It’s a Team Sport

Recently, at a student portfolio review, someone asked the panel of design professionals what they look for when they hire for their companies. There were several answers — a portfolio of great work, problem solving skills, experience, presentation. All of these are good things to look for. Some will be apparent in the work itself or listed on a resume. And some can be unearthed with a few well-directed questions by a skilled interviewer.

When it came my turn to reply to this question, I said, “I look for someone who is ‘one of us.’” The 30 or so students in attendance waited for the explanation.

I went on to say that I wasn’t talking about looking for middle-aged, white, male designers to add to my team. I really didn’t care about gender, race or sexual orientation. Tattoos, gauges in one’s ears, nose rings — doesn’t matter. In fact that kind of variety, to my way of thinking, is good. It adds dimension to a company by widening perspective.

The idea of “one of us” was first introduced to me by my sister who worked as a programmer for IBM for many years. They seemed to form teams around special projects and I once asked her about that process. She said their code phrase when picking teammates was by identifying a candidate as “one of us.”

Someone who is “one of us” shares a set a values that may include many things. Things that you find important to your team’s dynamics and interaction. Things like attention to detail and deadlines, thoughtfulness, willingness to listen to and build on the ideas of others in the group, communication skills. While these things are harder to assess in an interview, they quickly become apparent once a candidate is onboard. It is why many companies choose to extend a 30- or 60-day contracting period before offering full employment.

Whereas specific manual skills are a must for any position, these less measurable aspects will either solidify your position within the company or slowly push you to the side.

So, what is my point? The very thing that often sets creatives apart is their individualism, their striving to see things in a different way, their originality. But, creatives in the business world are not only responsible to their own creative vision, they must take into account budgets, marketing objectives and deadlines. Sometimes we need to be reminded that what we do is a team sport.

Being conscious about the roles of others on your team means you don’t miss a deadline that a project manager has committed to. If you’re a designer, it means you realize that good visual ideas sometimes come from a copywriter or even the account manager. If you’re a writer, you recognize a great tag line might come from a designer.

Sure, we should and must speak confidently to our own area of expertise, i.e. design, copy, art direction and defend decisions and appropriate direction. Who would hire a lawyer who wasn’t confident about the advice he’s giving you or quickly backs down when you object to it? However, there may be compromise or additional input that must be considered. Our ability listen objectively to the suggestions of others involved in a project and adjust if necessary is part of the process.

So, bring your best ideas and talent. Trust your instincts, experience and training. Then, join the team.