From the application process and interview to the company culture and work-life balance, here's everything you need to know about landing a job at TikTok.
One look at TikTok’s staggering user base (over one billion monthly active users) and its power to shape pop culture, and it’s easy to forget that the Chinese-owned company is still a startup. Founded in 2016, TikTok is a video-focused social networking platform owned by multinational internet company ByteDance. In 2020, TikTok poached Disney’s former head of streaming services Kevin Mayer to serve as its new CEO.
With a user base surpassing that of Twitter, Telegram, Reddit, Pinterest and Snapchat, TikTok was the most downloaded non-game app in the first six months of 2021, hitting 383 million installs from January to June alone. It even boasts the most engagement of any social media app, with an average session length of 10.85 minutes, far outstripping Instagram’s 2.95 minutes. TikTok maintains a separate app for the Chinese market known as Douyin, which has over 300 million monthly active users.
Little wonder, then, that TikTok is in the midst of a hiring frenzy. TikTok tripled its US headcount in 2020 despite then-president Donald Trump threatening to ban the social media network after billing it a national security threat. Half of TikTok’s software engineers are based in California. The company is offering six-figure salaries to some of its new hires, according to a Business Insider review of US work-visa disclosure data released by the US Office of Foreign Labor Certification.
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Full-time opportunities for fresh graduates:
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The application process varies depending on whether the role is technical or non-technical.
"You're not looking at a candidate's school and making a decision on interviewing them based on that alone," Lauren Flaus, TikTok’s university recruiting lead for the Americas, told Business Insider. "You're trying to open up the candidate pool a bit wider."
Applying to a job at TikTok using a TikTok video is unusual, but not entirely unorthodox. According to Business Insider, one applicant, Jenna Palek, applied for a sales planner position through the company’s standard job portal and then posted a video on TikTok highlighting her professional background and interest in the role. Her video ended up on the "For You" page—the app's content discovery section—of a TikTok HR employee in Chicago, and the employee sent the video over to the recruiting team and eventually the hiring manager at TikTok's Austin office where Palek had applied. If you’re feeling inspired to go above and beyond, here’s an example of a TikTok resume.
While the focus of the interview is on skills and experience, applicants should be prepared to talk about cultural trends on TikTok.
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The interview process varies between teams and technical vs. non-technical roles. Usually, you can expect:
Considering that TikTok is a high-growth startup, the interview process is purportedly disorganized, and interviewers don’t always communicate with each other, so you may find yourself repeating information.
Due to the hiring spree at TikTok, recruiters are extremely busy and may not have had time to review your resume before the interview, so always give a thorough rundown of your professional history, interview coach Dan Croitor advised in a YouTube video.
TikTok uses its own list of company values dubbed “ByteStyle” to screen for certain qualities when hiring. Passion for the TikTok product is essential:
“We’re looking for people to grow with the company, so someone who can talk about their favorite parts of the product, the ins and outs, what they would change if they were given the opportunity,” said Kate Barney, TikTok’s head of HR in the Americas.
After each interview round, TikTok gathers feedback from the interviewers to determine the next steps.
TikTok hosts three interview rounds for all software engineering seniorities—a coding interview, a behavioral interview, and a hiring manager interview—and the final round is the same for all candidates.
According to the ByteDance website, “We want to understand your coding, algorithm, and design skills (including tools, programming languages, and technologies specific to your team).” The company encourages technical candidates to practice coding questions on HackerRank and Nowcoder.
“We have noticed that strong candidates tend to ask relevant questions before writing the code, diagram the problem, validate their assumptions, and check their work constantly without being prompted. While solving a problem, pay keen attention to the efficiency of your solution to make sure it's not unnecessarily complicated.” - ByteDance
Tip: Use your recruiter as a resource
In large companies like TikTok, recruiting and HR are separate functions. Recruiters source candidates and schedule interviews to build new teams, while HR oversees compensation, retention, and benefits for current employees.
Recruiters at TikTok advocate for their candidates and help them prepare for the interview process, Farah Sharghi-Dolatabadi, global talent acquisition partner at TikTok, said in an interview on The Final Round podcast. She advised engineering candidates to practice a minimum of 25-30 hard questions on Leetcode.
While coding challenge questions rarely have a single right answer, candidates should select the most optimal response given the constraints of the interview environment.
“The best answer might be a very complicated solution that you don’t have time to code, which makes it not the best option for an interview,” said Sharghi-Dolatabadi. “The optimal answer is the middle ground because it will solve the problem—not as elegantly but in the time constraints that you have, it will get the job done. So when you give the answer to the interview, you explain the tradeoffs.”
She also advised candidates to use behavioral interview questions as an opportunity to explain how you rebounded from a failure or repaired a professional relationship. So don’t get hung up if you must discuss a personal weakness or prior failure as long as you can demonstrate what you learned from it.
“With behavioral questions, you’re not being judged by your past performance,” she said. “You are being assessed on your ability to perform in the future.”
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Culture at TikTok is defined by the five tenets of "ByteStyle" descended from parent company ByteDance:
Although TikTok is no longer a startup due to its massive scale, they still want entrepreneurial people with an ownership mindset. “This means that we move with speed, we're not afraid to try new things, and we believe everyone is a valuable contributor,” TikTok wrote in a post on Facebook in 2018.
👉 Read more about TikTok's culture: TikTok: A Look Into the Culture and Practices of the Newest Social Media Disruptor
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ByteDance recently implemented new rules to discourage “996 culture”—a practice used by some companies in China that requires employees to work 9am-9pm six days a week, equating to a 72-hour work week. Employees have been told they should not work beyond 7pm and should seek permission in advance to stay beyond that time.
The new policy sets work hours as 10am-7pm five days a week. There are protected meeting blocks where meetings are banned on Wednesday lunchtimes and no meetings on Friday afternoons.
In a bid to improve workplace culture, TikTok hired Michal Osman from Facebook as its head of culture in Europe in January. Employee reviews on Glassdoor mention growing pains associated with being a startup, such as a lack of structure or well-defined processes, plus changing priorities.
One employee remarked that there was a lack of a genuine company culture. “The experience of working here often feels like someone studied FAANG for an afternoon and created a poor replica of what was already a problematic blueprint.”
In fact, ‘Always Day 1,’ one of the main tenets of ByteStyles, was coined by Jeff Bezos. Commentators have also observed that TikTok’s culture was cobbled together in a short time, compared to Netflix’s culture deck, which took 10 years to write.
There are no org charts, and while this is “positioned as some sort of rebellion against hierarchy” it creates difficulties.
“It’s very hard to find out who owns a process, tool, or project unless you happen to know someone who knows someone who’s working on it,” said one employee.
Additionally, product teams are based in China, so Europe and US-based teams have no input into the product roadmap.
“Major product updates are released with no warning and no proper marketing materials or training,” said another employee.
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Employees are rewarded for exhibiting ByteStyles—Bytedance’s culture values. Slogans like ‘Always Day 1’ and ‘Aim for the Highest’ found on company presentations, internal emails and even employee backpacks.
But the “That’s not ByteStyles!” rebuke can also be used as a catch-all to subjectively reprimand undesirable behavior. Some employees have complained that the ByteStyles tenets are overly vague, making them hard to follow.
Like many companies, ByteDance has adopted OKRs rather than KPIs as a way of measuring employee performance. Promotions are increasingly hard to come by for newer employees compared with those who joined the company at an earlier stage.
In a high-growth startup, employees are promoted very quickly, but this speed of promotions can’t be sustained in the long-term, forcing employees who join the company later to wait longer for promotions. New employees are still offered competitive salaries, but their career growth may be stunted as they are relegated to responsibilities below their pay grade.
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