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Scaling design teams and design recruiting

Jehad Affoneh
Jehad Affoneh
3 min read
Scaling design teams and design recruiting

One of the most challenging roles a design leader plays is scaling a team. The way you get to help shape the culture and execution of dozens or hundreds of people is one of the most rewarding things you can do.

As part of that, one of the most important roles in scaling a design organization is working with a design recruiter or recruiting team, depending on the size of the organization. You need a recruiting partner to deeply understand the organization and its needs in order to help it grow. The key differentiator here is the way you work with recruiting as partners and not just operators in the larger organization.

First, if you’re expecting a certain level of growth that’s beyond a dozen or two people in a year, a dedicated design recruiter is critical to your ability to succeed. Having someone who is dedicated to understanding the market, designers, and most importantly, your organization could be the difference in the way your team is built and the culture that team ends up having. In many ways, a design recruiter is the first entry point for a candidate into your organization and in many ways, the last person they speak to before joining the team.

In most engineering-driven companies, recruiters are assigned based on headcount instead of the uniqueness of a discipline or the time it takes to understand a new job profile. What this means is that you might end up having a recruiter who is hiring a few designers and dozens of engineers. Although they might be great, you can already tell how this makes it difficult for them to get a deeper understanding of the challenges a design organization might be facing or the type of people that need to be added to this organization.

Throughout my career, I had the privilege of working with some of the best design recruiters in the industry. They are amazing people and fabulous recruiters who viewed their role beyond closing requisitions and finalizing offers but to deeply understand the culture, operations, and future of the organization to help build it. They viewed themselves as equal partners to the organization and as an equal partner in helping to build the future of design at the company.

Hiring or having a dedicated design recruiter isn’t enough on its own, how you position them within your organization is key to their and your success. It’s important that you build a trust relationship with them that gives them an insider view of your team, your staff meetings, your evaluations of different leaders on the org, and more. They need an insider view in order to be able to help you make decisions on the types of roles you need and candidates you should have for these roles. They will talk to more candidates than you ever will and they will view more resumes than you will throughout your career. They have a better view of the market at any point of time than you and that’s powerful if you’re able to utilize it.

Design recruiters also work across the organization hiring individual contributors and managers at different levels in the organization. They have critical insights. You want them to be able to have enough context to couple with these insights to help ensure they’re bringing the right candidates forward for the right roles.

The more you work with a recruiter, the more you are also able to work with them to tweak the process itself and ensure that you’re able to hire the necessary number of designers at the right speed. At VMware, before joining Splunk two weeks ago, I worked with dedicated design recruiters who have helped us scale from 30 or so team members to close to 300 in 3 years.

Design recruiting is only of the few different non-design roles that are working behind the org to scale your team. From finance, to program management, to operations teams. Scaling a design team, especially from scratch, in an organization is a team sport. Be ready to bring non-design team members to the field. They have a ton to offer and in many ways, they are critical partners for you to grow an organization.

Keep this conversation going with me on Twitter here.

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Jehad Affoneh

Chief Design Officer, Splunk.