In-house Observations: A Talent For Finding Talent

In Search of the Genuine Article Part 1

by Ed Roberts

On rare occasions when I wasn’t wading through a sea of résumés and portfolios, I could be found watching one of my guiltiest pleasures—the Antiques Roadshow. I got a kick out of watching rummage sale shoppers’ mouths drop when an old clay jug they discovered—now used as a spit cup—turns out to be a museum quality artifact. The night when appraiser Lark E. Mason Jr. burst into tears during his appraisal of a marble Chinese lion was, well, priceless. What I enjoy most about the Roadshow is listening to the oral lore or provenance of each heirloom and the determination of why it is or isn’t the genuine article.

Searching for the equivalent of the genuine article among those looking for work in today’s economy is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. Most in-house design managers feel the weight and importance of building and maintaining a creative team comprised of versatile, committed and creative talent. I’ve conducted phone interviews where unwitting candidates reveal their interests in “slumming it” in-house while riding out this bad economy, while other candidates who have stunning work can’t succinctly articulate the strategies fueling their solutions. These experiences coupled with lessons learned from truly regrettable hires caused me to develop the following steps for deciphering the knockoffs from the genuine article.

1. The breakup: It begins with “I quit”
Imagine you were just handed a resignation, the professional equivalent of a Dear John letter. Whether it came from your ace, the squeaky wheel or the one you were planning to vote off the island, regardless of your personal feelings, being professional, encouraging and gracious will help to maintain or even build your reputation within the local creative community. If this tight-knit community of designers, writers, photographers, web developers, paper reps and print vendors don’t respect you or the company you market, simply by word of mouth they could destroy your efforts in attracting the best candidates. Conversely, having them as an ally could help you cast a wider net among their best contacts both locally and beyond, bridging the gap between you and the genuine article.

2. Do your homework
Poet Maya Angelou once said, “Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it!” That’s great advice,  especially for in-house design managers looking to strengthen their teams. Research and preparation are two foundational components in helping you determine new team goals and the type of candidate needed to assist your team in reaching those goals.

So where do you begin? You begin by maintaining the sanity and integrity of your in-house team; hire a dependable and skillful freelancer. Then take the temperature of your local communications industry by searching employment websites like, and Determine if your local communications industry is running hot or cold by reviewing their job postings. Document the strengths and weaknesses in their postings; your observations will come in handy when you begin developing your own posting. You will also learn a great deal about the vitality and credibility of these companies through this process.

It’s also a good time for you to conduct a 360 degree peer review. Ask a small group comprised of vendors, internal clients and members of your in-house team to offer constructive feedback on the health of your department, focusing on its strengths, weaknesses and needs. Their comments will be invaluable in helping you determine which strategies to fast track and sideline. Keep this group engaged every six months by asking them for their feedback on the health of your department. By doing so, you’ll be creating a culture of transparency and solidifying a partnership where they become true stakeholders in the success of your department.

The last component in this step is to research the most recent salary data for the position you have vacant. I am a firm believer that money games should not be played. I also believe it is my job as an in-house design manager to sell senior management on the fact that acquiring the genuine article means we have to pay what the market will bear or maybe even a little more. I recommend using the AIGA’s Survey of Design Salaries Report to help support your recommendations. Plus, candidates will appreciate that you put in the time to research the salary data and are willing to pay a fair wage.

In my upcoming post I’ll share the remaining steps and provide examples of interview questions and face-to-face interview strategies. Until then our search for the genuine article continues.