Giving quick constructive criticism to people who didn't get the job

akay's picture

I'm a longtime lurker. I finally made an account because I thought this might be a group that can help provide insight to a question I've been stumbling with.

I'm going through my first experience hiring a junior designer. The applications I've received are all over the place -- some outstanding, some hilariously unqualified to do professional design work, and some just tragically bad.

I find that I receive frequent requests from the last category inquiring why they weren't selected or what they could do to improve themselves. When it's a matter of not fulfilling all the qualifications for software proficiency or having rampant typos in their resumes, writing a quick critical response is easy ("unfortunately, you do not currently meet the qualifications posted for this position", "unfortunately, your writing shows that your attention to detail and communication skills need improvement").

But when someone is versed in the programs and wrote a nice cover letter and resume .... but their work is just bad, I'm at a loss for a way to quickly communicate that without sounding like a jerkface. I work at a small business that's active in the community (chances are I might run into a couple of these people someday) and I'm a firm believer in the power of constructive criticism, but saying that their taste level lacks sophistication still just seems harsh. Am I just being a softie? I'd love to get into the nitty gritty about what missteps they're making with type, color, layouts, etc., but it would just be too time consuming.

Anyone have ideas or experiences with this to share?

tldr?
How do you constructively tell a job applicant that their work lacks sophistication or that they don't demonstrate a good taste level?

Jared Benson's picture

In my experience, there's a job out there for designers of all levels of sophistication. If an applicant's work is not at the quality levels that you expect at your organization, there's nothing wrong with letting them know that "it's not a good match" or "not what we're looking for." I've met many designers who didn't make it through our process who have gone on to great jobs and fulfillment elsewhere.

If you had all the time in the world, you could sit with each applicant and coach them through how they could improve their work. In my heart of hearts, I often feel the same way. But who truly has that kind of time? If you found a junior designer you believed in and exhibited other desirable qualities (cultural fit, proactiveness, humility, eager to learn/grow) that in-depth coaching might make better sense if they were employed with you.

If your workday is anything like mine, time is precious and almost always at a deficit. Unfortunately, you may have to ask yourself: Is providing feedback to applicants the best use of my time?

akay's picture

That link is priceless, Nick! Much like a lot of the work that was rejected in it :)

We're totally on the same page, Jared. I'm trying to find the balance between sounding curt and wasting my time giving thoughtful feedback to strangers. The responses I give are along the lines of your examples, but they also generate a lot of follow-ups asking for clarification. And that's where I get hung up.

I thought I had hit a good phrasing the other day -- "Keep developing your skills, and stay up to date with the standards and trends of the industry through blogs, publications, and professional groups" -- but it didn't go over so well. Using it twice, I got one snarky response that accused me of not actually looking at his portfolio since I didn't give specific feedback, while the other decided it was an invitation to turn this exchange into an in-depth portfolio review to get specific feedback. This is when I start to wonder, do I just tell them their work looks unrefined? That the multi-colored papyrus on their resume shows a poor taste level (true story)? I thought my response was sound, fair advice, so maybe it's just the best I can hope for.

JamesM's picture

I agree with Jared's comments. And it's certainly not necessary to say negative things about their work, you could just say "another candidate fit our needs better".

But on the other hand, when I was just out of college several interviewers gave me some friendly advice about my portfolio and I found it very helpful.

> there's a job out there for designers of all levels of sophistication

So true. I've known unsophisticated designers who made a nice living doing supermarket flyers, newspaper ads, and other work that didn't require much finesse. One of them makes more money than I do.

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