Let’s face it, every business must innovate for the future, and innovation requires creativity. Not just creativity, but appropriately focused and managed creativity. But this kind of creativity doesn’t just pop up on demand, and you can’t just click on it; it takes savvy Design, UX and Innovation leaders that know how to nurture and harvest the creativity of individuals, teams and entire organizations.
Which raises an interesting challenge – how does one attract and recruit these savvy creative leaders? The reality is that top creative people are waiting for your email or phone call. But if you approach recruitment like a design challenge, you may improve your results.
We’ve developed and refined a unique recruitment process which yields exceptional results. We’ve combined the principles of user-centered design, service design, and performance-based interviewing to create this approach, and we’ve used it successfully with major companies in the US and Europe to recruit top creative leadership talent. Here’s how it works:
1. Deep knowledge of the design functions
All too many times candidates are approached by generalist recruiters who know very little about design leadership, and nothing is a bigger turn off. To know your target candidate is to know the job function, and to know the job function is to either have been in that role yourself, or to have deep contextual knowledge and empathy of the function. The problem is that unique roles like Design, UX and Innovation leadership are nuanced and difficult to learn; it actually takes one to know one. That’s why we think hiring manages need to lean into recruitment more actively, rather than hoping their HR team will eventually get it. Hiring managers already have the category and tacit knowledge, and should leverage this in sourcing and recruiting, not just in interviewing.
2. Process based on service design methods
The most effective recruitment process is one that accommodates the client journey and the candidate journey. To many times recruiters and hiring managers fail the recognize the importance of the candidate journey, and to many times this leaves a bad experience about the brand. Great recruitment requires a collaboration that builds the employment brand, engages all stakeholders, and creates great experiences.
We recommend rolling out search projects in two general stages; a Research phase and an Insight phase.
3. The Research Phase
The first step of the research phase is to Orient with the hiring manager(s). We’ve developed a Contextual Position Brief to guide our kick off meetings, which helps us frame the position, context and culture – the tangibles and intangibles. Like a good design brief, this tool helps to clarify and set clear expectations, in order to target candidates and present the position most accurately. Review the contextual position brief with the hiring team, and then develop a profile and persona of the ideal candidate. All these tools stem from design management principles, and help get everyone involved in the hiring process on the same page at the outset.
Next, develop a research plan to generate names of sources and prospective candidates. Begin by determining where this ideal candidate may be currently working, and also identify competitors and any off-limits companies. Identify potential candidates and sources by tapping into your database, and consult with your network. Use research methods to generate comprehensive lists of targets; we use tools like Hoovers, Spoke, Zoom, Namz, LinkedIn Recruiter, SourcePoint and advanced Boolean, among others. Review and prioritize the prospect lists with the hiring team.
4. The Insight Phase
Next begin reaching out to potential candidates – goals being to screen as well as pique interest and spread the word. Remember every prospect may not be a candidate, but they may be a source of information. We recommend collaborating with your sources to seek passive candidates, and proactively reach out via phone and online. Emails and LinkedIn InMails have the lowest response rates, so this must be augmented with personal phone calls, which is where the credibility of the recruiter can pay great dividends. Finding, contacting and piquing interest of passive candidates is an art onto itself, and having deep industry experience and an expert reputation is truly a door opener.
In the Discover phase, move from piquing interest and screening and to first-round interviewing. We have developed a variety of unique tools for this phase, including a Litmus Test, Performance-Based interview techniques and even oddball questions, coupled with our direct experience in design, UX and inno leadership work. You’re looking for top performance that matches the position, so ask candidates to explain their two most significant accomplishments in their current job, and the one before that, and before that, and keep asking questions like “Tell me more”. The objective is to learn insights based on actual context, and learn enough to either cut prospects, or move them to another conversation.
Continue the interview process repeatedly through the Synthesize phase, in order to present a shortlist of the most qualified and interested candidates that meet the profile, persona, functional requirements, performance objectives and cultural fit, and are a good career move for the candidate. Selecting from a shortlist of a vetted, qualified and interested candidates reduces risk and helps ensure more efficient and successful hiring.
5. Start slow, then finish fast
Just like creating a great design brief, it always pays to start slow so that you can finish fast. And as with every thoughtful research project, this process takes time and resources. We target 45 days from the start of a search to delivering the first set of vetted, qualified and interested finalist candidates, and 15 more days to deliver a second shortlist of finalist candidates. Project completion depends on the clients speed in interviewing, decision making and closing the candidate.
And remember, top candidates are fluid, things are always changing, and they may or may not be as interested in your position in the future. So be prepared to act fast when you know you have the right person. We’ve seen some great candidates slip away because clients did not make timely decisions. But as they say, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”.
Recruiting the best creative talent is challenging indeed. It requires a unique blend of insight, functional knowledge, empathy, smart tools, savvy assessments and hard work. Design, UX and Innovation is hot, no doubt, and there are a lot of posers out there – this approach may help you recruit the very best.