Why It’s Time To Relax Your Hiring Criteria

By Diane Domeyer, Executive Director, The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals with a variety of firms.

Finding the perfect candidate for a creative role can feel like an impossible task, especially when there are a lot of must-haves on your checklist. I hear it all the time from hiring managers when they say they’re looking for superstars who tick every box.

Well, here’s the problem: That unicorn you’re looking for probably doesn’t exist in the real world.

I can practically hear the counterargument: “But I shouldn’t have to settle when I need top talent.” Of course not. Your agency or creative department needs the best people you can find. But you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment if you hold out for perfection — and you’ll lose out on a lot of great candidates along the way.

What’s the answer, then? Flexibility. Keep an open mind and consider a range of factors, not just a rigid list on a job description.
According to a recent Robert Half survey of human resources managers, 42 percent of resumes they receive, on average, are from candidates who fall short of the specified criteria. At the same time, 84 percent of the respondents said their company is open to hiring workers whose skills can be developed through training.

I agree with those 84 percent. It’s vital to keep an open mind and be willing to offer professional development, particularly when 92 percent of hiring decision makers feel it’s difficult to find skilled creative talent today — which was a result in another survey from The Creative Group. In this challenging recruitment market, it makes sense to relax certain requirements to avoid missing out on top-notch candidates who may not have 100 percent of what you think you need.

Additionally, loosening your criteria can result in a wider range of applicants, including high-potential creatives with useful transferable skills.

But where is the sweet spot between unicorns and having the entire zoo apply for your open positions? Here are three questions I ask myself when considering the criteria for an open creative role:

  1. What are my real priorities? Get crystal clear on what’s essential and what can be bumped down to the nice-to-have category. For a graphic design role, it’s arguably more important for candidates to have a great portfolio than a degree from a top design school. So you may want to relax requirements like education and years of direct experience to expand your candidate pool to include more designers with the creativity, energy and technical skills your agency needs.
  1. Do they have the necessary soft skills? Creative departments have an increasing need for innovation on cross functional teams and should seek individuals that can grow with the company beyond their current capacity. That has everything to do with their soft skills, like collaboration, communication, initiative, leadership, empathy and creative thinking. In fact, 26 percent of creative and marketing hiring managers said soft skills carry as much weight as hard skills when evaluating professionals for a creative job. Pick the top soft skills relevant to the role, and make those your non-negotiables. During interviews and reference checks, dig deep into how well they communicate, their attitude toward deadlines and client relations, and so forth. You can always train a new hire on your software, but it’s much tougher to teach someone how to be reliable and collaborative.
  1. Will they fit my workplace culture? An organization’s corporate culture can often be a determining factor in whether a new hire flourishes or flops. Someone who seems great on paper doesn’t always translate to a dream employee if different personalities, work styles and temperaments keep them from meshing with your team or performing to the best of their abilities. For example, if your office is social and has an open floor plan, but your top candidate says they need silence and solitude to produce their best creative work, they’re probably not going to thrive in your setting, no matter how great their portfolio looks or how nice they are.

Don’t think of relaxing criteria as settling for second or third best. It’s quite the opposite. What you’re actually doing is reexamining your preconceived notions about perfect candidates and opening yourself up to more possibilities. So consider non-traditional applications. Take a chance on a parent who’s getting back into design after taking time off or someone who taught him or herself web development. Tweak your requirements and you might be shocked how quickly you unearth diamonds in what you thought was the rough.