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Organisational Culture by Conscious Design

Our Project’s and Change Management consultant, Ben Thompson recently followed a great blogger on LinkedIn – Stephanie Owen. Most definitely worth a follow, this is some of her recent work around one of the most popular words thrown around the workplace today…CULTURE

‘Culture’ has become the catch-all term that is the encapsulation of everything that’s right about an organisation. Or if something goes wrong, something must also be wrong about the culture. If change is too difficult to bring in, or if there is wrongdoing in an organisation, culture must be the culprit. A friend recently joined an award-winning niche professional services firm, from one of its bigger and better known competitors. The reason for his switch? Culture.

An enormous amount has been written about the importance of culture, lots about changing it, some about measuring it, but little about how you might go about defining or designing an organisation’s culture. So when a colleague recently asked for advice on how a fast-growing startup might go about shaping its culture, it prompted me to reflect, share, and invite discussion.

The starting point for designing or defining culture is to remember that culture has been with us for as long as humans have lived in groups. It is the sum total of the behaviours that the leaders (and members) of the organisation find acceptable and unacceptable, in the context of the identity, values, and aspirations of the organisation.


‘Culture has been with us for as long as humans have lived in groups.’


Organisational cultures often develop initially based on the values and aspirations of their founders or perhaps one of the leaders. IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad’s legendary frugality, Steve Job’s obsession with design and user experience, Richard Branson’s fun and risk-embracing personality – these founders’ personality traits and values form the basis of their organisations’ core values. Over time, these values and behaviours are rewarded (or condoned) by leaders, and become ‘culture’. In this light, it is not surprising that Uber’s board and investors recently decided that co-founder CEO Travis Kalanick and a core group of executives needed to be removed in order to change the culture, amid allegations of sexual harassment, bullying, theft of trade secrets and misleading government regulators.

So, the questions to ask if you were to consciously try to design an organisational culture, would include these:

  1. Who are we – what is our DNA/essence
  2. What is our place in the world, what do we believe about ourselves?
  3. What values do we collectively hold?
  4. What behaviours do we find acceptable or not – with each other? with people outside our organisation?
  5. How do we express our culture – through our office, dress code?
  6. What is our brand – in other words: what is our promise to our customers and staff, and other community stakeholders?

These are, of course, deep and searching questions. Answering them will take time and focused reflection that is difficult to accomplish in today’s fast-paced distraction-ridden world.

How would you arrive at answers to these deep and searching questions, especially if you, as founder or leader, would like to involve others in the journey so as to create buy-in and alignment?

Depending on your starting point, I believe there are three main ways to get answers to the searching questions required to define your desired culture.

      1. Informal chats – if you have an enquiring mindset, and are good at asking questions, you might be able to arrive at a collective view of culture through a series of informal chats with key people about the questions above. This method would be successful if you have already built trust in your organisation and have a culture of genuine two-way dialogue. Of course, this might also take time, depending on the size of the organisation.
      2. Facilitated conversations – a good coach (for small groups up to 4-5) or a facilitator (for larger groups of maybe up to 20, depending on the facilitator) can draw out perspectives and act as a sounding board. The main advantage is that it is easier to think aloud with an impartial listener, and a skilled facilitator can also integrate different viewpoints into coherent statements.
      3. Experiential, co-design workshops – this approach is ideal to get moderately sized groups (eg 20-150) involved concurrently in an immersive, experiential environment that collaboratively design the desired culture. Many people would consider it difficult to impossible to get larger groups (say, around 150) in an interactive workshop. However, there are specialised methodologies available that can achieve this. The advantage of getting large groups like this involved is that diverse perspectives and roles can be represented, and you save a tremendous amount of time in ‘implementation’ because you have already involved large numbers of people. Depending on the size of your organisation, the 150+ people may be your entire organisation, or you end up with some 150 change agents at the end of the exercise.

    No matter what the chosen approach is, the important thing to remember is that the design must also specify how the desired culture will be brought to life: do our performance management systems and processes reinforce that culture? are there monetary and non-monetary rewards for living the desired culture? how might we celebrate those who are aligned? how might we censure (or remove) those who are not? how might we express our culture through our internal and external communications? how might we make it easy (preferably automatic) for people to act in accordance with our desired culture?


    ‘Culture is like raising a plant: if you give it the right conditions, fertilise, water and weed, the plant will thrive.’


    You can’t make culture ‘happen’ directly, the way you might create an app or build a house. It is more like raising a plant: if you give it the right conditions, fertilise, water and weed, the plant will thrive. But there is a world of difference between a patch of soil overrun by weeds and a cultivated garden. The latter can only emerge when there has been conscious design and hard work. In a similar way, conscious design and focus on creating the right incentives, structures and processes that support and reinforce the right behaviours (while discouraging undesirable behaviours), will help the desired culture emerge. Combine this with daily reinforcement of acceptable versus unacceptable behaviours, an organisation can build a winning culture, one that can inspire staff and attract customers when internal and external brands align.

Read more from Stephanie here

In five years, will this matter?

A few wise words from Sir Richard Branson….


“Put every setback in perspective. Think long-term. In five years, will this matter?” This question, posed by Regina Brett in her 45 Lessons Life Taught Me list, is something we should all consider.

Far too many people spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror, worrying about where they went wrong, and get distracted from the road ahead. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if you spend too much time wallowing on what’s behind you, you’ll never end up where you want to be.

I’ve always preferred to keep my eyes on the road ahead. I don’t write off the past; instead I draw lessons from it to help me on my course. After all, life’s greatest teacher is failure, and those that don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat their mistakes. But don’t study them – learn and move on.

As Regina writes: “However good or bad a situation is, it will change.” If you spend too much time in the past, you’ll never move forward. Instead of constantly obsessing about the bumps in the road, or the bend coming up, look to the horizon – that way you’ll see the bigger picture.

While short-term goals are important, we should all be thinking with long-term vision in order secure the best future possible.

This is particularly true in business. Gone are the days of quick wins. All businesses and business leaders should operate with an end goal in mind that can be continuously improved on. Long-term thinking is the key to a thriving planet, and happy and healthy people.

Read more from Richard Branson’s blog page here

How Recruiters Add to the Bottom Line

Our VIC Regional Manager, Trent Turvey told us of this excellent blog written by his former boss, Juliet Turpin. Juliet is the Regional Vice President at Randstad Canada and is most definitely worth a follow! Here’s a share from her blog back in January:

For employers who plan for growth, perfecting the candidate experience is key.

The right employee for our clients can BE the essential difference between making or breaking a deadline; or the difference between innovating a magnificent new way of doing things versus struggling to make budget. The right job for a candidate can make the difference between living a purpose driven life and simply earning a pay cheque.

Our candidates’ primary concern these days is obsolescence and for our clients’ it’s turnover. With technology and business churning so quickly, our task is to help candidates and clients stay on top of market trends by providing salient and timely market information and great career opportunities. It’s more important than ever for our recruiters and employers to build deep, intuitive and symbiotic relationships with their candidates and clients. This is to say, that we must be true career counselors and trusted advisers for our customers; independent of which side of the desk they sit on!

One of the most unique things about working in this industry is the fact that we get to change lives by making great sales! The connections that are developed move beyond the typical recruiter/candidate relationship. Each role we fill means a true life change for the recruiter as well as each of the candidates we work with and the clients who employ them.

By offering an informed, enjoyable and valuable experience where candidates and clients feel informed and helped every step of the way; we directly impact the Bottom Line every day.

Hear hear Juliet!

Why you should consider a horizontal career move

Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder – Sheryl Sandberg

Article from SEEK:

Sometimes we can get stuck thinking about career growth in terms of only moving up the ranks. But have you ever considered moving sideways?

Horizontal career moves can be just as beneficial to your career as vertical ones, and they’re also becoming more common. This means that more people are moving into roles that are adjacent to theirs (for example, from Account Executive to Producer), instead of making traditional vertical moves (which, for an Account Executive, would be Account Manager).

To explain why a horizontal career move can be good for you, we asked Sian Havard, Founder of Milkshake Group, a Brisbane-based consultancy; and Sam Chisholm, Career Business Partner at Cotton On Group, to shed light on some of the benefits.

  • Develop your breadth and depth of skills. A horizontal career move allows you to keep building on your skills, instead of staying in the same role and waiting for a ‘big break’. “Making a move internally into an area you’re interested in is a great opportunity to ignite your passion and learn new things,” Havard says.It’s also a way to make a positive impression your boss. “Employers value someone who has enthusiasm for what they’re doing and pushes themselves to grow.”Chisholm adds, “One specialist skill set will seldom be enough to get a corner office today. Our leaders need a breadth – as well as depth – of skills.”
  • Become more resilient to change. “By working across different areas in an organisation, or moving to a different type of organisation to do the same role (for instance from a multinational to a start-up, or from a pharmaceutical company to a technology company), you’ll challenge yourself and learn what you’re capable of,” says Havard.In doing so, you can also try out new ways of thinking and working, and trial new approaches to problem-solving. This will help you become more resilient to workplace changes and confident in your abilities to manage change in future.
  • Gain fulfilment and networks. Having different experiences and meeting new people as a result of a horizontal career move can also make work more enjoyable. Havard says, “You may find more meaning in your work, whether this is due to the type of work you’re doing, the type of people you’re working with, or the fact you’re learning something new each day.”Working with a range of people is beneficial for you and the business.“Success in a modern organisation is achieved through people who are connected and know who to go to in order to get things done,” Chisholm explains. That’s why making a sideways career move and extending your network increases your chances of success. “When the time comes for a promotion, you’ll have more than one group championing your cause.”
  • Open the door for more opportunities. “A horizontal move can be a valuable decision when it comes to your future,” says Havard. “You may not have the skills right now to be able to successfully apply for a different role externally, but once you make an internal move and develop your skills you may find yourself fielding approaches from companies about opportunities, and will be able to confidently apply for external opportunities.”You may also find that, as a result of your move, you progress into a higher salary bracket, as your increased skills and experience means you can offer more value to an employer.

Chisholm has seen many people make positive moves within the Cotton On Group. “With seven brands under our roof, we have the ability to move team members from brand to brand as well as across our five global hubs. We often move people from smaller jobs in bigger markets to bigger jobs in smaller markets, which really helps round out their experience.”

Havard too has seen many people make successful horizontal career moves during her time working in HR. “This includes someone who moved from a tech support role to being a software developer, someone who transitioned from a blogger outreach position to a sales role, and someone who moved from a sales management role to a B2B marketing position,” she says.

If you’re considering making a horizontal career move, speak to your manager or HR representative to identify how you could bridge any gaps in your skills while pursuing your passion.

– See more from SEEK here

Our Design Gal wants to share…

A few words from Marcella..

As a Design Recruiter at Talentpool Recruitment I like to keep active within the design community. One way of doing this is by attending local meetups and events. One meetup I will not miss is the Interaction Design Association (IxDA), Sydney. These are hosted at CBA every second month. This community has over 1700 members with Katja Forbes & Joe Ortenzi as Co- Local Leaders, supported by many more volunteer organisers. They also organise events over the calendar year, supporting Interaction Design through mentoring, presentations, workshops, discussions and other knowledge sharing opportunities.

Each IxDA meetup has 2 quality speakers that focus on a similar theme. The night also includes networking opportunities, pizzas, beer, wine, other drinks, comfy chairs and a great atmosphere. What more could you ask for? On the night, they also provide the opportunity for companies and recruiters to speak about their open roles. This last week I talked about our UX, Product, Visual & UI and Service Design roles all in under a minute flat! There were 150 people at this last event so it is an excellent way to get our Talentpool brand out there and network amongst some of Sydney’s great design talent.

If you are looking for a role or wanting to join this huge design community then please come along for a mingle. Follow their events via their website here and in the meantime if you want to talk to me about any opportunities or gaps you may have within your design team then please get in touch…

Over and out… Marcella Bowden

7 Things That Make Great Bosses Unforgettable


 7 Things That Make Great Bosses Unforgettable

by Dr Travis Bradbury

Six times Google has topped Fortune magazine’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. Most people assume that Google tops the list because of their great benefits and all of the fun and perks that they pack into the Googleplex. But that’s just part of the equation.

Google knows that people don’t leave companies; they leave bosses. But unlike most companies, who wait around hoping for the right bosses to come along, Google builds each Googler the boss of their dreams.

Their people analytics team starts by researching the qualities that make managers great at Google. These managers aren’t just high performers, they receive high marks for their leadership from the people that report to them. They’re the managers everyone wants to work for.

Next Google built a training program that teaches every manager how to embrace these qualities. Once managers complete the program, Google measures their behavior to ensure that they’re making improvements and morphing into managers that Googlers want to work for.

Google is building bosses that are so good, they’re unforgettable. And why do they do it? In the words of Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations, “Our best managers have teams that perform better, are retained better, are happier — they do everything better.”

Indeed they do. Unforgettable bosses change us for the better. They see more in us than we see in ourselves, and they help us learn to see it too. They dream big and show us all the great things we can accomplish.

When I ask audiences to describe the best and worst boss they have ever worked for, people inevitably ignore innate characteristics (intelligence, extraversion, attractiveness, and so on) and instead focus on qualities that are completely under the boss’s control, such as passion, insight, and honesty.

Google’s program isn’t the only way to become a boss people want to work for. Any of us can study the unique qualities of unforgettable bosses to learn valuable skills and inspire people.

Great bosses are passionate, first and foremost. Few things are more demotivating than a boss who is bored with his or her life and job. If the boss doesn’t care, why should anybody else? Unforgettable bosses are passionate about what they do. They believe in what they’re trying to accomplish, and they have fun doing it. This makes everyone else want to join the ride.

They sacrifice themselves for their people. Some bosses will throw their people under the bus without a second thought; great bosses pull their people from the bus’s path before they’re in danger. They coach, and they move obstacles out of the way, even if their people put those obstacles there in the first place. Sometimes, they clean up messes their people never even knew they made. And, if they can’t stop the bus, they’ll jump out in front of it and take the hit themselves.

Great bosses play chess not checkers. Think about the difference. In checkers, all the pieces are basically the same. That’s a poor model for leadership because nobody wants to feel like a faceless cog in the proverbial wheel. In chess, on the other hand, each piece has a unique role, unique abilities, and unique limitations. Unforgettable bosses are like great chess masters. They recognize what’s unique about each member of their team. They know their strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes, and they use these insights to draw the very best from each individual.

They are who they are, all the time. They don’t lie to cover up their mistakes, and they don’t make false promises. Their people don’t have to exert energy trying to figure out their motives or predicting what they’re going to do next. Equally as important, they don’t hide things they have the freedom to disclose. Instead of hoarding information and being secretive to boost their own power, they share information and knowledge generously.

A great boss is a port in a storm. They don’t get rattled, even when everything is going haywire. Under immense pressure, they act like Eugene Kranz, flight director for the Apollo 13 mission. In the moments after the explosion, when death looked certain and panic seemed like the only option, Kranz kept his cool, saying, “Okay, now, let’s everybody keep cool. Let’s solve the problem, but let’s not make it any worse by guessing.” In those initial moments, he had no idea how they were going to get the astronauts home, but, as he later explained, “you do not pass uncertainty down to your team members.” People who’ve worked for an unforgettable boss often look back later and marvel at their coolness under pressure. That’s why, 45 years after Apollo 13, people are still talking about Eugene Kranz and his leadership during that crisis.

Unforgettable bosses are human, and they aren’t afraid to show it. They’re personable and easy to relate to. They’re warm. They realize that people have emotions, and they aren’t afraid to express their own. They relate to their people as a person first and a boss second. On the other hand, they know how to keep their emotions in check when the situation calls for it.

Their work is truly a team effort, and their people feel accomplished when group goals are met. Since these bosses don’t believe they are above anyone or anything, they openly address their mistakes so that everyone can learn from them. Their modesty sets a tone of humility and strength that everyone else follows.

Bringing It All Together

For many unforgettable bosses at Google and elsewhere, things clicked once they stopped thinking about what their people could do for them and started thinking about what they could do to help their people succeed.

Inspire. Teach. Protect. Remove obstacles. Be human. If you cultivate these characteristics, you’ll become the unforgettable boss that your people will remember for the rest of their careers.

Read more from Dr Travis Bradberry here

Sponsors of Waterloo FC

Talentpool are now the proud sponsors of the current ICFA League Champions – Waterloo FC!


Our Infrastructure and Projects Consultant Dan Eeles has been playing for Waterloo FC for over 2 years. In those years, Waterloo FC have won the league and cup double as well as retaining the league title last year. Waterloo FC are a part of an amateur football competition based in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. Talentpool have decided to support and sponsor the “Boys in Blue” this season in hope that they will retain their title for a 3rd year running.

Matches are played on Sunday’s in Centennial Park. Please feel free to join us or you can follow their team results here!

Good luck for the season Waterloo FC!

Where We Work

Our Work Space..


Sydney Team

Hub William Street’s coworking space is as diverse as its members. The office is an oasis of productivity above the bustling heart of William Street in Darlinghurst.

This Space offers bike racks, shower facilities, relaxation room and a fully-equipped kitchen. There’s even a ping pong table for blowing off steam or settling those all important strategic disputes – all just a 5 minute walk from Hyde Park.


Melbourne Team

Hub Southern Cross offers the largest coworking space in Victoria. Just a stones throw from Southern Cross train station and walking distance from Flinders Street, you’ll find everything you need here. This space offers bike racks, shower facilities, relaxation room, on site cafe and a fully-equipped kitchen. Hub Southern Cross also features an event space that caters for up to 100 people and an on site gym.


The Hub Australia

The Hub has bookable meeting rooms, high speed fibre internet, printing facilities, learning & wellness events, access to our ever growing network and much more – meaning you can focus on doing what you love.

We work and play hard. The Hub Australia run’s a series of professional & social events every week. From weekly lunch & learns and champagne tasting sessions to speed networking, creating that perfect work/ life balance.


CEO Sleepout


Every night across Australia, 105,237 people are experiencing homelessness. 60% are under the age of 35, these are people in the prime of their life.

On Thursday 22nd June 2017, our Talentpool Directors have chosen to make a difference and will be taking part in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout.

We are asking you to support us in this challenge by giving generously and help us reach our fundraising goal.

There are over 1,300 homeless assistance services across Australia and each year, the homeless service system provides almost 3 million nights of accommodation.

We would like to help fund some of that accommodation and in turn, help get those less fortunate off the streets and rehabilitated into a better way of life.

We will be making a personal contribution and we ask you kindly to do the same. Visit here for our Talentpool donation page

Together we can make a difference.




From Our Design Team

Interviewing designers? For God’s sake, don’t give them homework

By Isabela Carvalho

Last year I interviewed with a promising startup in Manhattan. I had a great conversation with the hiring director over the phone, and it felt like we clicked. At the end of the conversation he said the next step was to do a “small assignment”. I then got an email with the assignment.

Oh. It’s one of those things, I thought.

This “small assignment” asked me to redesign this startup’s home page. The redesign should include the strategy, the UX design (wireframes, prototypes), and the visual design. They kindly asked me to let them know when I would be able to hand this back to them.

Convenient, I thought. How many free home page redesigns are they going to get this month?

Perhaps I was being cynical. I considered devoting myself completely to it and making something amazing. But that would take time. And while I got a great first impression from the company, I hadn’t even been to their office yet. Was it really worth it to devote all that time and energy for a company I was not that familiar with?

Doing a half-baked job was out of the question. I’m a designer. You don’t ask a baker to bake half of a beautiful pie. I either do my 100% best, or I don’t even start.

Then I thought, what happens if they decide not to hire me, but they like aspects of my design solution? Are they going to use my ideas without my permission or any sort of remuneration?

What do you think? If you were them, would you use my ideas?

If you were me, would you feel comfortable with that?

As I continued to interview, I was surprised by how many companies asked me to do complex and time-consuming at-home design exercises, especially compared to the last time I was on the market back in 2012. I now have 6 years of experience as a designer in-house and in agency, and a robust portfolio to go along with it. I received a lot more requests for at-home design assignments than back in 2012. This is because more and more companies are building design teams in-house (add link?). The need for a methodology to vet design talent is at an all-time high.

I understand why companies want to do this. They want to assess the candidate’s abilities to think creatively on a project. There is nothing inherently wrong with that.

Of course, it is questionable to ask people to work for free. And interviews are supposed to be mutual. Unless the company is going to create a mini product for me, I don’t see how they can reciprocate this ask (aside from payment, which has never been offered in my experience).

In addition to these concerns, there’s also another problem. The way these homework assignments are prescribed tends to be, well, poorly designed. I know you’re trying to test the candidates, but you might actually be pissing off potential talent before they even get a chance to get to know you and to want to work with you.


A Caveat or two

Are you Google? Or Tesla? Or *insert your favorite design company here*? If so, stop reading this article. You should do whatever the hell you want in your interviewing process. If you are known as a design mecca, or have an in-site amusement park, who am I to tell you how to recruit?

At the same time, don’t assume that because you’re well-known (as an agency, studio, or company) designers want to work for you. Tons of good designers don’t particularly want to work for Amazon or Uber because of their reputations as places to work. And especially if you are a startup — or really any company whose name designers may not recognize — the last thing you want to do is turn off talent with a poorly crafted (read: laughably ridiculous) design exercise.

At-home assignments are not necessarily always a bad idea (contrary to what the title of this article may indicate). Of course, each case is different. But often they are a bad idea. If you must do them, consider the tips below.

Note 1: throughout this article, I use the terms “at-home assignment” and “homework assignment” interchangeably to refer to design tasks given to the candidate to be completed at home during the interviewing phase.

Note 2: This article refers only to designers that fall within the digital design spectrum: UXUI designers, interaction designers, visual designers, experience designers, graphic designers (if there is still such a thing), and it could be relevant to service designers as well. It may not, however, apply to other kinds of design outside of the digital space, such as industrial design or fashion design.


At-home assignments are best suited for junior candidates

The thinking here is best summarized with a question: what talented, seasoned designer with 5+ years of experienced and a solid portfolio wants to do free work for a company they’ve never heard of? (Since you’re still reading this article, I assume you’re not Google or Tesla).

The market is pretty good for UXUI design jobs out there these days. Good designers who live in metropolitan areas like NYC and Seattle have a lot of options to choose from. We are not desperate. If your company is located in Wilton, Connecticut, then you might be desperate for talent.

For junior talent, homework design assignments make sense. Junior designers may not have many good projects in their portfolio yet. They often have limited work experience in their resume. An at-home assignment can help to assess this candidate’s true potential.

Junior candidates may well embrace an opportunity to do additional work, because they may view it as their chance to show their skills. This is especially true for designers straight out of college, who lack the years of experience most roles require.


The design assignment should be complementary to, and not a substitute for, the portfolio review

If you want to do this for mid level and above (that is, someone with at least a few years of experience as a designer as well as a robust portfolio), you should really consider why. What do you get out of this assignment that you cannot get from a portfolio review combined with in-person interviewing?

Ultimately, what you are looking for is the quality of their thought and craftsmanship. Are they thorough and creative thinkers? Do they explain their ideas articulately and persuasively? Are they collaborative? Do they make experiences that are beautiful and user-centered? Are they logical, smart, and clear-minded? Are they team players?

If the design exercise is meant to answer all of the above questions, it will be too open-ended. It will end up being something like “redesign our homepage and show wireframes, prototypes, visual mockups, a snapchat story, and a video deck documenting your process in English, Aramaic, and Braille.” A little too time-consuming for most designers.

Believe me, we designers spend a ton of time working on our portfolio. By giving designer candidates a new project to complete, you’re essentially adding a new project to their book. Like the other projects, it will be presented in a PDF or webpage, as well as via a verbal walkthrough. What do you get from this new project that you cannot get from the other projects in their portfolio?

The at-home assignment should fill in where the traditional interview materials leave off. This requires some careful deliberation on your part. Don’t be the guys who give out a ridiculous task, i.e. “redesign our homepage”. Instead, target specific skills that you feel for whatever reason are not measured effectively by the portfolio review and the in-person interview. This means that it should never be broad, vague, or open-ended.

If you are asking for every possible type of design deliverable, ranging from wireframes to high-fidelity mockups, that is a big red flag in my book.

If you’re looking to test the candidates’ visual design skills, ask only for high-fidelity mockups. If you want to assess their information architecture skills, ask for a sitemap. If you want to test their prototyping skills, ask for a prototype. If the role requires them to be extremely detail-oriented in their problem-solving, you can provide a problem and evaluate how they go about solving it. In coming to the solution the candidate will probably create other design artifacts than the one you’re requesting, but they don’t have to spend a lot of time polishing it if you’re not requesting it.


Constraints and Specifics Lessen the Execution Time

If you are keen on giving out at-home design assignments, a smart approach would be to make them low on execution time but intensive on thinking. You can craft a design assignment that will test creative and strategic thinking without requiring a lot of execution time (time spent in front of the computer moving pixels around). You should examine their portfolio of work for their execution skills or craftsmanship. Besides, what’s that saying? Anyone can execute (or learn to). It’s the thought behind it that makes the difference.

What you want to do is create guardrails or restrictions on the task that will keep it narrow and focused.

For example, it is better to ask them to design a component instead of a system. It is much less time-consuming to design a sign-in modal than the entire authentication experience.

This is also about being considerate of other people’s time. Consider the experience I had, where I was asked to redesign the company’s home page. A design team could easily spend a month on the home page. Side note horror story: I once worked in a team that spent 3 months on the redesign of a single page (within a large organization). Insert terror face emoji here.


Have the design assignment come later in the interviewing process

One company I spoke to had a very focused and constrained design exercise. They did all of the above. It did not take up a huge amount of execution time, and it tested a specific skill set. But I still didn’t do it. Why?

Because they sent me the assignment after we had only had a 30 minute phone chat, and then specifically requested me to complete this assignment before the in-person interview. This is a company I knew very little about at that point. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to work there.

Maybe they are doing this early on so that they save themselves time from meeting in person with candidates who “fail” the test. But what about my time of doing free work for a company I don’t really know yet?

The candidate should have the opportunity to see your office, meet the potential colleagues, and have a conversation with you before committing to doing extra work for you. They need to decide if they want to work for you, and that’s hard to do without actually having an on-site meeting.

Assume a seasoned and talented designer will only do your at-home assignment if they definitely want to work with you. I asked many of my designer friends — all senior level and above — and they would only do these homework assignments when they really want to work for the company.

But how can they decide if they really want to work for you, if they haven’t even visited the office yet?

The earlier you introduce this step in the interviewing process, the more likely the (experienced) designers will not bother with it.


Don’t Give a Prompt that Conveniently Matches Work You Need Done

This is the most cringe-worthy part of the experience I went through: the company who asked me to redesign their home page provided prompts that happened to match scenarios they are currently going through. I know this because it came up during the phone part of the interview. I don’t believe they purposely meant to be shady. Remember the days of design competitions? There is an ugly history of ethically questionable behavior when it comes to exploiting design work, so just don’t go there.

Give a hypothetical scenario. Don’t give them scenarios that are real situations for your product. For example, if you need to redesign your online TV guide, don’t give out a prompt that says “re-imagine the TV guide experience in 2018”. This means you could potentially use their ideas without them being employed, and it raises all sorts of ethical questions. A smart candidate will question if you are a serious and legitimate.

Take Google, for instance. They give an at-home design assignment which is completely hypothetical. They will not ask you to redesign Gmail or Google Maps. When I interviewed there, my task had to do with pet adoption centers. (I don’t believe Google is planning to open up pet stores.) They also give candidates a choice of 3 different prompts to chose from, which is a nice touch.

What you can do is replace the topic entirely but keep the concept. For example, if the designer’s job would be to redo the TV guide, you should consider what kinds of strengths and skills the designer needs to have, then craft a task that requires the same strengths and skills. Then, make it about puppies. Or amusement parks. You should not be able to re-purpose the designer’s work for your own product.

No matter how tempting it may be to give a real scenario, DON’T. Even if you have the best intentions, they’ll have the feeling someone is trying to take advantage of them. Also, it’s shady.


Beware the Lemon Effect

Used cars are considered “bad lemons” because buyers are suspicious of why they were re-sold. In online dating there has also been a lemon effect (do I need to explain this?). A time-consuming design task might be weeding out the kinds of designers who have lots of viable alternatives which don’t assign homework, leaving you with the lemons.

The whole goal of recruitment is to attract talent. Are you sure you want to introduce a step that could repel talent?

If after reading all this, you still feel confident about your at-home assignment, then by all means follow through. If you do go through with it, make sure that it is for the right reasons and that it’s done in a thoughtful, considerate, and ethical way.


So, how did my interviewing go?

My favorite company of the ones I interviewed with did not send out at-home assignments at all, and it is one of the world’s top design consultancies, and where I ended up.

The company that had asked me to redesign their home page was a startup, and it was clear to me that the assignment was created by non-designers — a CEO and a Product Lead. I don’t think they had any senior designers or design directors yet. A final tip: if you’re not a designer, have an experienced designer look over your design assignment, or, even better, help you create it. If your company doesn’t have a designer yet (meaning that this is the first design hire), maybe you can find a designer friend to give you some feedback.

Of all the companies I had spoken to, 4 had asked me to complete at-home design assignments. I only did one (Google’s). The other companies made one of the above mistakes and I just felt that it was not worth my time. They did inspire me to write this article, so it all worked out in the end.

Read more here from Isabela Carvalho