7 Pro Tips for Finding the Creative Talent to Grow Your Organization

When we find ourselves in times of trouble, it’s tempting to lean on some favorite words of wisdom: Let it be.

But when we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic — with our personal and professional lives turned upside down, the economy slowed to a crawl, jobs lost, futures uncertain, and the agency landscape completely disrupted — it seems smarter, more useful, and ultimately more optimistic to say, instead: Let it be BETTER than it was before.

How can we support you in making this happen? By giving you some ideas and tools to help you hire exactly the right people you need at exactly this moment. Don’t be surprised if your new hiring needs have changed since coronavirus. You’re not alone! We’re all in this together. Which is why we’re sharing what we know, right here, right now — for free! — with you: all the intrepid, entrepreneurial, out-of-the-box-thinking people with whom we love to work.

Hint #1: Choosing a great graphic designer for your team starts with rethinking who’s doing your creative hires.

The Age of Covid has led to an ever-rising applicant pool of excellent creative talent — and it’s easy to understand why some hiring managers fear drowning in that pool’s rising waters. It’s overwhelming to be faced with too many choices of anything.

Further complicating matters is that many people who have no training in the creative arts are often tasked with hiring creative staff. This is true nearly everywhere, even inside some prestigious agencies.

The scenario is so common you’re probably familiar with it — or maybe you’re even guilty of it yourself. For example, you know that dynamic PR agency owner? Trained as a journalist, she’s more left-brain than right. Or that guy who came up the ladder as the executive director of a thriving nonprofit? He’s great at fundraising, not so much at art. Or maybe you know the brilliant corporate department head who’s a management whiz — but who has no real clue how to spot the right creative talent.

Here’s a rough analogy. If you need a tooth pulled, you’d probably find a good dentist, and would steer clear of the talented corporate manager who likes to dabble in endodontics. Well, it’s pretty much the same thing with hiring talent: Some people have the skills and training to do it properly, and others — no matter how well-intentioned — just don’t. So
take a step back. See which person on your staff has the skills, the perspective, and the insight to understand your organization’s culture and the personality of your team. Then take another step back, and see
what it feels like to cede your hiring authority to that person.

If there’s truly nobody on staff who fits the bill, hire someone on the outside (RoundPeg can help you figure this out). Remember: Sometimes it takes a creative to really know one.

Hint #2: The person you like best is not necessarily the best person for the job.

It’s a well-proven fact that hiring biases are nearly always at play. Most of us hire others who look like us and who share our background. While many best practices are established as to how to break out of such limiting hiring habits, acquiring knowledge of anti-bias skills and learning how to put them to work is a whole other skill — that most creative agencies simply don’t have.

So let me ask: What happens to you when you’re asked to hire for a skill set you don’t have? What happens when you have to hire for positions that are inherently subjective, like creativity and design? How do you balance the tension between hiring someone super skilled or crazy talented? Do you need to accept that remarkable talent often comes with a gigantic ego?

It can all get complicated very fast.

But here’s the good news: the best hiring choice is often simple, and usually not so binary. You are rarely limited to hiring either a talented jerk or really nice worker bee. Start by educating yourself about cultural bias — and learn the skills you need to override knee-jerk responses. It’s the work of our generation, so let’s get really good at it…together. Here are a few things I’ve been reading that might be of interest to you:

Hint #3: Hire smart creative talent only.

You can fake a lot of stuff, but you can’t fake being smart. Of course there are all kinds of smart, and all kinds are good. For example, in the corporate and agency world, street-smarts can be even more important than book-smarts.

Of course that’s not to dismiss book-smarts, since (as I’ve written before) reading comprehension is vital for creating good design. So one of my favorite interview questions is asking what the person is reading or has read recently. What books do they love and why? What blogs do they follow? Where do they go for inspiration? I ask this because smart people of every stripe tend to be life-long readers. They’re curious. They strive to do their best to meet their own expectations for excellence. They are internally motivated and will do well even if they are poorly managed.

Bottom line: Smart is smart. Figure out some smart questions of your own that reflect your interests and needs, and they will help you identify exactly the kind of smart you’re looking for.

Hint #4: Discover design talent — and cultivate it.

This means hiring only smart AND talented people. Seems obvious. But in my experience, many more people hire for skills. Of course I respect skills and hard work too. But talent’s in a class of its own. You can teach many skills, but you can’t teach talent; it’s something you’re born with.

Of course talent has to be developed by applying plenty of hard work — followed by years more of hard work. But rest assured: If you’re feeling torn between two candidates, one whose talent and potential are clear and another whose skills are well developed and can be applied on day one of the job, choose talent every time. Even though then it’s on you to teach this person the skills they’ll need, it’ll be worth the investment. Before long, the winning combination of talent, skills, and smarts will combine to make an amazing team member who will help your organization flourish.

Of course all this still leaves the million dollar question: how do you spot talent? It’s a little bit like what sports scouts do. They look for the killer pitching arm. They sniff out potential. If you’re not sure what talent looks like, or don’t trust yourself, just give us a call. (We can see raw creative talent with our eyes closed…and we’re always here to find the best match for your hiring needs.)

Hint #5: Embrace enthusiasm.

Hiring managers often speak to several people for the same position, and after a while it can be hard to recall distinctly the individuals who applied for a position. For me, enthusiasm goes a long way to help me remember people. Once I was making a hard choice between two terrific designers. When I remembered how sincerely one of them said, “I can see myself being so happy working here,” that made my choice and sealed the deal.

It’s human nature for everyone sharing a work environment to want to know exactly how much everyone else wants to be there too. So when you meet an applicant who convinces you they’re sincerely excited about the opportunity you’re offering and are not daydreaming of another offer, put them at the top of your list. It’s your right to know the person you’re hiring is not settling for second best.

Hint #6: It’s okay to think of “graphic design” as being waaaay more than graphic design.

In most organizations, employees are asked to wear many hats. The smaller the organization, the more hats. So while your job description says you want an experienced graphic designer, what you really mean is that you’re looking for an experienced graphic designer who is also good at at least two or three more skills, like project management, production, writing, photography, video production, animation…the list goes on.

My advice: Own your professional needs. Invite your potential hires to show off their metaphorical hat collection. Come right out and ask what their excitement level is, and if they can prove their ability to execute across a wide range of interests. The more you candidly ask for up-front, the more you’re likely to get at the end of the day.

Hint #7: Look for team players.

From filling out timesheets and expense reports to carrying out specific project management steps, every organization has its processes in place, and it’s only right that your hires should be expected to follow them. After all, being an adaptable and resilient team player is more important now during a pandemic, than ever before. So why are there so many bright, talented people who resist accepting this truth and refuse to follow the processes or who do so only reluctantly?

Maybe because there’s a myth that process kills creativity. But like all myths, that one too is meant to be busted. I personally gladly accept the fact that it’s disruptive when someone refuses to stick to the established system. One way I know to filter out applicants who won’t comply with your processes is to build in assigned tasks to your hiring process. Use them as control checks to help you assess how well each applicant follows instructions and procedures.

For example, if you request portfolios to be sent in a specific format and instead the applicant emails you a random link, that should be a red flag.
Or if you ask someone to submit a cover letter and they send you a link to their bio, that will give you an idea of their ability to follow instructions. (Full disclosure: When I’m hiring I mostly don’t even care what the cover letter says as long as there are no spelling mistakes; I just want to know someone can follow directions.)

I’ll make it blunt: Asking people to follow your rules doesn’t make you a mean, inflexible dictator. It makes you a hiring manager who knows what you need and is not afraid to ask for it.

By now it’s probably pretty clear that the acts of seeking out compatible talent, aligning workplace missions with employee interests and desires, and nurturing creative growth are never easy. Which is why we started our CSMS service. We’re here — in good times and in bad — to help you hire and train the best people and to help your business grow, prosper, and thrive.

Want to let it be better than ever starting now and into whatever the post pandemic new normal brings us? Give us a call, and let’s start talking.

As RoundPeg’s partner and creative director, Polina has over 20 years experience turning complex concepts into compelling visual communications. She also knows how to speak Russian and make delicious sauerkraut! Polina enjoys knitting despite her fear of pointy objects and loves nothing better than curling up with a good book and a cup of tea. See more posts by Polina..

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