The problem with our past recruiting
@Vaida here, Head of People at Slite 👋🏼
We've been hiring designers for a while. And we have to admit it hasn't been easy. Don't get us wrong, we received some amazing applicants and interviewed very creative and skilled people. We've also hired 3 amazing designers!
But the hiring experience was sometimes frustrating. We kept looking at people's CVs, their previous companies, and products. Did they work for a software product? Do they have SaaS experience? And, it turns out, it wasn't the best way to predict someone's success in the hiring process.
So we decided to stop for a bit. Then we asked ourselves:
"What's the most important thing when assessing
someone's skills, creativity, problem-solving approach,
and potential within a role?"
Of course, interviews and a test helped. But if we look at the earlier stage of the process when we get a couple of hundred applicants (yes, we are lucky to get this attention!), was this the best predictor? It turns out to be something not as tangible as bullet points on a resume.
@Rob McMackin chiming in, Product Designer 👋🏼
At the time Vaida, our Head of People came to me with a question:
"How can we publish a new designer role
without repeating the same old process?"
So we decided to keep it simple: focus on the essence of a designer's work rather than their background or CV.
Finding real creativity is hard
This might sound harsh, but once you've seen five product design portfolios, you've seen 95% of product design portfolios. It's funny that for an ostensibly creative profession, all creativity has been thoroughly hammered out of it.
Creativity is still often a trait companies look for in designers. But what does it mean?
Creativity doesn't necessarily mean visual creativity (though the cosmetic side helps more than we perhaps care to admit). It does not necessarily mean crazy product ideas.
It could be a creative way of identifying problems. It could be finding solutions others haven't found within real constraints. It could mean writing charming copy. It could mean asking interesting questions.
It could come through in everything. And in the most creative candidates, it often does.
Advice you follow could be working against you
"You can tell when a designer did something out of their interest or out of a feeling of meeting an imagined standard for the role."
I can understand why people write articles advising on how to structure portfolios, but I wonder if they do more harm than good.
If someone's portfolio, introduction, or work for a creative role feels too similar to everything else, isn't that a good enough reason to not consider them? If you follow too much portfolio advice, you might unwittingly end up in this position.
Which also makes me think: are we even looking for a "product designer" anymore, or has the standard industry definition of a product designer become too limited? Limited by people preaching for boring product.
People looking for boring designers (in the name of "practicality", of course). People who read one design book and take it as gospel, or want to follow Dieter Rams' golden principles because rich western people seem to respect Braun and Apple products, so all products must be like theirs, right?
Even though there's plenty of wildly successful products that break many of these principles.
People will often fall into trying to fit into what the best definitions of a "product/UX designer" are. Or try to emulate a portfolio of someone who they respect in the industry. You can tell when a designer did something out of their interest or out of a feeling of meeting an imagined standard for the role. Losing their individuality in the process.
And who can blame them? The job of recruiting designers is often handed over to recruiters who (and this isn't their fault) have no design sensibility, a thin understanding of the role, and essentially a list of boxes to tick to be able to consider a candidate.
Box tickers vs. thinkers
"On some level, we all do things because we feel like we're supposed to for our careers, or some ulterior motive."
Two people could have this same list on paper, but when you see one, you know it's done from a place of actually being interested in it vs. as a box-ticking exercise. But none of this stuff, by itself, matters to us at all.
- I must have 3 case studies with 30 words of description per image.
- I must show that I can do basic personas, wireframes and flows. (Here's a hint: anyone can create these artefacts. They alone mean nothing.)
- I must have a personal project
- I must code my website
- OR I must use the minimal template from Squarespace
For instance, both designers made side projects, but one was an off-the-shelf idea for a to-do list. A box-ticking exercise (quite literally) that's been done forty thousand times.
The other is an MVP email marketing platform with a "twist," prototyped to solve a gap in the industry. Or a blog with some unique thoughts. This will make me feel the designer is genuinely interested in what they're doing.
Of course, there are degrees to this. On some level, we all do things because we feel like we're supposed to for our careers, or some ulterior motive. But I'd prefer to take someone who has done 50% of their work because they felt they were supposed to, and infused the other half with some sincere interest, showing a part of their individuality in it.
And yes there are some basic skills and knowledge needed to get you in the door, but these are secondary.
Questions that could help to build your unique interests
Are there any products on the market that stand out to you?
What makes them stand out?
- A very robust, consistent design system?
- Copy that resonates with their target market?
- Quirky photography?
- Next-level visual design?
- Solving a unique problem?
- In an industry related to an interest of yours?
- A new disruptive concept in an old industry?
- Thoughtful interactions?
- A fantastic brand?
- Uncompromising simplicity?
Answering these questions for various products that resonate with you could eventually lead you to be inspired to combine them into a unique approach to a product concept or your portfolio.
It would show a product company that you have what it takes to bring their product to the market's edge, not the market's standard.
Why this matters to us
Because when you leave school, UX Bootcamp, and often a lot of companies, there is no next module laid out.
The destination should be outlined by the company or project's leadership, but there is no map for you on how to get there. We need people who can create their way.
When you arrive at a startup like Slite, you will have to completely throw out the rules you learned of what a designer is in your previous jobs. A designer who's been box-ticking their entire career will not find their way. And you will need to both influence and adapt to others in the team to go there together. This is done through creativity.
And because products that survive today need to radically stand out, and people whose default behaviour is to replicate what's been done before won't make that happen.
We're not looking for CVs. We're not looking for people who can tick boxes. We're looking for legitimately creative and technically skilled humans. It doesn't matter where you're from or where you've been.
So if you're a designer who's there now, then...