by Karthi Subbaraman

Great leaders are great talent agents. They have an ability to spot the right talent, unlock human potential, match the best candidate to the role and build high performance teams day-in and day-out. Hiring great talent and nurturing them is a huge aspect of a design leader's role.

While scouting for great talent, sometimes all credentials might not be available (like an established portfolio, a design degree, previous work experience etc.) for the candidate and the design leader might have to make a hiring decision based on only potential. It gets really tricky in such scenarios. Gut instinct is good but not enough to base an entire hiring decision on it.

We need better metrics to enhance the probability of success. We need better processes to decipher the unknowns before making a decision.

In my years of experience as a design leader, I have noticed an optional design task does a lot of magic.

A design task has really helped me in understanding the candidate's thinking patterns, articulation ability, mindset, idea generation strengths and weaknesses, time management, prioritization, ability to diverge and converge, ability to collaborate and ability to make design decisions.

If you are planning to give a design take home assignment, here are 5 tips to design the assignment well.

  1. Let the take home design task not exceed 8 hours of the candidate's time.

    Tip: Workout the task yourself or ask a senior designer in your team to do it.  Observe how long it takes. If it takes x hours by a senior designer, it generally takes 2x time by a junior designer. This exercise will help you set clear expectations and boundaries. The more specific the design task, the better the candidate can take a shot.
  2. Encourage the candidate to ask as many questions as possible during the task. Simulate the real world scenario during the workout. In real environment they will be able to ask questions, collaborate, refer and more. A design task is not an exam. Let it be as real world as possible. Encourage them to add references to their inspiration sources.
  3. Along with the design task provide a rubric. It helps the candidate understand how they will be assessed at the end of the task. When the rejection or acceptance mail hits them they will know what went right and what went wrong based on the rubric.
  4. To enhance the candidate experience, send a detailed feedback as a loom video or an email along with acceptance or rejection to the candidate so that they know their work is reviewed and valued by the hiring team.
  5. If you want to check more aspects beyond the 8 hour task, then provide them a paid tryout for one week in your office or remotely. This can help you judge their speed of execution, how they take feedback, their ability to learn & apply and how they iterate on the designs.

    Sometimes we need more time to think and perform better. A week is a good time compared to a day. When they are paid there is no guilt of exploitation. The integrity sets in.

Whether you select/reject the candidate the hiring experience is remembered forever by the candidate. When the process is rigorous and serious, your filtering also get rigourous. It sets a high bar for hiring great candidates.

It is not the rejection that hurts, not knowing why you are rejected hurts even more. Let's ease the pain and enhance the hiring success as leaders.

🥂 to experience!