Finding the right fit

Up & comers: the next generation of talent

Design firms are evaluating the next generation of talent, examining potential candidates for promising creativeness, highly valued technical abilities and great communication skills. Efforts to acquire talent are being undermined by several factors, but there are solutions for both students entering the workforce and their prospective employers.

“In my opinion, talent is God-given—you either have it or don’t,” said Kay Lang, president and CEO at Kay Lang + Associates, a hospitality design firm based out of Los Angeles. “But we really want team players with a good attitude and drive to excel.”

For designers, acquiring talent has become increasingly difficult over the years. One reason: design school curriculums and the restrictions they put on professors. “It has become more difficult to acquire talent because the professional design schools try to teach a lot in a short time frame,” Lang said. “There is not enough time to provide a well-rounded education in all the aspects of interior design. There are many talented young people, but typically they lack basics in technical training, programming requirements and spatial knowledge, which is crucial to the business of hospitality design.”

That being said, there are ways to mitigate these shortcomings. For example, mentorships, personal connections and internships can provide students with a more comprehensive platform, making them more desirable than other candidates. “Internships provide a great opportunity for emerging talent to get hands-on experience and network with experienced professionals in a capacity otherwise out of reach,” said Alessandro Munge, principal at Studio Munge, a Toronto, Ontario based interior design firm. “We’ve welcomed interns into varying departments over the past few years and often offer full employment after graduation. Staying in touch with the most relevant software is a way to improve employment chances. We always encourage students to keep building their portfolios. Being done with school doesn’t mean the end of that development. Creativity has no scholastic  boundaries.”

Becoming involved in various professional organizations, such as the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), is another way for students to make themselves more marketable to design firms. “This early exposure will help them understand how firms work and introduce them to many different types of design before they complete school,” said Lisa Haude, president of Paradigm Design Group, an interior design firm based in Houston. “It also helps them see what they like and don’t like about certain environments so that once they graduate, they have a better idea of where they see themselves.”

Students should also be proactive by leveraging every available opportunity. “Go to professors, ask questions, read articles and be aware of the basic challenges specific to the hospitality design industry,” Lang said. It also helps to become surrounded by other designers who have higher skills. Many design firms also work with a range of design software— AutoCAD, Revit, SketchUp and InDesign—so these companies also place a great value on technical skills, which, oftentimes, arrows the pool of potential candidates since these skills are the most difficult to develop.

“The ideal candidate possesses a curious mind, boundless creativity and an inspired global perspective..."

Alessandro Munge

Not all qualities can be taught—especially in the classroom. “The ideal candidate possesses a curious mind, boundless creativity and an inspired global perspective—and thrives in a collaborative environment,” Munge said. “A true understanding of international luxury hospitality and residential design is also beneficial, as our designers are involved in iconic developments all around the world.”

Even when ideal talent is out there, it’s the search itself causing firms headaches—mainly due to strict requirements. Designers are evolving and switching up their recruiting approaches to acquire the team they need to produce the utmost quality for clients. These efforts include leveraging online recruiting platforms (e.g., LinkedIn). “Digital platforms allow us to view quality cations and portfolios seamlessly, allowing for a more direct process,” Munge said. “Having said this, there is incredible talent out there and the process becomes less about the difficulty and more about precision.” Meeting potential candidates in person is also an essential part of the process, which is why building relationships with local schools is necessary.

“We try not to ‘hurry up and fill’ positions as we strongly believe in creating a close-knit and cohesive design team, and it is important that we hire people who are a good fit for the team,” Haude said.

And in order to develop that newly hired talent, a little mentoring can go a long way. “For any new member of our studio, we assess their strengths and assign them projects based on their experience while ensuring proper mentoring to maximize their potential and growth,” Munge said.

“We promote a social team environment where everybody has a chance to shine or learn,” Lang said. “We give our staff space to fulfill their passions and the freedom to utilize their talents and engage their curiosity by providing interesting challenges and empowering them to create beautiful spaces.”

When it comes to staff retention, some firms try to retain talent by offering wellness perks—such as fitness facilities and healthy snack programs. Others focus more on work environment concepts, including open-door policies, to promote unity.

“We believe in treating each person with respect and like family. As a result, we tend to not yield high turnover as most staff members stay for a long time,” Haude said.


Written by CJ Arlotta for Hotel Business Design