Applying Design Thinking to Your Recruiting Process

Every day, designers and engineers apply design thinking to do everything from develop software to build bridges. But the fundamental approach also applies anytime we have to take an abstract set of needs (e.g. hire the best people), and create a process that satisfies those needs. Below, we’ll take a look at how design thinking can help recruiting teams and hiring managers improve the candidate experience, ask better questions, and optimize workflows.

At its core, design thinking involves decomposing a problem or process by identifying what we want to accomplish. Then, we consider a range of ideas for how to accomplish the goal. Lastly, we come up with a concrete set of steps for how to get from A to Z.

We usually start the process with a set of questions. For example, if a recruiting team is focused on improving their onsite interview experience, they might ask themselves:

  • What’s working well?

  • What are the pain points we’ve heard from candidates?

  • What do we want onsite interviews to provide for the candidate and for us?

Design thinking encourages clear thinking about the problem you’re trying to solve, along with the approaches to solve that problem. This way, teams are on a clear path to achieving desired results.

Let’s return to the example of the recruiting team trying to improve their onsite interview experience. After asking themselves the above questions, they decide to focus on accomplishing this goal: Ensuring candidates walk away with a positive impression of the company. Then, the team asks: What design choices can we make to reach this goal?

Some examples of design choices:

  • Greet candidates as they walk in the door

  • Ensure interviewers are friendly and warm

  • Don’t ask the same question in more than one interview

  • Offer candidates a break between interviews

  • Give candidates time to ask questions at the end

These are design decisions aimed at making sure interviewees leave feeling good about the company. The team ends up making a lot of decisions, which turn into results that meet (or don’t meet) requirements.

But it’s pointless making all these choices if teams can’t pinpoint and measure the impact. For example, the recruiting team can start sending a survey to candidates to measure if their design choices are resulting in a positive impression. From there, they can iterate and make different decisions until the desired outcome is reached.

Ultimately, design thinking boils down to emotions. It’s about making decisions to provoke feelings, whether it’s delight after using a product or admiration after interviewing. Design thinking is also about making choices around expected emotions. If you don’t make a conscious effort to think through desired or expected emotions, it typically doesn’t turn out well for anyone.

If interviewers don’t make an active choice to ask different questions in different interviews, by default, repetitive questions will be asked. The hiring team wastes time and the candidate will view the company as disorganized. But design decisions can be made to avoid this feeling and create a positive one. Some candidates may be nervous when coming into the interview. What design choices can be made around this expected emotion?

Thinking through the problem you’re trying to solve, making decisions, and considering the emotional impact of each decision (really, what design thinking is all about) can help hiring teams, not just designers and engineers, achieve what’s most important to them.

Want to learn more about design thinking? Read How Airbnb Used Storyboarding to Revamp its Candidate Experience.

Michael Boufford

Michael Boufford is the VP of Engineering at Greenhouse. He was the first employee/engineer at the company and currently the head of all engineering teams including Product, Customer Solutions, Infrastructure, Automation & QA, Data Science, Security, and IT. He's a regular speaker/panelist at conferences and events including NASDAQ CTO Summit, Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference, and SiriusXM Business Radio.

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