"The single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people."

- Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't

Finding the right people can be challenging...especially when seeking out creatives to work in-house. Often creative leaders are looking for creatives who can wear multiple hats, which may include client-facing activities. As creative leaders strive to build a team that is considered to be a strategic partner, client partnership, which requires consistent execution and flawless service, become imperative. And this is only possible with "A Player" employees which increases the importance of a thorough interview process.

The interview process is really a compilation of three steps serving to provide an indication of a candidate's success: preparation, candidate evaluation and reference check.

1. Preparation

If you have not done so already, first ensure you fully understand your company's hiring process. This will typically involve HR. Be sure to learn:

  • Who else needs to be involved in this process?
  • What are the non-negotiable steps required to hire and onboard an employee? (For example, does your company absolutely require a college degree? Is a drug screen required?)
  • How long will the process really take? (For instance, is there a background check? Are there security measures that may slow the process?)

By understanding who and what outside of you and your department must be involved in the process you can alleviate any chance of slowing the process, wasting time or losing your candidate.

Before the interview set aside time to compile questions and topics you want to cover in the meeting. The questions should be specific enough to gain an understanding of the candidate's ability to master the role and broad enough to provide you with an understanding of the candidate's overall fit within your unique department. Your interview should be conversational and the questions act as a guide to ensure you do not miss anything you wish to cover. Questions to consider asking include:

  • Describe to me the structure of your team in your last role. What specifically did you add to that team?
  • What is your professional plan to develop over the next three years of your career? Give me an example of one thing you proactively did within the last year to further your development professionally.
  • Who is your mentor? What have you learned from your mentor? Why did you choose this person to mentor you in your career?
  • What personal qualities do you possess that have lead you to success? What limitations have you identified?
  • Describe, in detail, your last project that, if possible, entailed client interaction. What was the scope of the project, how did it progress and what was the outcome? What was the client's experience like?
  • Walk me through how you created this project, from initial project scoping through client sign-off.

The final step of preparation is to sit down and review the candidate's resume, digital portfolio (if applicable) and any other correspondence from the candidate prior to meeting with them. It is best to do this just before the candidate arrives. This will ensure you have a meaningful conversation specific enough to this particular candidate's background.

2. The Interview

The interview with a candidate should be protected with a closed door, silenced phone and closed laptop/desktop. If you want a second opinion include a trusted coworker in the interview. This way one of you can focus on the candidate solely, while the other takes notes and guides the conversation. Keep in mind the interview is not just the opportunity for the candidate to sell him/herself to you, but your opportunity to sell him/her this opportunity. The best candidates will have multiple interviews and even offers--ensure they leave your interview wanting to work with you.

As you already have a full list of the questions to be covered, you can now provide the candidate with an overview of the meeting agenda (e.g., "First I am going to share a little bit about the department and myself, then we're going to spend about 30 minutes discussing your previous work history and responsibilities, and following that I am going to ask you to walk me through some of the pieces within your portfolio."). I find that if I do this up front and remove some of the mystery associated with an already-stressful event, the candidate relaxes a bit and I am able to see more of his or her true personality.

I like to allow about three-quarters of the interview time to be spent one the questions I have prepared, which involves a portfolio review, and allow the candidate to ask me question during the remaining time--make sure you have a back-up plan for this time, as some candidates may not have many questions, though I might suggest that a lack of questions is something you should evaluate. An informed candidate should have questions.

At the end of your meeting with the candidate clearly outline next steps in the interview process. Don't forget to indicate who the candidate should contact should they have additional questions, especially if that person is not you.

3. Reference Check

It is very natural for hiring managers to leave an interview excited about a candidate and ready to jump at making an offer. But this last step cannot, and should not, ever be overlooked.

It is typically protocol for every organization to check references before hiring a candidate; however, it is common for someone other than a hiring manager to check references. I prefer to check at least three professional references myself, and, if you are able to do so, I highly recommend it. Whenever possible ensure the contacts provided are supervisors and coworkers from past roles as opposed to contacts within HR. I also recommend speaking with a previous client of the candidate so you can hear firsthand how this candidate has performed for a client partner in the past--many creatives don't think to include a client reference, but this shouldn't stop you from asking for one.

Remember, you know exactly where you may have concerns about this candidate and reference checking is the best possible time to flush out those concerns. In addition, you will be speaking with a peer from another organization, and networking with peers is always a best practice.

Hiring long-term successful and effective team members is difficult, and it is not possible to "get it right" every time. Additionally, there will absolutely be times that it is necessary to bend your process. But, in my experience, instilling and following an interview process leads to more consistent quality hires.