We have all been there, looking for a new job and being confused by the contradicting advice and tips about what you should be focusing on. How to write the perfect CV, the most impressive portfolio, and engage recruiters with your custom-crafted cover letter…
As someone that arrived in Sweden already in my thirties, I always have the extra layer of doubt, due to potential cultural differences.
With the massive growth of the technology industry, this scandinavian silicon valley needs to import talent from the places where the demand for it is still not as significant. This means foreign designers are coming to a labor market that can either be very similar or an entirely new experience, depending on where you come from.
Plenty of times, our first salaries in Sweden are below what newly graduated designers are expected to make. This is something that I only realized after moving jobs a few times and talking with colleagues.
But I only got the full picture after coming across the State of Design — The Swedish Edition survey, lovingly designed and repeated yearly by the team at Design Leadership Sweden. If you want to know about roles, salaries, and all the nitty-gritty about design as a job in Sweden, check the previous years’ survey results, and while you are there, answer this year’s survey!
Now on to the data that you came here for 🤓
The missing data
Let me fast forward a bit.
Due to an unfortunate sequence of events (including COVID-19), I found myself looking for a new job twice in the last 6 months. I read a lot of well-intentioned posts and articles about what recruiters and companies wanted.
While reading and talking with friends and peers, I could not help but notice that things that some thought as critical were much less important to others. Some swore by a rich online portfolio, and others admitted they only looked very briefly at portfolios. To each his own, but there had to be a middle ground of broadly agreed-upon processes and requirements.
It dawned on me that this should be treated as a design problem and I had to gather real data from which a series of hypotheses could be drawn. Thus came to be the first Design Hiring in Sweden survey.
The survey results
This survey was open to all people searching, screening, and hiring for design roles in Sweden. In total, 64 awesome human beings shared their insights during a period from May 5th and June 5th, 2020.
The sample size is not very large, but considering that hiring designers is a niche segment of recruitment and that more generalist surveys on recruitment seem to gather around 250 to 300 responses, I think that the resulting data can be considered representative.
To perform the survey, I used the Typeform, and to cross-tabulate the data collected, my choice was Google Sheets. The visualizations in this article were created with Datawrapper. To reach those who wanted to get notified of the survey results, MailChimp was the go-to mailing tool.
- When hunting for designers, the number one place “recruiters” look at is LinkedIn, followed closely by their professional network (people they know or have worked with). Applications via job pages and email are also looked at but less important for the respondents. Those in recruitment or management roles rely more heavily on all of the 4 sources mentioned.
- Spring 🌻 and Autumn 🍁 are the two main periods for recruiting designers.
- An updated portfolio is critical in getting past the screening step and being called for an interview. Referrals from former managers and colleagues, a good LinkedIn profile, and a CV in a printable/storable format are also vital things to have.
- The main thing “recruiters” want to see on a design portfolio is a well-reasoned explanation of methods and thinking behind the designs, followed by samples of the work itself. Key learnings and ways of working (agile, scrum, etc..) are also valuable. The design of the portfolio itself is secondary.
- The most recurrent steps on the hiring process mentioned are interviews with team members, culture fit interviews, and design exercises. Portfolio reviews and c-level/founder interviews are not uncommon either. Psychological and reasoning tests are not very popular.
- The hiring decision is mostly taken by a single person, usually it is the Head of Design or highest-ranking designer in the organization that makes the call.
- The majority of the respondents say money is not a topic until after they know they have the right person (contract/terms interview). Some ask for a ballpark figure from the candidate on the first interview.
Since the survey respondents had a variety of different roles, it felt relevant to cross-tabulate the data available to check for variations in answers according to their role in hiring organizations.
After breaking down the answers per role, I noticed that they could be grouped into 3 categories, both empirically but also by looking at how the data revealed clustered responses.
I decided to label these categories as roles with a design background (Chief Design Officer/Head of Design, UX Director, Design Manager, Design Lead, UX Designer and Service Designer), recruitment-related roles (Chief People Officer/Head of People, Recruiter and Talent Acquisition roles) and C-level and other management roles (CEO/CTO, Product/Project Manager, Startup founder).
While some roles like Chief Design Officer and Chief People Officer are also c-level, I decided to group them on the other categories as their different focus was made evident from the responses.
I should also warn that hypothesis formulated around the c-level and management group has a higher degree of uncertainty as there are only 5 respondents in the sample.
Where do you search for designers?
LinkedIn is the number one place where all respondents look for designers (90.6%), but their real-life professional network, made up of former colleagues, friends, or acquaintances, is a close runner (84.4%). Pooling from applications via the company jobs page (59.4%) or email (42.2%) is also not uncommon. Other social media platforms come up with numbers under 20%, and there are some references to headhunters and job boards under the “other” option.
When looking at data grouped by roles, we can find some outlier percentages. 100% of recruitment related respondents swear by LinkedIn and have a higher preference for their network. C-level and other managers state unanimously prefer the people they have a real-life connection with and have the highest reliance on their jobs page (80% vs. 60% for the other groups).
Recruitment roles look at Dribbble (35%) twice as much as roles with a design background (15%). Recruitment folk pay even more attention at Behance (40%), while “designers” care little about it (10%). C-level and manager roles don’t look at any of these design social networks.
Recruitment-related roles seem to diversify their sources of candidates, as even Medium sees 10% of responses against 3% from design roles.
It also seems that Design Lead roles are twice more likely to get applications via email than other respondents, probably because it is easier to find their contact information, as they need to shield themselves a bit less than people higher on the organization.
During which time do you normally recruit more?
No surprises here, Spring is the time of renewal even for design recruitment, with 41% of respondents saying that it is the most common period for recruitment, followed by Autumn with 32.8%. Winter is a bit chilly for getting hired with 18%, while Summer is ice cold with 8.2% of responses.
People that recruit also take vacations, and work-life balance is almost sacred in Sweden.
What design roles have you looked for?
User Experience Designer is by far the most hyped design role among the respondents (92.2%), as it is the most commonly know role name for designers at tech companies. The next often sough roles are Digital Product Designer and User Interface Designer (56.2% for both) and Visual Designer (48.4%). Service Designer ranked pretty high (29.7%), considering it’s a relatively recent role (at least it’s coinage).
Surprisingly there are more occurrences of Design System Expert than what I anticipated, with 12.5% of respondents stating they looked for this role.
Within the “other” option we have references to Character Artist, Art Director and Design Manager.
More traditional design roles are less present in the survey responses, but I’m not sure this data reflects Swedish reality as most respondents work on the tech industry. The fact that the survey was in English might not have helped, since traditional design positions and those recruiting them, tend to not be so reliant of foreign talent and work mostly in Swedish.
What are the essentials you require from a candidate?
If you are lucky enough to reach a human or convince the robot overlords to place you high enough on the candidate ranking list (in case you are wondering I’m referring to Application Tracking Systems), a portfolio is the one thing you absolutely will need to have to get called for an interview (81.2% of responses).
Referrals from people you have worked with in the past seem to also play a big part (59.4%), as well as having a good LinkedIn profile (53.1%), and a curriculum vitae that can be printed or archived (46.9%).
It’s interesting that while the total average of respondents that require a personalized cover letter is 34.4% when you break the data by the groups, the data changes slightly. Respondents with a design background are the ones that value the cover letter more with 41% of responses against 25% from recruitment roles and 20% from managers.
Other outliers found were the higher preference from “recruiters” for written articles online with 15% against only 3% from design roles and public talks and presentations that amount to 15% for designers versus 10% from “recruiters”. On both questions, “managers” did not select these options at all on their requirements.
What makes a good LinkedIn profile (or CV)?
According to the clear majority of respondents, the most essential thing to have is a detailed job experience section (87.5%), where you clearly define your roles, responsibilities, and achievements. Half of the respondents also think you should have work samples (51.6%) and written recommendations from people you worked with (46.9%).
LinkedIn skill certifications seem to be of little relevance, with only 4.7% of respondents that selected it as a good thing. Maybe because they are currently more focused on tools and coding skills, which are not as relevant for evaluating design knowledge.
Some respondents added their own options. Two of them mentioned it was essential to have accurate job titles, another referred certifications (though not relating what type), and someone mentioned having a link to a personal site or portfolio.
How important is an updated portfolio?
Most respondents attribute high importance to having an updated portfolio. There is an even split between respondents who think an updated portfolio is “important” and “extremely important” (39.1% for both).
When looking at grouped responses, c-level and management-related roles are outliers, with 40% focused around the “neutral” option (the average is 19%).
What is more important to see on a portfolio?
Having explanations of the methods and reasoning is the cleary the most critical thing to have on your portfolio, with 80.7% of respondent preferences. The second most chosen option was having samples of your best work (59.6%), followed closely by learnings you got from your projects (56.1%) and ways of working (5.3%) you are familiar with (i.e., agile, scrum or design sprints).
According to respondents, the portfolio design is not as relevant (26.3%), but the thing you should focus less on is having your work ordered chronologically (5.3%).
How important is a personalized cover letter?
While the importance of having a standard cover letter was on the top 5 essential requirements from a candidate, it’s not clear cut that you need to write something personalized for each company you are applying to with the majority of respondents stating they think it’s “neutral” (31,2%). Still, the responses clearly pend move heavily towards it being considered important than not.
When we break the data into groups, “recruiters” seem to pend towards it being less relevant (20% selected 1 in our 5 points scale and fewer fours and fives than others), and “managers” are divided at half between it being “neutral” (40%) and “extremely important” (40%).
How important are written articles/public presentations?
Overall, the weight of the responses seems to be towards writing and giving public presentations not being that relevant.
But when looking at grouped data, “recruiters” seem to cluster around “neutral” (75%). “Managers” seem to value these more than the other groups, with 60% choosing “neutral” and 20% picking 4 on the 5 point scale, which is significantly higher than the 8% average.
How important are references from former managers/colleagues for the screening process?
The majority of respondents seem to think that references are important or extremely important.
When we look at our groups, the majority of respondents with design roles say they are “extremely important” (38%), while for management roles, they are heavily concentrated, with 80% considering it “important”.
Do you screen out candidates you think are “overqualified” for the role?
The majority of respondents do not eliminate designers that seem too qualified for the position (59.3%).
When we break the responses into groups, it pops to the eye that C-level and other management roles are much more adamant about interviewing with candidates before eliminating them (80%).
What steps do you have in the last stretch of the hiring process?
Here there is less of a gap between different options. The most common response is the team members interview (71%), followed closely by culture fit interview (61.3%) and a design exercise (59.7%). You should also be ready to encounter portfolio reviews (45.2%) and a c-level or founder interview (35.5%).
Much less common are psychological tests (12.9%) and logical reasoning tests (4.8%), the second one probably is not the most critical IQ type for someone being a great designer.
One respondent also mentioned doing a “process/methods exercise” which I assume refers to a whiteboard exercise, more focused on exposing design thinking skills.
Who has the final say on the hiring decision?
Unfortunately, the response options were poorly formulated so I had to massage the data more than desirable. But in the end we arrive at the conclusion that in 67% of responses there is a single person that makes the final hiring decision.
When looking at the roles that respondents stated as the deciders, the most common role is the Chief Design Officer/Head of Design (31%), closely matched by the “highest ranking designer” (27%). This former option was clearly not the best as it leaves a lot of room for respondent interpretation, hopefully most understood it as the most senior designer and not necessarily having a leadership position. 😬
After cross-tabulating and grouping the answers inside the “others” option, the conclusion is that when there is one decider, it’s usually a role with a design background with 69% of responses, with C-level and managers accounting for another 23% and the remaining 8% falling on recruitment-related roles.
When do you talk about money?
The clear majority of respondents stated that you should only expect to talk about your salary at the end of the process (59.7%).
Only 24.2% of respondents stated that you can expect that conversation to happen in the first interview. But when looking at the responses on the “other” option, it seems like your chances of talking about money early increase if you are perceived as a stronger or more experienced candidate.
One respondent also notes that it’s common to ask for a “ballpark figure” from the candidate on the first contact, which is also my personal experience in most of the processes I have been in.
How important is a logical reasoning test for the hiring decision?
Maybe due to successful startups like Klarna, having a pattern recognition test as part of their recruitment process, and the appearance of some test vendors in Sweden, more companies are trying out these tests.
When asked about what are the essential requirements from a candidate, the logical test option was selected by 4.8% of respondents, almost all respondents (62 out of 64) shared their opinion about them with some distribution between considering it “not important” (29%) and “neutral” (35.5%) for the hiring decision.
When looking at grouped data, “recruiters” stand out as much more “neutral” (45%) while c-level and other management roles seem more inclined to consider them “extremely important” (40%).
How important are references from former managers/colleagues for the hiring decision?
Not surprisingly, providing people that can vouch for you as a professional, is overall considering important with 68,2% of responses distributed between it being “important” and “extremely important”.
When divided into groups, the majority of “designers” elect it as extremely important (36%), while management roles seem to have a much stronger representation in the “important” option (80%).
The majority of survey respondents belong to the roles with a design background group (61%), followed by recruitment roles (31%) and the rest on the C-level and other managers (8%).
Fortunately, when looking at the grouped data, this uneven distribution does not seem to have visibly skewed the results.
It could even be that this distribution reflects the reality of design hiring, but it’s as likely that this sample only reflects the people I could entice into responding to the survey (though I have invited many more recruiters than designers).
Hopefully, if this survey is repeated, it will be possible to try and correct the sample or confirm this distribution.
Relationship with the hiring organization
Most of the survey respondents say they are part of organization hiring designers (78.1%).
Unsurprisingly, 100% of the “managers” and 82% of “designers” belong to the hiring organization, while “recruiters” that belong to an external agency are much more common at 30%.
Hiring organization size
The largest cluster of respondents works in an organization with 50 to 599 people (46.9%). Only 9.4% of respondents work on companies larger than 5,000 workers.
The majority of respondents have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree (50%) or completed higher vocation training (10.9%), with only 6.2% ending their education on the high school level.
After grouping, we can see that roles with a design background are 3 times more likely to have vocational training (15%) than recruiters (5%), and c-level and other manager roles have a higher clustering on high school education (20%) and “Masterexamen” (40%).
Most of the respondents declared to earn between 45,000kr and 59,000kr per month (52.6%), with 28.1% stating they make more than 60,000kr and 17.5% reporting a number between 30,000kr and 44,000.
I could not observe any strong outliers when looking at data grouped by roles.
Where are you working from?
This might sound like an odd question, but according to my experience, there are more than a few recruitment agencies based outside of Sweden that recruit for the Scandinavian market.
Sadly, I only managed to convince one of them (actually a lovely human being) to take the survey, which translated into 1.6% of respondents working in the United Kingdom.
The majority of respondents seem to be in their thirties (47.6%) but are followed closely by those in their forties (30.2%). Only 4.8% of respondents stated to be enjoying their fifties.
When looking at grouped respondents, “recruiters” are more likely to be in their twenties (25%) and “designers” seem to be a bit more senior than other groups, with 36% of them between 40 and 49 and being the only group with folk over 50 (8% of the group total).
Sadly, the survey’s gender distribution is not very equal, with 70.3% of respondents identifying themselves as male and only 28.1% as female.
After grouping, 100% of c-level and other manager roles were males, which even with the small sample might not be that inaccurate (only 2% of women in CEO positions according to ISS Analytics). Recruitment-related roles fare a bit better, with 40% of female respondents.
It was a bit more surprising to have such a strong unbalance on design-related roles, with 72% of the male respondents and only 26% females. While gender distribution on the much larger State of Design — The Swedish Edition survey is much more balanced, with only 51% of male respondents, there is no breakdown of leadership roles per gender.
When falling back on empirical observation, I find very few examples of women in design leadership positions, so these numbers could actually be representative of reality. If a 2021 survey of Design Hiring in Sweden happens, we’ll have to see if these numbers remain the same.
First of all, I want to thank all of the awesome human beings that shared their insights on this survey, this data would not exist with your willingness to answer the call of this very unknown designer.
I would also like to thank Christopher McCann and Jens Wedin from Design Leadership Sweden, for both inspiring me to create this survey and for helping to promote it on their networks. Props to Mikael Westh and Hani Abou for being my ambassadors for design and recruitment.
If you also helped share this survey, you have my thanks and apologies for not having spotted your share! 🙌
I really hope this survey helps both those looking to be hired by designers and the ones hiring them, that now have a more data-based view of the processes and criteria used to find the best design talent out there!
If you want access to the data, I can give you read access to the Google Spreadsheet containing the raw data and cross-tabulations, reach me at email@example.com.
Want to help next year’s edition come true?
Remember to comment, like, and share this report. You can also sign up for the Design Hiring in Sweden newsletter to get updates regarding this or the next survey or reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am also open to sponsors or partnerships, both to help pay for Typeform, but also to create and host a future Design Hiring in Sweden website and help promote future editions of the survey. 🤞