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Hunting for unicorns is bullshit: how to hire great UX designers


Oh, unicorns! Such amazing creatures Do they really exist?

Not a day goes by where I dont read the word unicorn coming out the startup world. In the context of those few rare startups reaching billion-dollar valuations, I get it. It serves a purpose.

But theres a problem when you apply this definition to an individuals professional skills, because if youre looking for that perfect employee, youll be asking yourself all the wrong questions. What you really need to ask: how do I find the best fit for my team?

Sometimes we are so obsessed with finding the best person in and of themselves that we forget to seek out those who will work well with others. You dont need the human equivalent of a Swiss army knife – you need someone with the right tools and skills to enhance your team.

The unicorn is the team, not the individual.

Still not convinced? Let the unicorn hunt begin! I wish you luck, because finding them is no easy task. And should you find this fabled creature lurking in the professional landscape, will they even have the opportunity to be all unicorn-y in your team? I doubt it. What you do need to look out for are the particular challenges associated with finding someone working in user experience.

Are you user experienced?

If youre building digital products or services, and you want to hire someone to handle the design, chances are youll be on the lookout for a user experience designer, because you want to achieve the best user experience, right? Unfortunately, its not so easy, because on the one hand theres a lot of people with user experience on their CV who, at a push, couldnt even tell you what it means. And on the other, youll have really great user experience designers who think the term is bullshit and actively seek to distance themselves from the terminology.

Confused? Don’t despair! To really understand this craft, we need to open its toolbox and understand what skills a user experience designer must master to merit their job title (whether they like it or not).

What to look out for

User experience has six core disciplines: user research, interaction design, content strategy, visual design, information architecture and usability evaluation. Its usual for a user experience designer to have different levels of expertise in each area, but they should always have a basic knowledge of all of them. Youll also find some user experience designers who have other skills that complement these six, like front-end development, copywriting or icon design, to name a few.

This versatility and diversity of experience is great for the myriad job opportunities out there, and becomes all the more important when it comes to finding the right fit for you and them.

Skills before job titles

Before thinking about job titles, try to clearly understand what set of skills youre after. For example: lets say you already have someone taking care of user research (a product manager), the development team handles the front-end and the marketing team is leading on content strategy. This means you only need someone with top notch skills in interaction design and visual design. With some natural variation, youll be best off looking for a user interface designer and not a user experience designer.

Congrats! Youve isolated the skills gap in your team, have found a suitable job title associated to professionals who can fill it, and are that much closer to finding your future teammate! Now heres some more advice on the steps you should take to bag a successful hire:

  1. Find an expert. Either you have someone in your team that is a specialist in the area or you should hire one to help you with the hiring process. Find someone with similar skills, but with more experience than the required for the position you want to fill.
  2. Write a kick-ass job offer. You know theres a fierce competition among tech companies to hire the best people, right? You can’t simply write the requirements of the job offer. You need to sell your company to the prospective applicants. Tip: share your culture and explain why your company is a great place to work. Everyone knows the what of a job. Whats your why?
  3. Be picky. Screen candidates by considering not only hard skills but also soft skills and team fit. Invite the best ones for an interview, ask for their portfolio and let them explain their working processes.
  4. Challenge candidates. Design a challenge to evaluate the selected candidates skills. Good professionals love challenges. If the candidate refuses to do a challenge, consider this a red flag about their future commitment.
  5. Challenge the winner a bit more. After selecting a winner in the challenge phase, try to work with the candidate in a small project before hiring him. Pay for the hours spent on the project, of course!
  6. Booyah! Time to celebrate! The quest has ended and your team just got stronger with the new hire.
  7. Nurture your new hire. What, we cant stop at celebration? Nope! Don’t forget that great designers are scarce. Now that youve found one, make them feel at home and supported. You want them to stick around!

Still here? Hope you found this useful. Im not only leading the UX redesign of a whole new due for release this summer, Im also proud to be taking part in a new initiative well be rolling out over the rest of this year; expert evaluations of candidates so our employer clients can have more confidence hiring outside their own areas of expertise.

Looking for great designers? Im on hand tohelp you find that perfect fit and help you build that unicorn team you need.

Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta

Managing Partner at SensesLab

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