Struggling to hire product designers? Do this first. / by David Sherwin

Designing who to hire

If you’re a designer, it’s never been a better time to be interviewing for a digital product design role. But if you’re a hiring manager, it’s never been tougher. When my partner Mary and I are coaching design leaders, we keep hearing questions like these: We’re losing our best candidates. What should we do? 

When we dig into the situation, many of the issues we discover could have been easily remedied from the start. If you’re planning to hire product designers for your team, make sure you do these four things before beginning your search.

1. Know what everyone is looking for in the new hire

Move past seeking ‘culture fit’ and a great portfolio as the only check-boxes for a design hire. Take another look at that draft job description (JD). Does the JD accurately reflect what’s needed from both your design function and the partners they’ll work with across your organization? 

Determine what specific skills and behaviors will be expected from designers in this role. Interview your cross-functional partners in engineering, product management, and other functions, soliciting their input regarding what’s needed. If you have team members that are currently in that role, see what they’re doing that is contributing to their success. Then go back and revise your job description, so that it clearly describes how the role will support your product development process, deliver quality design work, and influence the product and your team. It may feel like this process will have your team looking for unicorns, but having clarity about everyone’s expectations actually makes prioritizing candidates easier.

JDs that are vague about these details are the primary reason why designers won’t apply for a role. You're implying to applicants that you don't have a handle on how design functions as part of product development.

2. Describe the hiring process and how everyone will participate

You’ve posted a well-written JD, and you’re seeing an increase in qualified applicants for the role. Who has a say in the hiring process for this role? Who gets a chance to talk to these candidates and offer their input? Across what functions in your organization?

There should be answers for these questions before a JD is posted, in writing and accessible to everyone participating in your hiring process. This sounds obvious, but it’s a blind spot for many organizations as they scale. Getting everyone aligned on how they’re expected to participate has a big impact on internal team participation and engagement. 

There should also be a concise description of the candidate-facing process that can be shared in your interviews. In putting this together, you’ll immediately identify touchpoints that need to be added or adjusted for a great candidate experience. (Oh, and no “volunteering” for interviews. Everyone plays their part.)

3. Know what candidates want, and what you can give them

Candidates for design roles will want to know everything and anything about your team, the work that they’re doing, and your organization as a whole. There’s plenty of information that should be at everyone’s fingertips, from your team’s career ladder to what benefits are offered for employees. 

There’s a flip side to this, however. There’s a level of transparency that candidates may expect, and then there’s what you can provide. Is it fair to give a candidate access to additional team members before moving to offer? Walk them through your roadmap? Let them sit in during team meetings or work sessions? Be clear where you draw the line. Some requests may be legally or ethically inappropriate.

4. Don’t think that hiring ends with making the hire 

Onboarding for a new role should arise directly from the hiring process; it shouldn’t feel like an afterthought, or worse, like your company is showing its true colors now that a designer is in the door. 

We know several design managers who view their organization’s onboarding process as the first tangible way they can show support for an employee’s career path. Be thoughtful about what you’re sharing in your interviewing process, and how that connects to an on-ramp to mastering the role. Along with this, reconsider what metrics matter for hiring. If you’re focusing on offer acceptance, you may be ignoring issues that exist due to poor onboarding or support in role.

When it comes to digital product design, there’s definitely demand for top talent. But that doesn’t mean you can’t compete. When you put these four practices into place, everyone will have a clear picture of the role you’re seeking to fill, and how candidates will find that role fulfilling.