Good Prospects

In the second Design Week recruitment agency survey, Clare Dowdy checks out which agencies perform best. Research is by Natalie Spencer

The continued need of many consultancies to increase in size inevitably goes hand in hand with a shortage of good job candidates. This is the status quo in the design market, according to the findings of Design Week’s second annual recruitment agencies survey.

Consultancies, particularly those specialising in or building digital media, are crying out for staff across the board. Digital media specialists such as Clarity, Blueberry and Razorfish are all looking to expand; AMX Studios has just taken on ten new people.

The boom which was identified in the 1998 survey continues to have an impact on recruitment agencies and press advertising. Many agencies describe the market as “buoyant” and even “busier than ever”. Meanwhile, the number of classified pages in Design Week is still on the up. Having carried an average of seven pages per week for the past couple of years, the past six months of 1999 have seen an increase to nearly eight pages per week.

But it’s not easy to hunt down the best people. Consultancies bemoan the time it takes to sift through CVs (many of them “awful” according to one respondent). The difficulty in finding the right candidates is reflected in the number of recruitment agencies design groups employ. In the past 12 months, most respondents used between three and five recruitment agencies, with one major graphics group using 14. One of the agencies’ treasured roles is saving consultancies time by going through mountains of CVs.

By saving time, this service also saves money. “Although recruitment agencies are very expensive, they are cost-effective because of the management time otherwise involved,” says Adrianne LeMan at C&FD.

However, while groups rely on agencies and press ads to find senior staff, word of mouth is still king when it comes to junior or middleweight designers. As an industry, design is fragmented, but small – everyone seems to know everyone. Word of mouth is also the most cost-effective way of finding staff. Meanwhile, some principals, like David Mackay at Crabtree Hall, use college contacts to recommend bright students, while others visit the student shows.

For their pains, recruitment agencies tend to charge consultancies a proportion of a successful applicant’s first-year salary – normally between 15 and 25 per cent. Other services to consultancies range from interviewing and salary advice to psychometric testing of applicants. Job seekers, on the other hand, are offered contract negotiations, portfolio advice and interview techniques.

The findings Scroll down to foot of page for link to tables

For the second year running, Gabriele Skelton is rated the best recruitment agency by design groups. Founder Gabriele Skelton sees herself more as a career consultant than a recruitment agency. In 1998 her company topped seven out of eight charts. This record is repeated this year; the eighth chart is headed by Network Design Recruitment.

Gabriele Skelton shares top spot this year in the ‘which do you rate the best?’ chart with Network Design Recruitment, which came second last year.

Nearly every agency in ‘the best’ chart either operates or plans to set up a website, listing vacancies. Website addresses are listed at the end of the article.

Recruitment agency comments

‘There is huge demand in all areas, and not enough candidates relevant to the job vacancies and increasing requests for candidates from the client side.’

Gabriele Skelton

‘We are having increasing demands for Web designers and also account handlers and new business developers.’

Jeremy Bohn, Management Personnel

‘Salary bandings have increased 20 per cent on last year. In Creative’s new media division – freelance and permanent – requirements have increased by 300 per cent. Good candidates have a wider choice of jobs on offer.’

Diane Skally, Creative Recruitment

‘Clients should be more open to the idea of bringing fresh blood into the industry. A new perspective is required. The same old people going around doesn’t help the industry.’

Fiona Steen, Bucher Rugman

‘There is a lack of good senior creatives and design management candidates looking to move.’

Loralie Micallef, Major Players

‘Good people get snapped up very quickly, because there is a skills shortage in specialist areas. There is a particular demand for new media and e-commerce skills on both the creative and the executive side.’

Valerie Gascoyne, BDG

‘There is a shortage of good people, particularly at the £18-24 000 salary bracket.’

Bernadette Sturley, MacPeople

‘[The market is] very buoyant, especially at senior level, and in consultancies concerned with strategic branding and IT or new media markets, both for designers and consultants or account people.’

Ashley Goodall, formerly Price Jamieson

‘The current market is being affected by poor investment in the people needed to make the design market function optimally.’

Hilary Canto, The Canto Consultancy

What we did

Design Week’s second recruitment agency survey was carried out in the same way as the first, so that comparisons can be made with last year’s results. Only design groups with perceived high levels of business skills and creative quality were approached for the survey, so that the best advice is being passed on. We based our sample on the 1999 Design Week Top 100 Consultancy Survey, and Creative Survey, supplementing it with groups known to be good, but which did not take part in the other surveys.

The sample includes big and small groups with a mix of specialisms, and multidisciplinary or strategic consultancies across a broad geographical spread. Disciplines covered range from print graphics to digital media, taking in product design, retail and interiors.

Participants were asked to share their experience of recruitment agencies with us, and to rank them according to overall service and performance. This information forms the basis of the charts. Respondents were not asked about hiring freelance staff or craft workers such as Mac operators. This is why some of the recruitment agencies specialising in these areas do not feature in our polls.

We also approached recruitment agencies we identified as active in the design sector. They were asked to complete a separate questionnaire, listing their services and outlining what they needed from consultancies by way of a search brief. Website addresses of the nine agencies that were rated best by design consultancies are listed below.

The information reported is published in good faith. We have undertaken to give as clear an appraisal as possible of recruitment agencies as design groups see them. However, as with all surveys, our findings rely on the honesty and integrity of respondents.


Gabriele Skelton, going live at the end of November

Network Design


no website

Major Players

Management Personnel


setting up website in the next couple of months

Gloria Baldwyn & Co

no website


setting up website

Price Jamieson

Design Business Association

Design Week’s recruitment pages

{storyLink (“DW199910290002″,”The findings”)} The results of the survey in table form

Latest articles