Lessons learnt: hiring for product design

Bryn Taylor
Dec 19, 2018 · 7 min read

People make a business. You can’t create great products without great people. No factor is more important to determine a company’s success. Peoples’ values influence company values. Company values influence how decisions are made. A bad hire can have a detrimental impact on any company — but particularly in a small team.

I think the value of a strong, diverse, and cohesive team is understood — but far too often hiring isn’t given the time to reflect this. Job descriptions are rushed together. Interviewers are unprepared for interviews. Companies arrogantly think great candidates will just flood in.

The Thriva crew minus a few faces 😎

Investing time to think about how you hire people is something that will pay generous dividends. Time spent up front will save exponentially more time in the future. Recently, we doubled our design team (from 1 to 2, but still counts… no? 🤷‍♂️) Hiring a second product designer was the perfect opportunity to take a step back, look at our hiring process, and re-evaluate our approach. I’m going to break down the key stages that make up our process — giving a lesson learnt from each stage.

People make a business. You can’t create great products without great people.

We value people a hell of a lot at Thriva — they’re a big part of what has made Thriva such a great place to work up to this point. We’re dedicated to continuing to hire great people and find a process that scales with us as we grow. Hiring great people is a tough process. There’s so much competition — especially when every startup is trying to 3× their headcount. Each small piece of the process matters. It’s a combination of these things that can make your role seem more desirable than the next.

Job description

The starting point for most hiring processes and the first thing a potential candidate will see relating to your role.

Look through other companies job descriptions with a fine tooth comb — what do you think works well? What is a logical narrative? What could be off-putting? How do you feel after reading the job description? Does the company sound like they have their shit together? Does the opportunity sound exciting as well as challenging?

Ask people internally from different backgrounds, roles, and experiences to read your job description.

Think hard about what skills are critical for the role versus nice-to-haves. Think about where there are currently gaps in your or the team’s skillsets. Start to form a broad list of requirements and narrow it down from there to something that is cohesive and feels like a realistic ask.

This tweet from the founder of Honest Work was a personal highlight 🙌 Job ad for reference: https://thriva.workable.com/j/5D58011398

Be careful about the language you use. Without realising, gender-biased words could be excluding women or other under-represented groups from applying to your role. There’s a great tool from Kat Matfield that checks for the use of strongly associated masculine or feminine words. Ask people internally from different backgrounds, roles, and experiences to read your job description. If things are off-putting to them, chances are applicants will feel the same.

Who’s involved?
One or two people (hiring manager and/or line manager) + team input + wider company input

How long will it take?
How long is a piece of string?

Key learning:
Focus on the prospective candidate and how you can help them achieve their career goals. Don’t make the job description all about you and how great your company is.

Reviewing applications

Have clear criteria when reviewing applications. You need to understand exactly what it is you’re looking for. If you don’t know what you need — it’s impossible to say whether someone is a good match or not.

I found it most effective to set aside a small amount of time each day to review incoming applications — around 30 mins at the start of each day. This will help you keep on top of applications as well as not interrupting your day-to-day work too much.

Who’s involved?
One or two people (hiring manager and/or line manager)

How long will it take?
30–60 minutes each day (depending on the number of applicants)

Key learning:
Ensure all applications end up in one central place. Most applicant tracking systems allow you to pull in applicants from other sources (we like to use Workable).

Phone screen

Keep the phone call brief. The purpose of the call is to give you a better understanding of where they work, what they do, and what it is they want from a new role. Give them the opportunity to ask questions about the role, team, and company.

It is important to clarify certain details early on in the process. Ask about their notice period, rough start date, and salary expectations (we like to display the salary range on the job description just so everyone is clear from the offset).

Who’s involved?
One person (hiring manager)

How long will it take?
20 minutes

Key learning:
Prepare a rough script that covers an introduction to the call, important questions you need to ask, the following stages of the hiring process and any things you wanted to dig further into from their CV or application.

Technical interview

This is usually in-person with 3 people from the product team, or other people that the candidate will be working closely with.

This is a chance for the candidate to present some of their past work. We encourage candidates to deep dive into one project versus covering multiple projects from a high level. At this stage — we’re really keen to hear about their working process, how they approach a problem, how they overcame challenges, who they collaborated with, and what their individual contributions were.

Who’s involved?
Three people (hiring manager + two other people that the candidate will be working closely with)

How long will it take?
One hour

Key learning:
Send a rough agenda to the candidate ahead of the interview — this makes it clear what’s expected from them, who will be present in the session, and allows them to prepare accordingly.

Onsite session

Hiring is such a two-way relationship — it is just as much about the company selling the opportunity as it is the candidate selling themselves. An onsite working session allows them to see how you work as a team, your working culture — essentially get a true to life representation of what it will actually feel like to work for you.

We’re not after free work, which is why we’re clear upfront that the half-day is a paid session. We understand it’s not always possible to take time out of work at short notice, and we’re flexible for this reason.

Hiring is such a two-way relationship — it is just as much about the company selling the opportunity as it is the candidate selling themselves.

We deliberated a lot on whether we should have a design challenge or an onsite session. I’m not the biggest fan of at-home design challenges, but that’s another discussion. In the end, we felt an onsite session was a more effective way to gauge technical skills and gave better insight for both sides of the process.

Who’s involved?
Two people + team involvement + wider company involvement

How long will it take?
Four hours

Key learning:
Picking the right piece of work for this session is critical. Think of a task that can be approached with limited domain knowledge. A small, isolated component or piece of work tends to work best. The more complex the task, the more time spent briefing — and less time spent attacking the problem.

Founders chat

The final stage of the process is an informal chat with Thriva’s three founders. This is to gauge whether the candidate would fit in culturally — whether the candidate’s values are aligned to Thriva’s values.

Thriva’s founders believe in being close to each employee and this part of the process helps that to happen. Especially while we’re still a smallish team.

Who’s involved?
Three founders

How long will it take?
30–45 minutes

Key learning:
Allow more time for questions from the candidate than you may think. This is the last real opportunity to address concerns about the opportunity or company. A candidate leaving with unanswered questions could be detrimental.

While we’re on the subject of hiring processes — guess what… we’re hiring! 🌟 Thriva is currently on the lookout for another product designer as well as frontend and backend engineers. Hit us up!


Stories and insider insights from the Thriva team.

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