Why are we still playing games with hiring practices in design?

Last week I had a call with a potential employer that I thought had gone well. The role they are looking for is akin to an XO for the team at large. Someone to run the day-to-day details of the design program primarily through the director level. Almost exactly the job I had at USAA.

In addition, the directors were looking for a senior leader who had experience up-leveling designers and directors. So, I told the recruiter about previous times (again at USAA) when I had helped designers and a design leader get to the next level. The person seemed to be content with the stories I provided, and we moved on in the conversation.

A few days later, I received the rejection email. When I asked what it was about our call that the team didn’t like, I received this response:

The team was hoping to hear more specific examples around career growth and development, primarily as it related to more senior members of your team.

Now, I’m not sure how to interpret this, and I would love to have a direct conversation with the design leaders because if they wanted more stories, I could have provided more. Or, maybe they were looking for anecdotes about how I have coached many senior people in different career growth areas like thought leadership or skill development or relationship management. Hard to say, given the conversation I had with the recruiter—someone who is not part of the team who ultimately made the go/no-go decision.

And this is where I am left wondering why we are still using this broken system of depending on a single individual to play the telephone game to determine who is or is not a good fit for a team.

Many months ago, I interviewed for another design leadership position. The person asked about design transformation because the company’s senior leadership wanted to embrace design and bring it into other areas of the business. I recanted my experience at both IBM and USAA, where I was in unique positions to help teach design thinking to a wide array of businesses. Next, I was asked if either business had transformed, and I replied saying it was going to take more than a few years to completely transform either company considering their size and resistance to change. Can you guess what their take-away from that conversation was?

[Candidate] was unable to successfully advocate for design transformation at either of two prior employers and found that design was perennially marginalized.

In other words, “Sorry, Greg, but because you didn’t change IBM or USAA within two years, you just don’t have what it takes to be a VP of Design at a company of 300 people with a design team of twelve.”

And so it goes.

It’s well known that communications between individuals or teams break down due to a lack of alignment around language, and that results in poor interpretation of what was said. I can’t tell you how many times I have led workshops or exercises between teams to align on language as the first collaborative activity. We do this to avoid pour communication that eventually leads to poor information and false expectations.

So why then, in 2020, do we still rely on recruiters to play the game of telephone with job candidates? What is it about the job practices within human relations that our hiring processes are stuck in the 1960s? Why is it taking senior designers like Melissa Kark five months and 130 applications to get to three offers?

How many good, talented people have didn’t make the cut because the recruiter did not have the adequate language and the nuance to relate a candidate’s perspectives and experiences to the hiring team? Where is the genuine curiosity that would help uncover new and potentially intriguing insights that could inform the candidate’s viability? Especially if their “shape” is slightly different than what the team had in mind.

If there is any group at the Enterprise that can fix this, it’s design. And we are unique enough to get away with a break in protocol to execute different methods and experiences to find a much better process for both the “user” and the “business.” Hiring is so important (even more so now), and to continue leaving the process up to the status quo is holding back the maturity and progression of the industry at large.