Staffing Your Design Business for Success in 2022

When the pandemic first hit, projects were put on hold and employers were unsure what they would do with their staff. Unexpectantly, with stay-at-home orders, the interior design demands started to surge in popularity making designers busier than ever. But this boom has certainly brought about challenges, most notably in hiring and recruiting the right kind of talent to properly staff a design business and keep up with the growing demand.

It is a major investment to hire a new team member, so it is essential that design firms take the time to find talented and skilled individuals to fill out their staff. I truly believe that building the right team is everything in the professional service industry because people are our most valuable asset. It is critical to carefully consider the right people to handle your finances, marketing, and operations as firing well on all these cylinders will position you well in the future no matter how the business climate shifts.

When you decide it’s time to hire someone new, it can be tempting to just hire the first person who seems right. But remember! A warm body is not always better than nobody! The current staffing shortage may lead you to settle, and I want to emphasize that this will hurt you in the long run more than it helps you in the short term. This is like just taking on any client that comes in the door. At the end of the day, a bad client and a bad employee can take a firm down. You should be smart in your hiring decisions; culture is more important than skill. You can train for skill, but you can’t make people who don’t belong, belong in your organization.

If you already have a sizeable staff, consider “growing your own” and hire within your firm by promoting an employee. The advantage of this is that the employee will be trained exactly as you want with the precise skills sets that you need. I recognize, however, that design firms don’t always have this option and need to look outward for necessary talent, especially when it comes to bookkeeping or PR.

Design Business Firm Open Plan

Prioritize Cultural Fit Over Skill

Whether you take on the task of hiring yourself or bring in a recruiter, it is of vital importance to hire first for fit and second for skill. As featured in my book The Business of Design, I use a Skill vs. Cultural Fit chart as an essential tool to hire a new staff member. The x-axis represents culture and how a potential hire’s personality will fit into your company and the y-axis measures skill level.

I urge you to try to hire people who fall into the top right quadrant—high skills and cultural fit—and let go immediately anyone who is in the bottom left quadrant. When it comes to the other quadrants, employees will high skills and low culture are difficult to coach whereas an employee with high culture and low skills can be effectively coached into the top right quadrant.

While you consider the skills and cultural fit of potential hires, I think it would be a good idea to deepen your understanding of the red flags and other qualities of individuals you should avoid at all costs. I even wrote a whole chapter about this titled “All the people you don’t need in your life” in my book The Business of Creativity. I want to share some nuggets of wisdom from that chapter that will help you quickly assess the potential viability of job candidates so your hiring efforts are more fruitful leading to excellent employees that will grow in their careers while you boost your business.

In the thick of hiring and getting to know a new employee, it can be easy to miss some warning signs hidden in what appears to be a promising staff member. I believe that looking out for warning signs during the interview process can keep you from making a costly hiring mistake. Look out for these warning signs as you interview a candidate. Some are more serious than others—particularly plagiarism—but are useful guidelines to quickly assess potential hires.

  • a resume that doesn’t add up or has too many inconsistencies
  • a lack of attention to appearance and being overdressed for interviews is okay
  • difficulty communicating and is not articulate
  • overconfidence
  • put-downs
  • hyperawareness of the company’s or employee’s details or lives
  • a questionable online trail or overexposure on social media
  • money talk without justification
  • lateness
  • plagiarism