In the creative industries we value certain personality traits and skills extremely highly. We praise and reward expert communicators, fearless storytellers and maverick leaders. But, like human beings, creativity comes in all shapes and sizes… Introverts and extroverts. Teachers and advocates. Listeners and questioners. All these people have different backgrounds, different lives, different futures. If we want our teams to evolve and stay relevant, we have to make room for everyone. And the first step is to re-examine how we hire.
Diversity and inclusion statements are now commonplace in many businesses. But even well intentioned words often fail to deliver tangible actions. “A lot of people talk about it, but they don’t really mean it,” reflects Jessie Mlinaric, People and Operations Director at ON. Diversity, Mlinaric believes, needs to be consistently recognised as a rich opportunity for any company that wants to do great work: “The founders here see, and believe in, the genuine benefit of diversity. I hear it from them all the time. It is not a one-off.”
Elsewhere, at Made Thought, a desire to bring together diverse minds requires a generous approach to hiring: “Beyond the day-to-day tasks of any given role, we’re always looking for people who will add new and different thinking into the mix,” says Jess Haworth, Creative Talent and Resource Manager. “Diversity of experience is a key driver of creativity so we try to make sure our job descriptions aren’t so rigid that they put people off applying if they don’t have the exact right experience… I'm focussing on the potential of what else they could bring to the table further than just the standard job spec.”
Is it possible to create a hiring process that is fairer, kinder, and more hospitable for all? Or does it ultimately come down to who we deem to be ‘the best person for the job'? How do we define ‘best’ anyway? Is ‘best’ an existing quality or something learned and grown over time? How do we untangle ‘best’ from ‘safe’ and ‘familiar’, making room for new definitions? Below you’ll find some starting points to consider if you are looking to make your hiring process more welcoming to – and supportive of – a wider variety of creative people. These steps are not fixed, but should be constantly assessed and revised. We hope you find an insight that feels both exciting and challenging — and the confidence to turn it into action.
Choose Your Team And Tailor Tasks
Hiring is a project in itself and requires a dedicated team with a leader and a support system. Who are you going to involve in the process, and at what stage? Who simply needs to be kept informed, and who is accountable for making the key decisions? Think about whether your hiring team includes a broad enough spectrum of people, with diverse backgrounds and opinions — and complementary skills.
Do you have a hiring or HR manager? If not, who’s going to monitor applications and answer questions from potential applicants who might need more information before they submit? It’s your duty to respond promptly and helpfully to any queries. Make sure whoever is in charge of responding is equipped with the right knowledge and guidance to create an excellent (and accurate) first impression.
Get Critical Before You Critique
As a business owner, hiring requires you to take a long, hard look in the mirror — in two very different ways. First, you must develop a deep understanding of your business and what brings your team together as people. This will allow you to trust your instincts when considering who and what will be an asset to your business by contributing to this shared story. Second, you must ask yourself: When it comes to hiring, in what ways am I being narrow-minded? Where might I see opportunities instead of challenges? Where does a candidate’s role as an employee end — and my role as a facilitator and mentor begin?
Then it’s time to face the really tough questions: How am I being ignorant or judgmental? Who am I overlooking or excluding from my business? Why am I overlooking them? Deepen your understanding of unconscious bias by working with an external trainer, such as The Other Box. As Jessie Williams, HR Manager for If You Could Jobs' parent company The HudsonBec Group says, “It’s never too early to ask for help with HR.” Growing your knowledge and resources isn’t about defending your business in case of a future ‘problem’. Instead, we should see HR as an essential part of life at any workplace — and something that potential employees will scrutinise. Williams points out, “We’re getting a lot of questions from our candidates about diversity and inclusion.”
Sharpen Your Shortlisting Skills
Time to make some practical and strategic decisions. How many people are you going to interview for the role? Is this a fixed number for every interview you undertake as a business, or does it fluctuate depending on how many candidates apply? On what basis are you going to select candidates? Will you use a fixed set of metrics? How much will gut instinct and personal preference come into your decision? Will you shortlist a designated proportion of people of colour and people from other underrepresented backgrounds? Or will you anonymise the applicants? Made Thought, for example, operates a blind submission process, removing names, pronouns and birth years from CVs and portfolios before they are reviewed by the hiring lead.
At ON, flexibility is seen as the key to welcoming a broad mix of different people with surprising backgrounds and new ideas. “I think we have fewer fixed criteria than most… It’s about the holistic experience that somebody has to offer,” says Mlinaric. The “less obvious” elements of a person’s experience are seen as valuable to the company’s overall skillset, so, when recruiting, they take the extra time to see and evaluate “what’s not immediately noticeable”. Identifying a “twist” on the desired criteria “has been successful for us in the past,” states Mlinaric. “The challenge,” she continues, “is how we keep doing this as we get bigger.”
Russell Bishop, Design Director at specialist UX and UI design agency Lighthouse admits, “It’s very easy to keep hiring people like you. And it’s only going to get harder to diversify a team the longer you leave it.” Identifying the need to get proactive about inclusivity, Lighthouse developed its own system to anonymise the shortlisting process. The tool involves first qualifying applications based on simple criteria such as time zone and number of years of experience; then removing any identifying factors such as name, personal photos, age, gender, sexual orientation, education, country. Likewise a portfolio is reduced to a series of anonymous screenshots. From there, a range of Lighthouse team members score the application, and the average score is used to determine whether the candidate is invited for an interview. The idea is that everyone goes through the first stage of the hiring process “on equal footing”. Throughout the process, communication between agency and candidate is quick and clear.
Decide On The Right Format
Remind yourself throughout the hiring process: What is reasonable and appropriate to ask of people? And be rigorous: On a basic level, candidates should always be interviewed by at least two people, using the same set of questions. Scoring (against a predetermined and easy to identify set of criteria) should be carried out during or immediately after the interview (using the detailed notes you have taken) to avoid relying too much on memory which can omit certain information, or morph over time.
Phone screening first? One, two, or three interviews in total? You may decide on a format based on the seniority of the role you’re hiring for. For example, you might be happy to move quite quickly with a junior role, allowing them to get stuck in with lots of room for learning and growth. But with a senior role such as a Design, Strategy or Client Director, you may feel the need to create a longer and more thorough hiring process to really understand each other’s ways of working. At Made Thought, Haworth reminds us that the interview process is a two-way street: “As much as we are interviewing candidates, candidates are also interviewing us. I try to make sure that anyone we’re talking to feels comfortable asking questions and working out if we’re the right fit for them as well as the other way around.”
At Lighthouse, a fixed script is used for all interviews for a specific role. Organic conversation can’t always be totally controlled but the script sets clear guidelines. Who’s going to conduct the interviews on the day? You should aim to make your interviewing panel representative of different types of people, in addition to the candidates you’re talking to. How will you make people feel welcome and relaxed? Job interviews don’t need to be terrifying. At HudsonBec, interviewees are asked in advance, “Are there any adjustments we can make to our process to help you feel comfortable?”
Will you set a short assignment — either before the interview or afterwards? At Lighthouse, Bishop recognises that in reality, candidates will often be undertaking interview processes with multiple companies at once. Therefore, he tries to keep any tasks as simple, time efficient and enjoyable as possible. The purpose of an assignment, says Russell, is to create “the space for someone to stand out”.
How will you follow up with candidates who have and haven’t made it through to the next stage? Think carefully about your language. Balance honesty with compassion and respect.
Learn And Evolve
With their focus on people-first flexibility, the team at ON recognise the importance of building capacity for personal development into the hiring process. “You always know you can teach something… Within every role, there is learning — and that’s what makes the role interesting,” says Mlinaric. Likewise, at Made Thought, Haworth describes how initial open-mindedness around candidate criteria can evolve into new opportunities for the future: “There might be certain aspects of a job spec that we can then use to further someone's development later down the line, whilst also giving a realistic view of the role for someone to look at before applying.”
Every new hire is an opportunity for business owners to learn how to be a better employer. So ask your candidates for feedback. Even the candidates you didn’t hire. If you’ve done a great job at creating a positive recruitment experience, they’ll be happy to oblige. You may meet again in the future — and next time you might both be in a different place. For the employers we spoke to, creating a better hiring process is an ongoing activity with endless room for review and improvement. The surest way to get better is through curiosity and transparency — and a willingness to admit when you get things wrong.
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