Revamping my design leadership portfolio: audiences

In a previous post I said

My highest-level goal is to be an impressive candidate design leader to firms that are looking for experience design leadership. They needn’t work hard to qualify themselves; I’ll assess these companies myself for culture, personal growth opportunity, financial opportunity, and interesting work to do.

Revamping my design leadership portfolio: goals

I’d like my portfolio to represent me well for advertised positions that I apply to, and for positions where a recruiter comes to me as a passive candidate. These two avenues probably have different processes and slightly different audiences. I’m a little bit more interested in the passive opportunities, since recently these have been the more interesting ones (iRobot, Neato, Kohler), but I suspect that there will be goals enough in common that I can do a good job for each audience with one portfolio. (For now I’m going to leave my resume out of the analysis and research, though I am sure I will learn things that are useful to improving it along the way.)

Since I have some experience recruiting designers and managers in small and large companies, I understand that the key variables and audiences break down like so:

  • When applying to an advertised position, one’s profile is screened
    • first by a recruiter, then passed to a hiring manager for further review, OR
    • first by a hiring manager who is a “product person” (knowledgeable about experience design or product management), OR
    • first by a hiring manager who is not a product person (focused on some other area such as engineering, sales, or marketing and less knowledgeable about experience design or product management).
  • A passive candidate’s profile is first screened by a recruiter, then
    • reviewed by a hiring manager who is a product person, OR
    • reviewed by a hiring manager who is not a product person.

The first step in capturing passive opportunities is clearly to get my profile in front of relevant recruiters. LinkedIn seems pretty good for this. While my LinkedIn profile is also not a subject of this research, I’m sure I’ll learn things relevant to it along the was as well.

The second is to get that recruiter to invite me to an interview so I can get them to pass me to the hiring manager if the position seems to be a fit. My impression is that my resume does an okay job here, and my portfolio could do better. I don’t know how many good opportunities have not come my way due to insufficiency of my portfolio, and I’m not sure I have a way of finding out.

The third is for my profile and the assessment of the recruiter to work together to encourage the hiring manager to grant me an interview. My impression is that my portfolio is not effective in this third step.

I’m going to have to make some more assumptions here, but my strategy should not be informed solely by assumptions.

Assumption: a recruiter is going to try to match my profile to the “spec” they are given, either a job description or something more specific about the signals the hiring manager is looking for. So a recruiter will be looking for these signals in my resume, and possibly in my portfolio. They are not likely to be expert in experience design, so the recruiter will be watching for general quality of portfolio items and that the right topics are mentioned or otherwise evident. I’d like to test this assumption, learn if it is correct and how I might address it.

Assumption: a hiring manager who is not a product person will be seeking to add or improve the design function in their organization by hiring a seasoned leader who can evaluate current staff and processes, develop staff, hire, improve processes, improve integration of the design function with the rest of the business, bring new capabilities to the design function, and deliver results in doing so that clearly further the aims of the business. I’d like to test this assumption.

Assumption: a hiring manager who is a product person will have goals for the improvement of the design function, but will not be able to accomplish it on their own, due to too many people and/or product lines to support, rapid growth, expertise or interest gaps, or other structural challenges. They may have a strong sense of the signals they are looking for, but regardless of that will be helped by clarity that I can tick all the boxes as a design leader. I’d like to test this assumption.

Assumption: whether a recruiter is the first hurdle or not, the needs of the different types of hiring manager will be the same. This assumption feels pretty safe, if the above hypotheses hold.

So, how might I test my assumptions for each of the three audiences? What might my research plan be for these three audiences?

Often in design research we look where the light is best. Folks like to complain about this; it’s a bad way to look for your keys, for example. But needs must; we may not have direct access to the people we need to learn from. In this case, I do not have direct access to hiring managers of either type that I have recently succeeded or failed with, other than my current boss. I do have access to the recruiters I’ve spoken to recently. I can start with them.

These recruiters are busy people, so I’ll need to interrogate them gently and in ways that don’t feel expensive to them in terms of time or thought. But I can send an email asking if they’d be willing to answer a few questions by email about the recruiting process and my case in particular, and see what they say.

Next up: the message and the results.