Design Thinking (DT): Applying Design Thinking to HR

Kristina Martic | 1/19/2018 | HR Trends

Design Thinking is a relatively new term used to describe a creative way for problem solving. Since the world of Talent Acquisition is changing rapidly, applying Design Thinking to HR is becoming very popular. Below, I will discuss ways in which Design Thinking can be used to improve and optimize your recruiting and hiring strategy.

Design Thinking (DT): Applying Design Thinking to HR

What is Design Thinking

Design thinking is best known as a creative approach to problem solving that leads to innovative solutions that work better for people.  

Throughout years, Design Thinking was mainly used in product design industry. However today, it is used in many other industries, including HR and recruiting. As recruiting trends are changing rapidly, more and more companies have started applying Design Thinking approach to HR.

Moreover, I believe that every company that does take a Design Thinking approach to improve their Talent Acquisition strategies will have a huge competitive advantage over companies that don’t.

Design Thinking in HR

Design Thinking can be applied to every aspect of HR, but today I want to focus on recruiting.

The best way to describe DT is as a human-centric approach for creating advanced and more suitable solutions.

In case of recruiting, humans we need to focus on are job candidates. Many recruiters still don’t know how a candidate journey looks like. Yet, this is a crucial step for improving recruiting strategy and attracting job seekers.

Until we put ourselves into candidates' shoes - understand the way they search for jobs, compare companies, evaluate positions, choose employers and apply for jobs - we won’t be able to attract them and have them choose us as their next employer of choice.

So let’s start focusing a little bit more on the candidates by using a Design Thinking approach!

Applying Design Thinking to HR

There are a few basic Design Thinking principles that can be applied to the HR and recruiting industry.

5 principles of Design Thinking include:

1. Human-centered design

human-centered design in design thinking

As already mentioned, in order to improve your recruiting efforts, attract better candidates, get more qualified applicants and improve candidate experience we need to focus on the job seekers.

Many HR Professionals have agreed that today’s labor market is completely candidate driven. Meaning, it is all about the candidates, their needs, wants and expectations. It is not only about the companies and their hiring needs any more.

Accordingly, the way we recruit has changed. Employers that understand what the candidates are looking for, have the most powerful weapon for winning the “War for Talent!”

2. Collaborative Design

collaboration in design thinking

In HR, collaboration from both your employees and candidates is extremely important.

If you want to improve your recruiting and hiring strategy, you can’t do it without your employees. The ways your current employees can bring your recruiting strategy to the next level are numerous, but let me just give a few examples.

Your current employees are your biggest brand ambassadors. Candidates and job seekers trust their words the most. If you put your CEO’s testimonial on your career site about how great it is to work for your company, no one will care about that!

In contrary, you could make a video with your employees’ testimonials about their career growth at your company. Place it next to your new job opening and, I can assure you, you will get more applicant from your career site.

In addition, you need your employees to define your candidate persona and your Employee Value Proposition. Only with the help of your current employees you can find out what are the characteristics of your perfect employee. You can figure out what is it that attracted them and kept them in your company.

All this information is extremely valuable when you are trying to find the perfect-match job candidates.

Next, you should always include your employees in the recruiting process itself.

How? Referrals, of course!

It has been proven many times that referred candidates are the best source of new hires. If you already haven’t, you should implement an employee referral program ASAP!

time to hire for referred employees

Then there are candidates…

Do you measure candidate experience?

Most of employers still don’t, but I am convinced that this HR metric will soon become one of the most important hiring metrics to measure the success of every hiring campaign.

Engage your past candidates by asking a simple question such as how satisfied were they with your selection and hiring process.

Measuring is the first step towards improving!

Last but not least...there are other departments at your company that could contribute to the optimization of your recruiting process.

For example, structuring and implementing the whole Recruitment Marketing and Employer Branding strategies, so that they target your candidate personas, is hard without your marketing team. Ask your marketing experts to help you attract best talent out there!

Design Thinking for Employer Branding

3. Creative Problem Solving

creative problem solving

Being creative is not an option any more. It’s a must! This is why many new disciplines have recently been introduced to the HR industry. There is Recruitment Marketing, Inbound Recruiting, Social Media Recruiting, Candidate Relationship Management, Data-driven Recruiting and many others.

Why all these new methods?

Because Talent Acquisition is completely different than it used to be 5 years ago, because candidates’ behaviors have changed dramatically, because new technology has been introduced, and because employers know that the shortage of talent will keep getting worse.

Creativity in the process of delivering best candidate experience, designing and implementing the best Employer Branding strategy, attracting talent and implementing the latest HR technology is a must!

Again, brainstorming can’t be done just by you.

Engage your marketing teams when it comes to Employer Branding and attracting talent. Brainstorm together, and you will, I promise you, come up with some great ideas about how to get in front of the eyes of the right people at the right time.

4. Prototyping

design thinking and prototyping

This is another great DT principle that every recruiter should follow when trying to optimize his or her Talent Acquisition strategy. If you got stuck with the same recruiting strategy for years, you are already behind.

Experimenting with inbound recruiting content is the best example of how this DT principle should be used in recruiting. Creating a career site, and just leaving it there praying to get quality applicants, doesn’t work!

Try using different career site content, videos, employee testimonials, employee career stories, team blogs about projects you are working on…

Try with shorter and longer application forms, try social recruiting on various channels such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn…

Try making your selection process shorter in order to improve your acceptance rate and candidate experience.

Try mixing up different interview questions to ensure that you are assessing candidates knowledge, experience and characteristics in the best possible way.

Try various types of HR software to see which one is most likely to help you overcome your recruiting challenges and achieve your recruiting goals.

5. Testing

design thinking and testing

Brainstorming, ideating, creating various solutions and prototyping make no sense if they are not tested. The goal of every DT process is to come up with a solution that best suits your needs.

Identifying the best solution is not possible without testing. New HR technology has enabled us to measure every single step of of Talent Acquisition strategy.

For example, if you are implementing an employee referral program, you should test various variables to identify if this is a suitable solution for your recruiting challenges.

You can measure time, cost and quality of referred employees. You can measure their retention rate, and get a clear picture of how valuable referral programs are for your recruiting and HR strategy.

Example: Design Thinking approach used in HR

Here is an example of how Design Thinking approach can be used to come up with ideas to attract more qualified job candidates.

design thinking in human resources (HR)


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