How to find the right design staff

Recruiting design staff is more than just a time-consuming distraction – the wrong choice could harm your business and reputation.

Recruiting staff is a nightmare. Choose the wrong person and the repercussions could be highly detrimental, to your consultancy and your reputation.

Fitch senior director Zuilmah Wallis, who has been involved in a swathe of recent UK appointments, says it is a “big problem” – Fitch has recruited eight new staff in just over a month and is looking for six more (DW 23 January).

Wallis says finding the right senior creatives is particularly difficult now because the recession has left a dearth of designers with five to ten years experience.

Staff recruiters have a number of methods at their disposal. Most choose several, and Wallis says the recruitment process is fundamentally the same across the spectrum of creative design.

First you must establish what you are looking for in the role. “It is important to set the right brief,” says recruitment consultant Stuart Newman, director of Network Design. “What is the person’s role and responsibility? Will they be interfacing with clients or just designing? Does the job need language skills?, and so on. And it is important to come up with an appropriate job title and salary.”

Once the brief has been completed, it’s time to narrow the field to as many or few people as you think are able to do the job. Potential employees can be targeted through advertising, recruitment consultants, head-hunters and good old-fashioned networking.

Basten Greenhill Andrews marketing manager Tim Greenhill says BGA uses advertising but finds it a hit and miss affair;

Wallis says it can be very time consuming as it often elicits such a large response.

Network’s Newman says the key is to target advertising precisely – attracting the maximum number of suitable responses, and minimising unsuitable applicants.

Good advertising will attract people not necessarily looking for a job. They are often better candidates than people actively looking for work who might be desperate to leave their jobs, he adds.

“Because there are so many jobs around at the moment, advertising has to be particularly good. It must be big and noticeable, setting out clearly what the job entails and who should apply. The salary should be made prominent because that is perhaps the single biggest driver,” says Newman. He says six good replies for an average position is pleasing.

Many design consultancies use a recruitment consultant. These have designers on their books and will recommend the three or four they regard as most suitable for that particular job. Paula Carrahar, head of graphic design at recruitment consultant Major Players, often advertises on the consultancies behalf as well.

Carrahar says Major Players’ fees are at the upper end of the scale at around 20 per cent of the successful candidate’s first-year salary. If no candidate is found, no fee is paid. Network’s Newman will not be drawn on his fee level, but says recruitment consultants generally charge 15 to 20 per cent of the first-year wage. This usually includes post-interview consultation with the design group.

Many recruitment services also provide a head-hunting service. “Head-hunting is generally confined to more senior positions since it is much more work and it costs more. We charge around 25 per cent of the first year wage, with a third non-refundable up front,” says Carrahar.

Network Design also provides a head-hunting service, but Newman says design consultancies should be wary of the service in general: “I think it can be a rip off. So many charge a fee of 33 per cent of the first-year wage and often do little more than a standard recruitment consultant.”

But head-hunters remain popular for top positions, especially if they carry an international responsibility. “We are in talks with a European-based head-hunter now regarding a couple of appointments of staff with European roles,” says Fitch’s Wallis. International consultancy RitaSue Siegel in New York head-hunted Fitch director Clive Grinyer from Samsung last year.

However applications arrive, they need to be read as the first part of the interview process (see box), says Liberty Group personnel and training manager Samantha Simcox.

And when the interview is over, the really hard part begins. Armed with notes and memories, it is time to discuss the relative merits of the shortlisted candidates and choose one. Good luck!

What to look for:

Understanding: Do they know and understand your business? Do they have much to say about their portfolio? Do their critiques show the workings of a creative mind?

Experience: How is it relevant to this job?

Organisation: Test the interviewees’ organisational capabilities by asking questions about their approach to projects.

Motivation: Evidence of putting in that little bit extra?

Personality: Would the interviewees fit well into the team? Would they get on with the clients?

Reliability: Do they move around a lot, or are they likely to stay for a while?

Language (if consultancy has overseas clients): Do they speak any languages?

The Interview: 1.There is no set number of interviewers or interviewees; 2. It’s a good idea to interview strong contenders more than once; 3. Take some notes, but too many can obstruct the interview’s flow.

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