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Insiders reveal how to break through Instagram's competitive interview process and land a job there

  • Facebook-owned Instagram is one of the hardest companies to land interviews and jobs.
  • Former employees and experts shared tips and tricks to nail the interview process.
  • They said referrals play a big role in giving candidates a leg up, as does knowing Instagram and its competitors' features. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Instagram is Facebook's crown jewel.

The photo and video-sharing app has exploded since Facebook acquired it for $1 billion in 2012. It offers perks and benefits like free food and long paid leave programs. Its New York headquarters features a gelato bar, library, and made-for-Instagram backdrops.

The hiring process is also highly competitive. According to LinkedIn data, Instagram has more than 14,000 employees, and while hiring activity can vary widely by time of year, only 80 open roles across 18 teams were publicly posted at the time of this writing — though it should be noted that those may not reflect all openings.

At the time of publication, sales and marketing roles were particularly in demand, with six postings for directors of consumer product marketing up.

Instagram declined to comment or make a recruiting employee available for an interview for this story, but Business Insider spoke with a handful of former employees about what it takes to get through the interview process and land a job at Instagram. The former employees worked in creative, marketing, and community roles for several years. All of the former employees left the company within the past two years.

Having a referral goes a long way at getting a job at Instagram

Instagram uses outside recruitment firms like ProUnlimited along with internal recruiters to find potential hires.

But getting a referral can give candidates a leg up. 25% of more than 6,000 reviewers on Facebook's Glassdoor page said that they got an interview at Instagram from a referral while 29% said they came through recruiters. Another 29% said they got an interview by applying for a job online. To compare, 12% of Amazon interviews came from a referral and 52% of interviews came from applying online, according to Glassdoor.

Getting a job at Instagram requires candidates to "know your networks and do the work," said Taj Alavi, who was Instagram's head of global brand marketing from 2015 to 2018. 

Some candidates have found creative ways to get a hiring manager's attention without a referral. Shelly Xu, a former creative at Instagram and Facebook who is now the founder of fashion brand Shelly Xu Design, wrote a letter to Facebook's chief creative officer about why she was a fit for a creative role and tried to hand deliver it to Instagram's New York office before running into security issues. 

While she didn't get the job, Facebook contacted her two years later about another job that she accepted — and referenced her letter.

"I didn't know anyone at Instagram or Facebook, so I felt like I had to do something that was riskier that would help me stand out," she said.

Christen Nino De Guzman, a former contracted community manager on the marketing team in San Francisco, applied through an agency, which she said helped her get a foot in the door. She was hired as a temporary contractor in 2017 and worked there for two years, initially as a product community manager, and then worked on teen and brand programs. 

Know Instagram's features

Hiring managers look for candidates who understand Instagram's products as well as its competitors like TikTok and Snap. A former Instagram recruiter from 2016-2019 recommended candidates understand the problems the company is facing and come with solutions to those problems. 

Alavi said in applying, she needed to understand how Instagram's young audience uses social media.

"I'm not 25 or 18 anymore — the best marketers can think outside of themselves," she said. "You're not supposed to be an expert but you should be able to connect the dots between the product and audience."

Nino De Guzman said when she applied, Instagram was focused on expanding its resources towards diversity and inclusion, anti-bullying, and safety tools. In the interview, she made sure to bring these up.

"One thing I tried to do is talk about how impactful, as a whole, Facebook and Instagram had been in defining what community is online," she added.

Prepare for rounds of interviews

Candidates go through a series of interviews at Instagram and meet with multiple people, sometimes including the person who currently holds the job.

Pre-pandemic, candidates would usually be invited to an on-site interview on one day, since applicants may be coming from different cities, with three to five interviews scheduled that day, the former Instagram recruiter said.

Two sources said that some candidates are asked to make a small presentation about themselves to show writing and problem-solving skills. Some also said that they were asked to complete an imaginary brief — akin to Facebook's longtime hackathon events where engineers spend days tackling a single problem — using Facebook and Instagram products.

Questions during the interview process can range from asking how someone would solve a problem to how they would work with other departments or how to improve one of Facebook's features.

Most of the questions Instagram asked Nino de Guzman during the interviews were specific to the role she was applying for, such as her experience working with creators. Her entire on-site interview process took about two to three hours, during which she spoke to four to five employees. She was asked standard questions such as why she wants to work at Instagram.

Alavi said she had to show during her Instagram interview how she could hit the ground running.

"This is not a 90-day ramp up job," she said. "They want to know that they're in with someone that they have chemistry with. You need to know that you're in it together because you have a lot to accomplish."

Andy Challenger, SVP at recruiting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said that tech companies like Instagram will often ask questions based on something the company is currently working on. The purpose is to see how candidates respond to questions that they likely had not rehearsed answers for beforehand. 

"They don't want new hires that can figure out the questions in advance," he said. "It's not always about getting to a correct answer — they're just looking to see how you approach a difficult question and how you solve it."

Here are some examples of typical interview questions, according to Facebook's Glassdoor page:

  • What is your favorite Facebook product? How would you improve it?
  • [I was] given a hypothetical product, asked to define the target market, identifying needs, [and] mission of the product.
  • If you were the product manager for Facebook Marketplace, how would you define success?  
  • Describe a situation where you had to deal with conflict. 
  • How would you diagnose a 15% drop in engagement on Instagram?

Be open to other opportunities

Former employees recommend that candidates apply for any position that they are interested in — even if they don't meet all the qualifications.

Hiring managers are interested in seeing how candidates creatively solve problems and are passionate about working at Instagram. In some cases, Instagram will even tweak roles for specific candidates, said Alavi.

"What I was really applying for was to be at Instagram," she said. "The skill sets I had made it a bigger role than the one I was interviewing for. The lesson is: go after what you love to do — not the title."

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