Meet the new boss…

18 Sep

In February, I took my first management role.  I joined a new European product development team being formed in eBay, to create and head up the user experience design team, and one of the most exciting parts was that I would be recruiting and managing people for the first time.  PICKING PEOPLE!  TO MAKE A TEAM OF UX DESIGNERS! This was challenging new territory for me, though I thought I was pretty good at mentoring people and leading projects.  I knew this was a really great opportunity to grow; ever the optimist,I was hoping I could make the jump relatively easily.   So I bounded into town, and rolled my sleeves up.

Getting started

No sooner had I arrived than I was being asked to make decisions.  Did I want to keep the interview process the same?  Was I happy with the recruiters or did I want new ones?  Did I want to rewrite the job descriptions?   Cue panicked expression, swiftly veiled by capable ‘no problem, I am a thrusting professional’ face.  There were a few sweaty moments alright.  The simple truth was, I didn’t know enough about the team, the projects, or the company to make these calls, but at the time I felt exposed and a bit rubbish. That feeling abated fairly quickly, but I thought it would be nice to share my thoughts with anyone else who’s new to this game – hopefully it will make you feel a bit better.

What I needed to know

That it’s OK to ask You’re a new manager – the manager who hired you a) has been there, and b) knows you’re new – you told him that!  Here at eBay, I happen to be surrounded by friendly people happy to share their own learnings and experiences, so asking other hiring managers was a massive help.  Hearing about the worst interview experiences from other hiring managers does a lot to cheer the soul when you are new to this!

That it’s ok to find your feet There’s no need to change everything about the existing process at once.  Suck things and see.  For example, I didn’t change the job description until I had seen a bunch of CVs, and spoken to a good few candidates.  Once I knew which skills or attributes I WASN’T seeing enough of, I updated the descriptions and we sent them out again.

That your process can evolve   It took me a while to find the right balance between keeping the bar high and only spending time on high quality candidates, and keeping the process short enough that we didn’t miss out on great people cos other companies could get to offer more quickly. I changed the interview process a few times, introducing an initial face to face interview (mostly to check the candidate wasn’t from Venus), then removing it again in favour of a screener task which we can use to assess whether to bring the candidate in to meet the team.

That briefing recruiters is important, and worth doing thoroughly.  Seeing good quality CVs arrive really cheers you up.  A call with each recruiter to talk through everything you are looking for, including the ‘soft stuff’ like ‘speaks in full sentences’ and ‘has presence’, is helpful.  Preparing for that call also makes you think hard about exactly what you want.

What I learned about interviewing

A CV is a crucial part of assessment – so’s the portfolio.  I don’t invite someone to interview now unless I see something good in both.  Personally I have a problem with recruitment agencies who strip out the formatting that a candidate has applied to their own CV, as this gives me a lot of clues to how good they are at ordering information and communicating.  It still mystifies me why anyone would want to do that.

Stay cool – everyone has a few dud interviews, and I was angst-filled about the first few I had.  However, this did not mean I am a total failure at recruitment, and boy did i learn from the less successful ones!  Words of wisdom, from design maven Aline Baeck, lead UX designer in our team: “don’t be discouraged’.  Sage words.

Have faith – you will find people, and when you find the first one, your confidence will soar. (Thanks to Anusha Nirmalananthan, a top notch product manager on our team for this advice).  Making my first hire was a really great feeling, and she was right – I feel much more confident about finding the next one.

It’s not rude to ask questions and challenge people (With thanks to Greg Smith, head of user experience research and design, who doesn’t shy away from this bit!).  What role did YOU personally play, and who else was on the team?  What DIFFERENCE did you make?  There are a mountain of good guides to interviewing out there, but the key learning for me was to get to the nub of what the individual really did, and how effective it was, as quick as you can.

If you can’t get a straight answer, that’s a problem – sometimes we ask the same question 3 times from different angles, as still can’t quite tell who did what on a project  That’s not good, since communication skills are such a massive part of being a great UX designer.

Trust your gut – people have told me this over and over (particular thanks to Ben Hoskins, head of Engineering, for reassuring me that this is a real thing).  They also told me that, when you see a candidate who’s right, you will know straight away.  More importantly, if a candidate is NOT right, you will know.  If you find yourself swithering, or asking for a second opinion, you’ve probably got your answer.  I’ve found this to be true, which has made me a lot more confident in how I feel about subsequent candidates.

You’re not alone – leaning on more experienced team members was really valuable for me, and gave me reassurance that I would not screw things up too badly.  Every candidate, every interview, every time I was learning more about doing things better.

Looking ahead

In 7 months I have learned such a massive amount about the process of finding the right people, and I am still looking – we are still recruiting for a user experience designer.  It has been hairy at times, and certainly took me out of the comfy parts of my comfort zone.  But let’s face it…that was the point!  As well as looking for another team member, my next set of adventures will be in leading the team, and becoming a decent manager of people.  I have (as always) lots to learn, and so I am happy.

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