Hiring content designers
Best practices and common mistakes
With the huge wave of tech layoffs last quarter, UX writers/content designers are looking for new roles, just like everyone else. I was one of them and I’ve had some super interesting experiences. Thought I’d share insights for recruiters, job seekers, and about the field as a whole.
Most companies are hiring their first UX writer. Some companies are growing a small team. Very few companies with big teams are hiring right now. So the relevant recruiters don’t have a lot of experience hiring for this role — they simply haven’t had the opportunity. I hope these notes help them do it better:
Give meaningful home assignments
I was asked to do a home assignment with no voice or tone guide… then was told I was not a good fit because I did not write in the product’s voice and tone.
If you wanted to test whether someone can write in a voice, why not give them the voice? “Because we wanted you to write in your voice to see if it’s a match.” That makes no sense because by definition, a UX writer worth their salt needs to be able to write in any voice. How could we ever work for more than one company otherwise? Give meaningful assignments to make them a meaningful assessment tool.
Do not give home assignments from your product
If you’re asking a UX writer to write for your product, you could implement their solution the next day. Asking for free work is a horrible way to start a relationship. Even if you don’t plan to implement it, it feels gross. The only exception is if you pay the applicant for their time, which some tech giants do.
But there’s another reason not to ask candidates to work on your product: they’ll never have the context you do and so they’ll never be able to shine like you would want them to. Asking them to work on a different product, or a hypothetical product, lets you asses their skills without the curse of knowledge clouding your judgment.
Make the job description reflect the role
There are companies labeling positions as “entry level”… and requiring 5+ years of UX writing experience. Well, which is it? Entry level or 5+ years of experience? It can’t be both. The day-to-day work should look very different for an entry level writer and for one with 5+ years of experience, so companies need to know what work they’re looking to get done, and look to hire that person. Don’t waste time with candidates who are definitely not what you’re looking for, but applied because you said they were.
Serious UX writing/content design recruitment is pretty new so it’s OK not to know how to do it well. Know that you don’t know and get advice.
In one conversation I had, it quickly became clear that what the company was looking for and what I was looking for didn’t fit. But we didn’t end the conversation there. Instead, the interviewer asked for advice. “If I already have you here, can I ask you about salary? What should I be budgeting? We’ve never hired for this role before so I actually don’t know what to request from finance.” That’s awesome. He realized he didn’t know and asked, which will serve the company and the candidates going forward. I was more than happy to share what a senior would expect, and help him assess if that’s what they need right now. In the end I recommended a junior — not to save money of course, but because that’s the work they needed done right now; as they scale they’ll need a senior and they’ll need to budget accordingly.
Another company hiring their first UX writer asked me to review their job description before they posted. It was terrible and I was able to help them rewrite it so that they would attract the right applicants.
If you know you’re about to interview UX writer candidates but don’t really know what you’re talking about, ask for help.
I spoke to multiple companies who would not give any meaningful feedback as to why they felt I wasn’t a good fit. Not cool.
For example, one company went on to hire a junior. Why not give that feedback? We realized we need a junior and you’re a senior so it’s not a good fit. It makes perfect sense not to hire a senior for a junior role — without room to grow, the senior will get bored and leave; seniors deserve a certain salary that a company might not be able to afford; etc. There are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t hire a senior for a junior role — it’s OK! Just be transparent.
I have to say, I did have two recruiters provide meaningful feedback and was grateful for it. It’s a small world, we will definitely cross paths again, and the professionalism shown, or not, will matter down the line.
To be clear, I am not suggesting recruiters provide feedback on every single resume! I’m talking about finalists who have made it far along the process and have invested a lot of time in energy in you.
Job seekers have a lot to learn, too. Here are some things I’ve picked up along the way.
How can you find “Mr. Right” if you aren’t honest about who you are?
Sometimes I see who was eventually hired for roles that turned out not be a good fit for me and it instantly becomes clear what the company was actually looking for. The feedback they wouldn’t provide can often be deduced when you see who they hired instead. There was one time I was astounded to see a company who claimed they were looking for a senior, hire someone with 1.5 years of experience… and then realized it’s because she put 3.5 years on her resume. No words.
One could argue that while her lying is unethical, it only got her the first interview; it didn’t get her the job. The whole hiring process got her the job. How did she get through the whole process without them realizing her true level of experience? My theory is that they did realize, and that they decided it was a perfect fit for them, which is why they hired her, and also why it never would have been a good fit for me. The job description should never have been written in a way that led me to apply.
If you are not a good fit and you don’t get the job, it is not a judgment of you as a person. Plenty of roles were just wrong for me — that doesn’t mean I’m not any good. I’m just not what they need right now. Keep your eye on the prize — finding your perfect match. Lying is not the way to start that relationship.
I congratulated hiring managers who did not choose me, because finding your match, for both sides, is something to celebrate. And offers I turned down congratulated me.
Again, it’s a small world. Be a good human first, and put your most professional foot forward always, because we’ll all be hiring and job seeking again and interactions now will make a difference then.
A friend asked me, why follow up? “The company didn’t get back to me because they aren’t interested, what could a nice note do? Change their mind?!” Of course not, that’s not the goal at all. Recruiters and hiring managers are people too and there are a billion reasons they didn’t get back to you other than not wanting to hire you.
Case in point: I didn’t hear from a company, I followed up with the hiring manager, and it turned out that she thought the recruiter had sent me the home assignment and the recruiter thought the hiring manager had. NOT following up would have ended the process. Following up got us back on track. I got the assignment and we moved forward.
We’re at a pivotal stage in our maturity as a discipline across the board. We’re not babies barely having received a name; we’re not toddlers shouting for a seat at the table. We’re teenagers finding our way in the world, even young adults, reflecting on our experiences until now and making thoughtful, strategic decisions about what to do and who to be, next.
This motif appears in conversations about career paths: We’ve gone from “How to break in?” to “What does management look like?” and “What senior IC paths are there for non-people managers?”
It appears in conversations about going from being generalists to specialists, each of us deep diving into accessibility, or inclusion, or strategy, or architecture/taxonomy, or the business/data side, or a combination of a few but not all. We’re going deeper which massively increases our impact, and means companies need more of us to cover their bases.
We’ve got that seat at the table. More companies than ever before, and younger companies than ever before — even tiny startups — now understand that they need us… but they don’t know how to hire us and it shows.
Our field is going through growing pains and while it hurts to be rejected from a job when they’re the ones who got it all wrong because they don’t understand hiring us yet, reframe it as one small step back for you, but a giant leap forward for the field, because after growing pains come development, maturity, stability, confidence, and calm.