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Struggling to Hire a Product Designer? The 4 Reasons Why and What you Can Do

A few weeks ago, we shared the top five traits to look for when hiring a Product Designer (aka what makes a good designer great!) As mentioned in that article, Product Designers are creative in nature and don’t tend to respond well to the same internal company story, perks and interview steps that drives a sales or marketing professional to get excited about hopping on board. 

If you’re still struggling to find the right Product Design hire, it is most likely one of these four reasons ... learn what they are and how to better position your company to attract top Product Design talent.

Communicating like you’re hiring for every other role, not a Product Designer role.

Designers are different from the average white-collar business professional. Unlike Sales, Marketing, and Business Development they have different motivations and professional drivers. Most are very creative - they seek out inspiration and need to be excited in order to get on board with a company. 

In my 6 years of recruiting designers, the questions I get asked most often are: 

  • What is their design culture like?
  • How do they value design?
  • Who does this role report to and what is that person like? 
  • Heidi, what excites you about what they’re doing? (real question I’ve been asked)

Product Designers are most often right-brained people and need to have ‘the feels’ to be sold on a company or job. If you aren’t having much luck hiring a Product Designer, ask yourself, are you taking the time to share the story of the company/brand, product vision, its design as well as where you are trying to go. Are you able to articulate how the brand demonstrates and values design in a company dominated by engineers and STEM degree professionals?

You’re not putting your money where the design is!

While most designers do not tell me base salary is the number one reason they want to change jobs or accept an offer, you do need to offer top talent a competitive base. Paying top talent their worth demonstrates that the organization values design and a good offer reduces the likelihood that they will turn it down or accept another company’s better offer. 

Product Designers tend to look at the entire compensation package. In addition to base salary, these pieces make up a whole offer: 

  • Money towards education and professional development of design skills (workshops, courses, degree programs, etc.)
  • Training time and budget to learn design systems. Some companies are aligned with a specific ecosystem of design tools and systems. Training someone on these systems could be considered invaluable to a new hire. 
  • Covering subscriptions costs while they work for you (Dribble, their portfolio site, Medium, etc.) All of these monthly subscription fees add up for a designer, and covering these fees makes them “more sticky” to your business and tougher to leave.

There are things to keep in mind as everyone values company benefits differently. Not everyone values a gym membership, pool table, video games, or free beer on Fridays! Offers that attract a Designer can include a quarterly creative day where they have the freedom to take a workday of their choosing to do something that infuses their creativity. Think about personal days and how valuable this can be to the organization to make sure the designers of your product are balanced and infused with creativity. 

You’re moving too slow

This one hits hard and I’ve seen it time and again. In an earlier article, we wrote about what it means to be in a position of readiness when hiring this role's counterpart, the Product Manager. As the old saying goes, “don’t watch what someone says, watch what they do.” In the 6 years, I've been recruiting for Designers, I’ve heard many hiring leaders say: this is my top priority, we urgently need a great product designer, we want to pivot from being an engineering-led to design thinking led business then fail to invest resources into making this happen. 

The pace you move with top talent confirms for them whether or not you recognize product design talent, whether or not you believe this role impacts the bigger business, and whether or not you consider this role as a priority. One of the biggest mistakes I see is assuming everyone is dying to work for you. As soon as you make that assumption, you stop selling the company and opportunity. Once this happens you stop advancing candidates through the process quickly not realizing if they are top talent they are probably receiving phone calls to interview elsewhere on a weekly if not daily basis.

You want free work 

This can be a touchy subject on both sides as often your “case study assignment” is perceived by Product Designers as wanting free work even if you don’t intend it that way. As a hiring manager, you really want to ensure you’re hiring the best and want to see what a candidate can do, but often even a case study assignment is not a true reflection of how well they will do as there’s a lot of assumptions, no data or user interviews, lots of missing pieces, and not enough time. 

The best candidates will, of course, be more likely to pour more time, effort and in general excellence into the assignment, but we’ve also seen candidates nod their head and tell us they will do the assignment then instead accept other offers because they knew someone on that team who vouched for them or they got to bypassed the assignment step with another organization. 

Another option to a standard assignment, one of our clients did a couple of years ago, was to bring the designer in for a “how they see design and product challenge.” When the candidate came to the interview they had them download the app and then talk through the entire log in process and user flow to share what they were experiencing and seeing in real-time as it was unfolding. The designers talked about the app, what they saw, how the current flow and design was integrated all In real-time. No prep time, no advanced planning, and no likelihood of faking it. Just them and their design thinking abilities, and candidates loved it! Other clients have asked candidates to carefully choose one real-world portfolio project to present. 

If your team requires that a case study must be done then only ever ask the one front-runner candidate that you’re wanting to hire. If you’re asking multiple candidates to do homework for you to get a job, you need to start interviewing differently! An assignment should only be used to finalize and confirm your decision. Reserve the design challenge for lesser experienced candidates and hire top very senior talent off their extensive portfolio of work or design thinking. 

Hiring a Product Designer is a great step towards creating a product-led business, but it can be tough as the path to land a great designer isn’t as fleshed out as other hires.

If you’re looking for some industry knowledge, trends or access to top Product Design talent contact us today!