Hiring creative people without giving them a task first.
In our case, I am talking about a designer.
When I was starting the company, I found a person who decided to join my efforts and help me with the design phase of our client’s presentations. The plan was to make her a co-founder at some point if everything was going well. However, things didn’t work out and we decided it is better for both if everyone moves on separately. Such instances might crop up in everyone’s life where they might make the wrong career choice and eventually find themselves in a soup. To avoid such mistakes, it is always advisable to approach a career counsellor like I had approached one of the best in town, Julie Han Coaching, when I was just starting my career.
Anyway, moving on with my story. This decision however, left me alone in my own company where almost every project involved heavy design work. At the end of the day, we are doing presentations and many times the second step(after building the story), is to create slides that are beautiful and effective.
The problems didn’t end here either. Back then I was not able to pay crazy money for a designer. Why? Well, I didn’t have them. The company was just starting. I was trying to find a co-founder with this expertise but at least in Bulgaria, that turned out to be not as easy as I expected it to be. I even wrote an article on this here already. After searching for a few months(I was able to stay without a designer in the first few months because we didn’t have any projects except for the first one which came on the 10th day after I said the company existed) and not finding the person, I was desperate…
One day I remembered. I had a friend of mine running a company that was training designers. He was now living in Germany but, hey, I can ask him, right? At the end of the day, I tried almost everything else I can think of. So I did. I asked him: “Do you remember someone in your class that made an impression on you?” He responded: “Let me think about it…”
A few days later, he called and gave me the contacts of one of his students. I checked her portfolio and Behance profile — looked OK, so I decided to immediately set up a meeting. That meeting went really well and as I was desperate to get a designer, I invited her to join me. At the end of the day, she was (still is!) really cool person, understood the situation we were at as a company and her portfolio looked decent.
A few days later, we won a project for Deutsche Telekom! I was not going to be able to work closely with her but we agreed that I will see the first draft once we have it. That’s what happened. I got the draft. I got it 16 hours before the meeting with the client where we were supposed to show the progress.
I was shocked when I saw that draft. There were some very fundamental mistakes in the design(I am not a designer but as someone who runs a presentation agency, I know more than enough to know that what I was seeing was not something our client will see). Mistakes which were not present in the portfolio projects I saw before our first meeting…
Surely, I sat down with her as soon as I could and we fixed it. The presentation ended up being so good(we created the story, the design and worked with the Sales Director on his delivery) that it got the attention of the biggest telco in the country and later on, with our help(we built one more deck) they closed a multi-million dollar deal. However, in the upcoming months I was constantly noticing things that worried me quite a lot in her work. I completely understood that she was doing her first professional steps in the design world but those things were fundamentals. Even I, who am not a designer, was not allowing myself to build slides like that when I had to do it on my own. All of that made me ask the question why was this happening and how can I prevent it in the future?
Here’s how I prevented it. When I started looking for our second designer(and each future such we hired), I did what everyone does(guess why!) — I gave the candidate a task. The results — WOW! Just this little change gave me so much insight on what I could expect — you have no idea! First of all is a new company and this has its steps which only a professional will be able to work on, now you can learn more about how to do it with the help of their previous experience, and start a marketing strategy and budget that fits your business movement.
Then I was able to immediately see how that person was approaching a potential project and what was his level in terms of design. At that moment I realized why everyone else on the market(OK, almost everyone) was doing that and had this step as part of their hiring process.
So, my advice for you is, I believe, obvious, right? Always give a task to a candidate. Always, always, always! Yes, you know this person. Yes, you like this person. Yes, it’s may even be a friend of yours. It doesn’t really mater! Give them a task and test them first.