These are some lessons I learned and wrote down while building the product design team at Signal Sciences. Some of these thoughts are specific to hiring in the L.A. market at a B2B SaaS company, so YMMV.

  • Always be recruiting. Competition for talent is fierce. Even when you have no open headcount, the entire design team (the head of design most of all) should always be on the lookout for potential talent. Meet lots of designers for coffee. Keep those lines of communication open. Have qualified candidates already in the pipeline even before you’ve posted a job.
  • Designers are allergic to bureaucratic hiring processes. Always engage in a high-touch, personalized way, and do what’s necessary to work around any HR hiring processes that feel like an assembly line.
  • Building a diverse team is not optional. Design has a responsibility to lead by example in building truly diverse teams. Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the world; our teams should reflect that diversity. The best way I’ve found to build diverse teams is to do the upstream work of creating a diverse pipeline of qualified candidates.
  • It can be tough finding designers who have both the interest in B2B SaaS and the aptitude for working on complex technical products. Thoroughly vet candidates who are objectively awesome but have primarily designed consumer products in the past. Make sure they’ll find this environment rewarding.
  • It’s unreasonable to expect designers to come in armed with business domain knowledge. But they’ll struggle to succeed if they don’t have the grit to dive deep and learn the domain. Look for candidates who had to learn a new business domain in their current or previous role. Make sure they not only learned the business domain, but enjoyed the challenge of diving deep on the domain to illuminate better solutions.
  • Internal referrals are an incredibly effective way to hire, moreso if your company isn’t a household name. But it can also result in a team with homogenous backgrounds, cultures, experiences, ethnicities, genders, ages, etc. Wield this tool with care.
  • Done well, there’s tremendous value in proactively sourcing passive candidates. I’m always searching across different services and channels to find great people. Be tenacious and be creative. Here’s what’s worked for me:

    • LinkedIn: I kind of loathe LinkedIn, but it works. Get access to a Lite Recruiter account to get powerful filtering features. Start with your network, but be willing to search broadly.
    • Slack Communities: Find and join Slack communities where talented designers congregate. My go-to Slack teams are the Design Systems and L.A. Design & Development communities. I’ll both post jobs there, and also keep an eye out for talent in channels.
    • Dribbble: With a pro account, Dribbble’s search becomes a useful tool for finding talent when hiring visual or communication designers.
    • Directories of Designers from Underrepresented Groups: Latinxs Who Design, Blacks Who Design, Women Who Design.
  • Regardless of the channel you find candidates on, it’s always better to reach out to them using their personal email (best), Slack DM (OK, but kind of awkward) or portfolio contact form (distant third). Use InMail as a last resort.
  • Emailing strangers asking them to consider your job opportunity can feel like icky cold-calling tactics. But in my experience, it yields results, and if you approach it with tact and grace it can be a great way to build your network.
  • Whether you’re reaching out to a passive candidate, connecting with an internal referral, or screening direct applicants, at some point at the start of the process it’s critical to make a solid pitch for why they should give your company serious consideration. While you should tailor the pitch based on the role you’re hiring for and what you know about the candidate, there are a handful of themes I’ve used that resonate with designers:

    • Mission: Most designers want to put their craft in service of a mission they believe in. But designers are also highly-attuned bullshit detectors. I believe it’s important to pitch the mission in a way that is at once ambitious/inspirational and grounded/candid.
    • Founding Story: We all crave narrative, and to be a part of a larger story. Tell a crisp story about how, and more importantly why, the company came to be. Connect it back to the mission, to the work the design team is doing today, and to where the company is heading in the future.
    • The Work: Talk about specific projects the candidate would get to work on, or speak broadly to the big business challenges/opportunities we’re working on. Designers want to know that they’ll get the opportunity to work on projects that have real impact.