Keeping Design Candidates Engaged in the Interview Process

As the San Francisco Bay Area unemployment rate dips below 3% (2.4% as of July 2019), hiring becomes more and more difficult. This is especially true if your team is looking to hire for Design. Companies like Facebook, Apple, Google, and Uber quickly swipe up these talented individuals, meaning startups need to be fiercely competitive to keep up.

Once you’ve attracted a designer to your company, it’s imperative that you keep them engaged throughout the interview process. As recruiters, we can easily identify what many companies do wrong, and more importantly, what they do right. Our advice is this:


1. Determine your ideal candidate profile and interview process, then stick to it.

From our experience, hiring managers who start with a specific candidate profile and process in mind are the most successful. Build a candidate persona, agreeing on what background, qualifications, personal attributes, and skills the ideal candidate should have.

Teams that try to form their ideal client profile after the fact (by looking at provided profiles) may lose track of what they were looking for in the first place. What’s worse, is that candidates can sense uncertainty, which is not the kind of impression you want to make when speaking to a potential employee. 

Key takeaways:

  • Interviewing is an incredible investment of time; Be thoughtful with your approach.

  • Agree on what skills and experience you’d like your candidate have, and also have in mind what projects that candidate might work on.

  • Disorganization during the interview process gives the impression that you aren’t serious about the search.

2. Keep the momentum in your search.

There is an ideal timeline when it comes to the interview process. Leaving a candidate hanging can quickly foster frustration. We recommend checking out this guide to setting realistic hiring timelines, which is advice from LinkedIn’s VP of Global Talent Acquisition, Brendan Browne.

Ideally you want to be able to offer quick feedback and quick scheduling with your top candidates. If the interview was executed well, candidates will leave your interview excited for next steps and likely thinking about how they might fit in with your team. That feeling starts to fade over time if you leave them waiting to hear back. Waiting too long may also give the impression that you are not interested in hiring them, giving other teams the opportunity to catch their attention.

Key takeaways:

  • Close interviews by discussing next steps (assuming they are a good fit).

  • If feedback will take more than a day or two, make that clear to the candidate.

  • If there will be a big gap between steps in the interview, schedule a coffee or quick check in call with someone from the team. Spending time with a candidate outside of the office can give you a great pulse on culture fit.

3. Prepare candidates for what to expect at each step of the interview.

Fostering a transparent hiring process is incredibly important to keep designers anticipating the next step. Either publish your typical process online, or outline it clearly at the close of the interview.

This is a great example of a transparent interview process for Software Engineers at Facebook. You should also brief candidates on who they will meet, what is expected of them, and what you are hoping to learn about them from the interview. This will greatly increase the value both sides get from those conversations. Trying to surprise candidates or put them on the spot can leave them feeling like they gave incomplete or insufficient answers.

Key takeaways: 

  • At a bare minimum you should share an agenda with candidates.

  • If you want someone to present their portfolio, tell them what you are looking for so they can prepare a specific project for you.

  • Giving them time to consider topics in advance means they will have more detailed answers for you, and candidates will feel like they did a better job representing their skills.

4. Replace take home assignments with onsite collaboration.

Collaborative exercises like whiteboarding sessions during an onsite are a much better way to assess how someone approaches a problem, compared to the dreaded take-home design challenge. It also offers the opportunity to see how they might collaborate with future teammates, and how they respond to feedback.

This is especially good advice for hiring managers who are not designers, as giving a design candidate a take-home task is an easy giveaway that you’re unfamiliar with a designer’s actual role.

5. Compartmentalize the interview process.

One of the best pieces of advice we received once from a Head of Design was to “compartmentalize” the interview process. The first interview is the time to evaluate a designer’s skillset, and the second on-site (and beyond) is the time to ask in-depth questions, build rapport, and provide evidence of your employer brand.

If you’re still evaluating a candidate's design skills through the final interview then you didn’t properly evaluate them early on in the process and you are wasting an opportunity to ask more in-depth questions.

Key takeaways:

  • Your first conversation should qualify their skills and experience based on your needs.

  • Later rounds should focus more on other qualities: their interest in your mission, working style, and whether or not they will fit with your team.

  • Use final conversations with senior leaders to close candidates, not to evaluate their fit or skill.

6. Don't withhold information.

You’re ready to make an offer, but that doesn’t mean your work is done. It can be easy to make a bad impression at this stage unless you handle everything right. Some teams treat this like a poker match by purposefully withholding information. If anything, it should be the opposite. You want candidates to feel like they have all of their questions answered and know all the details about their potential role and offer.

Key takeaways:

  • Review how you see the candidate fitting in to the team and what your expectations will be for their first few months as well as long term.

  • Share some context on their equity to help them value this part of their compensation.

  • If you’re working with a recruitment consultant, speak with them first before making your offer. We’ve been in touch with the candidate throughout the interview process, and they are often more comfortable sharing their motivations, concerns, and questions with us, than they are with a potential manager. We can help you craft the best pitch for them to join your team. 

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