How do you hire designers?

This is such a perfect story of doing it all wrong - thank you!

I just replied to HotButton about this as well. Our tests are meant to be used early in the hiring process, for example, when you have hundreds or thousands of applicants and need a way to start removing the completely unqualified applicants from the larger pool so that you can spend your time with candidates who at least possess the bare minimum of skills required. To use your example, avoiding wasting time on copywriter applicants who don’t know how to use an en dash but interview well and impress HR with their culture fit, etc. These tests are not meant to be used to tell you who to hire amongst a small group of finalists - and they’re not meant to do that for any field, not just design.

What I think is probably hard for many people to appreciate is just how many people without any relevant skills will apply for jobs they are completely unqualified for. Online job listings tend to exacerbate these numbers, but it’s an issue that predates their use. It’s so common in some fields that, for instance, it’s often cited that 199 out of 200 applicants for programming positions can’t code at all. That’s not to say that 199 out of 200 programmers can’t code - just 199 out of 200 applicants. There is some strange cohort of people that will apply to jobs they are completely unqualified for - any job. It is these people we would like to fail such a test, while passing any actual designer, regardless of the subjective quality of their work. Candidates who pass could then move along in the hiring funnel and have their work evaluated by actual humans.

Those of you who are at more senior levels might not ever encounter such a test except when you’re in the hiring seat. But junior-level candidates, especially those applying for entry-level positions, are quite likely to encounter some form of testing meant to remove unskilled people from the pool, since those positions tend to attract huge numbers of applicants.

Deciding who to move past the first step in a hiring funnel based on automated resume scans just rewards people who design their resumes to pass automated resume filters (or hire someone else to do that for them, or steal someone else’s resume, etc.). Resume-writing skills aren’t all that pertinent for most jobs, though (in terms of the actual work), so it’s not a great way to separate skilled candidates from the unskilled masses. That’s a problem I’m trying to help solve.

Unfortunately, as has been mentioned in this and other threads, many companies use the wrong kind of testing, with way too much of a time-ask, and at the wrong part of the funnel, leading to lots of unhappy candidates.

That’s a great example. So what did you do the next time you needed to hire someone after discovering portfolio review alone wasn’t going to work?

Yes, that’s precisely what I was referring to as economic downturn over-empowering HR (and corrupting the hiring process). The circumstantial logic is sound, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.

At two of my previous jobs, we’d typically get around 150 applicants for every design position. Our HR department would make the first cut based upon criteria we told them were essential — relevant university degrees, minimum years of experience, and so forth.

This worked reasonably well since a quick scan through the remainder would enable me to eliminate, probably, an additional 75 percent.

Even so, I always wondered how many good designers HR eliminated based on the black and white cutoffs we used.

We decided to experiment with using Robert Half and Ladders (if I remember correctly). Both offered prequalification testing similar to yours. I was not satisfied with the results.

For example, their pre-qualification exams included questions like, “In Photoshop, what is the keyboard shortcut used to zoom in?” This is a key combination that most that every designer uses, but the ability to recall the exact keys is evidence of nothing. Even though I might use that shortcut 50 times each day, it’s all muscle memory, not a sequence of keystrokes I could recall in the context of a quiz question.

Other questions involved basics from design school that are typically replaced through experience by other approaches. For example, “What is the complementary color to red?” That might be an easy question for a university design senior, but for an experienced professional who hasn’t looked at a color wheel in years and who relies on experience and gut instinct to choose colors, the answer might not be easily recalled.

In other examples, I disagreed with the premise of the questions. For example “Which of the following are 'modern fonts?” First, modern, when used in typography, can have very different definitions. Second, the correct answer might differ depending on whether the term font was intentionally or mistakenly used in place of the term typeface.

Several freelancer sites I’m familiar with also use these kinds of pre-qualification questions. The few that I’ve tested have suffered from the same types of deficiencies that I mentioned above.

As I said, in a previous post, I can see considerable value in pre-qualification testing, but I’ve yet to encounter the kinds of savvy and insightful questions that I could depend upon to yield good results.

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Simple—I made sure to ask the critical question, “Is ALL of this work solely yours or did someone else work on the job as well?”

So do you prefer designers who work solo, or is OK if their work is a team collaboration as long as you understand which parts the candidate was responsible for? You sound qualified enough to be able to understand which parts of a design represent an individual’s work if they honestly explain their responsibilities on the project. But I’m not sure all hiring managers (or HR, for that matter) would be able to do that.

Thanks again, Just-B. Those are great examples of bad questions, and indeed the kinds of questions we strive to avoid. I would argue that none of those examples are truly work-sample questions. The Photoshop one might work if you asked the candidate to execute the shortcut, rather than have them select from a list of options or type in an answer.

Based on your responses, I think you would be an excellent reviewer. During our development process, we do a stage of reviews by external experts asking them to give critical feedback. If we move forward with trying to develop some graphic design questions, I would absolutely love to get your feedback as I can tell you’d be very good at explaining exactly what the problems are and why. I’ll try to get in touch with you here down the line to see if you’re interested if/when the time comes.

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At the time I was attempting to hire this person, he said he was now a freelance artist, not a part of a team.
Just to clarify for you, I would not have any difficulty in giving a job to a team as long it is understood that I am hiring a team. But I generally do not hire “teams”, I only hire single freelancers, and this man presented himself as the sole illustrator who was applying for this single job.

By the way, here is the link to my LinkedIn Profile. https://www.linkedin.com/in/genedoyle/

IMO one of the things you’re fundamentally missing about the hiring of a graphic designer is that they (we) are visual communicators.

Software and design principals can be studied, but being able to communicate visually with a clear concise message is something only ‘good’ designers have achieved.

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