I gave a non-designer a design job. Here’s how it worked out.


What happens when companies take a chance on junior talents.

Earlier this year, I relaunched my company Path Unbound as a design school democratizing creative education.

I thought I would work alone on it for at least six months before I’m ready to bring anyone else in.

By chance, I stumbled across an amazing platform and got connected to some great early-career talents. Many of them are still in college and looking to get a career mentor as well as real work experience.

It pushed me to fast track my hiring and boy, am I glad I did. My business would not have been where it is now had I remained a solo entrepreneur.

As a new business with an education product to offer, we needed to immediately start building a community and social media presence, which is why I opened up a social media content creator position.

Upon interviewing many candidates, I decided to give the design-heavy role to a young student who have done some social media management for local brands but has no experience in design.

Am I out of my mind?

Hold your judgment for a second and hear me out.

Common Sense Hiring Over Credential-Based Hiring

In real estate, when a borrower’s qualifications don’t fit into any of the traditional criteria, it doesn’t always mean they can’t get a loan.

Sometimes, the loan provider will conduct “common-sense underwriting”, where underwriters will take other proof of financial means into consideration and not “go by the books”.

This type of underwriting allows entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals who are financially sound but cannot produce “by the book” documents due to their tax strategies to qualify for loans.

If we use this analogy, most big corporations go “by the book” in hiring.

They use automated software to filter applicants who don’t meet hard qualifications.

They have strong requirements for years of experience and fewer flexibility in hiring the human way.

The advantage of their approach? Fast and efficient.

The downside? Non-traditional applicants who didn’t live a life by the book will often not be given a chance.

Small businesses, on the other hand, conduct way more “common sense hiring”.

Having worked in the corporate environment in the first decade of my career, I have seen a few people thrive because they were given a chance by hiring managers who overlooked their lack of qualifications or years of experience.

For example, one of my former colleagues beat out candidates from Google and became a developer on our team without too much previous experience, simply because our department head believed in her.

Now she is a lead creative technologist working on high-impact projects at a global company.

However, examples like this don’t happen often enough. Most employers would still rather go with the “safe” route — hiring someone with experience.

Coachability Over Experience

We have all been through new hire training.

No matter how experienced you are, when you join a new work environment, you need time to adapt. Often times, you will be trained by someone who has been there for a while.

Yet when it comes to hiring, companies become allergic to junior talents who may need training.

It never made sense to me — since we are training people anyway, why don’t we spend a little more time nurturing junior talents, who may become more dedicated to your company since they gain so much knowledge working there?

Helping A Non-Designer Learn Design While Gaining Real Work Experience

With not nearly enough employers willing to go the extra miles training junior talents, I decided to take matters into my own hand.

I treated my social media design intern as one of my students.

I gave very specific feedback to every assignment she did. I explained design principles like I would normally do in a class. I resisted the urge to say anything bad when I see a first draft that is subpar.

The result was — we grew an Instagram account from having 0 post to an active daily posting schedule very quickly.

The graphics look decent — they are not top-notch, but good enough for an early-stage startup to hit the ground running.

Soon enough, students started noticing us. We started having paid enrollments.

Real business impact was achieved by a junior talent who had no prior experience.

Real business impact was achieved by a junior talent who had no prior experience.

However minuscule it may seem to a big corporation, it is a true testament to how junior talents can work for companies.

Stop Being Snobs With Design Tools

Our design intern didn’t use any professional design tools during her time with us.

She is not a design major and is more comfortable with Canva, a popular amateur design tool.

I said: “No problem. Use what you know — the tools are means to an end.”

I had an old manager who said we can use PowerPoint to design if we can make the desired result happen.

I had an old manager who said we can use PowerPoint to design if we can make the desired result happen.

Yet, there are way too many employers who insist on only speaking to candidates who already know their preferred tools, which is understandable but short-sighted.

For short-term efficiency, hiring someone who can use existing tools and hit the ground running is ideal, which is why companies all need short-term contractors.

For long-term hires, familiarity with certain design tools should never be a deal-breaker or indicator whether companies should speak to a candidate.

For long-term hires, familiarity with certain design tools should never be a deal-breaker or indicator whether companies should speak to a candidate.

In fact, if companies want employees who are only comfortable with tools they already know and don’t want to learn more in the future, prioritizing tool mastery makes sense. But I’m pretty sure no companies want that.

So should design students not perfect their software skills? Of course they should.

But if you are asked if you are familiar with a tool and you are not, don’t panic.

Answer like one of my podcast guests, Anna Istomina, former UX designer at Apple: “No, I’m not, but give me 3 days, I will.”

Answer like one of my podcast guests, Anna Istomina, former UX designer at Apple: “No, I’m not, but give me 3 days, I will.”

Key Takeaways For Companies and Candidates

What can we learn from my company’s unconventional hiring approach?

For companies:

  1. If your company talks about giving back all day long, but refuses to give back to your employees by giving juniors a chance and help them start their careers, you are lying about giving back.
  2. Hire senior level employees who are passionate about coaching. That will help your company set up a healthy hiring pipeline where senior employees willingly help out junior employees without sacrificing productivity.

For candidates:

  1. Don’t be afraid when asked about skills you do not yet have. Tell them you will know them in a couple of days, weeks, months. This is the kind of confidence that you need to succeed in any field.
  2. Find out if a company is open-minded and flexible during the interview. It’s worth asking questions like “How does your company encourage mentorship?” Listen to the answers you get — often times, you can tell how taken aback or nor they are when they hear this. If they already value mentorship, coaching and giving back, this should not be a surprising question at all.

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