Hiring Guide: UX Designer

Welcome to Tech Talent Digest Hiring Guides. Their purpose is to help you understand how to find, evaluate, and hire the best talent for your startup.

Each guide will feature an expert in a specific field. Our first expert is Michael Tyrrell, UX Designer extraordinaire.




Michael’s background

Started off at Razorfish where he worked on projects such as Ford Sync and Hulu.
Got recruited to one of the hottest product agencies in the industry, Hard Candy Shell, where he helped design one of Foursquare’s earliest interfaces and worked on Gawker’s redesign.
He now does freelance work on two HR related startups, Jibe and Greenhouse. He’s also building his wine related startup – Winezeus.


In a world where anybody can throw some buttons and blocks on a page and call themselves a UX designer, how do you filter?

Please note: most of the interviewing is done using a portfolio of work. If the UX has nothing to show, then don’t consider him (unless there is some very compelling reason).



Every tab, button, box and drop down menu that you see on a site has been chosen. Sometimes, there is a solid reason for each choice. Often there was none. A good UX person needs to be thoughtful, and deliberate in his choices.

In the interview:

Get examples of their work, and have them talk you through it. Everything must have been considered. Everything must have been deliberate.

Don’t prompt them at first to explain, as that should be the first thing they do.


Sales intelligence, persuasion skills

A good UX person is constantly internally selling his thought process across the whole organization. He will be subjected to criticism, and asked to go back to the drawing board again and again. He’ll need the social intelligence and sales skills to understand what needs to be changed, and why.

In the interview

Look for classic intelligence skills, and emphasize social intelligence. Critisize the work, and see how he responds. He should use your critisism as the base for an insightful conversation, not a reason to be defensive or shut down.


A translator of tradeoffs

There is no perfect interface and no right answer. A good UX person will be able to come up with a couple different options, and be able to translate the tradeoffs between them – especially in the context of certain business objectives.

In the interview

Ask for an alternative solution to a particular wireframe that he created. Look for calm and especially clarity in his explaining why one solution is more advantageous than another.


A facilitator

A UX person does not have all the answers. His goal is rather to bring together all the other stakeholders in a startup to decide on the optimal layout for a website. So you need someone who knows how to collaborate with others and let them put their concerns on the table.

In the interview

Bring in several types of people in your organization, such as sales, marketing, and development. Ask him to speak to their specific needs, and see how he manages potentially conflictual demands.


RED FLAG: Someone who “fetishizes the deliverable.”

A UX designer will spend days building together wires and then have one review that will force him to scrap the whole thing. There is no room for a diva here.

The other important thing to remember is that wireframes get thrown away. Its wasted time to make them all pretty. Many UX designers get caught up in their own work – and forget about the process that they are a part of.

If somebody treats their wireframes like a masterpiece, show them the door.


Say you’ve found the perfect candidate. How will you sell him?

UX Designers like deep product work with a lot functionality, less marketing or branding sites. Its much more interesting to design a CRM tool with tons of functionality than a microsite selling a new brand of shampoo.

Highlight the hard problems that they will solve.


The Art of “Headfarming”


Let me tell you a few things I hate.


  • Horseback riding (the horse doesn’t like it anyway!)
  • Cheese
  • Ice Skating

Let’s talk about the last one. Gardening is the most boring thing ever. Seriously.  It mostly involves waiting around, and doing a whole bunch of mundane activities again and again, and again. At any given moment, absolutely nothing is going on. How people find that soothing baffles me.

Every 3 years or so, I try to tell myself the opposite and buy a basil plant or something. One month later I decide it would be cool to make pesto…and go to Whole Foods. Another plant bites the dust.

This preference is probably what drew me to recruitment. Its different every day, full of varied and exciting moments – big ups and downs. I mean, its called “headhunting” for a reason. But actually, you might as well call it “headfarming” because gardening skills are the secret sauce to great recruiting. “Headfarming” just sounds a bit off to me.

So if you too find gardening to be dreadful, you are all out of luck. Because good gardening skills are what seperate out the best recruiters from the flashes in the pan.

If you recall, recruiting is a system. A constant process of very small, seemingly mundane tasks that need to be done. Sure there are the glorious moments, the closing, the tough negotiation, the beaming candidate with that dream job. But I guess its also glorious to pick the first blueberries of the season in your backyard.

So people, I implore you – organize yourself. Create a garden. Don’t go out and try to shoot in the dark. A cold call here, an email there. I am sure you are amazingly charming and a real treat on the phone – but that is not going to work out long term. One day there won’t be anybody to hunt, and you’ll go home hungry while the gardener stuffs his face with blueberries.

So how do you organize a “recruitment garden”?

I see two axes to this figurative garden we’re creating.

A plan

You need a process for every interaction you have. What are the steps? What happens if they say “no”? What email do you send today? You need to build a decision tree of sorts with different options. This is stuff that you should not have to think about ever. Once the flow is mapped out, you need a CRM system that works as seemlessly as possible.

Everyday tending

If you talk to candidates only when you need something from them, you’ll lose. People see right through that crap. What you need to do is figure out how to do that at scale. What can you send? How can you personalize?

Scaling caring is a hard thing to do. The easiest ways to do that are to create a niche so that candidates can be part of a community, and make sure that the non-caring parts of the job are as automated as possible.

Recruiters, focus on your gardening skills and pick up a Martha Stewart catalogue. I guarantee you that the victory will feel all the sweeter when you know that you cultivated a candidate relationship that nobody else can replicate.


The Power of a Recruiting System

Read any start up success story, and you usually hear the same thing: a founding team as close as Siamese twins, a product market fit as perfect as an oasis in a desert, or more successful pivots than a professional Polka dancer.
One thing you rarely hear about are systems.

Systems. All sorts of systems, working in varying levels of harmony, make a start up (or any company really) hum along.

You have a system to bring in new clients, sell them on your product, and close them (a sales pipeline)

You have a system for acquiring new users, putting them on an email drip campaign and getting them to convert (a user acquisition funnel)

But do you have a system to identify, court, and close all the great people who will make your company successful?

Recruiting is a system like any other. That is the first thing you need to realize. If you don’t treat it as such, and recruit in a haphazard and ad hoc way, you will pay for it. In fact you’ll probably be paying people like me an average of $25,ooo per engineer and for that I say THANK YOU. Your lack of discipline is my meal ticket.

Anyway, enough of me chideing you. Let’s take a look at a possible recruiting system.

Recruiting Process

This is what a basic recruitment process can look like (click on the image for better resolution)

This is an example of how a recruiting machine can run. Please bear in mind that your start up might have a different or more intricate process. That’s great, and I encourage you to lay it out.

Why is this so important

Scott Adams once said “winners have systems”. He was speaking about going to the gym, but the same applies to recruiting for your start up.

Systems allow for consistent action from anybody in your company. New people can pick up where older people left off without you guys switching course. Recruiting never stops.

Systems allow for measurement, analysis, and optimization. Anybody interested in growth hacking will immediately see how a process like this can be tested and optimized. You can begin to answer questions such as:

  • What emails work best? From who in the company?
  • How many interviews are optimal before encountering “interview fatigue” and loss of interest.
  • What sort of follow up content work best? What is the ideal call to action in those emails?

Remember, “what gets measured, gets managed”.

So, what sort of recruiting system do you have in place at your start up?