How I hired a design team without looking at a single CV

Noel Braganza is the co-founder of Up Strategy Lab – which delivers strategies to scale businesses and MuchSkills – new way to look at skills at the workplace. He has over 13 years of creative experience that spans interaction design and music to digital copywriting and advertising. He enjoys problem solving and keeping the user at the core of his solutions.



I had to hire designers to grow my team when I was Design Director at my last company, but I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of trawling through countless CVs for many reasons. One, I had limited time. Two, I was looking for individuals who were multi-faceted, aware of their strengths and weaknesses and eager to learn, and I felt CVs – usually a list of burnished educational and professional qualifications – wouldn’t be able to tell me much about these qualities. Three, it is well known that many people embellish their CVs to make themselves look better while others simply lie outright. Finally, as someone who started out as a self-taught designer (in advertising) who only went to design school mid-career after which I entered the design industry full-time, I was aware that the best candidates may not always be the ones with the most impressive CVs.

Keeping all this in mind, I decided to approach the recruitment process differently.

I decided to focus on four factors instead of CVs. This is what I considered while shortlisting candidates for the job:

Portfolios: They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That especially applies to my industry – design – where a portfolio can convey in seconds what a CV won’t reveal at all (I understand, however, that this may not be the case with non-creative industries). In my opinion, portfolios are proof enough of a candidate’s ability to deliver. Their visual nature permitted me to quickly determine the aptitude of the applicant. I decided to use portfolios as a filter to hire for this project. That is, I overlooked applications that didn’t come with a link to a portfolio. Portfolios are seen as pretty critical in the design industry, so I viewed applications sent without portfolios as unprofessional.

Cover letters: I have always disliked writing cover letters but I now appreciate the value they can bring to applications. Like portfolios, cover letters can also do what most CVs cannot: demonstrate how an applicant is different from others. In the search for my design team, I realised a well-written cover letter – one that is not generic – was usually accompanied with a link to a portfolio. That meant I did not even need to look at the CV, I just assessed the portfolio instead. If the cover letter was interesting and the portfolio had promise, I usually organised a call with the individual to take the process to the next step.

Knowledge about the company: Another indicator of an applicant’s interest in the job is whether they are acquainted with the work of the company. I looked out for applications that referenced the company’s work because that indicated that the applicant had done their homework before applying.

Design task: It was important for us that the applicant was genuinely interested in working for the company, which is why we only selected those applicants who agreed to complete a short design task for the next round. Insisting that applicants complete this task to be considered helped me in two ways:

  1. It cut short the hiring process because only applicants who are really, really keen on the job agree to such tasks. This saved me the hassle of possibly offering the job to a less interested candidate only to be told they have reconsidered, prolonging the hiring process.

  2. The design task also tells me a lot about the candidate’s attitude –  one more thing CVs won’t tell us. Applicants who complete the design task demonstrate that they love challenges, and finding solutions to problems. They also indicate that they don’t think they are too senior or too experienced to do such tasks. Because if that was the attitude, then they weren’t the right candidate for the company. That aside, an attitude of a task being beneath someone is not exactly in sync with today’s increasingly hierarchy-free creative workspaces.

This shortlist process worked quite well. The next step was the interview where I further assessed whether the candidate was a good fit for the company.

It struck me later that the good part about not looking at CVs was that I didn’t go into the interview with pre-conceived notions such as: “Candidate A must be great because they went to this amazing design school” or “Candidate B hasn’t been to design school, I’m not sure if they can deliver.” Candidates were assessed on experience alone.

Perhaps not looking at the CV made the process more inclusive, allowing me to assess candidates I would have normally missed if I had hired the traditional way.

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