10 Tips on Hiring for Creativity
Every company wants innovation in one form or another, and innovation comes from creativity. But where does creativity come from? Finding the right kind of inspired individual to bring into your office is sometimes as much a talent as the artistic qualities you're looking for in the first place. Creatives are often a different breed: less worried about profit, less tied into the world of MBAs and bottom lines, and more adept at populating clouds of big ideas and grandiose designs. Whether you're hiring a Web developer, to animators, or creative copywriter, there are a few things you can screen for to make sure you're bringing in the right type of creativity for your company. We talked with 10 expert creative directors, human resources heads, and creative marketing directors to give you their best advice for hiring for creativity.
1. Look for people rooted in strategy. "It's not only what you're doing it but the strategy behind it as well, how you tell the message — typography, film, things like that. It's like a print idea that has legs in digital world. It isn't limited to any one channel, any one medium. It's an idea that ideally lives across any single thing the brand is trying to do. It's not about a TV commercial, it's about the idea behind the TV commercial. A lot of it is the energy that comes from someone. When they start talking about an idea, when somebody's really got that creative juice, it's almost like they can't help themselves from being flooded with ideas. Some people, you sit across the table from them, throw something out there and it sort of sits there. A great idea has a life of its own. They can't help themselves but to be excited and passionate about it." —Nate Morley, vice president of global marketing and creative, Skullcandy
2. Give homework. "When we're talking about creative people, there's no substitution for actually seeing the work and witnessing the way someone manages a project and makes decisions. The best kind of homework is a scenario that asks a candidate to solve an open-ended problem. It puts technical skills, critical thinking and aptitude for communication on display. When you're hiring for creativity, ideas are great, but scan for initiative. How does a candidate contextualize creative ideas? How do ideas impact the business? Does he or she show a track record of execution? That should be the No. 1 barometer." —Scott McDowell, senior consultant CHM management consulting
3. Treat the hiring differently. "Don't hire this person based on how you hire someone for profit. Look outside your own box and make sure he or she is passionate, honest, and in touch on a personal level with your industry and the world of style, art and fashion. Any company hiring a top-level creative executive must first and foremost have complete trust in that person's vision. The key to any "cool" successful brand is authenticity, which comes from hiring someone who clearly knows the market they are targeting and has the experience and unique ability to activate demand by understanding the ethos of this market. There should be truth in whatever it is they present and that truth should be executed in a creative and innovative context. Whether it's a product or service, hire someone who knows how to evoke an emotional response in the right people--much like the way a comedian makes an audience laugh." —Ashley Haber, SpiritHoods co-founder and creative director
4. Craft an amazing job listing. "We write in all of our job descriptions to write a custom cover letter and address it to me or the hiring manager. If people don't have enough attention to read through the job description, they've already self-selected themselves not to be part of our organization. Our culture kind of shines through in our descriptions. Many people who read that might not be attracted to work here from the start. We like to do a social interview: dinner, lunch, breakfast or a drink. It's an open room [in the office]. Their first interaction with us is important to note. If someone is massively emailing their resume out without learning about us, that person who did not take the extra effort may not be the right candidate for this organization. There's no requirement in terms of education but we usually write on there: college degree or really freaking cool dropout story." —Nikki Laffel, Head of people and culture of social-product development company Quirky
5. Define intellectual property terms. "The creative you hire is developing intellectual property for your business. Be clear about who owns the end result of the creative process. There are several different legal ways to divide ownership: work for hire, license and assignment upon completion are the most common. Make sure that you understand what these legal terms and rights are and that the results of the creative process are owned in a manner compatible with your business strategy." —Rebecca Prien, CEO of business strategists Counsel to Creativity
6. Look for a good character mix. "The best creative people need to know a lot about a little and a little about a lot. They naturally live on the edge but know how to exist in the middle. So look for people who’ve lived lots regardless of their age. People who’ve moved around plenty but were passionate about every place they’ve been. Ultimately, you’re looking for a dynamic mix of educated, eclectic and energetic." —Philip McDougall, senior vice president, creative practice leader New York for Jack Morton, a brand experience agency
7. Ask what they're reading. "Creativity is really taking two unrelated things and making something new. You see it a lot in science, you see it in art. They seem totally unrelated and somehow somebody stuck them together and made something new. Look for people who are incredibly inquisitive and curious about everything, read disparate things, if they're a person who collects the points of interest, things out in the world, and those things eventually get put together in an interesting way. What are they reading? What else did they read? You can kind of get an idea sometimes from people if they're very single minded or if they're eclectic." —Bill Winchester, our executive vice president and chief creative officer with brand jumpstarters Lindsay, Stone & Briggs
8. Meet in person. "The most important thing is a curiosity and a willingness and desire to learn. Most of the independents we bring on to the team all share that passion. It's really important to understand from different perspectives what can drive that idea from inception to completion. I don't think you can really screen when you're just looking at resumes. We usually start the process with an introduction call before bringing people in. How many questions does the individual ask? You might pose challenges to them to get an understanding of how they'll work through a particular problem. How curious are they about new and emerging tech? Are they in the know? Can they create and push the envelope?" —Vanessa Montes, senior director of strategy, Deep Focus
9. Throw in a wildcard. "In the interview process throw out random ideas and see how they respond, such as: if you had a blank canvas and a giant paintbrush that was triggered off your thoughts what would the painting be? Or what color outfit and what accessory would a sea horse pick if he was hitting the beach in Hawaii? Random stuff that gets them thinking and see if the creative side of the mind can create at top notch." —Shaun Neff, founder of Neff Headwear
10. Watch out for egos. "A good creative hire is someone that is: flexible (ready to bend his mind to look at challenges with multiple point of views); curious (always looking for good ideas to explore and recombine); humble (a good idea can trigger an even better idea from someone else and a good creative should be able to recognize this and farm it); bold (don’t just go for what is expected, go further); strategic (not only should a good creative work closely to strategic insights, they also need to understand the impact any decision will have on the project, the team or the execution of the idea). A great creative is someone that can explain a complex idea of system of ideas in simple terms using the most appropriate tools. Ego is not welcome. Leading by example is!" —Julien Le Bas, creative practice leader, Los Angeles for Jack Morton
TIM DONNELLY | Columnist | Inc.com Contributor
Tim Donnelly is a freelance writer and managing editor of Brokelyn.com. His work has appeared in Billboard, The Atlantic, Thought Catalog, and The New York Post.