Design Thinking & Your Hiring Process: Q&A with Suzanne Hamill

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Suzanne Hamill, vice president of design thinking at Fidelity Investments, discusses how design thinking can help you improve the candidate and employee experience.

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Suzanne Hamill is vice president of design thinking at Fidelity Investments. We hopped on a call to talk about how her team uses design thinking and experimentation to create a workplace culture – and hiring process – that is both enjoyable and productive.

“Design thinking roots your team emotionally and drives them to really want to make a great experience for people.”

What is design thinking, and why does it matter in business?

Design thinking is about human-centered innovation – how do you keep the person you’re serving at the center of everything you do? It’s a process for solving complex problems and creating the outcomes you want.

There are two main types of problems: ambiguous problems and complex problems.

A complex problem is something like, how can you win a video game, or a chess match? It may be hard but there are rules and you can win the game if you work hard and stick to it.

Design thinking is for ambiguous problems. These are problems where you’re not really sure what the problem is, and you’re not really sure what the solution is. You have to dig, both to find the problem and to find the solution.

Does design thinking influence your workplace culture?

Yes – design thinking is defined by certain mindsets – like radical collaboration and rapid experimentation. We encourage our teams to embrace these mindsets. We are trying to build a culture where joy and learning are at our core.

The Protestant Ethic – work hard, don’t share your emotions – is a framework that persists in many work cultures. Our team is really trying to change that framework. We feel it’s important to be emotionally fluent as a team. So we’re intentional in creating joy in the workplace, but also creating a space for sadness and fear. If people have that fluency, they are able to talk about the experiences that our customers have. It gives fuel to our teams to come up with better ideas and experiences.

“We’re intentional in creating joy in the workplace, but also creating a space for sadness and fear.”

Has design shaped your hiring process?

Well, we are constantly iterating on our hiring process. We strive to put our candidates in an environment where they can be authentic and show us their best. We give people a challenge to see how versed they are in design thinking, as well as an exercise to see how well they are at leading a group. Then we take them out for dinner and talk to them. We want to know about who they are. Will we enjoy working together? That counts for a lot.

Is there room to apply design thinking and experimentation into the process of recruiting new employees?

We try to apply it to the whole process. We’re continually observing and talking to candidates as they go through the interview process. We’re constantly discovering improvements that can be made. For example – and this may seem like a small thing, but it’s made a difference for the people we interview – many of our candidates aren’t familiar with Boston. They are really drawn to working in urban environments. In our job description we highlight our location as being in the center of city near the Aquarium, the harbor and the new innovation district. People point to how knowing the location helped them to envision working with us.

What’s an unexpected benefits of using design thinking in how you work?

Design thinking roots your team emotionally and drives them to really want to make a great experience for people. When people really go out and talk to the people about the experiences and problems they’re facing, they tend to come back and really want to make these experiences even better.

“Talk to one individual person who you hired. Find out what their experience was like …”

What are one or two first steps employers can use to apply design thinking to their recruiting process?

Talk to one individual person who you hired. Find out what their experience was like, and what their needs were when they were assessing you as a potential employer. Ask them to create a journey map of the high points and low points of the whole process.

If you can, interview the people who rejected you. Why did they reject you? What was their experience like?

There are a lot of methods for gathering feedback that will reveal trends, but by doing these open-ended interviews with potential employees, you’ll be able to get at real needs, personal experiences and individualized anomalies that you wouldn’t get through a survey or a focus group.



Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand experience at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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