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A Recipe for Recruiting and Managing Creative People

Recruiting great creative talent is hard. The best, most talented creatives are always in demand and have their choice of where to go work. Good creatives have high standards! They aren’t going to work just anywhere. If you need top creative talent you need to build a culture that allows them to do great work. I’ve seen a few strategies that do just that.

recruiting and managing creative employees


Start by bringing in fresh client challenges. These are challenges that don’t have easy, “textbook” solutions and will require the best out of your current team in order to succeed. Make sure that these clients really need great solutions—that they won’t settle for “pretty good” —because the challenges that they face are huge! This often means asking clients questions that reveal the “problem behind the problem”. For example, the client asks for a new trade show booth. By asking “Why?”, you may find out that trade shows have been their #1 source of new leads for decades, but attendance is down and they aren’t getting the leads they got in the past! Now you are working with a *real problem*—and no one has an easy fix for it. How exciting!

If you’ve got those kind of challenges (and hopefully some case studies demonstrating how you’ve solved those challenges) you have completed step 1 in the recruiting process!

”Wait Brad, I don’t have those kind of client challenges. What we do is pretty rote and repetitive. I mean every client is different, but we’re largely solving the same problems…”

If that’s the case, you are in luck! You don’t need people who are all that creative! You just need people who do creative things (like drawing, writing, designing, etc.). These folks are easier to find and manage. You can use relatively standard recruiting/management processes with just a little of the advice below “baked in” and get good results. But if you do need cutting edge creative talent you need to do more.

Laying the foundation

Creative people don’t want to join a company, they want to be part of a community—like a band, or an artist colony. They want to hear about the freedom that they have to explore, take risks, and work in the way that works for them. But good creatives don’t just want ping-pong tables, and catered lunches; they want a culture in which they can do their best work. This often looks like freedom within boundaries which might involve small, semi-autonomous teams that take individual challenges and develop fantastic solutions. Those small teams enable folks to move quickly, give quick feedback, and build trust together. Peers spur one another along toward their best work. Providing that there are clear measurements of what makes work “the best”, these teams provide just enough structure. As you grow, you want to add younger talent to those teams—enabling the rising stars to branch off and build a new team. Like yeast leavening bread, the growth of those teams allows you to keep the quality of work high, while increasing your capacity to take on challenges.

So you are building a system that brings newly minted talent into established creative teams that are working on interesting, challenging, and important problems. NOW how do you attract those star quality creatives?

The search

When you are ready to start recruiting, use your existing team first: who would they want to have on their team? Focus on your team members with less than 3 years experience (they know more young people). Who do they know from school? What professors can they introduce you to that will send their best students to you—as interns or young graduates? Word-of-mouth produces the best candidates because our team knows the kind of people who succeed here.

If you need more candidates than you can get with word of mouth, then you have to market your interesting and important challenges and top-notch work environment. You need to develop your employer brand. Take all the tools that you use to market your business to prospects, and use those same tools to attract candidates who want to work here. Ask each year’s interns to write about their experience on your blog. Create short videos with your young talent where they talk about what it’s like to work here. Whenever your work wins an award or your client wants to send a thank you, hand it to the team that worked on that work (and film them opening it, or receiving it). Get the word out into the marketplace via your website, social channels and by including those videos in your job postings. Tell your story with all the tools your marketing department has at its disposal!

It’s hard to attract the best, most creative and talented people; so make them feel valuable all the way through the process. A lot of employers treat their candidates like cattle, herding them through a series of interviews where they are interrogated like they are criminals, then they toss them out the door without solid next steps. The creative world is small—you never know when one of those rejected candidates might refer some work your way someday! With a little attention and follow-through, you can really stand out from the crowd!

Always conduct a phone screen for the first step…but if you want to go the extra mile, make it a video interview. Easy to do, and you learn a lot more! When it comes time for the interview instead of having a candidate meet 3 – 4 people for 30 minutes each; put everyone in the room for a 90 min interview; that way everyone sees the same “performance” and you can go much deeper. Sometimes there’s not that much to discuss with candidates that are new grads, so find a project to work on with them. Make it a real project so that you, and they, can see what working here is like. Finally, use a personality profiling tool, and check references. You want to get all the information you can when you are making an important decision.

Closing the deal

Once you have separated out the cream of the crop, make them a strong written offer, and follow up with a phone call to seal the deal. Make sure you don’t leave anything to chance — make their first day special too! They can fill out forms before they come; make the first day about meeting the team and getting right to work.

In order to build a strong culture that attracts the best creative talent, you need to start with the challenging task of having great creative work to do! Then follow through with an environment where creatives can thrive. Only then can you start to attract, recruit, and train to expand your team.

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