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Build an Effective Photo Studio Team With Smart Hiring

Most ideas presented here at Creative Operations are easily implementable, but the tasks are much, much easier when your team is on board with them. Remember that when you're hiring them.

Chief evangelist at Creative Force
Chief evangelist at Creative Force

For this installment, we’re going to explore a few ways to align your hiring process with some of the principles that will make your studio processes successful: transparency, communication, and continuous improvement. 

The Job Description

In order to hire effectively, you need to have a clear idea of who and what you’re hiring for. It’s the same idea as setting performance goals for any other process. If you want to reach a specific outcome, you need to be able to articulate what that outcome is. That job description will become the basis for your job listings when it comes time to post.

When thinking about it this way, the job description has three functions:

  • Provides potential candidates with a clear view of what the job is.
  • Serves as a guideline for your hiring team, to ensure they are finding the right candidates.
  • Becomes the benchmark for providing feedback to your team.

It is vitally important that your job description is accurate. There is often a tendency to amplify parts of the role that account for only a small portion of the responsibilities. My opinion is that you need to resist this urge and keep the JD honest. It will work against your ultimate goal of building a talented and engaged team if a feeling of disillusionment starts to develop when your new hire realizes the Job Description wasn’t totally honest. For this same reason, I think it’s also wise to avoid making promises in a JD or job listing unless you have a meaningful plan to make good on them from day one.


Recruiting Candidates

In my personal experience in hiring for a creative production studio, you’re going to get a lot of applications so it helps to focus your candidate pool right up front with some basic criteria. For creative roles, I looked first for people with previous e-commerce experience, followed by a portfolio with a relevant body of work.

The order of these things is important here because first and foremost I need someone who can work well in our studio environment. In all likelihood, you’ll need to train this new hire in new techniques, standards, and maybe even software. While still an important part of the complete picture, the candidate's portfolio becomes less important than some other things we find desirable in a candidate.

No matter how talented your new creative hire is, they need to be able to function well in a high-volume team setting.

The Interview

This is your opportunity to develop a meaningful profile of your candidates. After a while, resumes and portfolios begin to bleed together and look the same, the interview(s) is your opportunity to find data points that begin to make candidates stand out. This is why it is so crucial to plan meaningful, open-ended questions for your interview. You need to get your candidate talking about specific situations and how they handled them. From their answers, you can derive a lot about a candidate, not only from the content of their answers, but how they answer, how they frame themselves in the situation, and how effectively they communicate. Take notes, but also enjoy the conversation.

A last note on interviewing: I’ve found a lot of value in including studio team members from all levels in the interview process. You will need to have at least some interview training to prepare your team for this, but getting perspective from your team will go a long way in ensuring a culture of communication, and show your candidate how serious you are about this culture. The interview is as much about the candidate evaluating your studio and culture as it is about you evaluating them.



The Offer

You’ve identified your candidate and are ready to make an offer. The only thing that needs to be said here is this: At the bare minimum you should let anyone else you interviewed know that you have not selected them. It’s a basic professional courtesy that any candidate deserves. I would go so far as to say that anyone who applies should be aware of the status of their application, but sometimes that just isn’t possible given the sheer number of applicants.

On-Boarding and Training

The more I think about this article, the more I think this section should come first. If you don’t have a meaningful onboarding and training plan, you run the risk of squandering your investment in the hiring process and the goodwill of your new hire. Your job in studio leadership is to make your team feel supported and empower them to do their best work. Bringing on a new hire without a clearly defined onboarding and training plan is irresponsible and creates confusion for your team. It may ultimately result in distrust of studio leaders, who are perceived as not being engaged with the rest of the team.

Along the same lines as onboarding and training, after all of my years in high-volume production studios, I think it is important to have a developed growth plan for entry-level studio positions. Every single studio I have worked in had at least one team member in an entry-level role who joined the team, “just to get their foot in the door” and had dreams of working on set as a photographer, stylist, or other creative roles. This almost always resulted in them leaving the studio, disillusioned and disappointed. If you are serious about investing in your team, it is not difficult to build a program that gives entry-level roles a clear path that can lead them to another role they want.

It is critical that you take an active, caring interest in developing your team, your entire team. They can leave your organization equipped with experience and skill, feeling supported by a mentor, or they can leave disappointed feeling like they were used and forgotten. It’s up to you.