Hiring a designer! Lessons learned and changes for next time.

Hiring a designer! Lessons learned and changes for next time.

Hiring talent is an exciting adventure and, at the same time, a tremendous journey!

Through my experience as a designer and hiring manager, I’ve come to understand the stress and challenges involved in the hiring process. It’s a critical step for both the talent and the organization and requires careful consideration from all parties involved. In my experience, deciding which talent best fits the team is the most difficult part. This decision is a combination of gut feelings and facts. I feel more comfortable analysing the facts rather than trusting my gut feelings.

Hiring the wrong people is the fastest way to undermine a sustainable business.

Kevin J. Donaldson

Nowadays, in the digital industry, and especially in the Swiss market, skilled individuals must emphasise their abilities and credentials to stand out. Likewise, organisations must showcase their strengths to entice top talent to take their next career step.

To ensure a successful hiring process for both parties, I rely on a three-step approach that can be effective. The focus is on seizing opportunities and minimizing risk to match the right talent for the job and create a positive outcome for all involved.

Step #1, the screening

As a responsible hiring manager, it’s essential to approach the application screening process with both caution and optimism. To maintain consistency and gain a thorough understanding of candidates, I’ve developed a checklist for reviewing the applications. This way, I try to make informed decisions and select the best candidates for our team:

  • Location: It is my rule to prioritize job candidates who are eligible to work in the country where the job is located. This may appear unfair, but adhering to local laws and regulations is crucial. Moreover, securing a work permit in certain countries can be complex.
  • Cover Letter: I always prioritise candidates who present a cover letter. In my experience, I have found that a candidate’s Cover Letter holds more weight than their CV. It showcases their communication skills and highlights their drive to differentiate themselves from other applicants. Crafting a well-written and compelling Cover Letter can set a candidate apart from the competition, which has always impressed me.
  • Curriculum Vitae, I find it helpful when a Curriculum Vitae is kept concise and focused, allowing me to identify the candidate’s essential skills and qualifications easily. A one-page summary of their career is ideal and enables me to scan and assess their potential fit for the role quickly.

Lessons learned and changes for next time

  • Location, during the hiring process, some candidates provide inaccurate locations, which can be a waste of time and provide no value. In the next hiring process, I will clarify that accurate location information is necessary.
  • Cover letter, I’ve noticed that cover letters sometimes don’t align with the job description. While I understand it can be a hassle to customize each cover letter, I want to emphasize that candidates who take the time to tailor their cover letter to the job description and the company will receive extra consideration.
  • Curriculum Vitae title, to ensure a successful match for the position, I emphasize relevant talents and experiences that correspond with the job description when evaluating a Curriculum Vitae

Step #2, the interview

Taking a cross-functional approach when hiring a designer is imperative. Involving a People & Culture partner in the initial interviews is a must. An HR specialist can pick up on things that a domain specialist might miss, and a different perspective on questioning can provide invaluable insights into the candidate’s personality, cultural fit, and desired level of design maturity.

Lessons learned and changes for next time

Back in college, I had to take this super tough exam. And wouldn’t you know it, the professor suddenly asked me to comment on the book cover. Despite studying for months, I was caught off guard and couldn’t even remember what it looked like. I felt so stupid, but the prof explained that understanding the cover was crucial for getting the book’s main idea. Lesson learned: always start from the basics when trying to sponsor a solution to a problem.

Likewise, as a hiring manager, I always ask candidates which part of the job description attracts them the most. It gives me a good idea of how they think and solve problems. Indeed, the first step in solving a problem is understanding what the problem is. And that’s where the job description comes in – it tells the candidate what the company needs the talent to do. Sometimes, even really skilled candidates don’t pay enough attention to the job description, which can make them forget important details during the interview. So, I consider it imperative for the candidate to read and understand it to ensure excellent performance during the interview.

Step #3, the design challenge

During the second round of interviews, candidates are invited to present the output of a design challenge that mirrors a current project our team is working on. While we do not expect a finished solution, we want to see how they approach the task within the given parameters, brief, and timeframe. Our team is dedicated to maintaining exceptional standards and strongly emphasises user experience and business ROI. We seek individuals who share our values and understand their significance when completing tasks. In our search for a designer, we consider their technical expertise and creative capabilities. Our ultimate goal is to find someone genuinely passionate about promoting effective design methods and highly proficient in design tools.

Lessons learned and changes for next time

I deliberately create briefs that are not entirely accurate to encourage team members to ask questions. When working with other teams and business units, asking questions it’s crucial to understand the scope, timeline and capacity to match the expectations. This is a critical aspect of our collaborative process. However, I’ve noticed that some individuals tend to focus on the “how” rather than the “why” when presenting the challenge output. The next time, I plan to request that candidates provide a list of questions regarding the brief they are given.

Step #4, the final conversation

Hiring a designer can be a successful experience if transparent and open communication is established. Prior to formalising the job offer, I need to have a final conversation with the potential hire to confirm their excitement about the opportunity of becoming a member of our team and organisation and to draft the expectations for the first three months of collaboration.

Lessons learned and changes for next time

During the final phase, candidates make crucial decisions about their career paths while companies have to bet on individuals after three sessions. Through my experience, I have discovered that both parties can significantly reduce the risk by having the hiring manager share a draft plan for the new member’s first three months of collaboration during the last session.


From my previous experiences as a hiring manager, I’ve discovered that selecting talent is daunting. However, I’ve learned that how candidates articulate their understanding of the Company’s mission is essential. It’s imperative for the candidate to feel part of a journey with a precise destination from day one.

All the best to the talents and the hiring manager out there!

Image credits

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Post Scriptum

Giving candidates who don’t progress in our hiring process constructive feedback is imperative. For me, rejecting someone is always challenging, and it’s vital to emphasize that it’s not the candidate’s fault if they’re not the right fit. The Company takes full responsibility for the decision. I also think it’s fair to reply to someone who invested some time in providing why it didn’t work out this time. Keeping an open line of communication may lead to future opportunities for both parties.

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