March 19, 2018
How to Effectively Interview a “Creative”
Creatives are those people who work in the creative sector — writers, designers, singers, actors, dancers, sculptors, etc. But there are other jobs that require creativity or where a person who is naturally creative can excel. Interviewing creatives can be a miserable experience for more analytical people. They can’t fit the person being interviewed into any real classification because creatives are by nature very adaptable and flexible, naturally curious, are taught to see things differently, and are open to new experiences. They are always thinking “outside the box”. I have always loved this quote:
“When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an attentive, searching, daring, self-expressive creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are trying to close the book, he opens it and shows there are still more pages possible.”
— Robert Henri
The Interview Process
Let’s start with the job posting. Creatives are not typically people who care much about money or title; they are all about the “creative journey” your company can offer. Your job posting should be written in such a way that the reader can understand the value you place on their creative output. Seek out great creative people you know to review your content and ask them whether it would attract them to apply. If not, get more feedback from them and do a few rewrites. You won’t find the best people unless you write about the position and your company in a way that will entice them to apply. What benefits and perks do creatives most like? Remote work environment (doesn’t have to be all week, but occasional work from home is useful), meaningful projects, reimbursement for conferences devoted to their area of expertise, and just feeling the respect fellow employees have for those who work in creative fields.
Once they apply, your process should include a review of their portfolio of work. Most of them have a portfolio somewhere online. Behance.net and myportfolio.com are great place to view people’s work, but there are many others as well. Carefully review the products they’ve uploaded. Does their style match your corporate brand? The closer the match, the easier the work will be for you both. Imagine expecting someone who loves to sketch buildings to create a precision-based rendering of the same building. Both of you will unsatisfied with the end result.
Regarding portfolio reviews, be aware that artists steal each others work and it’s all the more prevalent now with the availability of many online free and cheap design services and freelance sites. When someone’s portfolio is filled with many different and disparate concepts, some clean and precise while others are not, you may have found someone who is using other people’s work. Google’s image search has saved me from hiring some of these people. I’ve also had worse — people sending me samples of their work with the watermarks still on them from the sites they downloaded them from. An HR person may not notice this as they are scheduling interviews for you.
Once you have selected the portfolios of work that meet your standards and company branding and style, look over their resume. They may be job hoppers. This is actually pretty standard with creatives. They need continual inspiration and challenges to keep them interested. Their work needs to have meaning. Their work may not be considered important or they may have been told that their project is “on autopilot” which is a deeply unforgivable comment to make to a creative. Apple has shown the world that design matters. Designers, especially good ones, are very much in demand and can demand high salaries because they create immense value for an organization. When interviewing candidates, ensure that these values are true within your work environment and discuss how these values are instilled within the company or they probably won’t accept your offer.
Keep the interview process simple.
Ask about each project, how many people were involved and what was their role. Most creatives are delighted to discuss their work and even appreciate some feedback during a portfolio review. Ask them about their direct supervisors in each project and how they interacted with them. You’ll probably notice that most don’t like to spend a lot of time interacting with people, going to meetings, or presenting PowerPoints. They want to create. They want to build something. As part of the interview process, you may want to give the final two or three candidates a small project to produce for you (it would be nice to pay them a small fee for doing so) in order to evaluate their work style and whether they can complete the brief in the time allotted. Only those who are really interested (or desperate) will complete the work, with others dropping out due to lack of interest. You will have saved yourself from a bad hire.
Bear in mind that meaningful work inspires creatives. The more alignment you have between the company’s goals and the candidate’s personal ambitions, talents and interests, the closer you will be to getting the candidate to accept your offer. When making your offer ensure that your language documents this as best as possible.
The Care and Feeding of Your Creatives
The creative process does not work like a manufacturing process. Managing a creative team can be a nightmare for rigid managers. Creatives need space and time to think through all possible solutions. What may look like wasting time spinning in circles in the middle of the office may be their way of doing this. They may surf the internet for days and just before the deadline, you suddenly see them furiously working late into the night creating the project. Maybe they’re still there at their desk when you arrive in the morning. The creative process cannot be forced; the magic only happens through inspiration and what the Japanese call “satori”, AA calls a “moment of clarity”, and others might call “eureka!”. Coach and positively reinforce their activity. If their work is not up to the mark, take a moment to let them know that you know they can do better. Be constructive and supportive. Defend their odd and quirky ways to upper management. Create that environment and you’ll have a line of creatives waiting to work for you. 🙂