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What Branding and Design Firms Should Look for When Hiring

Posted on July 23, 2014 | Posted by Brooke Randell

When looking to hire new creative employees for your branding and design company, it's often easy to get overwhelmed or confused at how to start the search. It's easy to get burned by someone who looks good on paper, but for some reason or another doesn't work out for your company. Whether you're hiring for copywriters, graphic designers, marketers, web developers, or other positions requiring creativity, it's important to consider the following questions before making the decision to hire someone.

What branding and design firms should look for when interviewing new candidates

1. Are they capable?

Obviously, the person needs to be capable of doing the job your are looking to hire them for! This doesn't just mean that they fit the basic requirement you posted on LinkedIn, but that they also show the potential to learn, grow, and evolve with the position and the company. Will they be flexible if they are presented with a task that technically wasn't "in their job description"? Get a feel for their willingness to learn and adapt by presenting the candidate with scenarios in the interview and asking how they would react to them.

During college one of my part time jobs was as the head after-hours building coordinator for our campus student center. In addition to knowing a big fat binder's worth of building policies to enforce, building coordinators had to be able to quickly react to any (and every) problem that happened during their shift including (but not limited to) maintenance emergencies, medical emergencies, scheduling issues, and an infinite number of other problems it would be impossible to comprehensively train for. This not only required creativity, but flexibility, multi-tasking skills, and the ability to make good snap decisions. When interviewing candidates for building coordinator positions, we would give them a scenario that might conceivably happen during one of their shifts; for example, "While you are heading to the ballroom to help set up for an event that starts in 30 minutes, you think you smell gas coming from the catering kitchen. At the same time, campus police dispatch calls you to say that one of the alarms in the bowling alley is going off and they want you to see what's wrong. What do you do?". 

Not only would these scenario questions help us see if the candidate was capable of doing the job, it gave them a taste of what would be expected of them. Many of the unqualified applicants took themselves out of the running when they found out what would be required of them. Coming up with job-specific scenarios can help you vet out those who will be able to do more than accomplish the bare-minimum. 

2. Will they fit in?

Hiring somebody shouldn't be a popularity contest, but it's important to think about your company's culture and whether or not they will fit in with your dynamic when hiring new creative employees. If your work environment is casual and fun, someone with the personality of Ebenezer Scrooge will very likely not fit in with your company's culture. Writing down your company's culture code is a great way to remind your current employees how you'd, ideally, like the company to run, and will be an indication to people applying for open positions of what they can expect if they get hired.

This doesn't mean every new hire needs to be an automaton or an exact clone of your current trusted employees, of course! But people who do not mesh well with the most key aspects of your company culture will struggle working in the environment you're trying to cultivate. For example, if you're a trendy start-up company that prides itself on its employees lounging on yoga balls and sipping vegan chai lattes at work but the person you're interviewing prefers a desk chair and iced americanos, that doesn't inherently mean it isn't going to work out. More importantly than taste in office decor and morning beverages, do they seem interested in and passionate about what your company does for its clients? Are they excited to meet the team? Do they seem willing to get involved with office team building activities? If the answer to all of these questions is "not really" then you will probably have issues with this person consistently feeling like an outsider. This leads to them leaving—usually of their own accord—and you're stuck in the hiring process yet again!

3. Are they the "right" kind of creative?

We understand that each person is their own special snowflake, but doing creative work for a company pretty much always means collaboration, teamwork, and (inevitably) compromise will be required. Someone who refuses to stick to a style guide or to allow their work to be edited by others will probably be more of a problem than they are a benefit to your company. As opposed to the employees at places like Google [X] who deal with "moonshot" ideas that are so esoteric and outlandish that they have a very slim chance of panning out (but might be "revolutionary" if they do), your employees are likely to be dealing with more tangible problems—like coming up with a brand package or series of blog posts for a pet supply company. This means they'll have to take into account the wishes of the client, the input of the team they are working with, budgets, deadlines, and more. 

One way to test the person's ability to have focused creativity is to give them sample projects during the interviewing process. For example, if you are looking for a copywriter you can ask them to come up with a pitch for a blog post about one of your actual clients before they come in for the next interview. If you are interviewing a designer or illustrator, ask them to come up with ideas for something like a logo or website homepage based on a fictional client brief. 

What branding and creative firms should look for when hiring a new employeeThis guy looks like he needs to work on his people skills.

4. Are they professional?

Yes, it's amazing if the person you are hiring is an incredibly gifted artist, but they also need to be a professional. You will have to work with them every day and they will have to interact with your most important clients on a regular basis. All the artistic creativity in the world won't benefit your company if your employee is habitually late, rude or difficult to work with, uncompromising, unhygienic (hey, it happens!), or generally immature. This is something you can generally pick up on during the interview process, but it never hurts to check up on those references! People who make a good first impression may not live up to that first meeting after they are hired.

In addition to contacting their former employers, you can also stalk potential hires on the Internet thanks to the popularity of social media accounts. There are probably very few people whose Facebook pages and Twitter profiles are entirely professional and free of the occasional stupid post, which is fine, but it's one thing to post too many cat videos and quite another to see them publicly bashing their former employer online. Is every single post littered with foul language? Do they seem to be drunk in more pictures than not? Have they publicly expressed racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive opinions? These are red flags that this applicant is probably not the best person to represent your company's image. 

5. Are they a good listener?

Employees at branding and design firms need to have good communication skills in order to come up with brand packages from scratch, often without the client having a clear direction at the beginning of the process. Your new hire should be able to not only ask the right questions but also digest the information they are being given to interpret what the client both wants and needs. Often your client might not know what they want at all or they have very strong opinions about design that you know will not work well for them. Your writers, designers, and developers should be able to talk to the client and discern what the client really cares about: how they want their company to be represented. A brand is, after all, what people say about your company after you've left the room. Having a good brand package can help control that conversation and turn it into something you want it be! By listening and understanding how the client wants their company to be viewed and what their mission is, your employee can do a better job for them in the end.

You can help discern this skill during the interviewing process by asking them questions like "After what we've discussed so far, can you summarize what some of our company goals are?" or "Looking at the job description, what do you think will be expected of you in this position?" Hopefully if they have been actively listening and paying attention they can give you a coherent answer. You can also roleplay scenarios where you are the client who doesn't know what they want and they are the designer trying to come up with design for their website, logo, etc. See how they react. Do they dominate the interview and tell you what you "need" to do to have a good design, or do they ask questions and try and get a feel of what your "company" is?

What else do you look for when hiring? Leave a comment below!


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