How we hire designers at GoCardless

Finding great designers is really, really hard.

It’s not because great designers don’t exist (in fact, I’m going to assume you’re one of them), it’s because there is just so much going on in the industry right now.

Suddenly every business wants designers, yet simultaneously, every designer wants to re-invent themselves and their role. It’s created a mis-match where supply, demand, and expectations are all out of whack with each other. It’s hard. I know, I’ve been on both sides.

Having gone from big agencies, to (briefly) freelancing, to startups, I’ve been through countless interviews, and fallen down numerous ‘hiring funnels’. What are they looking for? Will I like it here? Do I even want a full-time job? It’s nerve-wracking, confusing, opaque, exciting, inspiring, and infuriating at the same time.

Now, the boot is on the other foot. The poacher has turned game-keeper. I’m building an awesome design team at GoCardless, and I want to be as open as possible about how we’re doing it, and why. No more mystery. If you’re a designer thinking about making your next move, hopefully this will make it easier for you to suss out the perfect match for you.

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What kind of process do we want?

After a lot of thinking about what we value, who we want to work with, and the kind of business GoCardless should be, one obvious conclusion emerged: this process should bring out the best in people.

We don’t want to trip you up or trick you, we want you to be the best version of yourself. It was obvious we needed something specifically designed to help you do well. It’s in all of our interests.

What are we looking for?

As a team, we got together and worked on a focused set of attributes that we value. Not everyone has to be a walking embodiment of them, but it gives us a level baseline, and a fair way of evaluating everyone during tough decision meetings. In no particular order, they are:

  • Great taste
    You produce the kind of work that makes us jealous.
  • Want to work with / be around them
    We’re going to be spending a lot of time together. Let’s make sure it’s fun.
  • Exciting / interesting to talk to
    We feel energised after talking with you, and interviews feel too short.
  • Infectious enthusiasm for design & digital products
    You’re buzzing with ideas and opinions about our industry.
  • Hunger to learn & develop
    No matter how long you’ve been doing this, you feel like a work in progress.
  • Burning ambition, in any form
    You know you want to do something big, even if you’re not sure what.

These are phrased to deliberately avoid biases and monoculture. There’s a difference between an exciting and an interesting conversation, yet we include both words to avoid hiring only caffeinated extroverts.

How does it work?

End to end, the process has seven stages. It’s designed to start casually, and get gradually more in-depth, whilst introducing you to the wider team. At each stage, we’ll be clear about what we’re looking for, and why. Hopefully you’ll get everything you need to make a decision about us as well — it’s not a one-way process.

Part one: online

We kick things off with a few initial stages that help us get a feel for you, and you for us. It’s all done online and, if successful, we aim to do each step within a day or two of the previous one.

  • Initial portfolio review
    The first step is, somewhat unoriginally, to take a look at your work. If you’ve got a few years experience, we’ll be looking for evidence of a broad range of skills. Have you designed (and shipped) digital products? If you’re fresh to the industry, we’ll be looking to see if you’ve got great taste. Does your work show that you ‘get’ what good design should be?
  • Skype ‘handshake’
    If your work is ticking the right boxes, the next step is for us to say hi. This is usually a 20–30 minute Skype call where we can introduce ourselves, and give you an opportunity to hit us with questions. We’ll be looking for simple things: do you talk clearly, and show an interest in the wider industry? Asking us lots of questions is always a good sign.
  • Deep-dive Skype
    If all goes well, we will arrange a follow-up Skype with two different team members. This will be a deeper dive into one or two aspects of you and your work. Often, we will use the second call to dig in to anything that wasn’t clear after the initial chat. For example, if your work hints at great taste, but you only have a few examples, we might ask you to talk us through the process of that work in depth. We’ll let you know in advance, so you can prepare and be the best version of yourself.

Part two: on-site

If everything’s going great, we’ll arrange a morning or afternoon for you to come and join us in our office. We know it can be hard to take time out, or travel to come in, so once you’re here, we’ll go through the rest of the process. No need to keep coming in for ‘final follow up interviews’.

  • Team coffee
    When you arrive, we’ll take you out for a coffee with the design team (this might change as we scale, but as there’s currently only four of us it works a treat). It’s a great opportunity to get to know each other, and it’s a chance for you to relax and settle in before the main event.
  • Working session
    This is the core part of the process. More than anything it’s for us to get a feel of what it would be like working together day to day. We’re also looking to see how you structure thoughts, and respond to feedback. Are you humble? Collaborative? We ask everyone to respond to the same, hypothetical problem: how might we design a better pocket money system for children? You work with two members of the GC design team to come up with a solution in 30 minutes. It’s led by you, and takes any form you want — whiteboard, workshop, presentation. We’ll send you the details in advance so you can formulate some initial thoughts (but don’t dwell on it!).
  • Founder interview
    Next up is an interview with either our CEO or VP of product. As founding members of GoCardless, they take an active interest in everyone we hire. You’ll probably go for a walk or a coffee, and they’ll be looking to see if GC is the right place for you. All of the attributes mentioned at the start come in to play here — are you interesting or exciting to talk to? Do you show an infectious enthusiasm for design? It’s also an amazing opportunity to hear the backstory of GoCardless, and get a warts-and-all perspective of what it’s like day to day.
  • Decision meeting
    After the founder interview your work here is done. Congratulations, and thanks for giving us your time! We’ll wave you off into the sunset, and get right back to business, because for us, this is the tough part. We’ll get everyone you’ve spoken to together, and run through each stage, starting with the portfolio review. The aim is to finish the meeting with a concrete decision. Everyone will share their experience, impressions, and any particularly good or bad bits. All the way through we’re checking our gut feelings against our seven attributes — it’s a great way to keep any unconscious bias from creeping in. Once we’re in agreement, and assuming it’s a yes, an offer will be drawn up quite quickly. Someone (usually me) will give you a call with the good news, and all the info you need to make an informed decision. When we want someone, we’ll act incredibly quickly, but won’t expect the same from you. So take a few days to reflect and come to a cool, rational decision.

Then what?

That’s it! Congratulations and welcome aboard! We’ll sort out the formalities with you, and get you in as soon as we possibly can. For a great account of what your first few weeks might be like, check out this post from Sam, one of our new recruits.

If you didn’t make it to the end of the process, thanks for thinking of us, and sorry it didn’t work out this time. We’ll always give you clear feedback on why it wasn’t a yes, and we’re happy to go into detail if you want. Just because you’re not a great fit for us right now, doesn’t mean you won’t be in a year. Stay in touch, you never know what the future holds!

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If this has helped demystify how startups (well, at least GoCardless) hire designers, please share or recommend. We’re really looking to pull back the curtain on the process and make it transparent for both sides.

And finally, if you like what you’ve read, we’re hiring (surprise!) Check out our jobs page here.