“Hire character. Train skill.” — Peter Schutz
It’s been a decade since I started working in the creative industry, namely graphic design. Having started as a freelance graphic designer myself and having been involved in hiring other creative freelancers in the process, I realised the best way to hire the right person to fill in any creative position goes beyond just looking at one’s portfolio.
As of writing, I’m on a lookout for someone to manage the creative work at my latest startup, MeetAnders.com. Hence, I’ve documented a series of steps I will take to find the right creative hire. Here are the nine steps:
1. Craft Your Values
Be crystal clear on your core values before hiring, at least create an honest list of what you stand for. It’s okay if your values change along the way. What’s important is you have a set of beliefs that sets you apart. The right creative person to another company may not be right to you if your values don’t align. As Ray Dalio mentioned here: “What’s most important is determining whether you and they are working toward the same goals and can work in the same ways and share the same values.” If you need some inspiration to come up with one, here’s our list of values for MeetAnders.com, you may use it as a reference.
Question what they want to see themselves become in ten years time. If they say they’ve never thought so far, that’s fine, because they’re being honest rather than just answering something for the sake of it. Give them 10 minutes, get them to list the top 20 things they want in ten years time which they’ve not achieved yet. Whether they are honest with what they list or not, this list has to resonate with your values, if it doesn’t, don’t hire them. The good thing about this step is, there isn’t a politically correct answer. Next, get them to tell you their plans to accomplish them. Be mindful that you are looking for answers that align your values from step one.
Find out what matters most to them and what they cannot live without. They may say money, family, children or pets. In our case, we look for the curiosity to grow and learn. This tests their mindset and what their actions will be when they meet any challenge during their journey with us.
4. Ideal Candidate
Now, armed with your values and vision, create your ideal candidate. You may make sketches or write an essay, make sure you create a persona of your creative candidate as ideal as you can. Here’s an example: I’m currently on a hunt for a creative project manager, so my ideal candidate is as follows:
A 25-year-old female named Jenny. She is a mother of two and loves to windsurf as a hobby. She used to be on the volleyball team, was a captain of the team for two years. She started her professional career at a retail outlet selling shoes. For five years, she was a sales personnel always working with walk-in customers, helping them find the shoes with the perfect fit. She enjoys talking to the customers and making sure they are enjoying their experience in the store. That said, I don’t have to necessarily get someone who’s name is really Jenny and worked in a shoe store. The details are there to bring out the personality and traits of this virtual candidate that match who I’m looking for based on my values and vision.
5. Ask Challenging Questions
Avoid questions that are skill based like “which software do you use best” or “what kind of work you do”. Try to ask questions beyond their talent to understand what’s their reason for being here like “what do you aspire to be?”, “why us, not them?”, “what are your top 3 values in life, and why?”. Go further than design to ask questions like “what books do you read?”. Buffer is a great example for hiring people who have read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People“. Or, go to the extent of giving them a problem scenario to find out what they will do to solve it, “say you’ve been toiling for nights and days over a design project and in the middle of it, a customer tells you they’ve decided to change directions, what would you say?”
6. Social Spot Check
Search for their social profiles. You may have already been doing so. In my case here in MeetAnders.com, I don’t look for pretty artwork done by them, but what they describe themselves in their profiles. Look for consistencies in what they say they are across all the social media platforms they are on and see if they match your values and what you stand for.
There’s a saying that goes: “If you pay peanuts, you’ll get peanuts”. That may be true but not a hundred percent definitive. What you get also depends on what you think is a peanut. What are considered peanuts to you may not be peanuts to others. For example, there was once when I was loaded with too many projects, I hired a few student designers, and to them, getting paid $8 is a luxury, while to me, it’s also a luxury because I was able to afford it based on the value I provide to the client for the client to pay me more than enough for me to hire these students to help. It can be relative depending on the project on hand as well. Not necessarily has to be within the so-called “market rate”. We shouldn’t hire based off of market rate alone, but our own budget to maintain healthy revenue and culture.
8. Communication Skills
If there’s any skill that a creative or designer cannot do without, I would say their ability to communicate. You might think, does this mean you need to get someone sociable or talkative? No, in fact, you need someone more of the opposite. In this case, you need someone who listens more than they talk. Someone who listens and understand the needs of your clients and eventually translate that into the artwork to communicate the message.
9. Trial Project
Start with a trial project to understand your potential candidate better. You’ll want to make sure they have a strong work ethic to give you quality work even with a task that’s not straight forward to most people. Don’t use this trial project to test their talent, but their tenacity to find creative solutions. I know of many creative professionals who are highly-talented yet hand in subpar work. With this trial project, I want to see that the effort made and eventual outcome matches their talent. They must align to show that they take pride to give their best all the time. It doesn’t matter whether the client rejects their work or not. As long as their effort aligns with what they can produce as much as possible, they are the right creatives to hire.
You’ll never really know which type of candidate will land onboard your ship. But with your core values on hand as a guide and doing regular checks to keep track on what you stand for helps you gain more clarity in deciding who’s the best candidate for the creative job.