Why you didn’t get that design job

Many factors go into why people are hired—talent is just one of them

A digital illustration in a Surrealist style. The foreground is a green-and-blue-hued landscape composed of puzzle pieces with roses growing from vines where four puzzle pieces are missing. The backdrop is a rich blue sky with a horizon of green mountains and crystals. A hand, holding a purple puzzle piece with an eye on it, is poking through an opening in the sky.

Illustration by Patricia Doria

Applying for a new job is never easy. It involves putting your work and yourself out there. Whether you’re seeking an escape from a negative situation or currently unemployed, it can be disheartening when you don’t hear back from a company or receive a rejection after making it through part of the hiring process.

How one candidate gets chosen over another can be a mysterious and confusing process for many designers, especially those who’ve never been hiring managers. Many designers see this as a reflection on their talent, but many ingredients go into a good match—talent is just one piece.

Having served as a hiring manager for several dozen designers in my career, and having been involved in the hiring of hundreds more, I hope I can shed some light on the things that go into you getting that next job.

Your work may not have been seen

In many companies there are filters in place that prevent your work from reaching the hiring manager. Automated systems scan resumes for specific keywords. Recruiting partners may focus excessively on education, or past experience without fully understanding what makes a great designer. Sometimes, the task of screening portfolios is delegated to art directors or even junior designers who may not recognize a candidate’s future potential. And in the current state of the industry, there may be so many qualified applicants that the hiring manager just stops looking at new ones.

Within my team, I’m actively working to break down these barriers. I prioritize sharing job opportunities when I come across them, and I’m readily available through direct messages and office hours to personally review portfolios for Adobe Design jobs. Additionally, Adobe has excellent design recruiters, like Chris Hickey, who possess deep knowledge of what makes a designer successful.

Your portfolio doesn’t represent you well

Not all talented designers have great portfolios. After doing portfolio reviews for years as part of the Behance team, there are a few issues I see over and over:

Remember, hiring managers are often looking at dozens or hundreds of portfolios, sometimes in their off time or between meetings, make it easy for them to choose you.

Your skillset may not match the requirements

You can be the best visual designer, but if I’m looking for a motion graphics designer, you’re not getting the job. This isn’t a reflection on the quality of skill, but the type of skill. For one job you could be the perfect candidate, but for another I’m looking for a different tool set.

Hiring is entering a relationship, hopefully a long term one. I’ve seen designers apply for jobs for which they’re overqualified because they’re out of work, and it’s clear our team would just be a pit stop on the way to something else. People on both sides of the hiring process need to take stock of what they want and make sure it’s a good fit for everyone involved. Sometimes when designers describe the job they want, and I know it’s not the job I’m hiring for, it may mean saying no to a great candidate.

Your personality isn’t a match for the team

Also known as the no assh*le rule. The team leader is the chef and every person they add to their team is a different ingredient. New hires need to be considered in the context of everyone else on the team and how change will impact them. Good hiring is about diversity of experiences, personalities, viewpoints and backgrounds—not everyone is right for every team.

You never had a shot

This can be a tough realization, but sometimes you simply were not in contention from the start. Sometimes an offer has already been extended to another candidate, but not yet accepted. Many large companies require jobs to be posted publicly even if they already know who they want to hire. Sometimes the hiring manager forgets to take down a post and it stays up indefinitely. Several times in my career, the job I’m hiring for has gone away (budget cuts can claim an open job, or the needs of the team change and the search gets rebooted), no one gets the gig, and silence can appear like rejection.

Managers make mistakes

Often, managers are great designers who get promoted into positions they were never trained for. Because of this, there are instances when managers rush the hiring process, and hire the first candidate they interview. It’s easy to hire someone who’s already done a job before, and to feel safe in that choice, but they might not bring new ideas to the table or might bring a toxic way of working along with them. People hire friends, or designers they’ve worked with before, even if they aren’t the best candidates. There are times when finding any person seems better in the short term than finding the right person.

I’ve had hiring managers call me six months after I’ve accepted another job. I’ve talked to multiple recruiters in a single company who clearly aren’t talking to each other. And hiring managers often don’t actually know what they need, or may have no experience hiring. There is no omniscience here, we’ve all hired people we wish we hadn’t, and bad luck may be the culprit.

I hope these insights provide some clarity for those who haven’t experienced the hiring process as a hiring manager. Silence, or even a no, may not be about you, sometimes it’s about them. Keep producing excellent work, be prepared, and keep putting yourself out there. And if you’re interested in joining one of Adobe Design’s great teams, check out our jobs. As always, reach out to me on Twitter or LinkedIn to talk about this post, or anything else.

This article was originally published in UX Collective.

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