Creating a Product Design Hiring Guide

A few years ago, as a first product designer at a small start-up, I was tasked with recruiting my first direct report. I was determined to get the help I desperately needed and scared that I might make the wrong decision. That’s when I found Irene Au’s, Writing a Job Description for UX People. Using the example from her article as a template, I was able to remove a lot of the guesswork and fear out of screening candidates.

Example of Irene’s Skills Assessment:

This process gives teams permission to accept their T-shaped skill sets. The goal is not to score perfectly in all four categories, but to know what each member’s strengths are and how collaboration should occur. It also helps a team to know which designers may fit best on a specific project or task.

After a few years of interviewing and hiring designers, I’ve found that hiring for those four skills alone is not enough to ensure the creation of a great team. At AppDirect, we updated the diagram to create a more complete image of what we value in a great designer.

As a team, we decided that our success required the following eight skills (not ranked):

  • IxD
  • Research
  • Prototyping (or Software Engineering)
  • Visual Design
  • Design Thinking
  • Product Knowledge
  • Design Leadership
  • Collaboration/Communication

We discussed our definitions for each category and decided to visualize the skills with a spider diagram. We also created a glossary of our terms and definitions to ensure that our collective knowledge was documented.

Here is the skills diagram that we use:

And, here is an example of a fictional designer’s skills mapped to our diagram:

The following are the steps we took:

  1. We held a workshop to discuss the skill needs of our team. At such a small size, it was important for everyone to have ownership and commitment in this part of the process.
  2. Once we had our list of skills, we defined them with granularity and added that to our team wiki. For example, we defined “prototyping” as an expertise in a prototyping tool such as InVision or Framer.js or advance coding skills in HTML/CSS/JavaScript.
  3. We mapped the skills into a spider graph and created a few fictional personas which we then looked at as a team in order to validate the graph’s integrity.
  4. The entire team, including managers, assessed themselves and shared it with each other. I noted the humility, vulnerability, and trust that the team showed as they often assessed themselves lower then other members of the team would have assessed them. We discussed this and made updates to our self assessments and role definitions. This compelled us to add numbers to the diagram to show levels of expertise in each skill area.
  5. When we were ready to hire new additional team members, I created a Role Target that had minimum values for each of the skills and walked that through with the team (Example Below). We also assessed where our team could use additional strength and what the specific PM’s and product teams would require in a candidate.
  6. After each candidate interviewed, I shared the results with the team in order to verify that we had each assessed the candidate similarly and were staying true to the Role Target.
  7. We also use this diagram at candidate debriefs to ensure that we are validating candidates based on our skills assessments and avoiding being biased by outside factors.

Here is our fictional designer mapped over our Role Target:

There are many important aspects to hiring and interviewing. This has been a great way to ensure that the team agrees upon the qualities of a strong candidate AND it makes it easier for us to discuss trade-offs in skill sets and how that will affect our team. If you and your team decide to use this format I recommend the following:

  • Make a skill set for your specific team/culture.
  • When you notice that you are liking a candidate that is scoring low or disliking a candidate that is scoring high, discuss amongst yourselves if there is something that may be biasing you or if your need has adjusted.
  • If your team is not as transparent, have your team assess themselves and send it to the manager/lead who can create an overlay of team skills. Then you’ll know overall how the team ranks and what areas you can use more overlap in.
  • As a team, you’ll need to research and iterate the ways in which you will measure these skills accurately.

Since implementing this framework, our team uses the same language and criteria to measure candidates. AND, we have the ability to defend our hiring decisions based on the needs of the team. This has become an essential tool because it gives the team common language and keeps us focused on the skills required to find a candidate that the team believes in.