How to Hire the Best Graphic Designer for Your Business

By Robert Half June 6, 2018 at 8:00am

“Unemployment rates are near an all-time low for graphic designers,” says Amy Mangan. As vice president and division director of The Creative Group in Atlanta, she’s been a firsthand witness to the rising need for design professionals.

On the other side of the country, Karin Katselis, senior vice president for The Creative Group in San Francisco, has seen the same demand for graphic designers. “There aren’t enough of them to go around,” she says.

Of course, this increased demand means many top candidates find jobs quickly and even field multiple offers. For candidates with hot skills, especially web and mobile experience, there’s no shortage of job opportunities — including with your rivals.

“If you find the right graphic designer, you should act quickly and make a competitive offer,” Mangan advises. “Otherwise you risk losing the candidate and spending more time in the interview process.”

So how do you hire a graphic designer in today's competitive environment?

Define what you need

While many designers have experience with a variety of projects — such as logos, page layouts and websites — many also specialize in one or another. Look carefully at your team’s needs. For example, if you need someone to create designs for a website or mobile app, try to find a designer with a background in user experience (UX). Likewise, if you’re looking for someone to create a logo, look for branding expertise. “Understanding the core of what you need this person to do on a day-to-day basis should drive the hiring process,” Mangan says.

Versatility is also key, according to Eric DiChiara, vice president of The Creative Group in Boston. “You want designers who can take one design and roll it out to multiple pieces, from print and email to web and social,” he says.

So be sure to include everything you need your new designer to do when writing the job description. If you put time and thought into this step and carefully consider the duties associated with the role, you increase your chances of finding the right candidate. Be as detailed as possible, but avoid too much jargon. To generate more interest in the position, provide additional information about your company culture and benefits.

Seek the right skills

Every designer should be well-versed in Adobe Creative Suite. These programs — primarily InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator — are the gold standard of design software. Of course, don’t get so caught up in technical skills that you forget soft skills. In a recent TCG survey, 23 percent of advertising and marketing executives polled believe soft skills carry more weight than hard skills. Fifty-eight percent give both equal weight.

Because graphic designers work with people in other departments and are often charged with presenting ideas to clients, it’s crucial that they have excellent teamwork and communication skills. “Look for a variety of characteristics and traits, including creativity, of course, and also and the ability to think strategically, take constructive criticism and interact well with people in and outside of the company,” Katselis says.

You also need to carefully review candidates’ portfolios. Look for examples that are similar to the projects you want your new graphic designer to take on. Candidates should showcase past work from planning to conclusion, citing processes used and outcomes achieved, such as increased sales.

“A few good designs in a portfolio doesn’t necessarily make for a strong graphic designer,” Katselis says. “Is the work on brand for the client? Does it convey the right message for the audience? These are vital aspects to analyze because you’ll need them to get it right for you and your clients, too.”

Finding similarities between your company’s work and a designer’s past jobs can also be key to gaining favor with your top candidates. “Look for previous experience that gives you — and them — reason to think they will thrive in your work environment, such as experience with similar projects and workflows,” Katselis says.

Ask the right questions

When you’ve narrowed down your pool of applicants based on their resumes and portfolios, it’s time to start conducting interviews. This is your best opportunity to get to know them better and determine if they will fit in well at your company.

To make the most out of the interview, use a variety of question types. And try to arrange for other members of your team to talk to the candidates. They can provide valuable feedback and may help you become aware of any red flags.

Katselis suggests a few general questions for getting the candidate warmed up:

  • What are your sources of inspiration for your design work?
  • How do you take constructive criticism?
  • Are you comfortable collaborating with others that might be at a higher level than you, such as an art director or creative director?
  • What elements do you look for in a creative brief?

Also consider including questions about their preferred work environment to gauge if they’ll fit in with your company’s culture. DiChiara recommends asking the following:

  • Describe the team you worked on previously: Was it large or small?
  • Were you the only designer or did you report to a senior designer or art director?
  • Did you handle design from concept through production or did you hand your design files off to a production artist to finalize?

Finally, go through the applicant’s portfolio with them. Ask specific questions about the types of design work and programs they’ve used to help you confirm their hard skills. And you should also ask the designer to explain their involvement in a particular project. Try these questions:

  • How big was the team for the project?
  • What was your role?
  • What were some of the challenges you faced during the design process?
  • What was the final result of the project?

Offer the right compensation

Last but not least, you must be willing to pay competitive rates to secure top talent. For graphic designer roles, the national midpoint starting salary is $54,000. Depending on skills, experience and location, some candidates may expect $83,250 or more. Keep in mind that candidates with extensive experience or those with in-demand skills, such as UX and app design, may demand higher earnings. The Creative Group Salary Guide can help you determine starting salaries based on all of the above. 

Today’s candidates look at more than just salary. If your company offers additional benefits, such as flexible work arrangements, gym memberships or extra vacation time, advertise those to your top prospects. They may tip the scales in your favor.

Put it into practice

The goal of hiring is to find a graphic designer who will make valuable contributions and become an integral part of your organization for years to come. By using our tips for how to hire a graphic designer, you can weed out the wrong candidates, edge out your competition for the right ones and find a great new employee.

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