No vacancy, unfortunately.

Throughout a typical year, there will be certain periods where batches of new graduates are released. This is when we usually get the question of “any vacancy?”

As for end-of-year, there’s that unavoidable trend of job-hoppers, looking for a change in environment, work culture, clients and job scope etc. Again, it is the same question of “any vacancy ah?”

How do you turn people away?

Natural talents don’t come by too easily. There’s always a temptation to hire on the spot before others have the chance to look at the respective portfolios. “Grab-em before they start their career as miserable DTP operators in some multinational agency and rot away slowly.”

Unfortunately, in reality, we can’t take everyone that knocks on the door. I am not sure how other studios make their hiring decisions – ours is based on some very simple principles:

  • Studio Economics: Do we have the budget and jobs to take on another designer – are we sure we make enough to pay another designer at the end of the month? Some other issues would be: Do we have another Mac for a new designer? Do we have space for another desk and chair?
  • Studio Culture: Is this person a right match to the current studio culture? Will this person bring new inspirations and perspectives or becomes a disruption to the current “chemistry”? Over the years I have learned that however good a designer is, he may not be a right match to the existing culture. When that happens, both the designer and the studio would become frustrated and disappointed with each other. (Witness the famous case of Peter Saville and Pentagram). While I would love to work with all the talented people whom I have met over the years, in reality I know only a handful can fit into a long-term working relationship, while the rest are purely on short-term, per project basis.
  • Studio Future: How long will this person stay in the studio? What role will this person take on in 2 years time? What is the future for this person if he stays on? Losing a designer could be a very painful experience, if the designer is taking charge of important clients and projects. From the designer point of view, staying too long is equally painful, if he/she has to deal with the same clients/jobs – especially if the client is not exactly from heaven.
  • The Designer: Personally I always asked this – what would the designer gain from joining a studio like us? Can he/she grow and develop his/her potential here? Is he/she better off at some other studios? Every studio operates differently. Some revolves around a star-designer boss who wants every output “trademarked”. Some are led by a creative partnership. Some are owned by suits who in turn employ design directors and senior designers. Some are entirely business-driven with the typical boss-accounts servicing-creative director-designer hierarchy. Some runs on artsy adrenaline without any business acumen, working 24hours a day on soul-fulfilling but low-budget jobs for the sake of craft. It is never easy to say which model is the right model, yet I am very certain different studios require different type of designers. (If I have personally referred you to other studios, hey, I ain’t saying you are not good!)

The most difficult part is to tell some young designers that they are not “cut” for the industry. They come with their portfolio and a truck-load of enthusiasm, but after accumulating experiences through years of looking at portfolios, it becomes a very depressing thing when that thought floats up in the head –“this person will not be able to make it!” That thought however can only remain only in the head, and the “appropriate” response would probably be along the lines of “your works are nice, but you may want to improve on (this) and (that).” I don’t want to murder someone’s ambitions, especially when they are just freshly out from school. There are also exceptional cases of late-boomers too!

When there’s a job vacancy but unfortunately the candidate is not the right person, the polite thing to do would be the famous line – “Unfortunately I’m afraid there’s no vacancy right now…” That avoids spelling out why the applicant is not successful. I won’t be surprised if the studio who sent such a letter hired two designers the following day. A friend’s early interview with an international agency creative director made him naively happy – “Your works are outstanding. You have a lot of potentials. You are second in order on our hiring list – if the first candidate declines the offer, the job would be yours.” Later he found out that’s how that agency rejects people – using exactly the same words. It did however made him happy for a while, thinking that a famous creative director actually saw potential in him to rank him number 2.

Politically correct cruel lie.

(Blog entry inspired by John Dowling, who showed his collection of rejection letters from big studios. Here’s some – (from left) Lambie Nairn, Pentagram, Why Not Associates, Fitch. Visit his blog to see more.)