The following is an imaginary interview between a design magazine and an architectural office manager.
DZ: How did the idea of a Google-like, pre-hiring design test come to you?
LG: We were having difficulty determining applicants' real-world ability from portfolios and references alone, so we thought: Why not an on-the-spot "design skill" test? If we're impressed, we find a place for them. If they don't live up to the promise of their portfolio, we invite them to apply again after a spell, and everyone is spared the cost of a sub-optimum hire
DZ: What are those costs?
LG: Time wasted hiring, having to teach, being distracted by, then having to replace the wrong person. Many people and projects are impacted adversely by a sub-optimum hire.
DZ: How did hiring work before the test?
LG: In practice, we rarely had time to follow up on references or determine an applicant's true abilities--or the true contributions they made to projects in their portfolios. The design test helps us identify hidden gems and weed out those who pad their resumes.
DZ: Why do applicants take your test with pencil and paper. Are these relevant in the age of Rhino, CAD and photoshop?
LG: Its simple practicality: pencil on paper is direct, requires no plugs or wifi and provides a record of an applicants design process and ability to tell a story. Its the ability to imagine and communicate that we, and ultimately our clients, are interested in.
DZ: What if a person is brilliant but doesn't draw well?
LG: I want to make a critical point here. We don't care if their drawings are pretty. We're looking for their ability to think critically, design, and communicate.
DZ: Have you lost any recruits because of the test...the intimidation of it?
LG: On the contrary, many of our recruits say they went out of their way to apply for a job at our firm because of the test--because they thought the test was kind of an equalizer that allows them to demonstrate their abilities and not just where they've gone to school.
DZ: How did you devise the test in its present form?
LG: We interviewed all of our principals and asked them what skills they wanted in new people on day one and what skills were missing most. We then invented questions that addressed these issues.
DZ: How do you score the test?
LG: We don't think of it as scoring because there are no right or wrong answers, only thoughtful and less thoughtful ones. The test is kind of fun to look at, as you can imagine
DZ: We liked the question where you had a person invent 3 new ways to clean a toilet. Have the responses been interesting on that one?
LG: We're doing our next book on just the responses to that question."
DZ: But seriously, why give architect applicants the same question as product design and interior design applicants?
LG: I'll get in trouble for this with my fellow architects, but the traditional architect's snobbery about interior design being beneath them is one of the leading causes of poor teamwork at our firm. Its all design, and showing contempt for these other disciplines shows you don't pay close enough attention to your own everyday experience."
DZ: If its not giving too much away, tell us your favorite question.
LG: I like the one that says, "On one page, use diagrams and a maximum of 144 characters to explain the last project (not just your part) to which you contributed at your previous firm. Then tweet your answer to us.
DZ: So has your test helped with hiring?
LG: It's helped us grow our pool of applicants; it's helped identify people we wish to immediately hire, and in more cases than I'd like to say, it's saved our firm perhaps $100s of 1000s of dollars hiring, teaching, then replacing people who lacked a basic understanding of plans, sections, and elevations.
DZ: Thank you, LG.
LG: My pleasure.