Jonathan Arnowitz, Elizabeth Dykstra-Erickson
We deserve respect! Whether we're hiring or being hired, face it: Everyone is taking a risk. How recently have you searched for a new position in the field of HCI? How well were you treated? What was the hiring process like? How long did it take you to get an answer on your candidacyor did you? Candidates deserve the respect of the hiring manager simply because they are presenting themselves to inspection with candor and interest in you and your company. Hiring managers are usually searching for a certain je ne sais quoi beyond the job description: culture fit. If the candidate doesn't fit, all parties may be in for a long adjustment period or the realization that the fit just won't happen.
How do you tell if you fit or not? It's often impossible in the interviewing process. So what do you do if you get the awful dark hint in the back of your mind that you do not fit?
Adrian's Situation. Adrian joined a start-up's engineering team as the second senior designer, ready to meet the challenges of complex design problems and rapid development cycles. He discovered once on board that although the schedules were crazy and expectations were high, he wasn't getting much finished. He started wondering...
Outcome. Adrian left the company after three months and would neither return nor recommend the job to anyone else.
Reason. Adrian realized that the work ethic and the work hours didn't match what he'd been told by the hiring manager. He came in around 9 a.m. and his boss was already at work; by 7 p.m. Adrian was the first to leave. The entire day was full of meetings, leaving Adrian to wonder when the actual design work could be done. Unwilling to work a full day's production into his evenings, Adrian decided that the schedules were entirely unrealistic for the way in which business was conducted. No amount of personal flexibility would change that, and Adrian decided to find another job where his think:talk:do ratio would fit better. Adrian cautions the next prospective candidate that this is a 24-7 job; and he claims that no amount of coaching the hiring team will produce different results.
Questions Adrian Could Have Asked:
- Describe an average day; what activities do you personally spend the most time on?
- What's the decision making process for design work?
- How many hours do you work a week here? Do you work on weekends, after hours? Under what circumstances?
Bela's Situation. Bela joined a corporate UX group as their second UX architect, but found once on the job that things were a bit disorganized and for unclear reasons he'd be doing detail design and production work assisting a more junior designer for a few months. After several brief engagements with long term projects, he started wondering...
Outcome. Bela lasted for nine months before he accepted an offer he couldn't refuse; he has specific cautions for others considering joining his former company.
Reason. Bela was a victim of headcount pressures. He was hired at a use-it-or-lose-it moment for the group's budget. The mismatch in skills and projects was a result of poor predictions of resources to needs. Used as a pair of hands for the odd design job, yet faulted for not being a leader, Bela left for a more creative job with more authority. Bela suggests that candidates ask hard questions about the work cycles, the number of simultaneous projects, the decision-making process, and personal authorityall of which can be addressed without revealing too many details of upcoming projects. And he says upper management should closely question the work anticipated for head count requests they are asked to approve.
Questions Bela Could Have Asked:
- How many projects does each person work on simultaneously?
- Can you describe for me the difference between an architect and the rest of the design staff?
- How creative is this organization?
- Who has accountability, and final decision making, for design architecture and design detail?
How can you predict if the candidate will work well in your environment or not? Even if your hiring cycles include multiple full days of working with a candidate, the mutual exposure you'll have is limited. Here are some real-life examples of foreboding.
Carlotta's Situation. Carlotta hired the senior designer for a bustling small business, backfilling behind their sole designer who had recently left the company. Despite having no overlap with her predecessor, things seemed to go along smoothly although Carlotta noticed the social temperature in the office was rather cool. Three months into the job things weren't any warmer, and she started wondering...
Outcome. Carlotta's senior designer left after six months, and her group has not approved a single new candidate among the ten they've interviewed.
Reason. Carlotta's team is smallwith only half a dozen people in the office, it's very important that they all get along well together. The well-liked designer who had left had taken a leave of absence and would eventually be returning. Not wishing to establish a new relationship with someone expected to be a short-term colleague, Carlotta's team would rather work without a designer, and in fact were producing reasonable results without one. Carlotta would like the team to be more flexible, but the team would rather hire design support on contract per project. And that new personhe laughs too loudly.
Questions Carlotta Could Have Asked:
- Our designer will eventually return; are we willing to collaborate and cooperate with a new colleague, or should we hire by the hour per project?
- We have a small office; what requirements do each of you have for the new person?
- Should we discuss how we work together here before we start interviewing replacements for our designer?
Duncan's Situation. Duncan hired a new designer after a month of reviewing portfolios and screening resumes. He started to get reports from his engineering and product management leaders that they weren't happy with the new designer. He dutifully started to investigate, but he was definitely wondering...
Outcome. Duncan's designer is still struggling, and his new headcount requisitions have been frozen despite increases in the workload.
Reason. Duncan has little control over hiring in his UX group. Each candidate needs to pass inspection by engineers and product managers, and this takes a lot of time. Duncan ascertains the candidates' UX skills. Others assess new candidates' sensitivities to, and experience working with, their respective disciplines. But no one is gauging social fit across the company. Furthermore, the new designer fits well with Duncan and his group's style, so the friction with other groups comes as a surprise. Duncan and his management peers need to get together and discuss their relative requirements and measures of success openly, and come to a consensus that will work for everyone.
Questions Duncan Could Have Asked:
- Who is going to be responsible for the final decision on filling the design position?
- What successes/failures are we currently having due to how we are organized, how we behave socially in the office, and how we approach the work?
- What is our tolerance threshold for culture fit?
Can you think of questions both sides should ask to ascertain culture fit? Write to us and share the questions YOU have asked to determine whether or not you'll fit in with your new company, or your new hire will fit with you.
©2005 ACM 1072-5220/05/0900 $5.00
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