Wondering how to get noticed among a sea of intern applicants? No matter how much you've worked on your resume or portfolio, you may have hit a wall when trying to stand out. So, to counter the competition, we asked Spotifiers what they did to improve their odds. We spoke to four product designers who succeeded in their Spotify internship application not long ago. Here’s how they used their creativity to their advantage and landed their product design internships.
Can you share a bit about your background in design before the internship? How did you maximize that experience in your application?
Christina: My passion for design started to grow when I was designing film posters for my peers when I was in film school. I developed a love for the intersection of design and music while working as a design intern at an indie music label based in New York City. I decided to pursue design as a career, went to a design grad school, and took on more internships.
In my application to Spotify, I highlighted the different product design skillsets I focused on during each of my internships, such as visual design, product thinking, and design strategy. I also emphasized my passion for tech and music by highlighting the music-related projects I worked on.
“I highlighted the different product design skillsets I focused on during each of my internships, such as visual design, product thinking, and design strategy.”
René: I completed a six-month UX internship in 2020 where I got to establish “ResearchOps”, which involved organizing and optimizing processes, tools, and strategies to support large-scale user research and amplifying its impact across the organization. By the time the Spotify internship started in the summer of 2021, I was graduating from a UX design program at a school called Hyper Island in Sweden. I was also nearing the end of a seven-month-long design internship at a creative agency where I worked with big fashion clients on their digital experiences. My varied past experience meant that I was familiar with different parts of the design process, whether it was coming up with a new design concept for a client, carrying out usability testing with users, or proposing a new business vertical.
What did you do to prepare your personal brand prior to applying?
Ian: I started preparing for my application about four months before applying. The first thing I did was read different resources on design portfolios, resumes and interview preparations. I spent a significant amount of time "cleaning up" and preparing my portfolio. I prioritized quality over quantity by getting rid of projects that didn’t necessarily help my case, and I focused on showcasing who I was as a designer and my ways of working, rather than the end result and shiny mockups. I also made sure that my writing was relevant for each case and touched upon the different phases of the design process.
Secondly, I listed out my strengths, weaknesses, and things that I wanted to learn. Identifying strengths gave me a good understanding of my “superpowers” as well as which part of the design process I felt most excited about. Listing my weaknesses and things I wanted to learn, months before applying, motivated me to improve and gave me sufficient time to do so. As a result, I felt more confident going into the application process. Things I wanted to get better at or learn ranged from building my web portfolio from scratch using HTML/CSS, improving my craft by doing passion projects, and deepening my knowledge of human-centered design and approaches. I didn’t necessarily reach all the goals I had set out to but dedicating time to do so taught me to hold myself accountable for my own learning and progress.
Josefina: The first thing I did was focus on how I wanted to present myself. I made a list of the things I’m good at, my experience and, most importantly, what my interests are. I started creating my portfolio by writing a brief introduction that I could use to present my essence in a few paragraphs. I decided to avoid speaking too much about technicalities, like what tools I knew how to use or courses I had taken (I put those at the end of the document), and I made sure I included my favorite books and hobbies. I believed it was important to show Spotify my own personal relationship with design, so I added a page where I exposed how I feel about what we do (spoiler: design is everything!).
After I had presented myself, it was time to display what I had done in the past by showing a few projects. However, I decided not to show the best projects I had done but to frame my project section based on my interests. I chose three or four interests (storytelling, digital communication, UX, and illustration) and presented a project related to each. By showing what I like, I demonstrated a clear vision of where I wanted to go (and things I still needed to improve on). Since I joined Spotify, I’ve realized that managers look for interesting profiles of people who are original in the way they present themselves: someone who is complex and not afraid of showing their weaknesses. I highly encourage everyone to create a unique portfolio document! It’s not about your projects, it’s about you.
What do you think was most notable or unique about your application?
Christina: I think the most notable thing about my application was how I used different projects to showcase my various skillsets as a product designer. I picked two projects for my portfolio review, one from my past internship that focuses mostly on visual design, and one that has more emphasis on UX and product thinking. During my presentation, I made sure to emphasize the point of each project by being intentional about how I communicated them. For the project that focused more on visual design, I spent time discussing the different design options I brainstormed and why I landed on the final solution based on user needs and business needs. For the project that touched more on UX and product thinking, I talked about how I led the project from end to end by collaborating with user research, product, and engineering.
In order to make my application stand out further, I tailored my application to Spotify by doing two things. First, I incorporated Spotify's branding elements such as font, color palette, and illustration style throughout the design of my presentation. Secondly, I also made connections between my design projects and Spotify's existing products. For example, my first project was around designing subscription emails for certain customers, so in my presentation, I touched on how I would design Spotify's subscription emails.
I believe every product designer has a unique set of skills and point of view and Spotify really values that. Your application will definitely stand out more if you lean into your unique perspective as a designer.
Ian: Something that I think was notable about my application was a drive and willingness to learn. During my interview prep, I noted down things that I didn’t necessarily get to practice during school, things I wanted to learn during the internship, and what I was expecting to get out of the internship. Although I focused on highlighting my strengths and interests, I’ve tried to be open about my growth opportunities during any interview that I’ve had with any company. Doing so felt intimidating, especially in the context of an interview, but I also believe that it can showcase a growth mindset.
The feedback from my Spotify application reflected this: they mentioned that I seemed sincere and eager to learn. Being open about this also prepared me to stick to that honesty when I joined Spotify; when the internship started I told my buddy about one specific area of improvement that I wanted to focus on, which they were able to support me with during the course of the internship.
Ultimately, internships are meant to support you in learning new skills and improving on existing ones. Keep in mind, however, that talking about growth opportunities is not the same thing as stating that you cannot do something. I definitely ended up in situations previously where I did not get an offer because I framed a growth opportunity as a flaw.
Any other tips for a Spotify internship applicant looking to stand out?
Josefina: There are thousands of excellent designers out there but not everyone will use their unique personality to bring something new to the table. My first tip would be to take a deep look at who you are and how you are different from what’s out there. What makes you unique? It can be a hobby that you love, a specific philosophy you often think about — it doesn’t matter, as long as you recognize it as a part of you. Once you have that, translate it into your application. Not only in the descriptions and text but in your entire portfolio. Avoid using A4 white canvases to write your resume; make it fun instead. Have a story to tell and let all the visual elements communicate who you are: colors and fonts, pictures or illustrations, icons, everything. It doesn’t necessarily have to be aesthetically beautiful (you can always improve your graphic design skills later); it has to be authentic. Make them want to get to know you better. Use quotes, tell them about your favorite books, movies, and games. What is it that you love?
Don’t waste your time modifying who you are in order to fit what you perceive Spotify to be. Spotify is a place of diversity, collaboration, and inspiration. You wouldn’t want to invite a hundred clones into your band, would you?
“My first tip would be to take a deep look at who you are and how you are different from what’s out there. What makes you unique?”
René: The design community at Spotify values individuality, a creative sensibility and storytelling. Whether you have an unhealthy obsession with tufting or you’re a stamp collector on the side — whatever makes you tick, show it! Scream it! Embrace it! Make your personality and point of view shine through in your work and application. Oftentimes, it’s what I’ve done on the outside that’s helped me with solving a problem inside at Spotify, and all of us in the design community have very unique and different hobbies that shape us and our design approach. Ultimately, we live by our Band Manifesto so it’s important that you can resonate with it. We all resonate differently so make sure you can demonstrate how our values align with you in a way that is unique to you and your experiences.
Applying for an internship at Spotify isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. (Take it from us, former interns!) Your unique background, experiences, and skills are what differentiates you from the rest — so be clear on how this translates into your next role. Double down on what makes you shine as a designer, and let your creativity do the rest. Lastly, to those aspiring interns, keep pushing yourself! The internship hunt is a nerve-racking process but every opportunity — successful or not — is a chance to improve in the right direction.
From all of us… the best of luck!
Kate, René, Ian, Christina, Josefina, and Ian
Want to join the band? Applications for Spotify’s global summer internships open every late fall/early winter, in multiple locations around the world. Keep an eye out for upcoming opportunities at Students at Spotify.
Kate JungAssociate Product Designer
Kate is a Korean-Canadian designer working on new product innovation. She lives near Toronto, where she can be found café-hopping and taking walks with her dog.Read More
Christina ShiProduct Designer I
Zhenyuan (Christina) is a designer and printmaker who seeks to bring poeticness and playfulness to everything they create. Likes: possums, chess, and boxing.Read More
René SimonssonProduct Designer I
René is deep in social discovery and sharing at Spotify. Outside work, he likes big words, digging into music samples, and visiting Stockholm’s dive bars.Read More
Ian HarryssonJunior Product Designer
Based in Malmö, Sweden, Ian is a part of the team designing in-home-experiences. In his free time, Ian enjoys drinking natural wine, running, and reading.Read More
Josefina GeisseProduct Designer I
From southern Chile, Josefina loves spotting hidden product flows. Outside work, she often leaves reality to stick her head in books with fairies or warlords.Read More