Onboarding - get it right

The design and tech industries in the UK are booming so it won't be news to you that there's a real talent shortage at the moment (that's a whole other post).

Finding the 'right' candidate takes time and costs A LOT (not just recruitment fees!) so when you do find the right person, it's never been more important to give them the best possible chance of succeeding.

That means getting your 'onboarding' process right from the get-go and that doesn't just mean from the hirer's point of view (shiny welcome packs n'all) - the candidate and their new colleagues play their part in the process too.

I've built my reputation on finding the right fit but once the candidate walks in on their first day, my influence on their success is minimal. They're in their new employer's hands, so for the good of your business and your career, it's time to step up - both of you.

"don't expect the moon on a stick."

Hirers

So you've hired someone. You've defined their role and you're confident they're the right person for the job. Congratulations. 

They might have a month's notice (or longer) to serve but your onboarding process starts now. Don't leave them on on their own whilst they work their notice - keep in touch and get them into your business whenever you can to develop the relationship you've been building over the interview process. This doesn't have to be a formal thing, but if there's a briefing on a project they'll be involved in, or simply a couple of beers after work one evening, get them over!

Bringing your new starter into the fold early is a great way to introduce them to the team and means there'll be some familiar, (and hopefully) friendly faces staring back at them on that scary first day.

When their first day does arrive don't expect the moon on a stick.

I know recruiters love to use the term 'hit the ground running' but in reality that DOESN'T HAPPEN! Everyone ...EVERYONE.., at whatever level, needs a period of time to get comfortable. Do not expect fireworks the minute they walk in the door and do not set them to work on complex projects at the break of dawn.

Do, welcome them aboard and get them introduced to their team and anyone else they're likely to deal with. Do make sure you've booked out your diary that day to help them settle in and to get them excited about what they're about to embark on. And, crucially, do identify a clear channel for them to go to if they have questions in the days and weeks to come. If you've got the numbers, an employee buddy scheme could be a great option for this (google it - there are loads of examples online).

Check in often. Not just at the end of the first week but at the end of week two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight ...and so on. This might only be a quick 5-10 minute chat but it's so important and it'll help flag any potential issues before they develop into full-blown problems. Probationary periods are typically three months but in reality, it's likely to be nearer six months before your new starter will be fully up-to-speed. Keep that in mind and know that keeping regular, scheduled contact going will help them get there quicker.

All in all, common sense and understanding is what's needed. If you're clear and open with your new starter, give them the space and opportunity to feedback on their experience and don't expect too much too soon, you can be confident you've given them the best chance.

New starters.

You aced the interview and got the job. Well done!

Don't rest on your laurels though. Make sure you're in contact with and available to your new employers as much as you can be - even if you're serving notice.

If you're invited over whilst serving your notice, do your best to get there. Want to know about parking? Forgot to mention a holiday you've booked? Get in touch and ask the question or let them know and make sure you're not dropping any bombshells the moment you walk through the door.

Be enthusiastic. You really wanted this job so don't be afraid to let that show.

Got niggles? Don't be afraid to feedback - the right way of course - and make it clear you want to be a part of ironing them out.

Get to work. You'll be cut some slack in those early days but don't take the piss. You're being paid from day one so get to work proving you've been a great investment and get your teeth into things as soon as you can.

Colleagues.

It's easy to underestimate but as an existing team member, you have a huge say in your new colleague success or failure.

If you work for a dynamic, forward-thinking business that's constantly evolving then embracing new starters should be par for the course. They bring fresh perspectives and new ideas. They keep you sharp, helping you get better so you need to play your part in helping them settle in.

It's a statement of the obvious but that starts with making them feel welcome. We can all remember what a 'first day in the office' is like. Those early days can be stressful so something as simple as saying "hello" in the morning and "see you later" at the end of the day can make all the difference.

Give them the inside track. If they're new to the area let them know about popular haunts and give them the heads up on what they can expect from the softer, social side of things - i.e. "on Friday's a bunch of us like to go for post work drinks here" etc.

Talk to them about the company. Why you joined, where you came from, what you keeps you there and what you're hoping the future holds.

Be a resource for them and let them know you're there if they need you.

High-five for stock images!!!

High-five for stock images!!!

 

This is not an entire root and branch examination of the onboarding process (drop me a line and we can talk about that) but hopefully, it will give you a few things to bear in mind the next time someone new lands in your business.

In my professional life, there's nothing worse than hearing things haven't worked out for someone. If that's anything to do with you still harbouring the old fashioned sink or swim mentality then your days as an attractive proposition to talent are numbered and your reputation will be in tatters in no time. There's way too much competition out there and your perfect candidate will simply go there instead.

Get it right and you can build a different type of reputation. One that your current employees and new starters can wax lyrically about and one that might just put you ahead of the pack when it comes to landing future talent.

Have you got your own thoughts on the good the bad and the ugly of onboarding? Let me know in the comments. 

Leeds Digital Festival '17 - a review.

Wow ...whisper it quietly, but I think they might actually have done it...

I think Leeds might actually have a proper, grown-up, outward looking, progressive and downright fun and celebratory digital festival! Amazing!

In case you missed it, last week was Digital Festival week and there were stacks and stacks and stacks of events all over Leeds highlighting much of the awesome stuff that's happening in the city.

It was impossible to get to everything of course but I did my best to get out and see as much as I could. Here's what I did and some of the takeaways I picked up along the way.

Monday morning: How to have Difficult Conversations.

Easily the least 'digital' thing I attended all week but interesting non-the-less.

The event was hosted at the brilliant Futurelabs by Emma Cheshire and was a panel discussion (there was a lot of that) featuring a couple of - surprising friendly - employment law specialists from 3volution and Ruth Richards - an independent HR professional. 

The event's aim was to give advice on those conversations that none of us likes to have but that are sometimes necessary. We all hope that every hire we make turns out well, sometimes they don't though so knowing how best to deal with those situations is a great tool to have.

What we got from all the panellists was practical advice on how to make sure you're the right side of the law if/when you do have a show someone the door. Better than that though, they also shared sensible, common sense advice on how and when to deliver that type of news and the steps you can take along the way to make sure it really is a last resort.

The next time I'm having a 'difficult conversation' with one of my clients I definitely won't be afraid to point them towards Ruth or 3volution if I think they could use some help.

Monday morning: A Creative's Guide to Earning a Living from the Work you Love.

I reckon Matt Essam might be a bit of a rising star on the creative/motivational speaking circuit - his talk on finding out what really makes you tick was one of the most confidently delivered of the week and - in stark contrast to the previous event - was a bit of a rally cry to creatives to make a difference in the world.

Matt told us how he embarked on the career that he thought he wanted - laptops, beaches and far-flung places - but when he got there it left him feeling empty inside. He shared the methodology that helped him understand how to fix it and now he runs courses to help others get there too.

Check him out over at; creative-life.co.uk.

Tuesday morning: Closing the North's Digital Skills Gap.

A self-explanatory title for another of those panel discussions, this was a super interesting event held at the offices of DAC: Beachcroft.

They'd commissioned IPPR North to produce a report on the problem and identify some possible solutions from other schemes running across the world.

Grace Blakely (from IPPR North) delivered the report's finding, sitting alongside Michael Peeters (DAC: Beachcroft) but for me, the most interesting contribution came from Carol Whitworth of Manchester College. They've developed a partnership with Amaze to deliver industry-focused digital courses and it seems to be working. It sounds like properly ground-breaking stuff and a complete no-brainer if we're looking at how to get learning and industry better connected.

Tuesday afternoon: Goal's Digital Review of Football

Owned by Perform Group, Goal.com is the most shared website in the world! They've reporters on every contintent, but their head office is here in Leeds. How cool is that??

Sam and Rob dazzled us with some extraordinary stats and we learnt loads about what does and doesn't drive traffic - Messi and Ronaldo for sure. Man City and Guardiola, not so much - much to their annoyance, apparently.

Check out Goal's short film on Ronaldo here.

Tuesday evening: Bolser's UX Panel/Creative Engagement in Mobile.

Another panel event that in truth turned into a series of presentations. Presenters from NHS Digital, EE, Perform Group and Bolser talked to us about the importance of being 'mobile first' and the unseen challenges involved in getting projects over the line. Oh, and we learnt a bit on the benefit of paying more attention to release notes - interesting stuff.

Wednesday evening: Glug: The Tech Off!

This night was bonkers. Hosted by 'The Beyonce of Tech' - The Tech Off is sort of rap battle for nerds where, on this occasion, creatives faced off against coders. Six contestants (??) had five minutes a piece to extol the virtues of their own profession and trash talk the shortcomings of their rival's.

The crowd was worked up into a frenzy by 'Beyonce' and it was great seeing two or three of the presenters really throwing themselves into it. Those that didn't, bore the brunt of the baying mob!

The event, which started down in Shoreditch (of course it did), has showcased at SXSW in Austin, TX and DMX in Dublin so it's awesome to see it land in Leeds - despite the North vs South trash talk nearly backfiring on the host at the start of the night!

This might well be a marmite event for some but I think we need to be getting more of this into the city - stuff that already exists and has a following further and wider than the borders of Yorkshire. Hat's off the guys at Glug for bringing it up here.

Thursday day: Tech North's Digital Jobs Action Summit.

C-PoK3sXkAENd-U.jpg

I spent all day over at Canal Mills for this one - nursing quite a sore head from the night before - it was well worth it though!

The morning was a barrage of talks and (more) panel discussions on why there's a talent shortage, what the barriers to entry are, building the right culture and what the consequences of not solving the problem are. It was a heavy morning but it served to set up an afternoon all about action through workshops and learning about a whole bunch of initiatives that are already in place to help move things forward.

Neil Barnby told us about CODE:4000 - a pilot scheme to help train prisoners coding. Dan Sofer talked about Founders and Coders - an amazing *free* school for aspiring developers in London and just opening in Nazareth, Isreal. Alexa Shoen absolutely killed it when she told us about #ENTRYLEVELBOSS - her groundbreaking career development program. Not to mention North Coders, Geek Talent and Solution Path. It sure was a busy day!

For me, the most interesting talk of them all came from, Lauren Anderson - over from NYC to tell us about the New York City Tech Pipeline. Now there's an example of how an industry and government can come together to solve a problem! And again, wonderful to see someone from outside the region coming along to broaden our horizons. It's also another sign post to say how far this festival is starting to reach. Great stuff.

Thursday evening: The Work/Life Talkshow.

Probably my favourite event of the whole week. Laid back, candid conversations with three really successful business people about what makes them tick - both in and out of the office.

Hosted by the incredibly likeable Dan Akers of LightStart over at the ace Duke Studios, Craig Burton, Achille Traore and Sarah Khan-Bashir answered the questions and we got to hear a bit about what gets them out bed in the morning and how they try to get their work/life balance right.

Keep your eye on the LightStart events page to see if there are any more in the pipeline. I'm definitely up for another one and I might even make it along to one of their Digital Coffee Mornings too.

Thursday evening: Code in the Dark.

I was flagging by now but just time for another trip up to Belgrave Music Hall (the 2nd night running) for Code in the Dark - an event hosted by Epiphany Search.

25 developers are split into five heats of five with the winner of each making it through to the final. Their task, to build the homepage of a famous site, from scratch, in 15 minutes, live in front of a couple of hundred people - all with a banging DJ ramping up the atmosphere and laser beam lighting dancing across the walls! It was a cracking night and a boat load more fun than I was expecting!

Big kudos to the eventual winner - Simon Williams of Engage Interactive.

Friday afternoon: Leeds Digital Job Fair 3.0

Now in third outing, Amy De Balsi (of Herd Careers) has done an amazing job of setting this careers fair up.

All of the city's major employer's are there - SKYBet, ASDA, Morrisons, NHS Digital, Jet2 ...the list goes on - making it a must-see event for anyone looking at breaking in or advancing their career in digital/tech.

Friday afternoon: Moving Content

A series of talks delivered by Creative Race on the power of moving image/animation.

Awe inspiring animation is all well and good but you make it even more powerful when you marry it with a powerful idea and compelling storytelling.

The line of the session; "In design, less is more. In animation, more is more!"

Friday evening: CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap

A running theme of the week - at least the events I attended - was the skills/talent gap and the gap is even more acute when it comes to females entering the tech space. That was the theme of this independent documentary shot in Silicon Valley.

Hosted at SKYBet's mega fancy new offices in Wellington Place, we heard from (another) panel that featured Zoe Hebblethwaite of SKYBet and Annie Moss-Quate from She Does Digital before settling down to watch the film.

The film was loaded with female icons working for the likes of Pixar, Pinterest, Strava and GitHub but they're still vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts.

By this stage of the week, I was on my last legs but I'm so pleased I stuck around for this. As a 30-something-year-old white male, it's easy to overlook the challenges women and minorities face. I know it's there but the solution isn't obvious and it's difficult to know how/where to help.

With films like this and movements like, She does Digital, it feels like now more than ever, there's an appetite to get things done.

 

So a long but altogether cracking week of events. I don't say that lightly either. it's been one hell of a slog getting the festival to where it is now with more than a couple of false dawns along the way so I was both surprised and delighted to see it making a mark this year.

Well played to the chaps behind it; Stuart Clarke and Tim Brazier and let's hope it becomes a permanent fixture in the diary for years to come - there's no doubt there's plenty for the city to be shouting about!

Interviews: the basics.

So …your CV and condensed portfolio went down a storm and now it’s it’s time for the interview — here’s some advice that might help keep the stress levels down and save you from flinging yourself out the window in a blind panic!

First of all, why do we interview? Hiring anyone is a risk. Interviews give hirers a pretty good indication of the amount of risk.

A hirer not only wants to know you have the tools to do the job, they also want to find out whether you’ll be the right ‘cultural fit’ and so, because in most cases it’s impractical to try you out for a month, asking the right questions and gauging your responses at interview is the next best thing.

So how best to prepare?

First up, and somewhat obviously, research. Find out as much as you can about whoever it is you’re meeting — both the company and the individual. How well you do this will have an enormous impact on how well your interview goes.

If you’re working with a recruiter, this is a the part of the process when you can really lean on their knowledge. Find out all they know about the the company and who you’re meeting and if your recruiter has worked with them previously, gain the benefit of their experience of interviews passed. If they’re halfway decent, they ought to be able to give you an idea of what to expect from the interview itself — will it be an intense grilling or does the hirer have a more conversational approach? How many stages are there likely to be? Will there be knowledge/skills tests? How quickly do they typically make a decision?

Their insight alone shouldn’t be the end of your work though. Make sure you take the time to research yourself and get the lowdown from any friends/friends of friends that might have links to them in their past.

What about the bigger picture? What’s the big industry news at the moment? Who are their competitors and what are they up to? Have there been any award winning work recently released?

Knowledge is power and if you know what’s going on in the wider world it’ll give you something to talk about in the interview and it’ll demonstrate you’ve a genuine interest in sector you’re hoping to become a part of.

Ask questions of your own.

Talking money is a big turn off — if your hirer brings up the subject then obviously you need to participate in the conversation but try not to bring it up yourself — particularly at first stage interviews.

Progression is a slightly tricky one too. You’ll almost certainly want to demonstrate ambition but you’ll also want to reassure your hirer that you’re 100% committed to the role you’re interviewing for and not aiming two or three steps ahead from the get go — don’t try to run before you can walk.

Instead ask about training opportunities. What skills can you pick up as part of the role? Are there conferences, seminars, industry events that you can attend and involved in?

Remember too that interviewing is a two way street, so take the opportunity to ask some questions about the role, the company and the hirer themselves so you can be certain it’s the right one for you. Why did they join the business and what do they think is the best thing about working there? Where do they see the company developing over the coming months/years? How do they see this particular role developing?

If you’re brave, closing them at the end of the interview by asking ‘how do you think I’ve done?’ can be a good idea too — particularly if the role involves any sort of sales or presentation tasks.

2nd interviews:

Although there are exceptions, to land a job offer, most people will need to have a second interview, and typically, this is where things get serious.

If you get called back for a second meeting it means there’s real interest in hiring you so make sure the feeling is mutual. If you’ve no intention of joining, save your time and and theirs by politely declining the invitation.

Know that the hirer will have liked how you came across first time around so the purpose of this meet will often be to get a second opinion from a colleague and to reassure them you’ve got the skills they need so expect a more specific, often more technical, line of questioning.

After some reflection, you might find you’ve a lot of questions of your own as well — first round meets often generate more questions than answers — so make sure you’ve got these written down with you.

Read the room and depending on how well it’s going, you should be able to ask more specific questions. Typical working hours, holidays, added benefits and even salary could all be on the table at this stage — if it matters, then ask it — the point being that you need to make sure that once you leave the meeting, you have all the information you’ll need to accept if an offer is made.

Hopefully this guide will give you something that you can use the next time you’re on the hunt for a new role. Let me know what you think in the comments below and tell me about the best piece of advice you’ve had in the past.

Portfolios: the basics.

So you’ve got your kick-ass CV in front of someone, they love it, now what? In our industry it’s work samples. Ultimately these are what’ll get you sat in front of someone for an interview.

Lots of designers have their own websites, that’s great, but actually I think a small PDF of work, fronted by your CV, is still the best way to get the conversation started. Everything is there in one place, no clicking required so less opportunity to be distracted.

Work on two sets though. A condensed version that your CV fronts — typically a 5–10 sheet PDF of your very best, most relevant work — a sort of snap shot of what you’re about — and an extended version that goes into more detail that you can use at interview.

With your condensed version concentrate on what packs the most punch. Remember, we’re dangling carrots here, inviting the viewer to spend a bit more time with us at each stage. Show work that’s actually run and chimes with your viewers client base and try to avoid too many extreme close-ups or cutesy logos for your Mum’s mate the mobile hairdresser. As delightful as some personal projects are this is not the place for them.

“if in doubt, leave it out!”

Your extended portfolio is where you can go into finer detail and offer up some more unusual pieces. You should have the luxury of time here — well, at least a bit more than before — so make the most of it. That being said, don’t be tempted into showing work that’s old and/or below par — your viewer won’t know that, so if in doubt, leave it out and only show projects you’re proud of and happy to be judged by.

In terms of how to structure your portfolio, If the aim is to get hired, remember that hiring someone can be a box ticking exercise. Putting your very best, commercial work at the front and centre should help you cover all the core things your hirer is looking for as early possible (concept, layout, typography etc). Once you’ve done that, you can use the second part of your portfolio to show off some added extras, the quirkier pieces that’ll get across what you bring to the party that others may not.

As designers we’re really lucky; CV’s and portfolios give us a chance to shine before we even walk through the door so it’s well worth spending the time putting them together.

Interviews still have to be negotiated though so I’ll give you a few tips and tricks on how to make the best of them in my next post.

CV's: the basics.

A few years ago, I wrote my most popular post ever; Advice for design graduates. Much of that advice still holds true but It’s obviously been while …it’s been a while since my last post full stop really.

So here’s an update and rather than a complete rehash, this time I’m going to break it down into a few posts — what with all the talk of dwindling attention spans…

First things first then. If you’re actively looking for a job your CV will most likely be the first communication your prospective employer will see of yours. It’s important. Very important, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw everything at it.

I often describe landing a new role as a ‘carrot dangling exercise’ and your CV ought to be the first ‘carrot’.

(Best stock image ever?)

(Best stock image ever?)

Remember that, first foremost, it’s a utilitarian document that’s main purpose is to communicate your name, how to contact you, a BRIEF indication of your work history and/or educational accomplishments and — at a push — a line or two about yourself to inject a bit of personality.

For designers especially, I think it can be helpful to think of your CV as the first page of your portfolio (2 pages at a push). It’s an easy opportunity to tick a few boxes right from the get go — have you got an eye for layout, grid systems, how are your typographic skills, colour palettes etc.

“Always leave them wanting more…”

I said earlier not to throw everything at it. The best CV’s are visually clean and concise. Huge blocks of text are intimidating and are rarely read so the trick is to provide just enough information to ignite interest then direct your reader somewhere where they can find out more.

For example, In a recent role I’ve worked there were over 200 other applicants and with the best will in the world, I will not be reading 200+ CV’s front to back. I’ll scan them and the ones I like — great laid outs, recognisable clients and/or work history — I’ll spend more time with.

Those that use word.docs, have multiple pages, demonstrate poor typography or are simply visually unappealing get left behind because if you can get those things right, you’re not who we’re looking for.

And that’s the next point — make sure you point your reader to where they should go next. Even a great CV can only do so much — unless you’ve got a stack of top drawer agency names in your work history, your CV alone will seldom get you to an interview by itself. Your work should do the talking, so make it easy for your reader to find.

What, where and how should to show your work? We’ll talk about that in the next post.