Jill Nussbaum: How To Hire The Best Design Talent

Jill Nussbaum: How To Hire The Best Design Talent

Tried and true ways to woo, vet and inspire today's young creatives.

Jill Nussbaum, The Barbarian Group
  • 5 may 2013

As design becomes more important in nearly every industry, recruiting great designers is becoming increasingly tough. Establishing the process behind hiring and vetting candidates is critical.

Getting the right candidates in the door can be half the battle. Interviewers should not underestimate how time-consuming this process can be, particularly if the candidate is meeting multiple people within your organization. Every minute is valuable, and you don’t want to spend time with a candidate who doesn’t fit your company’s pace, culture and background.

So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Most designers have an online portfolio. If not, then ask for some work samples. If you’re not a designer yourself, a few easy ways to judge the work is by considering style, content and professional background. Look for examples of a visual style that’s similar to your brand or the brands that your work for. Experience in relevant subject matter or business sectors is also helpful. And don’t underestimate culture; it’s always important to consider where the candidate has worked previously. If you work at an agency, does the candidate have agency experience? Can he or she keep pace with the pace of a startup?

Once your candidate has been vetted, they should be met with at least three times before making an offer. The first interview should be focused on simply getting to know each other. Spend time looking at the candidate’s portfolio or resume, and ask them about their process to gain insight into how they approach work (and how well they will work with you). The interview process is not unlike dating, so also be prepared to answer questions about yourself and your organization — details on the role, a typical day, company structure, where you see the industry going. In highly competitive markets, your candidate will be interviewing you as well.

The second interview is an opportunity to dig deeper into a certain aspects of the candidates work, process, and problem-solving abilities. Many interviewers ask candidates to complete a creative or design exercise. Often the candidate will be tasked with solving an imaginary problem similar to a typical client request. This can be a good way to judge aptitude, especially if the candidate doesn’t have much experience in the area in which you are hiring.

Looking for a creative problem-solver? Issue a meaty design challenge like rethinking online education. Need a hot shit branding designer? Have them design a few posters for an imaginary product. Hoping to find a detail-oriented interface designer? Ask to see a redesign of a popular interface like iTunes. This also serves to weed out the casual candidates or those who are just fishing for a competitive offer.

The third interview is an opportunity to introduce your candidate to more of your colleagues. This helps to ensure that you and your co-workers, as well as the the candidate, feel they will be successful both professionally and socially at your organization.

If all goes well you will be at the offer stage, but your job isn’t done yet. There are often many reasons that an offer won’t be accepted. Your perfect candidate might receive a more lucrative opportunity, they may get cold feet, or they may have just been using your offer to negotiate a higher salary at their current gig. It is important to stay on top of the process to insure that the prospect you want gets placed.

If your desired candidate accepts, then email him or her immediately with your congratulations. On their first day, make them feel welcome and introduce them to as many people as you can. Spend some one-on-one time over lunch or coffee to catch up on any questions they may have and to provide any “insider” tips on where to find good takeout or who to ask for office supplies. Anything you can do to help make your new employee feel part of the team and company culture will help kickstart their success.

The most crucial element of successful hiring is to not simply trust your gut or make a decision based on other people’s recommendations. Much like the rest of your job, you’ve got to put the work in for it to work out.

Jill Nussbaum is Executive Director of Product and Interaction Design at creative agency The Barbarian Group. She works with TBG’s clients to develop long-term product strategies and experiences while overseeing the Interaction Design group.


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