How to track down that perfect partner

Bad interviews can not only lose employers potentially great staff, but also reflect badly on your firm. Bhavna Mistry outlines how to conduct an incisive interview

At some point in your life, you will have been through the interview process, mainly as the person in the hot seat – the person being interviewed. But how many of us have been on the other side of the desk, as the person doing the interviewing? As industry and the economy pick up, the signs are that design is about to hit another boom – and designers who are looking to grow their businesses need to know some of the tricks of the trade if they are to recruit the right sort of people for a growing consultancy.

It goes without saying – or at least it should do – that the performance of the interviewer is almost as important as that of the person you’re interviewing. To a large extent, it is the interviewer who sets the stage, determining the atmosphere and taking the lead in the structure of the interview. This ensures that both interviewer and interviewee are clear as to what’s needed. In this scenario, the interviewee has the maximum opportunity to perform at his or her best. Whether he or she takes that opportunity and runs with it to give an impressive interview is a personal choice.

But there are many ways to set the stage and many routes to finding and getting the ideal person to join your team. Handwriting tests, psychometric tests, straight forward interviews, simulated activities – the process can be as complicated or as simple as the interviewer chooses. The main requirement before interviewing seems to be a clear idea of the sort of person you’re looking for.

At Fitch, recruitment is done through different avenues. “We have enough contacts within colleges to be able to spot potential graduates who would be right for Fitch,” says consultancy director Bill Sermon. “This gives us a good understanding of what’s happening and we also take students on placement, which can lead on to full-time employment.”

Fitch rarely advertises, though it does use specialist recruitment companies for senior appointments. Junior to middleweight designers tend to be recruited via word-of-mouth and references. But whatever position the group is looking to fill, the core recruitment process is the same.

“On the whole, we have a three- stage process, which is mainly interview-based,” says Sermon. “The first stage is forming an assessment of the sort of person we’re looking for and setting criteria of how we’re going to establish that, based on expectations which are variable. We want to know how the candidates think, what motivates and stimulates them.” First- and second- stage interviews follow, with the first interview informal in tone, while the second interview is more formal, with the line manager participating as well as senior directors.

Tasks are set for interviewees to complete, but this is near employment stage. “We don’t go in for the currently advanced selection techniques – we aren’t that dissatisfied with our current methods,” says Sermon.

At BDG/McColl, a variety of techniques are used at various recruitment levels. “Our investment in time and methods depends on the level we’re looking to recruit at,” says the group’s human resources director Graham Abbey. In some cases full recruitment campaigns, complete with simulations, test situations and personality tests are organised, but as with Fitch and Design Bridge, it’s the approach to projects that counts for designers.

For BDG/McColl, the “hallmark of a successful recruiting process is to use a variety of techniques to get the fullest possible picture of the candidate”, says Abbey.

Johanna Bowers, personnel director at Design Bridge, starts off with a blueprint job description – “which is a living document because it constantly changes if you get the right person”, she says. Like Fitch, Design Bridge tends to use an interview-based process involving a few people to ensure there are no personality clashes. “In a team-based environment, personality and chemistry in the studio are as important as creative skills,” says Bowers.

All three directors agree that “it’s as much an intellectual process as it is about establishing the creative skills of the candidate, although that is of course important”, as Sermon puts it.

Ultimately, successful recruitment is about treading a fine line between knowing what you want from the person – what role they will develop – without having too many hard and fast rules about that role. “What we encourage in design is the breaking of rules – but within certain guidelines,” says Sermon. “You should be looking for a rounded person, which means there are some things you may judiciously overlook.”

And that old chestnut about appearances? The candidate may be wild and unkempt, but, like Sermon, you should be prepared to “forgive an awful lot if they’re highly creative”.

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