A great summary that matches my perspective and the structures that I implement for Product teams.
Embracing Junior Designers Who Apply for Roles that Require Experience
Hiring designers (or developers) here in Austin is a paradoxical combo of too many and not enough. If you’re looking for people new to the field, you can spend days going through applicant portfolios. If you’re looking for someone with experience, you’ll spend that time weeding out those same portfolios to find people who have the experience you’re seeking. Now, I personally feel that too many companies miss out on the opportunity of hiring talented folks as they only hire experienced designers. Their unwillingness to invest in the people new to our field is a disservice to the candidates and the team.
Lucky for me, that also means I have more opportunities to hire new designers with huge potential.
So, back to the quandary — designers without experience applying for a role that requires experience. Yes, sometimes we need someone who’s worked as a designer before (or developer or writer etc.), but there can be an opportunity to bring in someone new to the field — so long as a couple of key aspects are covered with them upfront.
Level Set With Them, They’ll Appreciate It
I’ve had this conversation countless times now. During my initial phone interview, before I start diving into my questions, but after I’ve given them a chance to ask theirs, I lay out our career path and levels. I explain that people new to the field start as Associates and I walk through the role, explaining the responsibilities and expectations, noting what is not expected of someone new to the field. I then explain that more senior designers have a very real responsibility to mentor those with less experience. We talk about the day-to-day and our team practices like our weekly design feedback sessions so I can explain that the title doesn’t indicate hierarchy — everyone shares work and is everyone open to feedback from each person on the team, including from a brand new Associate Designer.
99 times out of 100 the response is something like “This is exactly what I need! I haven’t heard of any other companies doing this…” This is both gratifying and disheartening. I love that they’re excited, but frustrated that it isn’t common practice.
Once this is explained to them, the candidate’s energy level immediately shifts and the way they participate, answer and asks questions is noticeably more comfortable and confident. You can tell that they are more open and willing to ask what may seem like a “basic” question. They’re more comfortable sharing what they’re excited about and where they’re challenged, prompting new conversation threads.
Structure Your Team Properly, They’ll Appreciate It Too
It’s all well and good to have that conversation, but then you need to back it up. This is where your more senior folk come in. They must be approachable and available to help the new designer beyond the initial week or two (think months and years — it’s ongoing). This is a critical part of their job, and they need to know that. They also need to be afforded the time and protection to do it, so timelines or project loads may shift accordingly. A new designer needs to be paired with an experienced one, even if they’re working on different aspects of a feature or different projects altogether.
This might seem like a non-starter if you’re slammed, but the investment up front pays off huge in the long run. Your new people gain experience and learn from the team’s best, building loyalty. Your experienced people get to build and flex those mentoring muscles which is highly rewarding.
And it all starts with a simple conversation that may seem hard at first, but will be appreciated by the people you want on your team.