How to improve your UX hiring process
8 minutes read
A number of years ago I used to be part of the UX team at AstraZeneca, the global pharmaceutical company. We had a programme of in-house UX training sessions we would run, including a 1-day introduction to design thinking. As it’s always best to learn by doing, we used to give participants a design challenge to tackle so that they could practice some design thinking activities. The challenge we gave them was to improve the hiring experience for job applicants. We figured that everyone had at least some experience of applying for a job, and most hiring processes have an awful lot of room for improvement.
One thing we quickly learned from running these sessions was that most people had experienced some truly terrible hiring experiences (in general I should add, not when applying for AstraZeneca). Common complaints included confusing job descriptions, onerous application processes, poorly run interviews, little or no status updates and huge lags between stages. Given that hiring is one of, if not the most important thing that an organisation does, it’s crazy just how many make a complete hash of it, especially when it comes to hiring UX professionals.
As an experienced hiring manager I’ve recruited countless UX professionals over the years. Read on to learn some tips for improving your UX hiring process so that you can maximise your chances of hiring the best people for your team. I’ll cover planning your hiring process, defining roles, defining the application processes, reviewing applications, interviewing and what happens after an interview.
Planning your hiring process
Map your current candidate experience
From terrible application forms to a complete lack of feedback during the hiring process, companies wouldn’t dream of treating their customers in the way they treat their candidates. If you only take one thing away from this article it’s that you need to proactively design a positive candidate experience.
A great starting point for this is capture your current candidate experience as an experience map. This will help you to identify key stages of the process, along with touchpoints, bottlenecks, pain points and opportunities to improve things. Don’t forget to involve stakeholders, such as recruiters and interviewers so that you get the complete picture. Bonus points for speaking to any recent hires about their experience.
Having mapped out your current hiring process, you are in a great position to start thinking about how you can improve it.
Keep interview steps to a minimum
I’ve seen job adverts for UX roles that involve a 5-step interview process. There are probably only a handful of companies, such as Google and Apple that can get away with asking candidates to jump through 5 hoops for a job, but even if you are hiring for one of them I wouldn’t recommend a 5-step hiring process anyway. Whilst on the one hand you might think that more interviews = better hiring decisions, in reality lots of interviews will put a lot of candidates off applying in the first place and will create a huge hiring burden for you and your team.
In my experience a 2-step interview process generally works best:
- A telescreen with a portfolio review (if the applicant has one) to assess their suitability for the job, to explore their experience and to find out the sort of role they’re looking for.
- An in-depth interview to dig into any concerns raised during the first interview and to get a wider range of opinions. This interview could include a UX exercise, such as tackling a hypothetical scenario, along with some competency-based questions.
Due to a higher number of stakeholders typically being involved for senior hires a third interview step might be required. However, if you can get by with only 2 interviews that’s generally better for you and for your candidates.
Don’t involve too many people
There is a temptation to involve lots of people in the hiring process so that you can get a very wide range of opinions. However, too many cooks not only spoil the broth, they can also spoil your hiring process. With lots of stakeholders it can be hard to establish a shared understanding of what you’re looking for, communication and coordination costs increase, the logistics of arranging interviews can become very challenging and there can be a tendency for group think to kick in.
The hiring process should be driven by the hiring manager, with input and assistance from a small group of stakeholders who can bring additional insight into the hiring process and decision. I’ve found that the hiring manager, plus 2-3 additional stakeholders is generally a good number for this.
Be reasonable with candidates
When defining your hiring process it’s important to be reasonable with what you ask candidates to do. For example, I don’t think that it’s reasonable to ask candidates to do a lot of work in their own time, such as completing a small design project, as this disadvantages those with busy home lives, or even those currently in a role.
Be flexible when asking for a portfolio
You should also be reasonable about portfolio expectations. Not every candidate will have the time to create a detailed portfolio, especially if they have been approached and are therefore not actively seeking new roles. Recent or current graduates likewise might not have much of a portfolio as they are unlikely to have worked on many projects. I’d echo Jared Spool’s advice by making portfolios optional. Be flexible about what you require and remember that you should be hiring someone based on the work they could be doing, not just the work they’ve previously done.
Continually work on your candidate pipeline
Hiring shouldn’t just be something that happens when you have an open position, it should be an on-going activity to help establish a strong pipeline of candidates. Think about how you can attract the best talent. For example, can you build a presence in the local UX community? Do you have a referral scheme in place? Are there previously unsuccessful candidates who you can keep in touch with as they build valuable experience? Hiring takes time and effort, so think about how you can share the workload as you don’t want everything falling on the poor hiring manager. Just like design, hiring should be a team sport.
Defining the role
Create specific job descriptions
When defining a job description it’s important to agree what the new hire will be doing and therefore the skills, experience and behaviours required. The more specific you can be, the better. Think about what the new hire will need to accomplish and work back from there to determine the requirements of the role.
For example, if you need a senior practitioner with experience creating design systems then be very clear about this. If you have a very general job description you’re more likely to get applicants who are not well suited to the role because the requirements are not clear.
Sell the role
Too many job descriptions read like a never-ending hiring manager wish list. When writing a job description think about what your must haves and nice to haves are. Be realistic about what you’re asking for and be sure to sell not just the role but also the work. How are you going to persuade good candidates to apply?
Review the job description
It’s a good idea to ask someone else to review the job advert before it goes live. This helps to ensure that it’s clear and easy to understand.
Make it easy to apply
Just like any good form design, you should keep your application process as simple and as straight forward as possible. Don’t ask for information you don’t need, such as every job an applicant has ever done and avoid asking for a cover letter if you can. It’s your job to determine why a candidate is suited to the role, not the candidate’s.
If you’re working with recruiters, either in-house or external, it’s important to brief them so that it’s clear what you’re looking for. Ask them to playback what they think you’re looking for to help establish a shared understanding and provide feedback on candidates put forward. The better informed recruiters are, the better job they can do.
Use a candidate scoring system
In addition to the hiring manager there will often be other people reviewing applications. It’s therefore important to agree what you’re looking for so that judgements are objective and consistent. A good way to do this is to set up a scoring system for candidates, such as ratings for experience, skills, industry knowledge, portfolio etc… A structured scoring system helps to provide objective reviews and can be especially useful for guiding less experienced reviewers.
Carve out time to review applications
Even though reviewing applications is very important it can be difficult to find time for it amongst the million and one other things going on. Rather than trying to squeeze reviewing into my already congested calendar I’ve found it useful to carve out dedicated for this during the week. For example, I might dedicate 30 minutes every other day to review applications, or even 30 minutes every day if I have a lot of them to review.
Like the best chocolates in a selection box, good candidates don’t hang around long. It’s therefore imperative that you move quickly. Certainly, you should be getting back to candidates in days rather than weeks. You could even consider setting agreed targets for your hiring process. For example, ensuring that applications are always reviewed within 2 working days.
Create an interview guide
Even if you and your fellow interviewers have a lot of hiring experience it’s still a good idea to create an interview guide outlining the interview structure and example questions to ask. This helps to keep interviews focused, maintains consistency across interviews and provides much needed guidance for any inexperienced interviewers.
Make interviews a 2-way conversation
Remember that during an interview the candidate is interviewing the organisation just as much as the organisation is interviewing the candidate. It’s therefore important that interviews are a 2-way conversation. Be sure to sell the role to the candidate and ensure that there is plenty of time to answer any questions a candidate might have.
Set clear expectations
It’s important to provide clarity during the interview and to set clear expectations for the candidate. For example, when will the candidate hear back? What will the next steps be? What will be candidate be expected to do?
Capture feedback before discussing
There is often a tendency for group think following an interview. Someone will lead with their feedback which will then unconsciously bias the other interviewers. One way to avoid this happening is to ask everyone to send their feedback individually and then to discuss as a group. This ensures that feedback is not biased and allows for a better-informed group discussion.
Provide feedback for unsuccessful candidates
Too many organisations don’t provide feedback for unsuccessful candidates. Telling someone that they don’t have the skills you’re looking for isn’t helpful, telling them which skills they need to work on is.
Providing unsuccessful candidates with feedback allows them to better understand why the decision was made and helps them to know what to work on. If a candidate only just missed out it makes sense to identify the areas for a candidate to work on and to recommend that they apply again in the future once they’ve gained the necessary skills and experience.
Get feedback from candidates
Don’t just ask successful candidates what their hiring experience was like, ask unsuccessful ones as well. A follow up survey can be a good way to do this.
Hiring is one of the most important things that an organisation does, but all too often this is hindered by a poor hiring process, including when it comes to hiring UX professionals. With these tips for improving your UX hiring process you can maximise your chances of hiring the best people for your team without creating a huge hiring burden for you and your team.
- Reviewing UX Portfolios: 4 High-Risk Hiring Mistakes (UIE)
- Hiring UX Professionals: 3 Critical Mistakes to Avoid (Jared Spool)
- It’s Time to Ditch the UX Portfolio (Chris Kiess)