How do you hire designers?

Hi there. I work for a company that provides work-sample testing for companies interested in using measures of performance on actual work as part of their hiring process. We are currently exploring whether or not to develop some content for assessment of candidates applying for graphic design roles.

I understand that portfolio review is the core method used for assessing design skills. I also understand that some companies ask candidates to complete a small design project as part of their hiring process - and that the use of tasks like these is a bit controversial in your industry.

What I’m not sure about is whether testing that doesn’t require creative work of candidates would actually be useful to anyone sitting in that hiring manager seat.

So, I’m looking for someone who has experience with hiring designers who is willing to be interviewed. I’d like to spend 1 hour on a call with you, learning about your industry and how you decide who to hire. In exchange, I’ll send you a $150 USD gift card to the online retailer of your choice.

If you’re interested, message me with a link to your LinkedIn profile or other online resume, and tell me approximately how many designers you’ve hired so far.

If you’re not in a hiring manager role, but have some thoughts on this, please comment below. All feedback is welcome. If you have ideas for what would make for a useful non-portfolio assessment, please share!

Since you’re new here, you can’t get private messages.

The industry is so diverse that coming up with any kind of standardized “proficiency test” would be very difficult. If you’ve done a decent amount of research (and it looks like you at least scratched the surface) you’ll also find that not much weight is given on proficiency tests, not even the ones sponsored by Adobe. Yay, you have an Adobe Cert? Woo. You coulda spent that money on something a little more useful. Like 200 cups of coffee.

I don’t hire designers. We’re more trade oriented in our hiring. But on the occasions I need to hire one or recommend one to an end-client, I am a print vendor, I know a LOT of designers and would find a known quantity that I know can do the type of work needed on time, in budget and if it happens to come to me afterward, I know the files will be in a state where I can do my job without too much teeth gnashing.

Design is great. But if the design can’t be realized in the form it was meant to be viewed in its final form, wellllll, can you do a proficiency test for that?

I’ve been on both sides of this table, and I’m not a fan of the “design task” notion. While it seems to make sense in theory, it, like so many under-initiated clients, oversimplifies and disrespects the design process. Sure, when you’re hiring a designer, you’ll want to gauge their reactions to various challenges, but giving them a bespoke task to complete in a short time demonstrates little or nothing about them, except perhaps how they deal with an unfair, no-win, and ultimately meaningless proposition. It’s really no different than the crowdsource model where designers waste their time competing to fulfill the wants of a weak brief in the hope it won’t be for nothing, although it surely will be for all but one of them.

You’re better off (and more respectful of the professional sitting across from you), setting down a piece of design and asking them to critique it. That, and their portfolio are the best measure of design acumen.

A company for which I do contract work stages day-long interviews for all their prospective hires. The format is a series of “appointments” with people from various departments, each of which holds a different stake in finding the best candidate for the position. They have to have discussions, and lunch, with potential peers, bosses, VP’s, etc. The climax of the day is a 30-minute role play, during which a near-impossible, simulated conundrum is built up around the candidate, who portrays themselves as having landed the position, and must deal with a cleverly concocted maze of predicaments to demonstrate their ability to handle a series of just-when-you-thought-it-couldn’t-get-worse scenarios. Much, much more is learned about a person’s temperament, ingenuity, and professional decorum this way than you could ever get from giving them a bogus design task.

A Kobiyashi Maru test… Wow.


Yep. There are always outs, but they aren’t necessarily obvious, and prioritizing is essential. It’s mostly about deadline commitments, information gaps, efficient communication, and dealing with demanding superiors or customers. There are stories of tears.

I should mention; this isn’t a design firm. It’s a rather large manufacturing outfit that’s very engineering oriented, but they do host sizable graphic design, software design, and experiential design departments, along with all the other functions required to be a major player in global technology and durable goods markets.

@Shannon-TestDome, I’ve bumped up your user privileges to enable you to receive and send private messages.

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I’m uninterested in being interviewed, but through the years, I’ve had several design management roles in various organizations, where I’ve interviewed and hired many creative staff candidates.

You’re suggesting something that might be situationally valuable, but it depends upon the business, their hiring/HR procedures, and how they structure their interview teams.

I can make creative team hiring decisions based on portfolio reviews and subsequent interviews with the candidates. I probably wouldn’t have much need for what you’re offering.

However, in some companies, hiring procedures require standardized metrics to ensure that all candidates get evaluated equally. Also, there are often people on interview teams, like vice presidents, marketing people, and various managers, who have neither the experience nor the insight to make good, gut-instinct evaluations regarding creative team candidates. In these kinds of instances, what you’re suggesting might be useful.

I think the only controversy is when companies use the hiring process to get free work done, or acquire free creative direction. At that point it becomes unethical. A more legit approach would be for the company to narrow the search down to a few, then pay those people a flat rate (commensurate with the position pay) to complete the tasks that the company would review, and own. Very temporary work for hire.

That’s a good idea, but in practice, I’ve never known it to happen.

I’m usually against asking applicants to perform a task on the spot or put in several hours worth of their time to show what their portfolio should already demonstrate. I’m not so sure that a one-off project or, worse, a highly stressful on-the-spot task provides reliable information about that person’s actual abilities or potential anyway.

If the job has specific requirements that a typical portfolio doesn’t address, maybe it’s necessary, but I’d limit it to just the final cut of two or three applicants.

Hi there , let me know if you still looking for designer
i Know someone who really great ,did alot of jobs for my company

once you want choose any person you should follow following :
1- Check his previous Jobs
2- appoint one who did similar design and has at least 3 yrs experience
3- usually if Part time job wont be more than 150 USD
Thanks and wish u good luck

$150 per hour? $150,000 per year?
Did you read the thread?
No one is looking for a designer here…
And you certainly cannot price a job before even considering the brief.

Thanks, PrintDriver. It’s really useful to get feedback from people in different industries. One of the people I talked to runs a design collective and never does portfolio review - she said generally she knows of someone’s previous work or through mutual connections. In contrast, I’ve talked to others who are the most focused on portfolio review above all other factors.

Either way, testing doesn’t seem applicable so I have to wonder why companies are offering various kinds of tests, including tool tests (like, “can you use Photoshop” tests). I’ll talk about this more in a response below, but I think the merit here might be for small businesses who have no in-house design experience (or ‘eye’) and are insecure about hiring a designer … or for job roles that aren’t “designer” roles but require some minimal graphics work (say, a social media coordinator for smaller businesses, who is doing a blend of customer service, copywriting, and creating basic images).

Thanks, Just-B. You’ve touched on something here that’s a driving force behind our work on these types of tests - getting away from people with no expertise in the field deciding who gets to interview based on a short phone call (in other industries, HR people often do a resume review and initial phone screening to decide who goes to the next stage, and often they don’t really know anything about the work or skills required but look for things like “culture fit” - another very controversial aspect of hiring).

But where design is concerned, I’m not sure there is a fair, useful way to do anything apart from either reviewing prior work or asking for a controlled sample of work (i.e. when all candidates are given the same work-sample task).

Probably a lot of this depends on which industry is doing the hiring. For instance, my sister is a Creative Director at an ad agency in NYC. She’s pretty confident that her entire industry is entirely uninterested in using any sort of testing, as the subjective judgment of prior work is entirely the point. There is no interest in unbiased evaluations as the bias/gut instinct is exactly what they care about.

I’ve done a ton of reviews of job listings for designer roles and it’s quite interesting to look at these en masse. While specific principles of design are sometimes mention, the bulk of listings emphasize tool use and it’s usually the very common tools like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. This might be an artifact of HR writing job descriptions rather than design team leads. But I haven’t actually talked to anyone working in design/hiring in design that would test or question a candidate on those tools. It’s more like “if they show good work, they know how to use the tools to produce it”. And yet, tools tests abound for some reason.

More and more, I’m wondering if instead of companies without good in-house design “eyes” being the use case for such tests, the real use case is for non-designer roles. The example I mentioned in a response above: a social media coordinator who is doing a blend of customer service, copywriting, and creation of basic images for posts and articles. For a role like that, a highly skilled designer doesn’t fit, but you might want to make sure the people who do apply can use some tools and have some basic instincts in regards to design fundaments (alignment, repetition, contrast, etc.). But then, there are a lot of ugly images used in social media, and maybe the bosses in those cases don’t know enough to care whether the images are good or not.

Thanks again for weighing in. I welcome any further thoughts if you’d like to keep the discussion going.

Thanks, HotButton. I sure hope the company you contract for is only asking candidates to do day-long interviews when they’re at the end of the hiring funnel, as that’s a huge time commitment and sounds stressful to boot!

You might be interested to know that there has actually been quite a lot of research on what kinds of pre-hiring evaluations are the best predictors of not only who can do the job but also who is a good long-term fit for a company. If you look at the various options individually, work-sample tests have the highest predictability (but combining them with interviews has the best predictability overall).That’s probably one of the reasons why you’re seeing these kinds of tasks creeping into designer hiring more over time (another big piece would be to give all candidates the same task as a control, since no control comparison is present when comparing them on past work alone).

I really like your idea about asking candidates to critique a design. That aligns with how we approached developing content for UX Design specifically in the past. Everyone I spoke to about UX was most focused on what the candidate’s process is, so for example, we had some tasks that let candidates write about how they would change a given design to meet provided user stories and why.

I wonder if there’s enough core agreement on design to have “correct” vs. “incorrect” answers for a critique. What do you think?

Thanks, Mojo. I totally agree that companies should not be asking for large unpaid time commitments of candidates - especially early in the process. And it goes without saying (or it should) that using a job listing to gather free work a company intends to use is totally wrong.

Yes, it is interesting, but not in a positive way. When economic downturn lead to companies over-empowering the “human resources” function, I doubt any expense was spared on research of methods for removing all subjectivity from the talent acquisition process, no matter the discipline nor the nature of deployment of the final product of that discipline.

I can see work sample tests providing verification of a person’s ability to produce a particular outcome. I used the word “particular” there because I recognize the potential value in running the experiment if there is only one particular outcome desired, like a series of cogs meshing to produce final rotation in a correct direction; the other direction being incorrect. But that doesn’t apply to design. What exactly is the empirical measure of whether a design task was completed successfully? The manager likes it? Agrees with it? Does the candidate know that going in? Does the candidate get an opportunity to interview the manager to glean what would be considered a successful result? From an initial client meeting to a design having the desired ongoing effect on the client’s market, design is predicated upon relationships—and the steering of perceptions among the players in those relationships—none of which exist in the vacuum of objectivity required for a “work sample test” to have a measurable outcome.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the very idea of “work sample test” disrespects the graphic design process and can’t measure anything essential about the subject of the test. It’s hogwash.

Yes, obviously it’s not a small commitment of resources on the company’s part either. Only the small batch of finalists are subjected to it.

Occasionally, companies ask me to participate in interview teams to provide an outside perspective. These companies view me as filling creative expertise gaps when evaluating candidates for roles outside the organizations’ core focus.

Sometimes, this evaluation involves hiring an individual, but it often consists of evaluating services, like which ad agency to select or which solution to choose. I’m never leading the process in these instances — just contributing my perspective.

Often, the questions and criteria considered during these evaluations lead to hiring mistakes. I’ll make my viewpoints known, but it’s often a minority viewpoint.

For example, a government agency once asked me to help evaluate finalists for a videographer position. Most people on the interview team had civil engineering backgrounds. Their questions focused on asking applicants to identify various cameras and explain technical details about video equipment.

After the interviews, most team members voted to choose the applicant best able to answer these technical questions and whose personality they liked best. They seemed unable to appreciate that this person’s portfolio of work was substandard and showed insufficient talent.

Whether online or in-person, the right questions and answers are essential. Often, the best responses are nuanced in ways that demonstrate the applicants’ appreciation of the subject matter’s subtleties.

Clearly unqualified candidates are easily eliminated with the basic must-know, black and white questions. For a designer, an inability to explain the difference between a raster and a vector file is usually a deal killer. It could be not knowing the rules of when to use an en dash for a copy editor.

When choosing between graphic design finalists who have cleared those easy objective cuts, an evaluator’s inability to rely on gut instincts and subjective judgments can lead to some bad decisions.

I can see value in what you’re proposing for situationally appropriate first- and second-round questions — especially if those questions cut to the heart of the matter and allow for somewhat flexible answers. Quickly narrowing down an initial field of dozens or hundreds of candidates is important. However, when evaluating finalists — when the decisions come down to subjective judgments regarding quality of work, creativity, nuanced viewpoints, thoughtful insight, and the like — I doubt it’s doable.

I can tell you how NOT to do it…I once hired a freelance illustrator to do a cover design for me. I made my decision purely on his portfolio. When I received his artwork, it was pitiful. Like something I would have done in grade school. When I (very angrily) confronted him, pointing to his portfolio work, he said “Well I didn’t do everything in the designs. I was only part of a team.” Good golly! I never hired the guy again. Thankfully, I had enough time before deadline to finish the job myself, but at the time, I was so overworked I barely got it done. Lesson learned—The Hard Way!!!

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Thanks for expanding on your thoughts about why testing does not make sense for this field. Even working in this field, I agree with many of your points. However, when companies post online job ads and have hundreds or thousands of applicants for one open position, there needs to be a way to separate out the completely unqualified from the qualified candidates because no one has time to do portfolio review + interviews for that large of a candidate pool.

I’m not talking about using tests to tell you who to hire (though some companies might do that), but more to check whether candidates have the minimum skill required to do the job … so companies can then spend time on portfolio review and interviews with candidates who possess skills other than being able to write a great resume of lies that can get past some auto-filter. In essence, testing to qualify people on the lowest level, and never to decide amongst the skilled people which is “the best” or most-suited or most-qualified for the role.

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