Job Ads

This is the second post in my job-hunting series. The first part was a bit of an observation about how the Internet is reacting to designers who are job-searching, but in this segment you’re going to get a few of my action items on how we can all improve the landscape and create some order from this chaos.

This post is aimed at you, the hiring manager/art director/design firm owner/in-house recruiter, who needs to recruit a design professional for a week, a month, a year, or maybe for the hereafter. In short, you guys suck. You’re terrible. You mislead, you misrepresent, you demand. I suck too, and believe me, you’ll get to read plenty about my self-critique and what I’ve done wrong in the third post of this series. But for now, take a look in the mirror, mate.

I understand that there are a number of avenues for recruiting. Word of mouth is always primary, followed by networking events, portfolio reviews, and your own browsing the blogs/magazines to see who’s hot. But for now, let’s focus on posting job ads. There are still a huge number of positions that are filled this way, and every designer looking for a job must keep this as part of their overall strategy.

Here are few simple tactics you can use to create better job ads, smooth out the interviewing process, and hopefully hire better design professionals, all while avoiding the unpleasant surprises that can appear when hunting for candidates.

    1. Don’t think you’re superior. Obviously, you’re in the position of power as the potential employer. You’ve got money, I’ve got none. But we’re all part of the same industry, part of the same fraternity, and dare I say the same family. Chances are, you were a job-seeker at some point, and now’s your chance to pay it back. The easiest way to level the playing field is to assume that we are, like yourselves, professionals. Treat us like adults and we’ll get it right back to you. Condescension is crap. Conduct the sort of candidate search you’d like to be a part of.

    2. Choose your source. When you post to a website like Craig’s List or you’re going to get hit with a firestorm of shit. I understand that. But here’s the thing, you will get responses based on your audience — if you post to a mainstream site with many bottom feeders, you’re going to get crap. If you post to a site operated by a professional society or dedicated website, you’re going to get people who are invested in this industry. So yes, it’s a little more expensive to post to the AIGA or Coroflot, but everyone reading those posts will be better and more serious. I understand there is a bit of a pay-to-play at work here, giving paid members the inside track, but this is your tribe, maybe it’s worth a few dollars to ensure you’re getting the real deal. Quality over quantity, for lack of a better expression.

    3. Set the tone. When writing a job post, you have to set the tone for how you want to communicate. If you bust out a sterile corporate document, get ready for some lifeless cover letters. If you throw down a list of bullet points with no complete sentences, you might actually get someone bouncing such a thing right back at you. And if you show your personality, and add some cheeky quips of life, you’ll be able to see who will engage you in a similar manner. I personally feel better applying to a post that feels vaguely human, so I’ll recommend that strategy. Needless to say, don’t go overboard, this is still a serious matter.

    4. Be Honest. When writing a job post, and recruiting potential designers, you have a duty to yourself (if not an altruistic burden) to be as honest as possible. Honesty breeds honesty, deception breeds deception. Considering “don’t lie on your resume” seems to be the only Golden Rule of job hunting, I’d expect the same from the recruiter. After all, do you really want to swindle a designer into working for you? Just as you want to hear about us the applicant, we want to learn about you, the employer.

    Examples: Don’t say you’re a hot agency when in fact you’re a scrappy start-up. Don’t mention a big-name client just because you did one small project for them 7 years ago. Don’t brag about your many offices when in fact most of them are single-person locations and maybe a conference room.

    5. Be Specific. This could be at least 3 points on the list, so let’s get down to it. Be as specific as you can! Yes, this will reduce the number of applicants. Yes, you will look somewhat picky because of the increased length of your job post, but to those who read to the end, and still think they’re qualified, they will be much better prepared to interact with you, to engage you in an interview, and ultimately to be a better employee on day one. Here are a few questions I always want answered, the sooner the better:

    What media do you work with (web, print, packaging, etc.)? Is this an in-house role? How many clients do I get to work on? How large is your company? If it’s in-house, how large is the design/marketing department? (btw, there are many designers who are not ready, willing, or able to be the one-man art department.) How long have you been in business? How is your employee turnover? Is there anyone else my same age or “rank” (eg, entry-level, senior)? Is this a new position or am I replacing someone? If it’s new, have you won a new client or has there been general growth? Who is my direct superior (eg, Creative Director, VP of marketing)? Is this a design, production, project management, etc. role or maybe some hybrid?

    You can leave specifics about pay, vacation time, work hours, etc. for the interview, but basic parameters like those listed above should always be put out there plainly and honestly. Here’s an example of specifics done well:

    Horatio Seymour Designs a 20-person design agency in Midtown Manhattan. 75% of our clients are in the consumer goods sector. We have recently won a large client and need a designer to work on those projects. As part of the agency, you’ll be involved with numerous clients, but in the short-term, you’ll be working 95% on this new account. We are seeking a designer to work on mostly print projects, but with perhaps 10% web design projects. At least half of your day-to-day duties will be production, but you will be involved from start to finish. You will report directly to the Art Director, and will work closely with other designers, copywriters, and project managers.

    Just a few sentences, but already I feel like I know what I’m getting in to. More importantly, there are likely potential applicants who will say “this isn’t for me”, whether they hate working in consumer goods, desire more web design exposure, or can’t handle production duties. The more specific, the more insurance you will get a good fit, and avoid dissatisfaction and dissonance.

    Also, please say the name of the company! This shows that you are proud to work there, that you’re not afraid of the fact that you’re recruiting, and that you are confident in your public persona. It also allows us the candidates to research your company and engage you in a more appropriate dialogue. If you hate generic cover letters, then don’t write a generic ad. A big part of that is putting your name on it. If possible, put the name of the contact or hiring manager. Same reasons.

    6. Don’t make demands. Demands are different from requests. Demands make you sound unapproachable and immovable. Demands show closed-mindedness and a devotion to the status quo. Avoid words like “must”, “required”, “need”, and “mandatory”. I don’t think I’ve ever read the word “demand” in a job post, but avoid that as well. Here’s an example:

    Instead of saying “Applicants require 7 years of perfume advertising experience, minimum!,” try “we are searching for someone with maturity and experience in our field, perhaps having worked for 5-8 years.”

    If I’m fresh out of school, I wouldn’t apply either way, but in the first case you sound like a dick. I’m not sure I’d want to work there in the first place.

    Also, don’t ask for salary requirements in the initial job post. If you force us to hit you back with a dollar figure from the start, it sends the message that you’re only shopping based on price. And if that’s your tactic, I don’t stand a chance, because there is always someone who values himself less than I do, or will work remotely from Romania and undercut my price. It also makes you look like a cheapskate, someone who knows the cost of an employee, but not the value.

    7. Be careful with the word “expert.” This goes along with #6. One of my pet peeves is when job ads have a huge list of software titles, design skills, and computer tactics in which I must be an so-called expert. First off, no one at the start of his/her career is an expert in anything (something I learned from you, Mr. Experienced Designer). Second, in requiring expertise in such a far-ranging variety of skills you are asking to be lied to — chances are that the Flash animation guru who is an ace with Action Scripting hasn’t actually fired up InDesign for several months, and it probably wasn’t to work with conditional text and nested character styles. Bottom line, only use the word “expert” when you really mean it, for those roles that are super-niche, such as high-end fashion retouchers and pre-press production artists.

    8. Tell us what you want, how you want it. Many ads already do this, they’ll say something like “send your resume and samples or a link to your website.” But you can be more specific than that. I actually like the ads that say “send your resume in PDF format, and a samples PDF with 5-7 projects.” Heck, I’ll even change the file name to suit your format. This shows that you’re organised and have some kind of system at work. Considering the job search appears to us as a total bar fight, we love a hard and fast rule. But careful not get too draconian — forcing applicants to upload a DOC format of their resume or requiring an elaborate sign-up-and-log-in process make terrible first impressions on your end.

    9. Be Open-Minded. This seems like it goes directly against #8, but I’m being more general here. You can’t have Superman. Sorry. You can’t have a robot who can simply be upgraded at a moment’s notice. You can’t have an entry-level stooge who happens to be the world’s best presenter. You can’t have a back-end programmer who also hand-paints his typography. I am not Superman just as you are not the dream job. Let’s agree to disagree and tick as many boxes as we can.

    Potential employees, much like yourselves, are people and there is no such thing as a perfect person. Each will have virtues, but also quirks, foibles, and room for improvement. This is especially prevalent when it comes to pigeon-holing, and how companies often want applicants to come with years of expertise in very, very specific areas. You have to be open-minded and realise that not everyone has worked on annual reports for shipping insurance before, but with a little patience, their previous experiences will lift them to the challenge, and in no time at all they’ll be up to speed on that fascinating sub-sector of a sub-sector of the business world.

    10. Tell us the deal with cover letters. This isn’t a trick question, if you want a cover letter, say so. If you don’t want one, say so. If you want 3 sentences just to introduce yourself, say so. If you want an elaborate essay that showcases your wit and whimsy with prose, say so. Do you really want to sit there are read all those cover letters (especially if there are written that dull, corporate tone)? ‘Cause I surely wouldn’t mind skipping what is a multi-hour, if not multi-day process of crafting and revising a cover letter.

    11. Give some kind of response. If you’re not selecting me for an interview, please send me a one-sentence email. It can be copied and pasted. It can be generic and sent to a bulk list. Just give us something to let us know what’s going on. Not only does this free our mind of the worry, and free our schedule for follow-up calls, but you come off as professional and courteous. I may even try to re-apply in years to come. The same goes for telling us the results of an interview. Although we can usually tell, it’s nice to know whether you’ve chosen another applicant, or whether the job was filled internally, or whether some bizarre restructuring occurred and no one got hired for anything. Not knowing sucks, and it makes you look irresponsible.

    12. Call, Don’t Email, to set up an interview. Recruiting is a big deal, right? That’s what you always say. So why not take the same amount of time it would be to email, and give us a 30 second phone call. This not only shows your humanity, but it allows you a first glimpse into the candidate. If he’s asleep at noon, or sounds drunk, or can’t seem to remember who you are, it may be a good indicator of things to come. I’m always ready for that call, are you ready to make it?

    13. Prepare us for the interview. Of course we have to prepare ourselves. We will Google the company, look you up in magazines, examine your website, take notes on your projects, etc., but you have to give us a heads up as well. Some basic info goes a long way: How long will the interview take? How many people will I be meeting with? Will I get to meet with my potential direct boss? Should I bring anything specific in addition to my portfolio? Should I be ready for something quite casual or dust off the old suit and tie?

    14. Don’t dodge questions in the interview. This may sound like advice for a candidate, but I am often shocked by how many non-answers I have received to my questions. Since we’ve been told time and time again to ask questions to our interviewer (in a sense, to interview them as well), it’s only courteous to answer them. This even includes such hard-hitters as “How are the hours?”, “What’s your culture like?”, and “will there be a second interview?” Shouldn’t an employee be engaging, curious, and thorough? Are those qualities invalid simply because I happen to be out of work?

    15. Don’t be an Ass. While Simon Cowell has done much for the profession of mindless critiquing someone you’ve only just met, I still insist that there is no constructive purpose for being a dick. Why would you cut down a job applicant? How does that help your firm? It doesn’t. Instead, give less-than-stellar candidates a challenge — tell them what they can do to re-apply in six months. Tell them to call back when they have three new projects in their book. You might just be surprised to see how much initiative a would-be employee can muster.

Each of these points can be boiled down to a plea toward transparency, honesty, and old-fashioned karma. If you want applicants to be forthcoming and show their personality, you’ve got to take a small step in their direction.

I know you’re busy. Of course you’re busy, you just won a new client. You’ve got a business to manage. I get that. But since people are the most critical part of your business, take 5 extra seconds to make sure you do it right.

And most of all, pay it forward. This is your industry, these are your people.


Just for fun, here are a few brilliantly terribly ads I’ve found just this week! They tick a number of the boxes for what not to do in a job post:

We are a marketing consulting company seeking creative designers to be part of our growing network of freelancers. Although print and web design are not principal parts of our business, we continue to have a flurry of projects to support our clients’ marketing campaigns. Our current campaign necessitates a web designer with above average ability in Flash, Flash Programming, and 3D. The project will encompass the use of 3D Models and integrating them into Flash. Please send us your portfolio along with some information about your experience. Work is normally performed off-site and paid on a per project basis.

We look forward to seeing your work and speaking to you about our project.

I don’t know why I should approach them if print and web design aren’t part of their business. Personally, I don’t like working places that boast about their network of freelancers, it shows that you don’t have a strong employee culture and that you cut people off to save money whenever you can. Oh, and the term “above average” means absolutely nothing. It’s like asking someone if they are “good looking”, of course they’re going to say yes.

Small startup company looking for a graphic designer/artist for simple one object designs. Designs are to be simple yet fun and child-like. We will specify objects needed and to start we are looking for 15-20 designs with more possible work in the future.

Please email any samples or websites that show your work. Please supply compensation requirements.

Students welcome.

In this case I actually laughed out loud because of how vague it is. I literally have no idea what they need me to do. Illustration? Posters? Packaging? T-Shirts? All I know is that they’re trying to do it on the cheap because they’re asking for compensation requirements from the start, and welcoming students as well. No offense to students, but you bring the whole thing down a notch.