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Google Ventures' Formula For Attracting Top Design Talent

Google Ventures partner Daniel Burka on how to write a great job description for designers in demand

[Illustrations: Troyka via Shutterstock]

At Google Ventures, we've helped our portfolio companies hire more than 30 full-time designers in the past two years. So we know a thing or two about how to attract talent. Demand for great designers is at an all-time high, and companies need to have their ducks in a row if they want to compete. That includes a clear and compelling job description—it’s not a magical honey pot for attracting talent, but it’s a great opportunity to connect with designers who might be right for your company.

Consider what designers care about

The job description is your tool for explaining your company and the opportunity to designers. Put yourself in a potential applicant’s shoes—he or she will want to know:

  • Is this company and position worthy of my extraordinary design talent?
  • Will I be challenged in the ways that are important to me?
  • Does the company’s product and design culture resonate with me?
  • Will I have the chance to grow as a designer?
  • Do I even have a fighting chance to get this job?
  • Are my bases covered on the fundamentals?

Get your own story straight

As a startup founder or hiring manager, a job description is also an excellent way to clarify in your own head what type of designer you need and by what criteria you will judge the applicants:

There are many ways to structure a job description—this is one formula that has worked well for us:

1. TITLE

A job title says a lot about what you’re looking for in a designer. Don't get too clever here—Creative Ninja is just as unhelpful as Designer. Here are some of the most common positions that Google Ventures helps hire:

  • Product Designer, for a broad-thinking designer who understands business and product challenges. This person may have less visual design, research, or branding skill.
  • Visual Designer, to indicate you'll be strongly judging visual design ability and less focused on other design skills (like interaction design, copywriting, etc).
  • UX Designer, which is shorthand for "User Experience Designer" and has become a common term for a broadly skilled designer who has some research experience and may have less visual design or branding ability.

If you’re hiring for very specific skills, or a very narrow role, you can communicate that with the job title. For example, Mobile Interface Designer will screen out folks who don’t have experience designing mobile apps. Marketing Designer indicates that visual design, branding, and advertising experience are critical.


You should also indicate seniority in the title. Director, Senior, and Junior are frequently used. Seniority sets salary expectations and expresses management requirements. Creative Director or Director of UX almost always indicates a leadership position that promises you'll manage a design team either right away or in the near future. Use a title like Lead Designer if you want to indicate seniority without managing a team.

2. CHALLENGE AND INSPIRATION

Designers love to be challenged. Start by throwing down the gauntlet—why will this job be an excellent challenge for the right designer? Why is this challenge unique to your business and this position? It's okay to talk about your weaknesses here and how this person will fill an important gap in the team—"We need a design leader to help instill a design culture in our business and set a high bar for design in all of our products."

Don't assume everyone understands your company's mission. You've challenged the designer, now inspire him or her to join you. For example, from an outside perspective you might be creating grammar software for students, but in the job description succinctly explain your bigger vision to improve education worldwide. Challenge the designer to join you on this important mission.

3. DAY-TO-DAY

What will a typical week look like for the designer who takes the position? This helps the potential applicant imagine herself in the role, so it's equal parts inspiration and nuts-and-bolts description. For example:

  • Work directly with the CEO to shape ideas and create prototypes.
  • Create design guidelines for our products to ensure interface consistency across devices.
  • Own copywriting in our products—either yourself or working with a contractor you will manage.
  • Design beautiful, clear interfaces for our iOS and Android apps.
  • Illustrate intuitive iconography for our applications.
  • Help instill a design culture in the company as a whole—we want everyone to value and understand the role of design.
  • Organize and conduct monthly user studies to validate product concepts.

4. MUST-HAVES (AND WHY)

Your requirements express the minimum qualifications for the job. If a candidate doesn’t satisfy these requirements, you won’t consider hiring him. There is a little bit of wiggle room here for strongly recommended but not necessarily required skills, but try to be concrete. Keep this list a short as possible. For example:

  • This is a senior role. You must have a minimum of 5 years’ experience designing interfaces for mobile devices.
  • You must work from our office in Seattle—we offer compensation for relocation if you do not currently live in our beautiful city.
  • You must have previous copywriting experience in a related field. Writing samples are required in your portfolio.
  • We work with government agencies so you must qualify for Security Clearance Level 2.
  • An academic degree in Human Computer Interaction, Computer Science, or similar field is strongly preferred for this position, though exceptions may be made.

5. NICE-TO-HAVES

Realistically, beyond the basic requirements, other criteria will inform the final hiring decision. Spell out your nice-to-haves so a candidate can explain why he’s a uniquely great fit for your role. For example:

  • Expert HTML and CSS knowledge would be excellent. Experience with JavaScript or jQuery would blow our minds. A deep understanding of Python may bring us to tears.
  • Experience conducting in-person user studies would be great. If you don't already have experience with research, be ready to learn.
  • Knowledge of CAD tools and 3-D printing, while not necessary, would be beneficial.
  • We’d prefer if you worked here in Boise, but we’re willing to entertain remote designers if you’re particularly amazing and you’re willing to commute one week per month.
  • An interest in marketing and managing social media would be an added bonus.

6. HOW TO APPLY

Instructions for applying should be very explicit. When I write a job description, I include an email address (no contact forms) and include the following instructions:

  • A link to your online portfolio, or PDF if necessary, is required. Applications without a portfolio will not be considered.
  • If parts of your portfolio involved group work, please explain your specific role in the project.
  • Briefly explain in your email why you are a particularly excellent candidate for this job and what parts of your portfolio are especially relevant.
  • We will respond to all emails within a few days to confirm receipt and we'll follow up with you if we'd like to get more detail. Thank you!

7. BACKGROUND (Optional)

There are basic requirements that designers will want to check off with any job.
Does the job include standard (or above standard) benefits and holidays?
Is this a stable job?

  • If your business is relatively unknown, this is your chance to establish your bonafides.
  • Are the founders experienced?
  • Are you well-financed or profitable?
  • Does your business have a history that establishes credibility?
  • Has the design team or product won accolades?

The end of the job description is an appropriate place to succinctly address these background issues.

Keep in mind

  • Be pithy.
  • Don’t describe a unicorn (a designer who "has it all") unless you really think you can cage a unicorn.
  • Use plain English and be conversational. Designers pay more attention to humans than application-generating robots.
  • Avoid throwaways. Almost any job requires "great communication skills", so you don't need to include it.
  • Focus on what makes your business and this design position unique. The job applicant will be looking at a hundred job descriptions, so make yours stand out.
  • Sensitively describe your "venture-backed business." Surprisingly, it can make you sound weak rather than strong.
  • Don't spell out specific software knowledge. Some old fart wrote a job description 20 years ago that included requirements for Photoshop, Mac OS, Office, etc. Everyone has been blindly copying it ever since.
  • Include clear, simple steps for great designers to submit their applications.

Examples

Here are a few example job descriptions that we particularly like:

  • NoRedInk: A job description for a Product Designer at a Google Ventures portfolio company that we helped write. This example follows the above structure fairly faithfully. Online job description or view PDF.
  • Foundation Medicine: An excellent User Experience Designer job description from a large life sciences technology company in the Google Ventures portfolio. Online job description or view PDF.
  • Nextbit: A smart example of a job description specifically for a Visual Designer that also emphasizes other skills. Written by Blake Engel, a designer in the Google Ventures portfolio. View PDF.
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