Tightening up my hiring process for UX practitioners

I used to have a hiring process that carefully ensured every team member had a role in questioning, evaluating, and discussing each candidate. My employees loved it, but candidates suffered through it and it made us very slow to make decisions. I worked on tightening up the process (and especially its planning and logistics) so we could get through all of the various meetings in a half-day or so. That helped a little bit. Then I tackled improving how we made the yea/nay decision on a candidate, aiming to make a decision the evening of the interview day. We picked up the pace a bit more, but still chewed through a lot of candidates looking for one that would get a thumbs-up from enough people. We were still slow, rejecting too many fine folks that could have helped us. And we wasted a lot of employee time doing so, within each individual candidate’s process as well as across candidates.

There were some nice points to this process, namely that we

  • became a lot clearer on the criteria we used to score candidate portfolios
  • carefully divided interview responsibilities to reduce duplication of questions and topics
  • became a lot clearer on the few criteria we used
  • developed a standard scoring scale for each criterion: no/near/yes/plus, where we were hoping for “yes”es but a person who we liked who had a few “near”s might be offered an opportunity to move them to “yes”

Then I changed jobs to a firm that was much smaller and could not afford a lengthy process, even if that process was contained within a day or two. Even if that process in its rigor strove to protect the firm from mis-hires. We could not involve the whole team. We could not take hours out of everyone’s schedule to accomplish an interview, much less a hire. And we had to be even more crisp with how we evaluated people to set aside the inappropriate candidates quickly but not deny a good person an opportunity to shine.

I also realized, when putting this new process together, that part of the stress for candidates is in the gaps between activities – not knowing what to expect, not knowing if you are succeeding or failing, not knowing how to prepare. I strive to reduce these stressors in my hiring process.

I’m also conscious of the work that a candidate is tempted to do to prepare for an interview – polishing their portfolio, doing design exercises, practicing presenting their work. These are all barriers to folks that might be amazing employees but due to other constraints (such as caring for a child or an aging parent, economic pressures, attending school) don’t have the time outside of work to polish a portfolio. I don’t care about the ability to spend time outside of work preparing, I care about how a person thinks about the work and how that thought appears in the activities they choose and work they produce. I don’t need a person to do a bunch of unpaid homework to prove these things to me. I do need them to be able to talk coherently and in some detail about the work they did, how they integrated with the team, what they chose to do and why, how their contributions helped.

The result:

  1. I evaluate a candidate’s resume and portfolio. I have a little checklist of characteristics/experience/capabilities to watch for. If a person checks most of the boxes I invite them to a screening call. Boxes that aren’t checked are noted for steps two and three. (So far I’ve had success evaluating the “portfolios” of designers, writers, researchers, really anyone that can provide work samples of some kind.)
  2. I have a well-planned half-hour screening call, kept strictly to the half-hour, including a brief explanation of the entire process and what to expect timing- and communication-wise. This explanation demonstrates empathy and helps put the candidate at ease. I explain the job, the company, the team, some of our current challenges, then ask the candidate about what of their experience they find relevant. This gives them an opportunity to learn about the role, decide if it seems exciting or uninteresting, and shape their story. At the end of the call I let the person know if I’d like to talk to them further. In most cases we can schedule our next meeting right then. If not, I explain when they can hear from me.
  3. We have a 90 minute interview mostly organized around portfolio review. I bring one team member to this meeting. Rather than try to go over everything in a candidate’s portfolio we ask them just to bring two projects that they are especially proud of that seem relevant in some way to what we discussed in the screening call. I counsel them not to make anything new or fancy for this meeting. They don’t need a polished portfolio, they just need real examples of work they’ve done, in whatever stage of completeness they have. As mentioned above I’m looking for evidence that they actually did the work and their thought processes around the work. This meeting ends with us telling the candidate exactly when they can expect to hear from us. That moment is never more than a day or two away, allowing for weekends.
  4. The team member and I have a quick huddle where we go over our scoring and decide whether or not we’d like to make an offer, and at what level. I immediately work with whatever people at the firm are necessary to get an offer prepared quickly, if needed, and we rapidly communicate a verbal offer or non-acceptance to the candidate within the promised timeframe.

This process lowers barriers for the candidate, saves us and the candidate needless anxiety and extra work, is quick yet rigorous, and of the many people I’ve screened/interviewed/hired, only one turned out to be a mis-hire so far.