Could your design task be adversely affecting your recruiting efforts? The pros and cons of testing UX design ability when hiring.

Gone are the days when you could flash your UX job title in front of a potential employer and expect to be offered the job. There's serious competition now for the UX professional. We're all keenly aware of the development and evolution of the portfolio for the purposes of seeking employment, but an often overlooked element of the hiring process is the design task. Design tasks naturally apply to visual UI designers too, but often if a candidate has a varied and/or detailed enough portfolio showcasing their work, then a design task as part of the interview process is unnecessary. However, for IAs and IxDs this is becoming a regular request.

Most would agree (comment if not) that a design task adds value to the recruitment process from the employer's point of view. They can help to fill in the gaps in a candidate's portfolio, create new conversation points, and give both sides a feeling of what it may be like to work together. They can be very useful for less experienced UX designers or perhaps those with very restrictive NDAs on their portfolio content. Sounds, good right? Then why wouldn't you do this?

A talented and experienced senior UX designer in London, for example, could apply for up to 30 jobs a single day and be interviewing with up to 10 companies at a time with relative ease (ease of securing interviews, time management is another issue entirely). There is huge competition for talent in London and even more so in the Bay Area. Unless you're Google or Apple, a hiring company has to work just as hard at marketing themselves to the candidates as the candidates should to the employers. How are you going to stand out? This is a very individual question, but one thing that can set you apart from another employer is the requirement to complete a design task.

At this point I should point out that ‘design task' could mean anything from an impromptu review of a website during a face to face meeting through to being given a fictitious project one needs to research, design, and present during an upcoming meeting.

Here's the problem, if a candidate has six interviews, is struggling to get time off work (most firms prefer recruiting already employed talent), and two of those firms are asking for a time commitment of several hours even before meeting up, there is a good chance the candidate will delay their interview in the hope that something else pans out or withdraw completely. Firms will often take the view that if the candidate doesn't want to do the design task then they're not the right candidate for them. That may be an ideal that holds true if the candidate had plenty of spare time and isn't interviewing anywhere else, but that is rarely the case. Whilst it's true that most firms will actually stipulate candidates shouldn't worry and don't need to spend more than an hour preparing, they often do. A hiring company could very easily see potential candidates joining other firms due to a convenience factor. In a competitive market where firms are under immense pressure to staff teams, this is a very important factor not to be overlooked.

So what can be done? There is no reason why a well thought out task can't be included, but it is better to arrange this so it naturally forms part of a face to face meeting and requires a minimum, or even better, no upfront time commitment or preparation. If it's wholly necessary for a hiring firm to have an extended design task then try to implement this as late in the process as possible. This sounds counter-intuitive and most firms prefer to utilise this filtering mechanism as early as possible, but it's key to remember a candidate's buy-in to you as a potential employer should naturally increase as each stage passes. Asking the candidate for a large time commitment before that buy-in exists is risky, so think about the timing wherever possible.

A final point to take away is the content of the design task. It makes a lot of sense for a firm to base this task on some real-world project they have currently. DON'T DO THIS. It has been known unfortunately that some unscrupulous firms have used a fictitious hiring process with an extensive design task to get some free work done. It doesn't happen often, but often enough that candidates are wise to this possibility and will go as far as withdrawing from a process if they suspect this is happening. It's best then to create a design task that is relative but bears no relation to any current project or client work that the hiring firm is involved with.

eXperience Talent is very happy to discuss design tasks with candidates (the hiring firm identity and design task content can remain anonymous) or firms looking to tweak or implement one to give advice from a recruiting perspective as to their effectiveness, relevance, and potential pitfalls.

Written by Sean Pook. @pooksean sean.pook@experiencetalent.co.uk


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