Judy Wert, the head of design recruiting agency Wert&Co., trained as a designer before launching her consultancy in 1995. Since then, she has recruited candidates to fill top design and innovation positions at companies including Airbnb, Google, and Facebook as well as at educational institutions and in government. Her job and the positions she recruits for have evolved dramatically over the past 25 years, as organizations started to recognize the importance of design thinking. “People understand that design is more than just a pixel,” she says. “It’s more than just beauty. It’s actually a way of thinking.” Here, she tells us what companies are looking for in designers now, the major skills designers should cultivate, and how many top candidates are eschewing jobs in big tech to focus on social impact.
Cultivate your expertise
When Wert founded her company 25 years ago, many of the most important positions she recruits for, such as “head of global inclusion” or “creative head responsible for innovation,” didn’t even exist. These jobs require “cross-functional thinkers,” Wert says—candidates who have analytical capabilities combined with emotional intelligence and the ability to think of their work as it relates to serving customers. Put bluntly: It’s not enough to be good at just one thing. You have to cultivate your expertise in more than one arena. She cites a global search for the head of design at a well-known private educational institution as an example of a job that required cross-disciplinary thinking. “The job was about the way we teach design and required the candidate to be an emerging design thinker who understood the industry but also the educational paradigm,” she says. Another role she had to fill recently was the head of global inclusion at a software company. “This was a company that was looking to bring diversity into design, so [the candidate] had a dual role where they were helping to shape product at scale across the globe, but they were also trying to bring in that diversity of thinking into the product development process,” she says.
Your education is not your destiny
While more of the successful candidates Wert recruits come from architecture, industrial design, or product design, she says she has filled many jobs with candidates from computer science or business backgrounds. “The crossover is very real; there are people who got their MBAs who are now design thinkers. What you studied at one point doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to define what your role is within the design world,” she says. “Now you have business schools teaching design, and the Yale school of design teaching business classes.”
For designers interested in moving into corporate roles, Wert suggests finding a mentor. “If you’re a designer who hasn’t been exposed to business principles, think about some sort of unofficial or official business education, [such as] finding a mentor who can help you understand some of the problems that the business mind needs to think about,” she says. Candidates can also make themselves more attractive by working at several different companies. “The more diversity you build into your career path, the stronger you will be as a design leader,” she says.
Think beyond the behemoths
As companies such as WeWork and Peloton have been humbled by public markets this year, Wert says that designers have been less attracted to high-paying jobs at tech behemoths and are more interested in using their skills to pursue work that will have a social impact, whether it’s fighting global warming, preserving democracy, or ending poverty. “There’s a ton of opportunity in the design world to go outside of the Googles and Apples, for people to think about how they can impact us as global citizens,” she says.
Companies are also taking note of this shift, she says. “I have been getting inquiries about jobs related to ethics and design,” she says. “Companies are looking for people who have an awareness of the consequences of design.” Tech companies in particular have been looking to hire for roles that require this kind of thinking. “Every company has to think about purpose,” she says. “Obviously that’s a huge area for the tech world, when you start to think about privacy or the impact on government.”