We all speak English. I just happen to do it for a living.

“Information Asymmetry”

(or Why People Say You Should Hire Me)

As you’re going through the process of trying to hire someone, you’re faced with what tweedy economists call “information asymmetry.” Which is a very dull way of saying you don’t know very much about the candidate, while the candidate knows all too well their own shortcomings. And they can mold your opinion using little tricks they learned by Googling “interview tips” and “how to write a resume that covers up the fact that I mostly just talk loudly in meetings.”

Shortcuts to the Real McCoy

So you’re forced to find shortcuts to the information you really want. One example for entry level candidates is grades. Good grades in college mean they’re good at following instructions and do what’s expected. Emphasizing brands and clients in their resume suggests they want you to know they’ve run with the big dogs, and no one got fired for hiring IBM. Dropping sales numbers shows an emphasis on results. Insider language implies expertise.

What You Really Want to Know about Creative Leadership

Pushing past a comfort zone repeatedly is hard for creatives because what they do is so subjective. It’s personal to them; every project requires emotional, rather than rational, decisions. If their leader doesn’t help them feel respected for those decisions — that they’re valid — that creative person invests less and less of themselves into the work over time. And that leads to bad, boring, unremarkable design, usability, and writing. It leads to less risk-taking.

So a creative leader needs enough scars from firsthand experience in all parts of the studio to understand each team member’s hopes and constraints. A leader shows faith that the team can push past those constraints, and in doing so, builds confidence enough in the relationship to push even further past their comfort zone.

Emotional Recommendations

But it’s one thing to talk about leadership. It’s quite another to KNOW if someone is a good leader. So another shortcut is to learn what people think about your candidate. References will always be positive, so when I hire, I look for the amplitude of the emotion. Do they say things like, “very detail oriented”? Ho-hum. Not a lot of love being inspired there.

Or, to finally get to my point, do they speak with a little more fire?

  • “If I had the ability to put together my dream agency, Thom would be my first choice for creative director.”
  • “In my professional career there has never been a single person whom has joined the team and had such a substantial impact so fast.”
  • “Thom is one of the few people I’ve worked with that I would follow into a burning building.”
  • “The best summation of Thom as my manager that I can write is this, if he had the chance, and asked me to follow him on a project or opportunity, I would in a heartbeat.”

Recommendations like that solve the information asymmetry problem on the table today: You now know about my results in leading a creative team. I can show numbers about how a particular campaign did, or how we won this award or that. But when it comes to hiring a leader, what matters is that people want to follow.

Hire a Strong Heart

If it were me hiring someone at the heart of my organization, I’d ask: “Is this a person that earns respect by inspiring others to do great work?” Because without respect, he’s just a boss, and my employees just have a job. With respect, a team pushes each other to do great work (and theorize about just how great it was over a beer).

Those recommendations above make me blush and pick me up when I’m feeling blue. Dad didn’t raise a boastful person — I prefer to let the work talk. So in the question of “should I hire Thom Schoenborn for that creative director job?” Please just let my teammates talk.