Hiring During COVID

The realities of hiring remotely.

25 February 2021 Dominic Ayre
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One year ago, as we were entering into what became a year of COVID-19, our primary focus on was the health and well-being of our team, families and clients. Once we were able to orient the studio, we realized that we could remain committed to our projects, continue making progress and meeting deadlines. A year on and we have just come through an unexpected opportunity to add to our team. In what seems like the far-distant past, this was a fairly understandable undertaking. We would ask our networks for recommendations, post the job on the RGD website and a few other job boards we trusted. We would review every résumé and online portfolio and decide who we would like to meet. Then we would ask them to come to the studio for an interview...

Flash forward to now. Pretty much all of the initial steps were the same. We posted the positions, collected résumés and collectively reviewed the candidates one-by-one. With four of us looking at everyone it helped to make sure no one slipped through the cracks. Each of us had various criteria. Did they include a cover letter? I recently read an interesting thread on Twitter against the need for a cover letter. I could see the author's points about the rote nature of writing a cover letter. How you have to hit the usual criteria of: I am great, you need me on your team, you are great, I want to be part of your team, etc. What I would say is this: a cover letter, as a PDF or in the body of an email, is still an opportunity to create a bridge between the candidate and me. Not me as Creative Director, me as a person. We are a small studio and as with any workplace it is very much about people working with people who work with people. We aren't just designer to Creative Director to client. So, it is true that when I read a cover letter that feels like it is checking boxes I generally do tune out. When I read a cover letter that talks with passion about design, or art, or hockey, or puppies, or travel, or experiences that are different to my own, then I start to see the person for who they are.

A few other details that we really noticed with this first part of the search. We found it surprising how hard it was sometimes to find samples of an applicant’s work. In some instances when there was no PDF or link, and we weren't able to see a portfolio, we did stop there. In a few of the cases, however, if one of us saw promise in even the grid structure of the résumé we would take to Google to search, but that was rare. Make sure we can find your work. When we reached out to potential applicants, we also thought about their email correspondence. We are a service industry (there are A LOT of designers who will kill me for saying this). We are dependent on our clients and partners, and the single most important flow of communication is through email and written language. (Note: please check the spelling of our studio name before hitting send).

How do you interview on Zoom? In theory it is quite a simple process, really. How is it any different than an in-person interview? You meet and greet, you hear about the candidate's experience, review the work, ask questions, and then ask if the applicant has any questions about Hambly & Woolley or the position. Structurally it is the same. What is missing though are all the subtle nuances that come from a live meeting. Body language is shown to be a massive part of our decision-making process. You can get some of that on screen, but a lot is missed. The natural small talk that occurs in a face-to-face meeting is missing, too. We always feel as a company that a candidate should meet two of us in a first interview. Designers mostly start with Frances, our Design Director, and myself. Frances has a great ability to make people feel comfortable. She asks questions and connects with an applicant as a person. It is a harder process on Zoom. Talking is stilted. It can be difficult to build a conversation if we are feeling nervous, and I find that live human interaction allows for more flexibility.

Of course, with all of that said we did interview by Zoom quite successfully, and we did hire. We are excited to work with our new team members. We do, of course, long for the day when we can sit on our studio deck and have a BBQ in person. Hiring during COVID has been a very interesting experience for all of us in terms of trust and communication. Hiring has always been a bit of an art. One that really involves understanding relationships. Next: let’s see how onboarding new team members works... Stay tuned for that.

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