What's your process for hiring designers?

over 3 years ago from , Lead Designer

Do you have a set process in place and what does it look like? What are the different steps of the interview process?

How do you keep track of all your applicants? Through HR software, or is there another design tool that you use?

I'm putting together a hiring plan for my company right now, and I'm curious how everyone plans out the job requirements, interview process, and candidate selection.


  • Josiah DJosiah D, over 3 years ago

    Job requirements: we look at historical requirements for the position and then meet as a team to discuss what this person will be working on

    Software: We're at the mercy of HR and have to use their portal. It's really clunky, but it gets the job done. Depending on the position and who's involved, we will sometimes move over to a collaborative Google Sheet to keep track of things and take notes.

    Process: We require a portfolio to be submitted with the application. If someone doesn't submit a portfolio, they're cut immediately.

    We then go through portfolios and label people as 'not a good fit' or a couple degrees of possibility. We also note if someone might look like they're over-qualified for the job. Our goal here is to wind up with about 10-15 people to do phone interviews with.

    Phone interviews give us a chance to ask them some general questions and anything general we're curious about. This will hopefully leave us with 4-5 people to bring in for in-person interviews.

    From there, we debate who we want to bring on and extend an offer.

    Note: I'm adamant (although have often been overruled) about not giving people a "design test" or project to do. I'm a believer that you should be able to gauge someone's skill and flexibility as a designer from their portfolio, although I know this can sometimes be tricky. Asking someone (who is potentially a freelancer) to do a project is lame when we're willing to offer no pay and no feedback. If you feel like a test is required, I would advocate for paying them for their time and extending the offer to give them a short review session if they'd like that.

    10 points
    • , over 3 years ago

      Thanks for the response! Completely agree about asking for design tests/projects. Viewing their work, hearing their process and how they think about design should be enough to make a decision. Do you think a short in-person whiteboarding session is valuable?

      2 points
      • Josiah DJosiah D, over 3 years ago

        I think it depends on if it's applicable to the job. If it's a short exercise that isn't an actual project for the team (meaning you'd be getting work for free), it would be ok imo. Gives you a chance to see their thinking process and how they'd interact with the team.

        I've heard of people doing in-person exercises and it turned out the company was just using interviews to get free design work done. So shady!

        0 points
    • Rakesh KRakesh K, over 3 years ago

      Kudos to you for taking this stance about 'design test' from the hiring side. As a person on the other side I go a step further and refuse to do even paid design tests. From the FAQ section of my portfolio website:

      Will you do a paid test job?

      I completely understand you’d be comfortable if you could see my design for a small portion of your app/website before engaging with me for the full project. Also, by this way, both of us can get a feel for our way of working and communication. However, I find it difficult to justify the effort I put into a test job. Designing a small section of your product may look like a small task but when we take into account the time required for research, planning, brainstorming, sketching out ideas, analyzing them, establishing a visual style, etc., it becomes a biggish project (in case you think I don’t have to do all these steps and just ‘design’ that section then it becomes beautifying, not designing).

      A test project of size, say, 1/25th of the full project usually requires a lot more than 1/25th of the effort required to complete the full project. So, my fee would be most certainly higher than what you think it’d be for the 1/25th part. So, after I size up the work and send you an estimate most likely it’ll be turned down :-) Even if you’re ready to pay what I ask, there is always the possibility of not getting to work on the full project, in which case I’d hate to see my effort go waste. For this reason I never take up test projects.

      Alternatively, you can go through the case studies of my previous projects to get an idea of how I work and read my previous clients’ testimonials to get an idea of how it was to work with me; you can also talk to some of my previous clients if you feel so. I’ve never had an unhappy client and most of the work I get is from repeat clients.

      2 points
      • Josiah DJosiah D, over 3 years ago

        That's great! Yeah it's definitely a tricky issue. I think it depends on the scenario for me? I could see a difference between designing 1/25th of a project and mocking up a couple web ads, for example.

        I hope more designers take a stance on this end of the spectrum though! It would (hopefully) help put the brakes on using this in the hiring process.

        1 point
    • Ahmed Sulaiman, over 3 years ago

      If you feel like a test is required, I would advocate for paying them for their time and extending the offer to give them a short review session if they'd like that.

      Review session can be super useful, especially if it's about interviewing junior designer.

      -1 points
      • Josiah DJosiah D, over 3 years ago

        Yeah, I've not done that in one of my hiring processes. In my mind it's more of an appropriate courtesy from the hiring company. Handing in a project and simply being rejected isn't how design works.

        0 points
    • Ryan Hicks, over 3 years ago

      Very similar process as mine.

      1 point
  • Emir BukvaEmir Bukva, over 3 years ago

    If you have or can get access to any ATS (applicant tracking system), use it! Even if it’s the clunkiest piece of software, as long as it can recognize candidates that have applied before, let you keep notes related to their application, and have some way to change its status, it will save you time and confusion and help prevent applicants falling through the cracks.

    If you cannot afford access to any ATS, Trello has worked amazingly well for me on a few occasions as a make-shift, poor man’s solution. I set up all incoming email to forward to a column called "New". Then I had series of other columns reflecting the status of the application, each card moving from left to right based on the status:

    • Confirmed Receipt
    • Reviewed
    • Reviewed and responded (no match)
    • To interview (1st round)
    • To interview (2nd round)
    • Hired
    • Closed
    • Offering services
    • Junk email

    In addition to notes, I would put any correspondence to the applicant as a comment in the card.

    With the job description, get input on it from several non-designers (assuming an in-house context here). People the hire will work most closely with are great for that. Sweat the job description. Examine and re-examine every line. I personally like the intro/mission/vision section to be aspirational and idealistic and the requirements section to be written with a clinical dryness and accuracy of an attorney. "Significant design experience" is a bad requirement because what significant means can be so subjective. "3 or more years of experience designing digital products" is better. "3 or more years of full-time experience designing consumer web or mobile applications" is even better. If you are ever in the position to sponsor an applicant for a work visa, you will discover that the first example will be a non-starter. Even if you are not, objectively written requirements help everyone! Unambiguous requirements make it easier to involve other teammates in initial screening of applications. Leads me to a related point: If you know for sure that you are not in the position to seek work authorization on behalf of someone who needs it, You might want to note that in the description and save everyone a bit of time. Be aggressive about reducing the amount of requirements to make them more meaningful. IMHO, most JDs have too many items that aren't real requirements. Do you really need to require a certain degree for example? Would you hire an designer with an amazing portfolio and substantial amount of professional experience despite them leaving college in their senior year? Make the requirements reflect that. Are you open to partnering with recruiters to fill the role? If you are not, put a footnote at the end. You will hear from them anyways, but it might help reduce the volume.

    Treat applications like milk inventory in a grocery store.

    Regarding correspondence with applicants, be as generous, respectful, and helpful as you can. You may have discovered that the bar is kind of low out there. I have personally experienced all kinds of interactions that left me sad. E.g. black-hole treatment after up to 4 rounds of interviews, being told "We have gone with a different candidate" when in fact their search continues, not getting any confirmations from multiple channels despite the same job being actively posted to additional channels at that same time, etc. For example, for people whom we’ve interviewed and those referred to me by someone I know, I’ve always let them know why the role is not a god fit over the phone. Without exception, they met me with appreciation and it left a positive impression. My stretch goal as a hiring manager is to give every legitimate applicant personalized feedback (I have succeeded int hat goal about 60+% of the time so far). Something that can help them in their search going forward. I tried to add one sentence to a rejection letter template that states what their portfolio should have if they were interested in roles similar to one they applied to. Or pointed to kinds of roles they might be a better fit for if the issue is not quality. Many applicants are starved for feedback. This can be incredibly time consuming but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at being super efficient at it and related tricks like creating templated snippets of text for applicants that share similar portfolios and gaps. (see https://www.lever.co/blog/how-to-write-human-rejection-letters). Applicants really, really appreciate this.

    When making post-interview decisions with the team, be clear that you are getting their feedback because you want to know how they feel but ultimately you’re the one making a hiring decision. Look up fist of five polling - it can be a helpful technique. Prefer getting the feedback individually from teammates (Google Forms are great) before you meet as a group because group think and influence is hard to control in a group setting. Collect feedback as close as possible to the interviews. People forget things.

    Best of luck!

    UPDATE: Forgot to mention this: http://gender-decoder.katmatfield.com (Other tools like Textio can also help identify gender bias in writing)

    4 points
  • Shekhar Gurav, over 3 years ago

    This article by folks at Figma might help: https://medium.com/@nlevin/how-we-built-the-figma-design-team-b997243c91ac

    4 points
  • Andrew C, over 3 years ago

    I know there are predatory companies out there, but wholesale dismissal of providing a work sample by designers comes across as special treatment to the other positions on a team. PMs do teardowns, and engineers do coding exercises when applying for good jobs. Designers should provide proof, too.

    If you worry about the project being asked of you I suggest bringing it up and proposing an alt. How the company responds will tell you everything you need to know about working there.

    This approach generally works better than the alternatives, too. Intelligence, work history, work ethic, and attitude are indicators of success for a candidate. A small exercise is a good proxy for some of these and collects facts about a candidate. Great for building teams based on behaviour and not opinion or magic questions.

    1 point
  • Ollie BarkerOllie Barker, over 3 years ago

    Maybe this isn't necessarily the place to discuss this, but what do people think about the often long-winded processes required for designers interviewing for companies?

    Often if a design task is required it can require 10s of hours of your own time (paid or unpaid). Unless the time estimate associated with the task is perfectly accurate I feel it quickly makes applicants doubt their own ability and also makes it a nightmare to figure out when they should stop and actually hit submit.

    As someone who has quite a busy schedule this has always put me off applying for roles in the past. It also means I struggle to build a 'competitive' portfolio to accurately reflect my skills.

    It's also worth noting that asking an interviewee to work on part of the companies product as a task is a horrible way to go. Their knowledge and resources will be so limited the work is never going to accurately reflect what they could do if they were employed.

    1 point
  • Peyton Goen, over 3 years ago

    Super interesting thread. I'm with a team building a platform to connect artists with those who hire artists (www.folyoz.net), and think it's really interesting how to balance hiring procedures and standards, with discovering talent, creativity, and fit.

    Thanks for posting!

    0 points
  • Paul BestPaul Best, over 3 years ago

    We give folks a 'design challenge' -- its a great equalizer to see each candidate prep a comp and then present it based on the same brief/design direction.

    See here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1HZeqr4BbYWH3Yw4xpNcaw3YDx6sBYotI/view

    0 points
  • Karol StefańskiKarol Stefański, over 3 years ago

    We use an ATS saas for the recruitment process. Actually, we use our own, as I work in Recruitee. Sorry for a shameless plug, but having a visual pipeline for your candidates is really helpful. It's like a kanban board split into stages of your process, so you can see people who applied, people who you've sourced, the ones that you've talked to, the ones that got an offer, stuff like that.

    Just remember to be kind enough to inform the candidates that you're turning them down, so they don't wait infinitely long for a response. Unfortunately this ain't a standard yet.

    -2 points