In this podcast episode, Max interviews Julia DeBari, a User Experience Design Specialist. Julia shares some insightful tips for the hiring managers in the UX Design world. Experience has taught her the importance of work culture emphasis as well as the wisdom of looking into the process of every designer’s portfolio.
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Max: Hello, welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers Podcast. I'm your host Max Ambruster and today I'm delighted to welcome on the show Julia DeBari who is a designer turned into a recruiter of designers, and we’ll get to her story in a minute, and I hope to ask Julia about how to hire designers and how to hire them in a way which opens your talent pool and opens the door to as many qualified talents as possible. So Julia well, welcome to… welcome to the show.
Julia: Thank you very much Max, I appreciate you having me.
Max: It's a pleasure. It's a pleasure. We… we got connected because I saw some of Julia's work online where she… she explained some of for UX and design work. And… and Julia like many, many recruiters kind of stumbled into recruitment and talent acquisition. I suppose bit late in your career. So it's only been… you've only been a full time recruiter for less than a year, right?
Julia: Five months.
Max: Five months. So well, that's the hardest part probably. Hope… hope you're hanging in there and but yeah how did you end up… Well, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and… and then perhaps how you ended up in talent acquisition.
Julia: Sure. Sure. Yeah, so as Mike said then in UX design actually 22 years, primarily in the San Francisco Silicon Valley area. Most of my life, I recently moved up to the Pacific Northwest. And I had the normal career, you know, go up the career ladder and then I decided that wasn't for me, and so I switched to teaching UX design for five years. And I got a little burnt out, and switched to design program management for a year and felt like I just wasn't having the same impact that I was able to in the past. So yes, I decided to try recruiting to see how the sausage is made, so to speak. As I was doing education, I saw so many students struggling to find that first job after graduating. And I just really wanted to understand the hiring process and more detail, so I took the plans and jumped right in and been doing it for five months.
Max: All right, all right. And you're… you're helping… are you able to help those young people today find jobs? Or is it like every other field? Nobody wants to hire them straight out of school. We want them to have like three, four years to basically to have their…to… to have all their training, the initial training, paid for by someone else.
Julia: Yes, now it's just like that. In my recruiting role, I got one junior graphic design position and I've gotten 500 applicants in 24 hours that I get to go through. So yeah it's really tough, just like many other industries, design mostly wants senior people. Frustrating. And many people out of school do a lot of contract or freelance work for a few years before a company is willing to take a chance on them.
Max: Yeah, it's a great way to at least get something started, go build a portfolio, you go on Upwork, you take the odd gig, and then adds up right? I mean, yeah, people put Upwork on their resume all the time now. Good enough for me, actually. As an employer who works with a remote distributed team, I'd be happy if somebody spends five years on Upwork, as long as they got good credentials.
Julia: Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, it's sort of your only option to waive the processes right now.
Max: Well Julia, I'm thinking about these…these young people who don't have a long portfolio and these 500 candidates. Did you know… did you come up with a process that works and that… that you could recommend for others who are hiring designers?
Julia: Um, I don't think I've quite finalized the process. I think I've made some improvements. But the thing is the improvements are mostly just me. I'm still trying to scale those improvements out to other people. And I think one thing, so when I was in UX design, I was a manager and hiring. And I was much more open to mentoring, whoever the new person on the team was. And I know there’s a lot of hiring managers who are just too busy and don't have the time, which is why they're looking for seniors. So I think what's positive in the industry is there are a lot of design apprenticeship programs popping up where people can join and get the ongoing mentorship well working, if they can get someone to take a chance on them. And I think that's really important to be like, I have a regular steady mentor who I talk with and reviews my work. And I think that helps when you can bring that to the table when you're interviewing.
Max: And that does sound…Oh, you mean the candidates would…Oh, no, you mean the recruiter of the candidate should…
Julia: Oh, the candidate. So, something I like advocate for when I get junior candidates is to tell them like step by step, how to like get a regular mentor, and like how to get by.
Max: Get a mentor and bring that to the discussion. Bring out to…to the interview.
Max: Oh yeah, brilliant! I could use a mentor from…from my designers. That's…that's not a dig. It’s just to say we know we're a small business and we don't…we don't necessarily have the layer of senior mentorship available in house.
Julia: We need to take that conversation offline and give me some free consulting advice.
Max: Thank you. I will…I will take you up on that. And so thinking about the…the mistakes we want to avoid when…when hiring designers. What are…what are some…I mean you must have…you must have hired a few in your days when…when you were on the other side, when you're managing your design. Can…can you run…you know, kind of walk…walk me back through some of the hiring mistakes that you may have made? And what you…what you've learned from that, and how employers can avoid hiring the wrong designer?
Julia: Yeah, um. One mistake I made it was not special. So anyway, I was a manager and I inherited a team. And then we wanted to bring some new people on, and I went on vacation and the hiring process started without me. And when I got back from vacation, I had a new…two new people on my team that I did not interview. So I definitely do not recommend doing that. And I think I strongly suggest when you are having a designer, that they meet at least a couple people on the team. Not just the hiring manager and their boss, or the cross-functional partners, but they need to talk to some people that they're going to work with on a day-to-day basis. What I used to back when it was in person, obviously, things are a lot different with remote, that I think is helpful is showing them like the creative area, or where they will be doing their work. So if you do have people in person. You know it's a lot different some places, still have the whole cubicle setup or you know, is it a total office setup or ballpen setup or whatever. So that was useful but I don't think it matters now with remote work. But do letting people know, like the cadence of meetings. I think that's one thing, depending on the company. You know, some companies are really meeting heavy, and some people really don't like that. And so, those are some important things as a hiring manager. You can let candidates know, so they're not surprised when they set the offer and start.
Max: Yeah, that's…that's tricky right to be able to figure out if somebody is meeting friendly or not meeting friendly. I know the…I have my ideas on who likes meetings and who doesn't in my company. I would say, most of the engineers are quite…are pushing back heavily on it. And I suppose generally if you could map out who's an interest back introvert versus an extrovert, then you can figure out how much they enjoy meetings, but that could be simplifying things. How do you…Yeah, how do you determine that's on…with their…with their candidates?
Julia: Um, yeah. I usually just ask and say like we usually have…depending on like what client I'm hiring for, like there's usually X number of meetings a day. And another thing I think is important is like are those meetings planned? And like they're on your calendar like a week or two in advance? Or is it like fire? You know emergency. Okay, we throw like an hour long meeting on the calendar and five minutes, so that you know we can rush to do a crisis. I've certainly worked at places where they just like proliferating like mushrooms, but nothing was hardly ever planned out as far as needed. So that was a little bit of a pain. So I'm just asking those questions straight up.
Max: Yeah, like what is your average week look like? How could it be better? And you know what you…And maybe some designers will say: Oh I…I wish I had more me. I wish I had more interaction. I was more involved with other sides of the business and possibly you'll get that kind of candidate to.
Julia: Yeah. Yeah.
Max: And then, and so, so that’s…that's kind of a culture fit question. And then in terms of technical assessment, what do you do?
Julia: That sounds really interesting. There's quite a debate in the industry around say like technical assessments in the sense. And I'm sure it's not just design, where there are so many tools and it's like a job description, a list you know you must know these five tools or something. But honestly, almost every job I've had, there's been a new tool or something. So I would say for hiring managers, I would look more for someone who can pick up a new program really quickly, and not use that as criteria to cross someone off the list. I use so many different software's and…Oh my God, I said software is a complete mess with that. So many different software programs and you know, it usually just takes me like a few hours or a day or so, to pick them up. And so I think a lot of people are like that, and so I see hiring managers like: Oh, they must know this program, or like we work only in…like I just got a design, like a UX design job and they only work in Illustrator and I'm like well, most…
Max: It is like, if you don't know my software, then what kind of person are you? It’s that sort of tribal instinct that kicks in where we think: Oh you're an outlook person? Gross. You know.
Julia: Exactly. So I see things like that getting in the way of hiring great candidates a lot.
Max: Yeah. So okay, try to shake off all your…So we have…we have all these biases, right?
Max: We imagine a candidate to be a certain physical type gender, age group, etc, and…and software package to come with it, or if it's not an Adobe Indesign person, I don't want to touch it.
Max: So we got to get rid of those biases, and then we got to get to the core. So the the core of…of a great designer. I don't know how do you measure that. Like is it artistic sensibility? You see their portfolio, and you ask them to walk you…walk them through the artistic…you know the creative process.
Julia: Um, well you caught on a keyword there. Process. So the great thing about UX design specifically is that it's using an old fashioned term. It's both right brained and left brained. So you want someone who can think critically, and ask a lot of questions and not just take things for granted or take things at face value. But then you also, as you said, you want someone with that aesthetic sense and that creative ability. So yeah. So I really feel like your portfolio is really where you can stand out as a candidate, and as a hiring manager that should be your like single point of reference versus someone's like resume or like where they went to school or whatever. And in that portfolio, you want to see you know, attention to detail in the design artifacts that are on the portfolio, as well as an explanation of like how they went through that project's process. You know of like…so things… Oh sorry, go ahead.
Max: I'm sorry. Yeah, I was gonna say that portfolio is a little bit like a resume. You can…you can put a lot of stuff in there. It doesn't always have to be true, right?
Julia: Oh, that's a good question. I never thought about that. But I’ve heard many story...
Max: But you know, a lot of people cheat on their resume a little bit, or bend…bend the truth a little bit. And I imagine, they do the same on portfolios and…you know, I would look at a portfolio and say, well did you really design that?
Julia: Yeah. No, actually you totally reminded me it was last year. The year before I was talking to a friend and they'd hired someone based on their…this person's portfolio. Like she wasn't the hiring manager, but this person was going to be her co-worker. And it turns out they totally copied someone else's portfolio, like ripped it off like letter to letter. So that is one reason why we see so many design challenges. Like unfortunately, it's awful to do it as a candidate, but I've done a lot of interviewing with other hiring managers, and the amount of responses where people are scarred by hiring the wrong person, is like fear. Like they're afraid hiring the wrong person. And just to your point like, person has a great portfolio, but did they really do the work? How can I test for that? It's not like programming, where you write test cases or something like that, or your code works or it doesn't work.
Max: You…you I was gonna ask you design challenges and tests. I'm sure people have come up with those hundred different ways by now. There's no one exercise that you…you think works for you or for hiring somebody, let's say you know one or two years out of school?
Julia: Yeah, I actually really like…It's totally free online. It's been up for years, like you can totally just go use it. Google's Innovation Lab, so it's called. It's the guy who wrote that book Sprint Jake Nap whatever. I don't remember. It’s called Google GV Labs. Google Venture Labs. That's what it is. He put a great design challenge of online. You can download it. Use it. I think it's almost perfect, like it…you know, those what you needed to do.
Max: The design’s print is a five day process for answering critical business questions through design prototyping and testing ideas with customers.
Max: That one? Okay. All right, something to check out. So that's…that's something you…we you… you can dictate the outcome a little bit? Or it's…it's an open challenge?
Julia: It’s an open challenge. Yeah. And it's just the challenges online like you don't need to buy the book or anything.
Max: And it's time…it looks like it's time bound.
Julia: Yeah. Yeah.
Max: Because the other thing with portfolios is maybe you have a beautiful piece of work, but it took you three years to do that one thing.
Julia: Yeah, very good point. Yeah.
Max: Okay, and what…what other…any other advice on how to find…you know, how to give young designers a chance, and how to avoid mistakes on hiring UX designers?
Julia: Um. Well, I could go on and on about gibbering junior UX a chance, but I guess just more on the hiring, a little bit like really looking into like diversity and inclusion. There are lots of great places like don't just use LinkedIn or Indeed to find candidates, especially like junior candidates. They might not you know fully be aware of these platforms, or at least LinkedIn. So you can go to like Behance or Dribble, which are like sort of portfolio websites. And you know there's also…I don't know if clubs is the right word, but there's like blacks who design, and let team knows who design, and whole bunch of like specific groups around that kind of thing that are a good place to find people. So, I definitely recommend reaching out to those groups. And then one thing I do and it's worked for me, both as a candidate and a hiring manager, is using things like Slack groups or design communities. Instead of just using like a job board to like go find people and just reach out to them on these like Slack communities, or whatever you know Discord, TikTok. There's design communities and reaching out to people.
Max: And it sounds like at the...at the junior end of the…the talent pool, then there’s this too much talents, though there's…there's an oversupply. And what's…what's the other side of that equation? What are the…what are the…the type of profiles that are in such high demand that nobody can find them?
Julia: Yeah. So it's usually seniorly-like UX designer. And I have tons of friends with those titles, and yeah they're…
Max: They don’t have to sweat for work.
Julia: No, they really do not. They can pretty much just walk up and get almost whatever they want.
Max: It's still a good career choice for people who want to move into it. It’s a good career prospect.
Julia: Yeah yeah definitely and one thing I would say…Oh sorry.
Max: No, no, go ahead.
Julia: I would say to companies, it is a hiring frenzy out there, and being a recruiter with like some jobs are like: Yeah we want to hire right away. And yet you still take like weeks to like give feedback or schedule interviews, where I have other candidates like the client went through in just a couple days, and they got an offer at the end of the week. So you really, really need to move fast right now. Like you can't take weeks or months to decide on a candidate.
Max: That…that is music to my ear, I think. For most jobs, it should be like that actually. But but we…we all fall asleep at the wheel sometimes, unfortunately. And what's the… You…you're now in…in recruitment and interviewing designers. Do you think that having…having been a UX designer, a lead designer for a long time decades, you said that… Do you think that that gives you an edge as a recruiter? And you know the follow on question to that is…if somebody does is a recruiter for…for designers, you know, should they…what kind of…what kind of education do they need to access in order to speak the right language? I mean I don't know if it's given you an edge or not, or if you feel like you're more catching up to the recruiters on how recruitment is done. I've seen a lot of people come into recruitment and kind of get the hang of it quickly, and use their…their past experience as…as a way to build trust with candidates.
Julia: Yeah. No, I think it's definitely helped me build trust and like quick rapport really quickly like I was screening someone earlier, and they're like: Oh, you're a fellow like part of the creative community. And they're like really happy to talk to me. And so it's definitely actually been a positive thing. And to your point, I feel like picking up the general process of recruiting was very quick. There's some little nuances that I think just might be like company specific that I'm still trying to understand. Yeah, but I think that’s good.
Max: I'm taking a fresh look at things. I mean the recruitment process is changing very fast. It's different now than it was two years ago, pre-pandemic. And so people are still catching up all the time. So I think they are bringing in external…you know people external from talent acquisition is…is generally positive. I've seen a lot of companies succeed well bringing somebody from outside.
Julia: Yeah. I agree.
Max: And hopefully you'll stick around in talent acquisition, and help a lot of people, and make a lot of money, or whatever…whatever you're in it for.
Julia: Thank you.
Max: It was a pleasure to meet you, Julia, and to…to get it a little bit into this…this unique world of hiring UX designers. How can people get a hold of you? And…and yeah, what's the best way for them to get in touch?
Julia: Definitely LinkedIn. I just saw LinkedIn is called a social media network, which I was unaware of. But I'm stuck to LinkedIn the way other people are to like Instagram or Twitter or…
Max: I was... I wanted to ask you actually. Are most UX designers, do they have a preferred social media?
Julia: Um, actually Twitter seems to be more popular.
Max: Oh, that's… that's ironic. It's a text-based social media that wins the people doing design.
Julia: Yeah. There…there are people on…I mean there's definitely a good group of people on LinkedIn, but I find a lot of people on Twitter too.
Max: Okay. Good. And there, I asked Instagram, TikTok.
Julia: Um. Not this…Well, I haven't seen on TikTok, or not TikTok, Instagram very many like people searching for jobs. And like I thought like: Oh that'd be a good way to like maybe also branch out your portfolio to like show pieces and stuff like, you know, on your bio or something. But I haven't really seen it that much which actually surprised me. And then I have seen some people do some interesting things on TikTok but definitely the more junior people you know.
Max: 18 to 25 year old.
Julia: Yeah. Yeah.
Max: Yeah. All right, excellent! Thanks, Julia. And…
Julia: Thank you, Max.
Max: All the best with your career and recruitment.
Julia: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Thank you. Have a great day.
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