How to Hire a Creative

By thesanfranciscoegotist / /

As someone who has spent nearly my entire career in ad agencies, I’ve hired my share of people. I know the kind of person I look for. I know the questions I like to ask. And I’d like to think I have a pretty good track record when it comes to finding creative folks. But I spent some of last year as a freelance Creative Director on the client side for the first time, and I’ve come to the realization that companies building out internal creative capabilities have a hard time identifying the right creative people. They often put stock in the wrong things and use traditional recruiting tactics that don’t necessarily work for creatives. So as you hunt for creative talent to bring aboard, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Know Your Terminology. In ad agencies, job titles are pretty uniform from shop to shop. Everyone knows what a copywriter does, for instance. But that’s not true on the client side. Many companies don’t understand the differences between creative job titles or they classify them in different ways. I often see job posts for creative directors when the job descriptions are really just art directors. If you want an editor, don’t advertise for a producer. I once interviewed for a job at an established 200-person company where they wanted me to write, design, do mechanicals, manage photoshoots, and be able to code the website. You can’t hire the right creatives if you don’t understand the nuances (or the basics) of what each one does.

Talk Opportunity Over Execution. Yes, every creative wants to know if they’ll be doing emails or brand campaigns. Companies need to be honest about the type of work they need produced. But I’ve found most creatives are much more interested in the opportunity a job offers. Will they get to help define the brand’s look? Will they have freedom to try different things and learn new skills? Is there a chance to go beyond the brief and pitch new ideas? Don’t make your job posts a list of executional bullets. Make it clear the creative opportunities to be had.

For The Love Of God, Stop With The “Projects.” When I first started talking to client-side businesses, I was shocked that the majority asked for free work as a condition of employment—always pitched as “well, everyone who works here does a project.” First off, asking for free work sucks and puts job seekers in a bad position. Asking for what would be $100,000 worth of work from an agency, and giving me 6 hours to do it? It’s offensive. (That’s a true story, BTW.) Creatives have portfolios and examples of their work to prove to you they can do the job. You don’t need to fish for free ideas using a project with an artificial timeline that’s rarely briefed well. Which leads me to…

Learn To Evaluate Creatives’ Work, Not Dwell On Their Resumes. Evaluating creative can sometimes be tough even for other creatives, so I get that a recruiter or an interview panel might not be able to judge one portfolio from another. Best thing to do? Talk to them. Have the prospect get up and speak about their work, why they made the choices they made, and what their creative thought process is. That’ll tell you more about them than a list of the places they worked. Just because someone worked at a big-name agency doesn’t mean they’re a good creative.

It’s Ok If They Don’t Have Exactly The Experience You Want. As creatives, we spend our entire careers learning new clients, brands and products as quickly as possible. It’s a big part of what we do. I cringe when I see job posts that say, “must have SaaS experience” or “B2B experience only.” I hate to break it to you, but your business isn’t so unique that a good creative can’t figure out how to advertise it. I’ve come up with concepts for complex, high-tech medical devices after only a 2-day client meeting. I’ve written brand copy for wine marketed specifically to women. I’ve worked on the account of a think tank that was solving some of the world’s biggest challenges. Hiring a smart creative person with no experience in your field is always better than hiring a mediocre creative who has your business category as a line item on their resume.

Ask Different Interview Questions. Creative people think differently and often work differently. So why do you ask them the same questions you ask all the other employees? Skip stuff like “Tell me about a professional challenge you overcame.” Instead, ask them what creative work they admire (bonus points if they know who did it). Ask designers if they had one typeface to use on everything for the rest of their career, what would it be and why. Have them tell you about their favorite concept that didn’t get produced. Questions like these show you their passion, their love of all things creative, and how their minds work.

With more and more companies building out internal creative teams, hiring both established and up-and-coming talent is more important than ever. You just have to go about it the right way to ensure you find the best people.


Matt Morin is a freelance Creative Director/Copywriter in San Francisco

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