7 Reasons to No-Hire a Product Designer (Part 3)

Imagine that I am the purveyor of some mighty fine pastries. I've got croissants so buttery soft they dissolve layer by mouthwatering layer in your mouth. I sell maracons in mind-blowing flavors you've never even heard of, including "Tequila Sunrise" and "Chili-bacon Explosion" and (our bestselling flavor) "iPhone 6." My caramel-choco-coconut cookies are so legendary rumor has it they took the Pillsbury Dough Boy out to a back alley where he was never seen again.

Business for my little pastry business is booming, so I'm looking to expand. I need to hire some talented pastry chefs to keep up with the screaming demands of the people. I'm looking for folks with craft and passion and a flair for the creative. I'm looking for A-players who dream of millefeuilles and religieuses floating among marshmallow clouds. People who don't mind hard work. Who are nice and considerate. Bonus points if they’re funny.

Now. Here’s where you come in. You stroll into my little pastry shop one day, all casual confidence and cool smile. “I'm looking for a job," you tell me. "I'm a chef, and I've been told the things I make are more delicious than even Rob Pattinson.”

“That’s music to my ears," I reply, instantly intrigued. “Tell me, Gérard Mulot or Lenôtre?"

“What?" you blink.

“The best pâtissierie for macarons,” I say.

“Oh, I don't know much about those," you say with a dismissive wave. “Meat is my expertise. My shepherd’s pie is out of this world. I use this special rutabaga from a farmer down in Porterville. Tastes like truffles. And you should really try my duck. As tender and succulent as they come, you can just about cut it with your fork. And the skin is perfectly browned—crispy with the taste of maple sugar."

I’m starting to salivate. That duck sounds incredible. “But… But we make pastries here," I say.

“Well, sure, you do now. But there's no rule that says you have to make pastries. Maybe you can serve other things too. I mean, look at me. I make amazing food. I'm one of the best chefs out there."

I tilt my head and narrow my eyes. On the one hand, it's clear you're talented. You have a lot to offer. Any other restaurant would be lucky to have you.

And yet. You’re a self-proclaimed meat master, and I’m looking for a pastry chef. Is this really going to work?

There are a thousand shades of nuance when it comes down to any particular scenario. But this may well be an example of the third reason to no-hire a designer: they aren’t a good fit. See, candidates come through all the time who are bright, motivated, hard-working, friendly and talented. Supremely talented. Like, talent-seeping-out-of-their-pores talented. But they just happen to be a shade off from what you need exactly. Like maybe you’re a start-up and you’re looking for a nimble designer who can also write his own CSS and JS. Or you’re looking for the right first designer—that leader who can set the culture and tone for your second and third and fourth hire. Or maybe you’re an established design team with plenty of strong product visionaries but you could really use somebody who raises the bar on execution.

The right designer for any one scenario isn’t usually the right designer for every scenario. Sometimes it’s a matter of skill but just as often it’s a matter of passion. If you meet a candidate who tells you they really want to build out the Instagram of Dropboxes into your product, but what you really need is someone who can improve the existing new user experience, you can still offer her the job and hope that once she’s part of the team, she’ll naturally realize that her time is better spent doing the latter. Or you can shift your expectations and craft a new project that is the Instagram of Dropboxes. In both cases, it’s a risk. It might work out, but you can’t always force a square into a round hole.

So. Look at your organization. What design needs are you looking to fill? Do you want somebody experienced? Somebody right out of school? Would you take a designer who hasn’t worked in your medium or platform before, even if they’ve demonstrated a keen sense of craft in a related area? In many cases, the answer may well be “I’ll take anybody who is good and passionate.” Good people can learn, after all. But other times, your needs may be more specific.

The designer I was looking for when we were a five-person design team is not the same designer I’m looking for now. There are candidates we’ve said no to in the past who we would hire today, and vice versa. There are people I’ve regretfully passed on, who I knew I’d love to work with, who I knew I could learn from. But sometimes it just didn’t work out because the perfect role for them wasn’t available at the time.

Think of it this way: every time an extraordinary person joins your company, they’re closing to the door to some other opportunity. And unless what you’re proposing is the best use of that person’s talents, you’re giving the rest of the world the shaft.

So. You’re a meat expert, and I’m looking for a pastry chef. Maybe I could get you excited about lemon tarts and opera cakes. Maybe one day in the future you’ll have dreams of kugelhopf hills and brioche clouds and you’ll thank me.

Or maybe, we’ll go our separate ways, and one day you’ll open a little restaurant down the block that serves lamb-and-rutabaga pies and maple-glazed duck. And on some nights we’ll kick back in the evenings with a glass of wine, some leftover bourbon sausage and a slice of sachertorte, basking in how our little block of the neighborhood is all that much brighter for the two of us blazing our own trails.

Read previous: Part I · Part 2

This is Part 3 of a series of seven (or five or nine or eleven, who knows when I'll run out) reasons to No-Hire a designer, culled from doing hundreds of design interviews over the past few years. Stay tuned for fresh new installments @joulee. (Or, if you've already pwnzored this whole interview thing and are looking for a new gig, why don’t you get in touch?)