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Recruiting Creative Talent

Podcast with Angela Yeh, founder of Yeh IDeology

Angela Yeh, Founder, Yeh IDeologyAngela Yeh

Inside Recruting at IDeology: Creative Talent Drives Business Success

"At IDeology we bring together business cultures and exceptional creatives to optimize value, promote inspiration, and ensure the growth and success of companies and careers. Our mission is to effect change and touch the world by inspiring companies to value design and to know how to invest in it. Every thriving business consists of three interdependent elements: a) a brilliant idea; b) a smart strategy; and c) creative people. While good design and strategy encourage innovation and brand differentiation, creative talent drives business success in the marketplace." - Angela Yeh

Welcome to a special Talent Acquisition Channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio. This is Peter Clayton reporting from New York City. Joining us today is the founder of Yeh IDeology, Angela Yeh.

Complete Transcript, Angela Yeh

Welcome to a special Inside Recruiting Channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio. This is Peter Clayton reporting from New York City. Joining us today is the founder of Yeh IDeology, Angela Yeh.

On the company website, Angela describes herself as follows: “a genuine interest in people has always been central to Angela’s professional life. Her conversations with clients radiate warmth, insight, and a profound desire to understand and testify to her considerable people skills.” Prior to creating Yeh IDeology, Angela worked for 10 years in design recruiting. Before recruiting, she honed her keen eye for good design at Pratt Institute’s Masters Program in industrial design. In addition to her role at Yeh IDeology, Angela teaches portfolio strategies at Parsons New School for Design.

Peter: Angela, welcome to TotalPicture Radio.

Angela: Hi, thank you for having me, Peter.

Peter: Let’s start by telling us a little bit about what you’re doing at Parsons, because as you know, people are graduating from college today and it’s not like it was five years ago where they had job offers left and right; they really have to work hard to get notice and to get into good companies.

Angela: It’s true. It’s a very different economy now and it’s a very different world now. Not only I think is the job market challenging, but the business world is changing. In every category we’re talking about… What we teach at Parsons, the students that we teach are coming from not just creative backgrounds, not just design backgrounds, but they’re coming from finance, they’re coming from account management, they’re coming from all different spaces with some level of creative interest in it. They’re all going to different worlds and different industries and for them, what we’re teaching them is not how to just interview and what jobs you want to go for; it’s really understanding themselves first, because really if you’re going to think about what careers are best for you, you really have to understand it yourself more than anything. So it’s helping them understand what they’ve learned, what their own abilities are, their strengths are and how to package it, how to brand themselves basically, and then how to market themselves, and how to track a strategy for their future career path.

I have to say it’s a great opportunity for me to teach at Parsons. I’m an adjunct professor there, actually part of a larger lecture. So there’s a lecture and then we sit down with a small group of the students. We sit down and analyze and help them create a strategy plan for their future. It’s about creating tools for them, not just saying this is the industry you should go for, these are the companies you should shoot for. It’s giving them the basic tools so that they can always take that with them and continually refine and re-evaluate their future.

Peter: I think that’s fantastic, and I think it’s fantastic that Parsons is doing that because as you know, so many young people are getting out of school today without a clue. They have no idea what they need to do, what skills they need to have, how to develop a resume. As you know, most initial interviews are phone interviews today, and you need a whole skill set just to understand what that is all about and how approach it.

Angela: Also when you look at students, there is a little bit of that youth. Four years of being in programs where every class, the professor tells them what to do. They have that luxury of someone saying, ‘okay now do this.’ So we’re teaching them to be self motivated, to plan their own track for the future and setting their own goals. So it’s interesting.

Peter: Let’s talk about Yeh IDeology. Tells us a little bit about the background of your firm, how it got started and what you specialize in.

Angela: Yeh IDeology – in fact where about to hit our 5-year mark; this February, we’ll be celebrating the 5-year anniversary. Before that, I’ve worked in different recruiting firms in the creative industries – always in and around design. A lot of the firms that I’ve been in, I would start my practice. My niche originally started with industrial design because I knew that category. But when you recruit, you really can understand any field but my passion is in the creative world. There’s something about understanding what drives this community, the type of talent. The challenges about recruiting for design is that most industries you could say we want someone who has five years doing X, but in creative you can’t just have someone who’s designed a style or a tabletop design and just say we just want another tabletop designer.

Sometimes to find the most creative people, you want someone who’s done sneakers, or you want someone who has done furniture and their segwaying because they’ll stay creative.

Before I got into recruiting, I was in design. As a creative, I myself had so many struggles in trying to find out what was right for myself. Going through that experience myself, I realized the need for recruiting. Companies that I went to at that time didn’t really understand how to look at what my strengths were and what my weaknesses were and really help to guide me to where I am today.

It’s trial and error. If we can help the community understand that better, then every industry can succeed better as a whole, I think, in the larger picture.

Peter: I think you’re in a really interesting and relevant niche in the design world because let’s face it, most corporate recruiters and even third party recruiters don’t understand how to look at a portfolio, don’t have that eye or that background to look at someone’s creative work and say, yeah, not only do they do really great work but they fit within the culture and the experience of whatever company you’re talking about going into, right?

Angela: There’s so many factors involved in this I have to say. First, the company will say we need someone who can do… let’s say someone is coming to us to say we’re looking for a senior designer, and we make medical devices. You don’t just look at the product and what the product is, you have to understand the type of aesthetic sensibility they need from the creative. You have to understand the technicals. There are so many facets to it. Then on top of that, what we look at is so much what we think is so important is culture match.

When a company comes to us first they say, we have an immediate need. Let’s say it’s not just a puzzle… if you look at a puzzle and there’s a piece missing, it’s not just one piece and what’s the shape of that piece and what fits in it. We look at it more in the sense that who are the people that this position is going to fill. Let’s say they’re looking for a senior designer; we’re thinking who are the team players involved, what’s the hiring manager’s style, who do they interact with – do they interact with marketing or engineering, what’s the dilemma on that company, how well do those divisions work well together? In some companies, design doesn’t work well with engineering or marketing or product development. Maybe they need someone who’s really good with that, or in some companies maybe it’s very team oriented, so you need designers who were very good at working together in the team.

It’s really interesting. There’s so much, I think, about culture matching people for companies, because to me in some respects, kind of like matchmaking but on a family level. You’re bringing someone to an entire organization, a team, and they have to get along well. Having actually run my own company for five years, I’m learning it firsthand. It really is so important… when you have a team of people, it’s so important how well this group of people work together in every respect, it effects their productivity, their satisfaction which effects the productivity.

Peter: I have a question; given the success of Apple and their reputation for phenomenal design, has that helped elevate this craft, a designer’s profession, in the eyes of other companies because they now see Apple is the most successful and the highest net worth technology company in the world and maybe there’s something to this design stuff.

Angela: Yeah, it’s great. It’s actually wonderful. They’re not the only company... You think about every product category out there in your home, in you life or around your world, cars that are really well built, dishwashers, whirlpool, things like that, or sneakers like Nike… these are companies that invest… or Tupperware, even basics simple products like that. When something is really well made, chances are that corporation has invested in a team of designers.

You know it’s interesting. I’ve been in design for more than overall as a creative and as a recruiter about 20 years now. We’ve seen design change in the sense that years and years ago – and if you look at the history of design – design used to be, when it comes from the corporate point of view, a business manufacturing point of view, design was the end of the business process. It was like after we came up with the product then we’ll bring in the designers and make it look beautiful.

Design itself has evolved – the industry, its practice, its thoroughness, and its own methodology of analyzing how to produce the product. It’s so thorough in the sense that businesses are realizing it can help them even at the upstream stage or even developing a business. Now there are creatives in our world that are doing business strategy, because they’ve honed a certain analytical methodology that can be applied not just to product but to services. There are companies like McDonalds that are working with creative strategists to analyze their interaction with their customer base.

Design has completely expanded. To me, design has become so multifaceted that there are so many different specialties and specific to their own, and have their own needs as broad as medicine is today. You’ve got chiropractors, you’ve got surgeons, you’ve got orthopedics, none of them can really switch around that much. Someone goes into that field and they really hone their craft in that field. Design is a little interesting in the sense that you do need “creative” creatives. Once they master something – and I think this is true actually for so many different careers even, not just creative – I look at an individual and we do career consultation as well. Over the years of studying people, you realize that when someone has reached a point in their career where they’ve mastered everything in it, they lose their interest. It is about continually learning that keeps you focused on developing that track. If someone’s done with it, they need to try something different.

For creatives to stay at the edge of their game, at the top edge, they have to keep trying something new. So if you have a designer that just says, “I’ve been doing sneakers for 25 years…” there are some that are very good and know how to find new learning and keep maintaining their skill, but there are some people that just say, “I’ve learned everything I need to learn, I need to try something else. I’m going to go into sports gear” or “I’m going to switch over to medical devices.” Or “I’m going to do exhibits spaces where I’m going to get into tabletop or furniture, whatever it may be.” In some respects sometimes people think about switching to management. There are different ways to look at it.

Peter: Can you go from designing sneakers for 25 years into a completely different category like medical devices and walk in the door and say I’ve been doing sneakers for 20 years and I’m sick of this stuff. I want to design one of your defibrillators or something. Are they going to pay any attention to you?

Angela: Not so easy to do just to do a full one switch. If you’ve built your expertise in one pinnacle, let’s say in one mountain of one specialty, you can’t just jump to another space. You do have to come down a little bit. Usually what we recommend for people is that they should start doing some projects and try their hand at it. You have to exercise that muscle. It’s like everybody… If you look at let’s say artists, different artist have different styles. You can see their painting style or the medium they use. The same thing for designers, there’s so much subtlety to the difference and they have to exercise their ability in that new medium.

Peter: Your core business is in recruiting. Talk to me about your business here in 2011 as opposed to this time last year. Do you have more reqs in house than you had a year ago? Are you seeing more activity?

Angela: It’s definitely changed. Last year was definitely slower or let’s say not as much activity. People were eager to grow their teams again. As a result of 2008-2009, the economy, the dip, a lot of companies definitely held back. But then, I’d say around ‘10, all of a sudden there was a resurgence and companies were getting ready. They had obviously looked at their budgets and realized it’s time, we can do this, let’s go back into investing in design.

For a lot of companies depending on the product category, the industry, the manufacturing that they’re going into, it’s a long timeline. So they have to invest in the future.

The great thing for us is we’re watching. Even in this challenging economic state and employment being so low, it’s so wonderful to see that over all the years, business basically design is learning how to, in business terms, define what they’re good at. All these years, you’re starting to see it. Apple is an exact example. There are so many examples like that where companies in every sector, we’re seeing companies invest in design. They’re realizing in this challenging economy, it is about distinguishing your product, it is about customer service, it is about quality in every respect.

Design is being brought in in so many companies now, it’s really fascinating. It’s fascinating even where companies invest in design. Some companies invest in design whether they think it’s the marketing, whether it’s the graphics and the packaging. In some companies it’s the product design itself. In some companies it’s even in the user interface where they’re looking at the product and how the customer is relating to the product. And in some companies they’re using to design to help internally analyze the flow of business internally with shipping, to product development, to the customer, to the retail store and how does that work in that service design.

Peter: How do you source your candidates?

Angela: How do we source our candidates? We’re very involved in our creative industries. We’re fascinated by it. We love the people in it. I go to a lot of conferences a lot, attend a lot of industry events and I speak at some conferences as well. We’re pretty connected to our community.

Peter: If I were a design professional, would it be worth my time to try to reach out and connect with you and show you my portfolio and let you know about me and what I do?

Angela: One thing that we believe in is whenever we need somebody, we do think of it all as a long term investment. We obviously have urgent priorities where we’re working on certain searches for clients but we never turn down meeting somebody… well not meeting somebody, but at least interacting and getting to know them. We always recommend people to come up to us and register with us and tell us about what they’re looking for. It may it be for now or it may be for later but we believe in following people. So we don’t just look at talent for the reqs that we have at the moment; we’re always looking to grow our database and getting to know people out there. Because it is very serendipitous in some sense. It’s very organic. When a company says they’re looking for someone, chances are the best talent that they’re looking for, half of them are not looking and you have to build that relationship and know that they exist.

Peter: A lot of your job is a sales job because you’re going after people who have jobs. Let’s face it, the other thing about this economy is it’s very hard to get people to move in this economy, especially if they have to re-low and they own a house and they may be under water on that house. That’s a lot of what’s going on and a lot of the challenges that you face today.

Angela: It’s interesting because we’re based in New York City and the companies that invest in design, it’s so far and few between. If you were saying just graphic design, New York City would have hundreds and thousands of jobs in graphic design. But when it comes to general design like industrial design, designing research and strategy interaction, these opportunities are all throughout the United States and farther and fewer between. So companies that look for the best talent, chances are most of our placements, people have to move and they have to relocate. So people who are committed to these careers, they know that that’s a big piece of their future that they have to look for that.

So what we do is also we don’t believe in just pulling people if we think they’re right for something. It’s really about the timing. So that’s why it’s so important for us to get to know people and they talk to us about what the right next step would be for them. Then we keep an eye out for that right moment, that right change.

Peter: I want to return to talking about portfolio strategies for a minute because it seems to me that any designer today has to have a pretty remarkable website showing their portfolio, showing their styles, to even be considered by an individual such as yourself, is that correct?

Angela: Yeah. Website or at least being able to put together a portfolio that’s comprehensive. It’s interesting, we work with people who are extremely senior. From executives, to mid level management, to entry level, and we always still come across the same challenge. People tend to show us finished product. What designers don’t remember is that when we look at a portfolio, we’re looking at their style, their methodology, the work and you can see that in the rough stages of the product before it’s finalized.

Oftentimes, the clients that were working with, whether it’s a corporation or a design consultancy, they want to see the same thing. They don’t want to see the finished chair, they want to see all the seven iterations before that. They want to see the development process. They want to see what that creative can really do and how far they’re thinking was before they came to that finished product. So that’s the challenge in portfolios these days is always trying to remind creatives that it’s not just the glossy finish, we need to see the whole story behind it. That’s, in fact, I think what our clients fall in love with a little bit too. You can see someone’s style by looking at the progress and you can kind of see their thinking, and that’s what we’re trained in looking at and analyzing.

Also I think the biggest shift right now too is it used to be in certain sectors designers had to learn how to represent themselves better. I’d say 20 years ago, designers thought I’m going into design, I don’t have to build my business skills, I don’t have to know how to talk to marketing, I don’t have to talk to another division. But now, and in every sector actually, the most successful people will move up… in some respects obviously you have to be good at your craft, but you have to know how to interact. You have to know to communicate and not communicate just with your peers, like designers, but to communicate with people in other divisions. Because companies that do well, you’ve got people that know how to interact with these different divisions. They all come together.

The best scenario for a company is you have different departments that come to the table with their own challenges but respectful of the other divisions needs and knowing how to collaborate to develop that win–win solution.

Peter: Are you finding that most of the opportunities today are with agencies, with corporations? Are there any industries or sectors that are particularly active right now?

Angela: It’s interesting, there are a lot of trends that are going on. Right now, as the industry develops and grows, the newest thing is design research and strategy has become big. They used to be just abilities that a designer could do but they have become specialties in and of themselves. Interaction has become huge and has become its own practice. Designers will have those abilities but there are some companies where they invest in the design department so much that they do have those divisions and people who’s specialized in just design and research or in just in design and strategy, and/or just in interaction which is huge actually now.

In interaction, there is the computer side or the digital side where you’re really doing the graphic user interface and then from our respect, we deal with companies that need to know someone who let’s say, this recording device, you have to make sure all the buttons work well. Especially in the medical world, how is the nurse going to hold it, how is the practitioner going to hold it, how is the surgeon going to hold it? If it’s a device that maybe the patient uses, how does the patient hold it? How does the shipping department package this product? Things like that. There’s a lot of aspects to that.

Some other categories that are big, obviously medical device. It’s great to see design being valued in sectors like that, because I think that kind of industry really needs it. It can change the way that industry is going to function. There are so many worlds I think where design can really help.

Peter: Talk about interface design – tablets and mobile. That’s what everybody is talking about today, and everyone realizes that they have to have a strategy. They have to have an application. They have to be in those spaces, whether it’s an Android, Iphone, an IPad , a play book, or a Samsung Galaxy, whatever, they need to be in those spaces.

Angela: The consumer electronics industry, particularly mobile devices and telecommunication, huge investment in UI.

Peter: At CES this year, the whole thing was about mobile and tablets. That was all anybody was talking about.

Angela: Right. But if you think about it from a creative point of view, a UI designer, there are quite a few that want to work in that space, but there are some really brilliant talent people that go, well I don’t just want work in that space, I want to now deal with how is the automobile industry, the console, how does that work, how is that user interface in that digital space?

Now we’ve got refrigerators where we’ve got… soon it will be even toasters that will have that kind of user interface. Or children’s products, right? All of these things – think about way beyond just the tablets; so many different industries are going to integrate technology and you will be needed in all of those spaces.

Peter: It was really great meeting you a few weeks ago at Bill Taylor’s book signing. That was a lot of fun. That was a great event.

Angela: That was a great event. I met a lot of really good people too. I stood up on the box and put out my manifesto for the future. That was funny. That was great.

Peter: Thank you.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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