10 Essential Creative Direction Interview Questions *

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What would make you an effective creative director, specifically at our company?

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The candidate’s explanation should demonstrate an awareness of what a creative director actually does. Creative directors are responsible for establishing and executing their organizations’ overarching creative visions. They shift between big-picture strategizing and overseeing day-to-day design tasks.

Listen to see if the candidate ties their strengths to the duties of a creative director. Effective creative directors are able to lead, delegate, and upskill staff. The candidate should be comfortable guiding others in brainstorming sessions. They should be able to generate out-of-the-box concepts while understanding practical business constraints like budgets, timelines, and the needs of external stakeholders.

Does the candidate have a vision for how they would impact your company as its new creative director, or are they merely listing their strengths? Additionally, listen for indicators that the candidate is comfortable leading a multi-disciplined creative crew.

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How do you present creative work to internal company stakeholders and executives?

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Creative directors rarely have final creative say within their organizations. They must seek approval from supervisors. Often, this means department managers and company executives. The candidate should understand that pitching creative work to internal company stakeholders involves more than presenting. It’s about communicating concepts in a way that inspires others and clearly illustrates value.

Listen to see if the candidate mentions presentation strategies and whether or not they are enthusiastic about pitching the value of design. Also, the candidate should mention the need to tailor presentations based on the audience. Creative directors regularly face pushback on their ideas, so the candidate should demonstrate a willingness to defend design decisions with both quantitative and qualitative data.

Finally, listen for indicators that the candidate is uncomfortable speaking in front of groups or doesn’t value design feedback, as both could lead to unnecessary internal conflict.

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How have you managed freelance creative talent in the past?

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Not all applicants will have prior experience managing freelance talent, but serious candidates should have an awareness of the important role that freelancers play in the creative industry.

Applicants that have experience managing freelancers ought to be aware of the challenges that exist, such as navigating timezone differences and incorporating freelancers into broader creative teams. Listen to see if the applicant mentions specific tools used for remote communication and project management. Delivering actionable feedback is vital for freelancer success.

Seasoned managers of freelancers will know where to go to source experienced talent and may already have their own rosters of freelancers that they call upon. Ultimately, it’s the creative director’s role to know when to rely on the skills and capabilities of staff versus when to look for outside help to solve specialized creative problems.

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What qualities does a creative director most need to be successful?

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In addition to being skilled communicators and project managers, creative directors must be able to navigate and nurture relationships with people from a variety of creative and non-creative roles. Creative directors need people skills and project management skills and ought to be able to oversee the various moving parts that come with managing art directors, designers, writers, and other creative staff.

Listen to see if the candidate values voices outside the creative department. Do they understand the importance of inspiring company-wide creative buy-in, or do they think that design exists in a vacuum?

Creative directors are thought leaders. Often, this means spearheading events, workshops, and internal campaigns that raise awareness about the importance of design. Listen to see if the candidate is able to clearly articulate how they would manage the many duties and expectations that come with being a creative director.

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What design programs are you most comfortable using? Least comfortable?

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Creative directors may not be as involved in day-to-day design tasks as their staff, but they should be highly proficient in a handful of visual design programs. Likewise, they should have a working knowledge of programs that lie outside their areas of expertise.

Listen to see if the candidate mentions specific design tools and their uses, as opposed to speaking in generalities. Also pay attention to whether or not they are aware of tools used by a range of creative disciplines. For instance, if the candidate comes from a visual design background, do they know what programs are used by UX designers?

Mastery of every digital design program isn’t necessary. It’s more important that the candidate understands the broader ecosystem of tools used by creatives. Creative directors must be able to communicate on a technical level with a diverse group of creative disciplines, so be on the lookout for candidates that are curious to learn and fill knowledge gaps.

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How do you go about hiring and developing new designers?

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Creative directors are responsible for hiring designers of all experience levels, including new designers. Listen to see what traits the candidate looks for in new hires and compare them with traits valued by your company.

Also, pay attention to whether or not the candidate has a clearly defined rationale for their hiring decisions. Some candidates may have a strong track record of hiring by instinct, and others may fare equally well hiring by specific criteria. Alignment with your organization in this area is key.

In addition to hiring new designers, use this question to learn the candidate’s leadership style. Do they employ a “sink or swim” approach, or is their method more mentorship-based? Each approach has its own merits, but ideal candidates will have their staff’s long-term development in mind.

For example, the candidate might say, “When I hire a new designer, I throw her in with my most experienced staff and expect her to hold her own. It can be tough, but I keep a close eye on all of my new designers and regularly connect with them to see how they’re doing. It’s important to me that they know I’m interested in seeing them succeed.”

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How do you measure the success of design?

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In a professional setting, the success of design is measured by how it impacts business goals, and there are numerous metrics that can be tallied. Creative directors must be able to differentiate between quantitative and qualitative metrics, and they ought to know when to focus on one instead of the other.

For instance, a company may run an online ad campaign that is visually appealing (qualitative) but fails to generate clicks or revenue from consumers (quantitative). It’s the creative director’s job to communicate to staff where they excelled, where they fell short, and how they can improve.

Listen to see if the candidate has a well-balanced approach to measuring design. Are they purely number-driven, even to the point that they will sacrifice quality if it means numerical gains? Do they diminish the importance of quantitative measurements and hold design as a purely subjective artform?

Look for candidates that embrace continuous improvement and insights that can only be gained by a combination of quantitative and qualitative feedback.

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Who are some of your biggest influences from the world of art and design?

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This question is a great way to gain insight into the candidate’s design taste and awareness of the creative world at large. From current trends to stylistic periods, creative directors should have extensive art and design knowledge that they can use to educate and inspire staff.

Listen to see if the candidate simply throws out names or actually discusses why certain people or periods are influential. Also, pay attention to whether or not the candidate spends an inordinate amount of time talking about the latest trends, as this can be a sign of someone who is easily influenced by what others are doing.

Be prepared to hear a range of answers. Areas like architecture, music, culinary arts, and film (among others) may have contributed significantly to the candidate’s creative outlook. Most of all, be on the lookout for a well-rounded, thoughtful reply that shows a diverse sense of creative curiosity.

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When you are launching a new creative campaign, what does your research process look like?

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Research is a vital part of any creative campaign. In addition to knowing several research methods, creative directors should be able to assess the research needs of each new project. For example, the research process required to launch an app will look different than what is needed for an out-of-home advertising campaign.

Regardless, listen to see if the candidate can articulate how they go about investigating creative problems. Do they follow a logical process? Do they know how to uncover the needs, wants, and problems of end users or audience members? Do they mention specific research techniques and the information that they yield?

The candidate’s answer will reveal how they prioritize information and go about solving problems. Be wary of any candidates that diminish the importance of research. Large-scale creative campaigns can have a huge impact on business goals and require too many resources to treat research as an afterthought.

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How do you keep your team motivated and productive under high pressure and tight deadlines?

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Creative projects can be highly stressful. Plans fall apart, deadlines change suddenly, and budgets evaporate. The pace, uncertainty, and demand for quality can wear on even the most seasoned creative pros. Creative directors have to know how to hold their teams to high standards while keeping them motivated for the long haul.

This question will reveal how the candidate operates as an overseer. Do they have a specific approach to driving performance without being overbearing? Are they comfortable communicating difficult information to staff? Are they willing to pitch in and help with a deadline fast approaching?

It will also demonstrate how they manage the stress of difficult clients and unforeseen project changes. Listen to see if the candidate shares positive management strategies or if they lean more toward pressuring and intimidation. Also, pay attention to whether or not the candidate mentions specific techniques for managing workloads, formulating timelines, and clearly communicating due dates.

* There is more to interviewing than tricky technical questions, so these are intended merely as a guide. Not every “A” candidate worth hiring will be able to answer them all, nor does answering them all guarantee an “A” candidate. At the end of the day, hiring remains an art, a science — and a lot of work.
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Looking for Creative Direction experts? Check out Toptal’s creative directors.
Jun Kim
South Korea
Kim has been leading design projects for over a decade with clients worldwide including Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Europe, the US, and South Korea. He has designed sophisticated yet simple UI/UX systems and led international teams. More importantly, he has extensive industry experience in both agency and corporation environments and has collaborated with multicultural teams from both government and private sectors.
Marta Musial
Poland
Experienced in the IT and architecture industry, Marta has insights into how to manage a project in the best way. At the moment, she's leading projects of her own. As a leader, she demands and analyzes the market needs to find the best fit, and as a designer, she leverages between productivity and quality. Marta has collaborated with companies from the US, China, Poland, and Germany.