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Never Hire Anyone

Partner with people you could never live without

(This was written back when I still ran someone else's UX team, but now that I have my own shop, I find that it still applies.)

Our agency’s growth has been rather on the slow and steady side – which means we’ve roughly doubled in size in 18 months. Still, that growth can be difficult to manage, especially when the crush of client work comes in increasingly large batches, and good help can be so very hard to find.

Within the UX and Strategy group which I head (we called it “Performance Strategy”, basically because “User Experience Architecture, Media Planning, Analytics and Research” doesn’t fit nicely on a card, or in a sentence), it can be particularly challenging to manage this growth. I tend to look for people who have experience in IA and Interaction Design, preferably with both a technical background and an ability to communicate effortlessly with designers, programmers, clients and publishers. Experience with analytics and media planning is a plus; oh, it’d also be nice if you’ve run a usability study or 2, and if you’ve got experience interpreting eye-tracking data, so much the better.

Aside from all of these “paper” qualifications, there’s that ever-elusive quality we screen for first: fit.

I’ve gotten a lot of things wrong in my brief business life, but it’s brought to me to at least one firm conviction. Any company who’s work product is essential the result of a creative process has but a single competitive advantage on which to trade, Its culture.

It’s nearly impossible to define, and yet essential. And if it’s missing, deficient or dissolving, there’s not an off-site pow-wow or team-building obstacle course or fine-tuned mission statement in the world that’s going to grow one.

So when I look for new people to add to my small team, and to the agency in general, I find that the most important skill is the one that can’t fit on a resume. I’ve found that a resume, some work examples and 15 minute phone screen can tell me 90% of what I need to know about a candidate (or can at least let me know if the answer is “no”.) The missing piece, though, can only be evaluated in the context of what we do every day, which is solve problems with the help of the rest of the team.

So I don’t interview. At least, not anymore. I used to, and I used to do it a lot, asking candidates to sit down with me for an hour, sit with a few other folks for a while and see what everyone could ferret out about this complete stranger in the course of 20-30 minutes.

It’s a fool’s errand.

I’ve decided to do something else instead, and I’m excited about it. Tomorrow is the first real test-run, so we’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s surprise, but here’s a few things that drove me down this path:

  • If I’m thinking about interviewing, it’s because I need to add to the team; I don’t generally troll just for possible future candidates.
  • If I need to add them, it’s because there is work waiting to begin.
  • Once they’re on board, there’s no time to get to know them, understand their working style, and adjust our process to match.
  • I’m a firm believer in the concept of, “if the answer isn’t ‘YES!’, it’s ‘no.’” If someone isn’t absolutely the right person, we’ll know in a few hours.
  • I’d rather not have hired someone only to have to let them go a few hours later.

With that in mind, a little experiment is underway. My theory is that interviews suck, and conversations are much more fun, and more relevant.

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