There are times when I’m brought into a company on contract or full time, and one of my tasks is to help build the team. This means recruiting, reading resumes, interviewing, and suggesting who the company hires. Today I’d like to let you in on how I approach that. To avoid endless uses of both gender pronouns, let’s say the candidate is female.
I should also mention that I believe interaction design and certain areas of UX are talents. While they can be improved, you are either born with a great sense of good UX or you are not. You’re either good at putting yourself in others’ shoes and determining what design will work best… or you’re not. I’m a mediocre artist. I could take years of art school and still be mediocre but with great technique.
So I normally am not too tied to a candidate’s educational background. I’m more interested in talent, skills, expertise, communication, and personality.
How does this candidate express herself? Does she have thoughtful but unrehearsed answers? Does she pay attention to detail when giving information or does she leave me with a lot more questions? Is she good at anticipating what I want to know and providing that information? If I ask her about previous jobs, is she diplomatic or does she have a pile of complaints?
Is this someone I and others would enjoy talking to (professionally)?
Portfolio and Work Approach
The main thing I look at when reviewing a portfolio (especially one on a website before I meet the candidate) is can I tell what work the candidate did and what role she played on that team. I have seen too many portfolios that show a screen shot of the finished product and list the company name. I never find out what sort of team that was. Agile or waterfall? Did you do the visual design? Interaction design? Front end dev? Something else? Were you involved in the testing? What artifacts did you create and why?
I have voted against many candidates whose portfolios seemed to lack a good user experience. If UX is about anticipating the needs of a website visitor and delivering those in an easy and intuitive interface, then a portfolio that lacks information and process can really turn me off.
Due to NDAs and other legalities, not everybody can publish a portfolio online. I look for many of the same things during the interview. I have been unpleasantly surprised a few times when a portfolio presentation during an interview left me with endless questions. Which work is yours? Who was on that team? How long did this take? Who were the stakeholders? Were you surprised by anything testing validated or invalidated? The nicest thing I ever heard during an interview was that the head of the department had no questions because my information was so thorough.
I’ve also been unpleasantly surprised by candidates who claimed to be UX pros but had nothing in the portfolio but fully-designed comps. That tells me so little that I might doubt your UX pro-ness.
I also like to hear a candidate discuss her step-by-step approach to a project.
Personality and Culture Fit
Every office has a different vibe. Even different offices within the same company can have different vibes. It’s important to make sure that a candidate will feel like she belongs.
When I’m a worker bee, I love the feeling of being on a strong team that cares like I do. I would want to make sure our candidate makes the team stronger. There’s no good reason to hire someone beneath your standards. If you really need an interaction design specialist, there is no good reason to settle on that “UX Jack of All Trades” who couldn’t show any artifacts in her portfolio because she’s really a visual designer.
I’d also want someone who will fit in for the level at which we’re interviewing. I don’t like to put a junior where I need a senior. I don’t like to put a senior where I need a junior! These are recipes for potentially poor work output as well as not retaining that worker.
Cater To Strengths, Manage For Weaknesses
All in all, I like to cater to people’s strengths. If someone is a visual designer who is thinking about moving into interaction design, I wouldn’t hire that person as an interaction designer unless she can show good approach and some experience… and then I’d consider her as a junior IxD. If she comes in as a visual designer but IxD is a weakness for her, I’d make sure the manager is getting her some mentoring so she can explore this (assuming it’s a company that is FOR professional development of workers).
A good manager and team leader can help someone improve weaknesses, but this is only when you have a great manager and team leader AND when you have a self-aware worker who knows this is a weakness she wants to improve.
In this case, I also think a paper trail is appropriate. There should be some sort of documentation on what training, mentoring, or coaching the worker is getting and how she responds to it. That way, there are no disagreements later about what someone was coached on. I’ve seen those disagreements, and that often leads to someone quitting, someone being disciplined, or both.