How we screen Apprentice Designer applications

Chad Pytel

We recently completed anonymous screening of all our recent Apprentice Design candidates for the positions starting in March. We received nearly 500 applications for our Apprentice Designer who codes positions, which makes it difficult for us to provide individual feedback on every application. My goal with publishing this is to provide those who applied some additional information about why they might not have gotten an interview, and because people are always welcome to reapply, to hopefully help them strengthen future applications.

Here are the things we look at when screening Apprentice Designer applications.

Initial screening first pass

Reducing as much bias in the hiring process as possible is important to us. So we have a tool that hides identifying characteristics and other items that may influence a review, such as names, gender pronouns, and names of prior companies and schools. This is particularly challenging for Designers because one of the primary things we look at is their portfolio, which is often not anonymized. As a reviewer, I try to be aware of this as I review and do my best not to let my unconscious biases influence my decision making.

The initial screening takes place over two passes, in the first pass we look at the following:

  • The overall experience of the candidate.
  • The answers to the application questions.
  • Do they have a portfolio that showcases their work, particularly visual design work. In this first pass it’s not so much about the quality of the work in the portfolio rather whether it exists at all.

Our goal with this first pass is to rapidly identify candidates who should be considered further due to a complete application and the inclusion of a portfolio with which to assess them further. Once we complete this first pass, we have a list of candidates we’re able to give more time and attention to.

Initial screening second pass

We then do another pass on this list looking at the following:

  • Do they have any professional experience as a designer?
  • Are detailed case studies in the portfolio?
  • An assessment of the candidate’s current visual design capability.
  • Does the candidate have some coding experience?
  • Has the candidate previously held a leadership position in any field?
  • Has the candidate previously held consulting or other client or customer-facing role in any field?

What do we look for in a portfolio?

The best portfolios will

  • Demonstrate an understanding of visual design and graphic design principles.
  • Feature detailed case studies that show the process the designer uses to arrive at a solution.

Read this full blog post about what we look for in a portfolio.

Summing it all up

Taking all of the above criteria in total, we are then able to identify the top candidates who feature the most of those criteria.

For example, someone with not much professional design experience will rise above others if they have a portfolio that demonstrates visual and graphic design principles and demonstrates how they arrive at solutions through a detailed case study, and also has prior experience in a leadership, consulting, or other customer-facing role in any field.

Interested in an Apprentice position at thoughtbot? You can apply at