UX Hiring: The Performance Profile is a Game Changer
After all these years, it still amazes me how much a single document can improve the teams we build, and the products and services our teams deliver. That single document is a performance profile and it’s a game changer.
The idea of the performance profile came from the recruiter Lou Adler. I first read about it in his book, Hire with Your Head, which is where you’ll find the best description of his thoughtfully-designed Performance-based Hiring approach.
The idea is simple: get the team together and describe what the work will be like for their new team member. What will they accomplish in their first year? What will the work environment be like for them?
At first, it’s unlikely the team members will agree. Yet, as they discuss and come to a consensus, they’ll develop a shared understanding of what their new teammate will face. That shared understanding improves the entire hiring process. And it all gets documented in the performance profile.
Solves problems we didn’t realize we had
The first time a hiring manager creates a performance profile and goes through the Performance-based Hiring approach, they come out stunned at how much more effective it is. Going through the process makes it easy to see how horribly ineffective their old process was.
They now realize how many highly-qualified candidates they had been pushing away without even realizing it, because their job ad didn’t clearly say what work the team needed the new person to do. With their improved process, they get applications from candidates who are far more qualified than those they’d seen in the past.
They also now realize how slow their previous hiring process was. By establishing, up front, a clear understanding of what makes a great candidate, their new hiring gets to an offer much faster.
The Performance-based Hiring process removes much of the stress out of hiring. With a detailed understanding of the position and what it will require, those endless theoretical discussions of what makes a great UX professional fade away. Instead, the hiring team can quickly focus on each candidate’s comparable experience.
Hiring managers realize they’d been making it harder on themselves, because they couldn’t see the problems in their previous process. Once they adopt the Performance-based Hiring approach, they can clearly see the difference.
Capturing shared understanding of the job
A performance profile is a job description on steroids. It’s a detailed document that tends to run five to six pages long. Of course, the length isn’t what’s important. It needs to be as long as necessary to communicate the job clearly.
What’s important is what the performance profile contains. The hiring team uses it to capture an in-depth look at what they can expect their newest team member to accomplish and the environment that team member will be working in.
The performance profile is a type of design deliverable, just like a persona description or a journey map. In the case of the performance profile, it’s capturing the team’s shared understanding of the new job. And like any great design deliverable, it’s the discussion and alignment that goes into it that is important.
Our performance profiles have five sections, each make up a kind of framework for thinking about the position we’re trying to fill:
Section #1: The position summary
These two or three paragraphs describe, in high-level terms, what this new person will bring to the team. We describe the good things the team will deliver because we’ve hired someone great in this position. If this is the only section someone reads, that reader will learn why the team believes this position is essential to fill right now.
Section #2: The position objectives
This section describes what the new hire will accomplish in their first year. This is a meaty section, often describing five to eight critical objectives.
For example, if we are hiring someone to oversee the design and deployment of a new design system, our objectives might be:
Conduct a UI component inventory
Get organizational buy-in for a design system project
Choose two pilot projects for the first design system rollout
Create and document the initial set of components for the first rollout
Work with pilot project teams to integrate new components into their next releases
Example above shows what Position Objectives look like.
For each objective, we describe what we think the steps are. (This becomes the outline of each candidate’s comparable experience we’ll be looking to identify.)
The position objectives tend to be the largest section of the document. We want to supply enough detail so that it’s obvious to every reader what is expected of our new team member.
We’ve found this section can be difficult to write. We use exercises, like The Thank You Note technique to help get things started. (We also got this from Lou Adler.)
It’s a quick sketch of what the objectives could look like. Once everyone agrees on what we’re thanking our future new hire for, writing the objectives becomes much easier. The team just fleshes out the details.
Section #3: The organizational structure
Here we describe where the new person will be in the organization. It’s usually only one or two paragraphs, listing who they’ll report to and who they’ll work with to accomplish their objectives. We can use this paragraph to inform who should be involved in the hiring process. Everyone on this list should have input into the performance profile and probably have a role in interviewing the candidates.
Section #4: Situational needs and challenges
This section describes the hard truths of the job. What does the work environment demand of the person who will fill this position? What will make this job challenging?
We list (as politically carefully as possible), all the things that make the job easy and all the conditions that make it challenging. And, yes, we describe how organizational politics will affect the work.
This can be a hard section to write. We want to be as honest about this as possible.
Example above shows Situational Needs and Challenges.
It’s important that we identify challenges. In interviews, we’ll want to explore how candidates have dealt with similar challenges. We need to know what comparable experience to look for.
Eventually, our final candidates will read the performance profile. We want them to understand what they are getting into, so there are no surprises on their first day of work.
Hiring managers are often concerned that, if they are too honest, they’ll scare these candidates away. I’ve always been surprised how many highly-seasoned candidates tell us they loved this honesty. More importantly, those candidates could then share stories on how they encountered similar challenges in their previous work experience, which gave us confidence they’d handle our challenges well.
Section #5: Basic Requirements
This is where we put in the basic, non-negotiable requirements for this position. Does it require reporting to work in a particular location, or is working remotely a possibility? Will there be travel associated with the work? Does the new hire need to be a citizen or have a security clearance?
It’s typically a short section that ensures we know what questions to ask up front, so we don’t waste anyone’s time.
The performance profile becomes the basis of hiring
A performance profile gives a hiring team new superpowers.
The hiring team will use the objectives and the situational needs to write a very compelling job ad. That ad will attract an improved set of highly-qualified candidates.
The performance profile also makes interviewing much less stressful for the team. We assign each interviewer their own objectives. Because they have their own objective, they can dive deep into the specifics.
For example, the interviewer assigned the objective “creating a UI component library” can spend their entire interview just talking about how the candidate has done that in the past. Other interviewers cover other objectives, so each interviewer can dive deep into learning what skills, knowledge, and experience on just one topic.
The interviewers can use their interviewing time exploring every nook and cranny of the candidate’s previous work. They’ll emerge with detailed notes full of evidence describing how each candidate achieved their past accomplishments.
The performance profile also helps us hire people who are earlier in their career and don’t have many accomplishments under their belt. In the objectives, we focus on what the new hire will need to learn once they arrive. We can use that information to uncover how each candidate has learned similarly challenging skills and techniques in the past.
Solidifying our partnership with top candidates
When we’re writing the performance profile, it’s top-of-mind that we’ll eventually share the document with our top candidates. Any candidates who make it through the first round of in-depth interviews (the ones where we explore each objective) will get a copy of the performance profile to read. We’ve seen several benefits from sharing the document with our top candidates.
First, they can see what we’re looking for. Maybe we were smart enough to ask all the right questions, but there’s a chance we missed something important.
Hiring isn’t a gauntlet of tests that each candidate has to run through to prove their worthiness. (Well, it seems to be in some places, but it shouldn’t be.)
A smart hiring process is a partnership between the candidates and the interviewing team. The goal of that partnership is to surface all of the comparable evidence that the candidate can do the job.
If our previous interviews haven’t uncovered something important, the candidate will discover that when they review the objectives. In subsequent interviews, they can bring that evidence to the surface, so the team can grow their understanding of how qualified the candidate is.
Second, after reading through the profile, we’ve had candidates withdraw from the process. They didn’t withdraw because they were somehow scared away from the position.
Instead, they withdrew because they now had a better understanding of what we needed. One candidate gave us this reason: “I can see exactly what you’re looking for, and it’s a good opportunity for someone. It’s just not where I see my career going at this point.”
That’s a fantastic thing to learn before we give them a job offer. Much better than if they’d accepted our offer and learned about it after they had started.
By sharing the performance profile with each top candidate, they now know exactly what we need from a new team member. Those that stay in the interview process are now committing to the position, because it’s the right thing for their career.
Getting to an offer faster
A well-crafted performance profile reduces the time it takes to identify a highly-qualified candidate. Because we’re confident that candidate can do the job, we can make them an offer quickly.
In today’s market, where every organization is competing for the same small pool of UX professionals, it’s important to act quickly. If the hiring process is delayed in any way, the chance that a great candidate will get swept up by a competing organization increases dramatically. Time is critical.
The performance profile is our definition of what we need. As soon as we meet someone who matches that profile, we make them an offer, even if other candidates are in the pipeline. Hesitating can cost us the candidate, so using it to speed us through our hiring process gives us a great advantage.
Getting to an offer faster also means having someone start the work faster. After all, we’re not hiring because it’s just a fun thing to do. We’ve got work to get done.
And because the hiring profile helped us identify a professional with the right comparable experience, they already know what to do. They come prepared on day one to dive into the work and hit the ground running.
The performance profile is a game changer.
It’s amazing how a little document can dramatically improve our hiring process.
In essence, we’re creating a user manual for the new position. We’re capturing what we need from our new teammate in that user manual. We then assess the qualifications of every candidate against that user manual. We make an offer to the first person who matches what we’ve described in the manual.
It’s hard to break old habits, and this is no exception. The first time hiring managers sit down to write a performance profile, they usually struggle with it.
Yet, persistence is key here. After using a performance profile for a few positions, it becomes substantially easier.
That’s because we’re thinking about the positions we want to fill in a new way. We’re starting with the end in mind. As Lou Adler says, we’re now hiring for year one, not day one.
And that’s what will improve our team’s capabilities to deliver better-designed products and services.
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