There’s no disputing the fact that people interview differently, self-promote differently, and negotiate their compensation differently. How do you level the playing field so you get the best people for the job, regardless of gender?
In this blog post, I’ll share interview strategies I’ve developed or used for 15 years that enables both men and women to have an equal shot at the job. For me, it also resulted in tremendously creative, high performance design teams. It is less about gender balance and more about the nuanced art of understanding the candidate’s skills and personality, and your ability to bet on their future potential.
Invest time and effort in reviewing/selecting candidates with exceptional portfolios regardless of which school they attended. No design project is done in pure isolation; there are usually other contributors to the final product. Use phone screening to gauge the candidate’s individual contributions. This is an effective way to filter your pipeline and move top candidates to in-person interviews.
Creative Intelligence, Range and Skills
Recognize the difference between creative intelligence (ability to frame or re-frame and understand the problem), creative range (ability to generate many strong unique concepts for one problem) and creative skills (ability to execute a solution flawlessly). On-the-spot design challenges are a great way to evaluate all three. Brilliant designers fare well in all.
When assessing overall creativity, the ability to take risks and generate breakthrough ideas with out-of-the-box thinking is something that we look for keenly at d.Studio
If you have designed it, you should be able to explain it, right? Well, maybe. I have met many brilliant designers who are not the best at it – especially early in their careers, and in high-stakes situations like a job interview.
I personally put premium on exceptional creativity vs. Don Draper caliber pitching skills. You can always train designers on presentation skills – it’s much harder to train them on exceptional creativity. It is important, however, to have others in your team who can step up and cover the gap. Senior talent who can articulate design in a compelling manner are great role models and mentors to juniors.
Imagine where Apple products would be if Jony Ive was not a skilled and passionate designer. The fact that he is a master designer himself makes a huge difference to the products, people and organization he leads.
When hiring design leadership, I hire people who have invested significant effort in perfecting their design craft with hands-on work. I look for skilled designers who are also skilled managers – this has been a huge factor in consistent exceptional team performance. This also enables my design leadership to not only talk the talk but also have serious “street-cred” because they walk the talk.
Tons of research shows that EQ is more important than IQ for job satisfaction and success. I am a firm believer and passionate advocate of EQ training at all levels in my team. Behavioral interviewing techniques have good frameworks to assess incoming EQ level. Set aside time to probe the candidate from this angle.
Lift the veil during the interview and share your “real” team culture with the candidate. This goes beyond the routine “We have a fun-loving, collaborative, hard-working, respectful culture.” Give the candidate something real to walk away with.
For example: I tell candidates that designerly ego (oh, yes!) and unhealthy competitiveness within the team was a poor fit for us when it occurred in the past. As a supportive team that wins together, we tightly align individual wins with team wins. Designers are motivated to collaborate and not forced to. I also share that we love to laugh and be the goofy creatives at times. And as a team, we don’t take ourselves too seriously – we value good humor.
It’s critical that the candidate is 100% comfortable with who we are and self-selects in or out of that.
Honest exchanges give you a holistic understanding of the candidate – what drives them or concerns them, and what they value beyond work. For example: Work-life integration/flexibility is a big concern for working moms or those caring for dependents. Paternity/maternity leave is important to those planning for children. Desire to travel or not travel at all may be a driver. Try to understand external factors that motivate the candidate. Talk openly and honestly about flex-schedule policies at work. I have found this to be a huge differentiator… not only for moms, but also for everyone. My whole team enjoys flex work schedule, including me. Yet, we are a high-performing team because we don’t abuse the flexibility.
At d.Studio, candidates meet with a cross-functional team of Researchers, UX/Visual Designers, Writers, Product/Project Managers and Developers. We pass on relevant information to the next interviewer (like areas where the interviewer couldn’t go deeper, perhaps due to time constraint). We don’t share feedback to avoid biasing the next interviewer. At the end of the interview series, we pool the information together to get a rich understanding of the candidate. Interviewers send ratings/feedback to me and I collate the info and share everything with the team. We discuss and debate every final round candidate and make hiring decisions together. Everyone on the team is completely bought into the new hire and is excited by the prospect of working with them.
As I said earlier, this is not about gender balance. It’s a battle-tested interview process to find awesome creative talent. So what does this have to do with giving women equal footing in the interview process?
Stats show women have a harder time speaking about their accomplishments. This process enables a multi-dimensional way of assessing all talent (both men & women) with less emphasis on “selling yourself”.
At d.Studio, this is a critical reason why I see many women progressing through the interview process to the next stage of job offer.