Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Qualities of Candidates

Through the past year, my intense hiring schedule has slowly revealed an interesting pattern in how I evaluate candidates. Beyond resumes and interview skills, I find myself looking for three key qualities that define a successful member of the team.

So the creative team at my company continues to grow, and I find myself in several interviews a week, speaking to candidates that range from art school newbs to grizzled, battle-hardened veterans.

It’s been fun.

As a smidge of background, when I took the position of creative director some time ago, I inherited five people for my team. Since then, I have hired five more. Right now I am interviewing for three additional, concurrent positions that will also report to me. Between all of this running around, I have reviewed about 300 or so resumes and interviewed some 35-40 people, all in less than a year. And not only am I hiring people for my own team, but I’m also sitting in on group interviews for candidates that will work as peers on the marketing team.

Awhile ago, I offered some resume tips for designers, and before that, my experience hiring a junior designer. Everything I said in those two posts stands. However, over the past few months, I’ve distilled my critical evaluation of prospective employees and discovered there’s a pattern of three qualities I consistently look for. This is not nearly as useful as the other two posts, but maybe someone clever can apply the abstract to their own process.

1. Skill (Can you do the job?)

This should be obvious, at least from the hirer’s point of view. Unfortunately, I have spoken with enough would-be employees to know that many people will fire their resume at any position that moves, hoping something will stick, regardless of whether their experience matches the job description.

I consider software skills the least important part of the resume. While every position in a creative department requires some base level of technical proficiency, the most important quality is actual talent. If you can’t design or write with demonstratable skill, the chance of being called for an interview is about as good as a pigeon’s chance against a 747.

2. Trainability (Can you be taught to do it better?)

In my business, trainability is key. Not only do you have to learn all about the product we sell, but you’ll have to hone the technical design skills to keep up with the hugely talented staff already cranking work out.

The receptiveness to learn is a fundamental personality trait. Some people sit around and wait to be taught, while others proactively seek to learn. I am particularly attracted to candidates smart enough to deliberately ask what type of training is available, and (if they’re really smart) how soon it’s accessible after being hired.

3. Personality (Do I like you?)

One of the hardest parts of management is the removal of one’s self from “the team.” Since I am no longer in the trenches, enduring the daily production struggle of multiple projects and tight deadlines, I do not pretend that I am just another regular guy fightin’ The Man.

However, since I work hand-in-hand with almost all of my people daily, if I don’t like you, it’s going to be a rough time. The other side of the coin is team chemistry; if you don’t work well with the team I built and trust, then it’s really going to be a tough go. Because of this, as shallow as it sounds on paper, I consider personality to be the first priority for candidates.

Useful, huh?

So after less than a year of blitzkrieg hiring, for better or worse, those are the three qualities I find I look for when hiring. Stumbling in one area does not necessarily indicate exclusion, but failing one completely is usually grounds for an expeditious boot off the short list. Since I don’t speak with too many other creative directors, I would be curious to see where others’ priorities lie.

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commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Sunday June 24, 2007

great!!! It will help me for ma interview


wrote the following on Tuesday July 29, 2008

I just wonder what the steps are to becoming a creative director, or something of the sort. is that just something you earn in time? i’m currently attending the Art institute of seattle majoring in graphic design. I havent graduated YET, so I know I have time…but I just dont want to be in the SAME spot for the duration of my career.