Action Item. These are the folks that will be evaluating you. How diverse is it? (Reiterating my above point: diversity is multi-faceted). Keep in mind if the team or org is newer/smaller, they may value inclusivity but are perhaps not yet at a point where interview panels are visibly diverse. If it's a more mature organization, then it may be acceptable to be more critical.... See more

    • Ask questions that help you figure out how designers interface with each other.

      Are designers silo'd from each other? Or do designers regularly interface with each other on some regular cadence (weekly design crits, bi-weekly team crits, etc). Asking questions around team structure will help you understand how designers are allocated to teams. Asking questions around collaboration will help you understand how designers from different teams work with each other (often times, decisions made in one team can impact another team, so collaboratively working together is important to ensure positive impact).... See more

Identify if you have a good or bad manager

    • There are 4 key questions to answer: 1. Are they helping you grow your career and skills (both in terms of hard skills and soft skills)? 2. Do they shield you from organizational politics? 3. Are they unblocking political barriers or having you be the spear? 4. If they're responsible for building teams, is there a conscious effort to build a well-rounded team (especially if it's a smaller team)?

    • Identify where you want to be in your career in the long-term and share this with your manager.

      Your manager should be able to identify your core strengths and core weaknesses. Create a plan that identifies the hard skills and soft skills you want to work on, and how you'll work on them. For example, if you want to get better at speaking, sharing that with your manager will allow them to find opportunities for you to present to wider audiences. If you want to learn a certain software or tool, they can identify how. Growing careers and developing direct reports is a pretty core part of being a manager. The best managers aren't complaining about developing the skills of their direct reports. They're actively and enthusiastically helping their people grow, and accurately leveling their direct reports.... See more

    • Identify if your manager shields their direct reports from politics.

      An often overlooked, but equally core part of being a good manager is shielding direct reports from organizational politics. Every organization has them. Even the ones that say they don't. The degree and level of toxicity to which they have them is what differs. Does your manager shield the team from politics?... See more

    • Identify if your manager pushes back on cross-functional peers and stakeholders making unreasonable asks.

      If cross-functional peers are making unreasonable asks, part of where it's helpful to have a good manager is that when you can no longer push back, your manager can. For example, if product managers are making questionable decisions and asks of designers, your manager shouldn't ask you to further escalate the situation (effectively making you the spear). This is where it's helpful to have a good manager that can escalate to the necessary stakeholders so you don't receive any major blowback and so that designers are treated fairly on the team.... See more

    • If your manager is responsible for building a team, is there a balance in staffing and are the skills of the team as a whole well balanced?

      Know what the core skills of your team's functions are, identify the skills you have and the strengths of the entire team, and if there's a core skill that's missing or weak from the overall team, if your manager is responsible for hiring, they'll likely look for that skill in a new candidate so the team is well-rounded. Effectively, the team as a whole should be that "unicorn" designer (sorry. I hate that term too). They'll also be responsible for headcount to ensure direct reports aren't overwhelmed with too many asks, or underwhelmed with not enough work. This is where it's important for you to share with your manager if you have an unreasonable amount of work, or if you're feeling bored.... See more