10 Best Practices for Recruiting Designers

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Lately I’ve been hearing how it’s a UXer’s market right now — seasoned Interaction Designers and User Researchers are in hot demand and talented candidates are few and far between.  You would think that if anyone should get what user experience is all about, it would be the people in the know who are also looking to hire.  Aren’t candidates then your users?  And what better place to put good experience to practice than during the hiring process?  

Having been on both sides of the hiring equation, I have compiled a list of things I’ve learned about finding and recruiting good User Experience Designers, some of which I hope challenge common assumptions.


1. Honor your commitments.  

In this age of Skype and phone interviews, it makes it so easy to let something else take precedence over that interview slot.  Do not bail on the interviewee at the last minute. Or worse, pull a no-show leaving your candidate wondering what the #$!@ happened.  It’s amazing how many HR professionals and hiring managers do this without so much as an apology. Resist these urges to flake-and-ditch unless it’s a true emergency situation. 

Empathize with your candidates.  From their perspective, this impolite gesture communicates that you believe their time has no value and that they are a disposable commodity.  Furthermore, if the interviewing stage is the honeymoon phase of the whole relationship, a candidate is going to wonder if it will even be worse if s/he works at your organization–if you’re too busy for them now, will you definitely be too busy to care later?


2. Be on time.

As an axiom to the above, be on time (really, does that go without saying?).  Simply put, being there at the agreed upon time/date is respectful and professional.  It also says that the role (and person) is as important as a client.  


3. Get back to your short-listed candidates no matter what.

If you say you will get back to the candidate, do it even if it’s bad news.  I know no one likes being the bearer of bad news but trust me, for a candidate it’s much better than being left dangling in some sort of interview purgatory.  

And even though it’s not really the way things are done, I believe providing some short feedback is extremely valued by the candidate.  Leaving them with a good last impression could mean that your name will get circulated among their networks.  You never know who they might know – maybe it will be someone who’s a perfect fit for your company in the near future.  Or maybe a few years later they will have gained the experience and re-apply.

An anecdote to illustrate this:  Once upon a time, I interviewed at Cooper but wasn’t chosen.  The Director I had been in contact with told me why he had hesitated with my application.  And you know what? I really, truly appreciated his honesty.  To this day, despite the fact I didn’t land there, I harbor good feelings toward them and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that a friend or colleague look into careers there.


4. Ask about the process rather than demanding the money shots.

The journey is the destination etc etc.  It’s a cliche but there’s certainly some sense in it when it comes to a portfolio.  So many times there’s such a fixation on seeing the polished comps or a live site/application.  But you know what? White lies about the comps and mock-ups are incredibly easy to weave.  To really get at the heart of the work, you have to understand how a designer gets from Point A (utter chaos) to Point B (refined design).  This is a conversation.  No single sexy screenshot, UI or even wireframe is ever going to tell you this.

Besides, as anyone who has ever worked in a less-than-mature design organization knows, some of the best and most thoughtful work never makes it to the polished UI stage. 


5. Be open to different backgrounds.

I truly believe that a good user experience designer can transfer their skills to any medium or industry. Desktop to mobile? Media to software? Web to product?  Sure it takes a bit of mental shifting, but it’s all doable.  

It’s easy to soak up industry information, different conventions, and hardware specs and constraints.  It’s much less easy to teach someone how to figure out what’s the real problem to focus on and solve; what questions to ask of stakeholders (and when); how to translate user feedback into iterative design; and how to gracefully accept feedback from team members.

By eliminating those candidates who don’t already have deep experience in your particular industry or niche, you could be overlooking some truly gifted designers who could easily make the leap.


6. Innie or outtie – it’s not so different.

Agencies always want agency experience, and product companies always want product experience.  At the end of the day, no matter if you’re internal or external, designers have clients and stakeholders they need to pitch ideas to, solicit feedback from and generally keep happy.  Unless a designer is expected to generate leads and participate in business development, I just don’t see such a big chasm here.


7. Deep experience isn’t everything.

As a corollary to #5 & #6, I know that seeing years of domain experience is reassuring.  But it’s no guarantee.  Some of the best designers I’ve worked with came straight out of school or only had a year or two of “real” experience.  This is where knowing what skills sets you’re really after and (hint, hint) then having a deep conversation with your candidates comes in handy.  If you can understand how a designer thinks, how they structure their work and solve problems, then you should be able to gauge whether or not they will fit your needs and organization.  Is it imperative that they’ve worked on five years worth of similar projects and if so, what does that five years really get you?

Still a bit on the fence? See if there’s a way to work out a trial – by contract, paid internship or even a design challenge.


8. Extroversion isn’t everything either.

I’ve made this mistake before and I suspect it’s not uncommon–choosing the candidate who puts on a good show.  These are the ones who are suave, polished and wonderful conversationalists.  When contrasted to the designer who is more reserved and introverted, sometimes it just seems like there is no comparison. But so much of design is about observing and listening.  It’s important to consider those facets and evaluate if your candidate — introvert or extrovert — possesses these critical skills as well.  

Yes, a lot of design is about communication.  But it’s not necessarily verbal communication. Design is often a reflective activity and being introverted should not be a ding against someone.  Now I’m not saying to hire inarticulate candidates who are unable to explain their work or communicate ideas, I’m just saying that a designer needn’t have an extroverted or sales-y personality.


9. “Passion” is overrated.

Okay, it’s a bit of a hyperbole. But we live in an age where every employee is expected to be “passionate” about their work.  This seems to be code for all-consuming.  I don’t believe one needs to be immersed in user experience design 24/7 — blogging, going to related meetups on weekends, beefing up their portfolio in every spare moment — to enjoy crafting exceptionally good product experiences.  In fact, I think it’s healthy for people to have other interests.  You never know where your next source of inspiration may come.  And amazingly, it may not be digital.


10. Common Sense is underrated.

This probably makes me sound like my mom, but common sense (and critical thinking) sometimes seems to be near-mythical. There are days when I would gladly surrender all of those super-creative ideas just to have someone on my team that I could trust to do (and ask) the right thing.  You know the type: throw them into any situation and they will emerge with some sort of sound and logical plan whether it’s quickly throwing together a proposal; negotiating with some naysayer on a team; asking “why” to assumptions; or quickly sketching up some no-nonsense idea to end the debate for once and for all.

And if you don’t have the luxury of having some project manager type involved on every project, then having a designer with common sense, decent critical thinking chops and above-average organizational skills is going to be extremely valuable.  

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