5 Tips to Help You Hire the Right Designer the First Time

Good talent is hard to find. It’s gotten harder as the years have gone on, as the economy has improved, and as the job market has exploded. All the best designers are taken, and unless you’re looking strictly for junior talent, you have to be able to entice people away from current positions with something your company has to offer.

Not long ago, we gave you some tips for jazzing up (or paring down) your job description to attract the kind of talent you’re targeting. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, but you find that you’re struggling to bring in the right kind of resumes for your open positions, definitely start there. But if you’ve already read through that, or if you’re only looking for tips on screening candidates, read on!

1) Use recruiters…but have a heavy hand in the process.

I have heard from a couple of agency owners recently that recruiters only have talent from the bottom of the barrel ­­if a candidate has to use a recruiter to find a job in this market, they must not be that good.


As the market improves, recruiters will have the kind of access to passive candidates that you just don’t. They’re on the phone and emailing candidates all day, every day, who are currently employed and will never see your job opening online, no matter how good it looks. If they’re not looking for a new job…why would they be looking at your ad? The only candidates looking at your ad are active candidates ­­people who are trying to get out of their current positions. It can be a great pool, but it’s not the only one you’ll want to check out.

Recruiters have access to passive candidates: people who aren’t currently actively looking, but could be seduced into another position if it were the right fit. Blank% of people in the workforce would leave their current jobs for a new opportunity ­­no matter how happy they are in their current opportunity ­­if the new opportunity seemed like an even better fit, or a better option for advancing their careers. Who knows about matching these people and their ideal fit to your ideal job? Recruiters.

But don’t just hand off a job opportunity to a staffing firm and leave them to their own devices. First, pick a niche­-specific firm–­­ a firm that has extensive experience in filling the role you’re looking to hire. Give them extremely specific parameters, what you like, and what you don’t like.Help improve upon their search by giving very specific feedback on candidates you’ve seen and liked or didn’t like: it will help them retarget as necessary. Agree to a quick timeline ­­the best candidates are moving off the market, and fast ­­if you take even four weeks for interviews, you risk losing your top opportunity to the competition. Give the recruiter a timeframe in which you want to see resumes, interview candidates, and make a decision…and then stick to it. Communicate clearly, and communicate often. The only way staffing firms will work well for you is if you are involved in the process as an invested partner.

2) Reach out to your trusted community.

Don’t have money for a staffing firm? Your internal recruiter or HR person bogged down? Want to open up your search even further? Send out some LinkedIn messages to other professionals in your community. The messages don’t need to be too detailed­­ just indicate what role you’re looking to fill, what the salary range looks like, your top 3 mandatory skills for this role, and a big perk about working for your company. Then end the message by asking who they know: friends, colleagues who might be looking, former colleagues, or even applicants to their own company who might have been really great, but just weren’t the best fit. It may shock you how many referrals you receive–­­people enjoy being able to help other people in the hiring arena, both you as an employer, and their referral as a potential employee.

The nice part about getting referrals for candidates is that you get honest, straightforward feedback about their background and story…information you can’t glean from a resume. Remember that resumes only tell part of someone’s story: their contacts can tell you the rest of the important parts.

3) How good is your design candidate at telling a story through their design?

Okay, now you’ve got your candidate, and they’re in your hot seat. Evaluating them further obviously means taking a good, long look at their previous work and portfolio. But don’t be fooled by high-­profile clients or really beautiful and intricate design. Trends in design have been consistently moving toward minimalism, and classic, clean looks…but even more importantly, toward complete, clear, and thorough storytelling.

The nice thing about focusing on a designer’s ability to tell a story is that you can evaluate that ability even through spec work in their portfolios. If a designer has the ability to tell a good story, it shouldn’t matter if their client includes PetSmart or a just a local, mom-­and-­pop dog grooming service–­­ the skill of clear communication through visuals is a talent you should want on your team.

4) How do they spend their free time?

This is a question that plenty of employers ask, but very few actually give credence to the answers they get. The prevailing idea for so long was that it didn’t matter what someone did in their free time, as long as they were good at their job once they got to the office. But creative professionals are a different breed– ­­if your designer clocks out immediately to head up to the mountains or out to the ocean, and never creates in his or free time…how much original thought will happen from them just because they’re in the office?

Your ideal design candidate will hopefully be passionate, about…well…design. Whether that comes through in their personal pet projects, blogs they read, designers they love and follow, or simply what they are inspired by, that passion should be evident. Maybe your candidate does ski or surf every weekend– ­­that might be a problem, or it could be something that inspires them in their work as well. Dig a little to see where their passion shows up in other areas of their lives. No one calls something a passion that they keep compartmentalized in just one area of their lives; if it’s passion, it seeps into the rest of the day -to-­day as well.

5) Talent vs. cultural fit

This is always the tricky one. What happens when your most talented candidate also seems a little difficult? What happens if the candidate who would best fit with your team is also not the most talented? Who do you choose?

There are plenty of companies who will take talent over fit every day. They want the best, and they will deal with personality issues as long as they have the best and the brightest creating for them day in and day out. That sounds like a terrible environment to work in.

Put simply, just because you have a team of the 10 best designers in the country, it does not mean they will turn out the best work in the country…especially if they can’t get along and don’t work as a team. Conversely, a team of 10 good designers who work well together can turn out award­ winning design, simply because they know how to communicate, compound on one another’s ideas, and want to contribute to the team so that the end design is the focus, and not glorification of any individual designer. You have better odds of creating a positive and healthy work environment, and thus turning out better work, when you choose people who fit well together culturally.

Hiring these days can be a tough game. Don’t get stuck spending too much time and money making bad hires for your creative team­­– the investment of both is so important that you want–­or–need­­ to get it right the first time. Use these tips to streamline your process and increase your chances of the right hire the first time!


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