Hiring new people has always been one of our most arduous tasks. No matter how specific we try to be in our job postings, we’re always assaulted by hundreds of applications - and by the time we’ve reviewed all of them, the resumes and portfolios have congealed together into a mush that a geriatric could eat for lunch. And then we get a hundred more.
Having been through this process quite a few times, we’ve come to realize that merely sifting through someone’s work isn’t always the clearest indicator of whether they’d be a good fit in the company. When you’re dealing with a huge number of people, it can save time and plenty of effort to look at a few key traits.
Crystal Clear Communication
Beginning with well-written emails (god help you if you apply for a job with a typo-ridden, grade-school syntax email), but manifesting itself through anyone’s job in myriad ways, hiring a good communicator is an absolute must. Good communication isn’t always just about writing with poise and practice: it’s about being someone who cares about the person on the receiving end of their messages. A person conscious of this will be a rational thinker, a thorough inquisitor, and a concise and accurate delegator. A good rule of thumb is to witness (if possible) or hear about how this person talks to strangers (even if that stranger is you). Do they make small talk? Do they even make an attempt to ‘know you’?
Professionals vs. Lifers
Am I the only person who is often repelled by someone touting that “I have 12 years of experience in graphic design”? It seems like the sentiment of a grandfather who worked at the same machine in a saw mill for 45 years. It’s an admitted stretch, but to me, all that says is “I’m making a living” - so don’t necessarily be impressed by someone with 10 or 20 years of industry experience. Look at their work above all else, and even their previous positions 1, 2, 5 or 15 years earlier. Are they moving forward? Have they taken on interesting, challenging new roles or responsibilities? Is their work showing that they’ve been perfecting their craft and keeping up with the industry?
The Self-Conscious Stress Case: Annoying Friends, Invaluable Co-Workers
If you receive a designer portfolio with 10 pieces when you asked for 5, it’s probably not worth looking at for too long. If you get a portfolio with 5 pieces but they’re asking you to just focus on a couple of them in particular, give it a second look: this likely indicates that they’re concerned with how people perceive their work, and will work tirelessly to make it perfect. If their skills aren’t ‘there’ yet, they’ll be eager to learn. If you track down a designer’s Dribbble in which they’re tearing their hair out over a valid error someone has pointed out, they’re a good bet. Someone who will work late into the night to perfect a design will be good for both your company and your peptic ulcer.
Poach from the UN
Most companies, particularly small businesses, have their share of both hotheads and tacit shut-ins. If you can, hire the diplomat in the middle - nab someone who’s patient, honest, and eager to avoid or resolve conflict. If you work with needy and frustrating customers every day, you’ll appreciate someone who doesn’t take a client’s vitriol too personally and is willing to swallow their pride for the greater good.
Hire the Functioning Member of Our Society
It should be self evident, but usually isn’t. There are tons of painfully talented people in the world, but as with any faction, talented or otherwise, a good amount of them are either ignorant to criticism, lacking in social graces, or generally a pain to be around. If someone cracks a joke in their introductory email or points out a similar interest, it probably isn’t a ploy - it’s an attempt to make a connection and start a real conversation, which is refreshing in any setting. Co-operative talent may only make your business functional, but a team of people who can’t stand one another will make it implode.
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The fundamental thing that we’ve learned is the importance of first impressions in the hiring process - and, as an offshoot, the significance of instincts. All of the points above can be identified to a certain extent in your first correspondence, and much of your decision will probably be made at this point, too (particularly if you’re dealing with a deluge of applications like we do). Now, of course, there are exceptions. None of this is to say that a poor communicator will do their job poorly. But without the advantage of a two-day ‘discovery’ period with each of your applicants, these superficialities are our best resource.
Job hunters, take note.
MetaLab and Pixel Union are proud to announce the highly anticipated sequel to our immensely popular tumblr theme, Fluid. With over 250,000 installs, Fluid has rapidly became one of Tumblr’s most popular themes. Fluid 2 incorporates the same aesthetic and functionality of Fluid, but with an inexhaustible list of custom features.
Fluid 2 is jam-packed with incredible features:
- Fully customizable: use any background image or color, tile the background, left or center align your content or turn off certain sections of the navigation bar.
- Incredible custom video player: works seamlessly with YouTube, Vimeo, Tumblr, and Collegehumor and in HD where available. Video player automatically “turns down the lights” by fading out the background, focusing attention on your content.
- Make the best of social media: quickly link to your Facebook and Twitter, display recent tweets and recent Tumblr likes.
And much more:
- Keyboard controls for post navigation (Next: J / Previous: K / Top of the page: H).
- Ask and Submit
- Content attribution
- Background attribution
- View the archive through a frame
- iPhone and iPad Compatible
- Endless scrolling that will remember your position if you go to a permalink page or any link within a post.
Unlike the original Fluid, Fluid 2 is $19. A small price to pay for the amount of time our team has put into it. Find out why we think this is the most exciting theme for the tumblr platform: http://www.tumblr.com/theme/15063
We have to accept that we aren’t super-human. Too many designers pride themselves on hand-crafting everything they produce. They write their own code and insist on designing every screen of a project themselves. Designers like this burn themselves out within a matter of years. When your business grows, your time invariably gets split between doing the work you love and keeping up with email, sending invoices and estimates, banking, updating the books, and all the other minutiae that goes along with running a business.
When I started MetaLab in 2006, the idea of handing anything off seemed insane. Hiring somebody terrified me. It seemed like a risky expense to take on. Since then, the company has grown to 20 people. Hiring them has been the best business decision I’ve ever made. It’s freed me up to build incredible products, let me focus on the stuff that I love, and given me the opportunity to work on projects that would have been impossible without the help of a great team. Being a one-man-band is great at first, but it’s unsustainable. Perfection is impossible. If you focus on design, your coding will slip. If you focus on coding, you’ll get behind on email. You can’t wear ten hats, and you can’t be everything to every client - you need to focus on what you love most and let others pick up the slack.
When you’re a one-man-band, your income is tied to your daily output. In concept, this is great - you reap what you sow. In reality, you get burnt out and hit speed bumps. You break up with your girlfriend. You go on vacation. Shit happens, and when it does, your financial stability invariably takes a hit. When you have a team, you share the load. When you get overwhelmed or need to refocus, you can have someone else take the reigns for a while instead of having a nervous breakdown.
When you’re a one-man-band, you have to do things you hate. You became a designer because you love designing things, not reconciling bank statements. Fortunately, there are people out there who love reconciling bank statements. Hire one, even just part-time. You get to keep doing what you love, gain back a ton of the billable time that you would have spent fudging the numbers, and help someone else out in the process.
When you’re a one-man-band, you can’t handle big clients. Nike isn’t going to sit around while you personally hand-code every screen. American Airlines isn’t going to wait a week for revisions. To land serious projects, you need to focus your energy where it’s most valuable and let others pick up what you can’t handle.
Running your own company is supposed to be about doing what you love on your own time. That’s what’s so great about being an entrepreneur: you get to decide what your day looks like, what projects you take on, and when and where you work. So why do so many of us get trapped into miserable 10-hour days? I’ve watched tons of designers burn out one after another, many of them giving up on running their own business altogether and going to work for someone else.
I’ve been there, but since I learned to delegate and got over my fear of hiring, things have changed. I usually get to the office at 2pm, take weekends off, and work 4-6 hour days. It’s not that I’m lazy - I love what I do - just that I have the freedom to focus on exactly what I want to work on at any given moment. If I feel like taking on some coding, that’s what I do. If I want to write copy, I write some. I still get to put my stamp on all of our projects, it’s just that I kick off the first couple designs, then move on and let my team handle the follow through.
Of course, handing things off is hard when you’re a perfectionist. You have to hire well, and more importantly, let people put out their own fires. When I started hiring contractors to help with my workload, I made a critical mistake: If their first mockup wasn’t great, or a client got unhappy, I’d immediately step in and put out the fire. You need to let things blow up in people’s faces. Let them make mistakes. If one of your employees misses a deadline, force them to talk to the client directly. If you’re the middle-man jumping into the fray whenever anything goes amiss, you’ll be stuck micro-managing everyone. Step back and let people clean up their own messes and they’ll make the necessary course corrections on their own. Your team will respect you for it, and you’ll save yourself tons of headaches.
Hiring has been my saving grace. The company did over a million dollars in revenue this year. We’ve built two great web-apps and launched all sorts of great side projects. We all work short days, manage our own schedules, and get to work with incredible clients. None of this would have been possible if I was a one-man-band “rock star.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of .NET Magazine
Photo day at MetaLab with Mareen Fischinger
The most distinctive element of the typeface is its enormous lower-case x-height. In theory this improves its legibilty, but only in the same way that dog poop’s creamy consistency in theory should make it more edible.
Introducing Pixel Union 2.0
About a year ago, we teamed up with 45royale to create Pixel Union, a premium Tumblr theme marketplace showcasing designs by some of the world’s best designers. It’s been immensely successful. What began as four themes dedicated to better showcasing photographs and videos has rapidly turned into a library of nearly twenty, multipurpose themes.
It’s with a whole lot of pride that we announce today the launch of Pixel Union 2.0. We’ve redesigned the site, we’ve packed it full of new themes and, over the next two months, we’re going to be releasing one new theme each week. Check out the new site and stay tuned by following Pixel Union on Twitter.