Interviewing Creative Candidates: Seeing past the portfolio

Interviewing is tricky business. Interviewing creative candidates, such as designers and copywriters, now that’s an art form. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that judging a creative candidate by their portfolio alone is sufficient. Well, it isn’t.

Below we’ve outlined a handful of reasons why it is necessary to go beyond the book when interviewing creative candidates, as well as a few example interview questions that can help you dig deeper to ensure you are finding the perfect match.

Why go beyond the book?

  1. Without asking additional questions about a candidate’s portfolio, it can be impossible to tell what is truly their work vs. collaboration with a larger team. Many creative teams work cohesively, so the final product is often a combination of efforts.
  2. As important as quality work is, gaining insight into the candidate’s creative process is just as important.
  3. The candidate’s creative process can also give you insight into future opportunities for the individual. Do they present well? Imagine the candidate as a future art/creative director pitching clients… Now was that frightening or promising?
  4. When you ask pointed questions about a candidate’s portfolio, you will also be able to gather valuable insight into their personality and how they may react in your environment. Do they seem ego driven or more open to feedback?
  5. Because “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, meaning you are interviewing not just a designer, copywriter or marketer, but a human being! Not digging in and asking additional questions means you are missing out on some of the variables that make the greats, well, GREAT.

How can I do this?

Below are a few example interview questions that will allow you to dive deeper into a candidate’s potential:

What portion of this work did you complete and what was collaboration?

  • Pay attention to how they answer this, as it will give you insight into how they talk about their team as well as their level of pride/ego in their work. Perhaps challenge them – if merited – with a compliment on the creative piece of work; do they eagerly accept all accolades as their own, or give credit where credit is due?

Walk me through your creative process here, A to Z.

  • This is used to both see how self-aware (and detailed) they are, as well as how well they can describe processes.

What challenges did you encounter while working on this project/campaign?

  • How do they talk about their team? Or the creative process within the organization? Do they speak directly to people, product or process challenges?

What technologies/programs did you use here and how did you use them?

  • This is a seemingly basic question, but listening to how well they speak to the tools of their craft, as well as how much detail they go into, can be telling.

What project/campaign would you consider your greatest career accomplishment?

  • This let’s you know a bit about their focus i.e. business, brand, conceptual, team focused, etc.

What do you like about OUR branding/content/marketing, and what would you change?

  • This question puts the candidate on the spot a bit, which is why we love it! Listen to how they share their ideas, how they approach the brand and on a basic level how much research they have done!

How do you stay up to date on industry changes?

  • This is again to see how passionate and serious they are about the industry, as well as how motivated they are to grow and evolve.

Now this is just a short list of questions to get you thinking outside of the book. What other questions do you ask when interviewing creative candidates?

Nick is a former Creative Circle Account Executive. His background is in recruiting, sales, PR and marketing.


    This article is right on the money. If a person can’t tell you how the big idea transpired, or how he or she executed the art work, chances are that person wasn’t really involved in the project.

    I have seen graphic designers walk in with awesome portfolios, and once hired, they didn’t produce diddly.

    I also encourage employers to test their applicants to verify they they really know how to use the software they claim they can use. Give your final candidates a project and see who produces the best work. Give them a hot deadline. Note how these possible employees work under pressure. If they don’t want to take the challenge, maybe that’s a clue. Anyone who is a pro at what they do should be chomping at the bits to prove what they’ve got under the hood.

    I’ve seen a lot in my days. There are many people who will say anything to get a job. Once on site, these same tricksters can be very hard to eliminate. I could tell you some horror stories…

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