An Interview with Jodi Brandstetter

With the recent spate of headlines and stories about supply chain disruptions and labor shortages, many are wondering if this year will be a bah-humbug holiday season when it comes to finding your gift under the tree.

And by all indications, the situation may get worse. A recent McKinsey Quarterly report shows that 40% of people are thinking of leaving their jobs within three to six months. This is counterintuitive to the assumption that the elimination of COVID-related unemployment benefits would motivate job seekers sitting on the sidelines to look for a job. Surprisingly it had the opposite effect. Last quarter’s report stated 36% of people who left jobs did so without another job lined up. With more jobs than ever and fewer people willing to work them, it’s no surprise that some employers are looking to restyle their recruitment practices. Jodi Brandstetter, author of Hire by Design and CEO of Influence Network Media, speaks about how design thinking may be the answer for many employers and recruiters, and how the candidate perspective has been lost.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is an approach to solving workplace issues that asks employers, managers, or recruiters to think in the other person’s shoes. Brandstetter says when she speaks to clients about this line of thinking, she describes as looking at a problem through three lenses: 1) is the process desirable for the person to complete; 2) is the process feasible or possible to make; and 3) is the process a viable option for the business in question. By considering these three questions while viewing the problem through a variety of perspectives—the employer, the candidate, the recruiter, and so on—different solutions may arise.

However, there are also three major steps for idea generation using design thinking. The first is ideation, which means brainstorming new ideas or approaches to a problem. The second is prototyping or testing the proposed solutions in a controlled environment to determine a likely outcome. The third is iteration, which refers to the constant practice of revisiting an idea and improving that process. Iteration, Brandstetter says, is what many companies have been doing throughout the pandemic, as many articles and studies indicate just how broken the recruitment strategy has become. As a former high-volume recruiter, she knows that recruiters tend to think only about the company they’re recruiting for and often “go numb to the candidate experience.”

By using design thinking to consider additional perspectives and solutions, employers and recruiters may acknowledge new ideas to implement into the candidate selection process.

A Hiring Blueprint

One of the first steps Brandstetter asks her clients to complete is a hiring blueprint. This, she says, acts as a detailed map of a company’s recruitment process, including everything from the first application steps to the final interview. Clients must also complete this blueprint while keeping the candidate’s perspective in mind, which often means applying to the clients’ own companies. It’s here the many of her clients realize just how much they’re asking for candidates to complete before an interview is even requested. Brandstetter also recommends that each of her clients apply to their own job postings every six to twelve months to truly understand what is asked of candidates at each step of the application process.

The biggest issue many employers and hiring managers run into is creating job requirements that are so specific the perfect candidate is never found (Brandstetter refers to this ideal candidate as the “purple squirrel”). While certain jobs need a higher level of training, degrees, or certifications, many positions have numerous requirements that are unnecessary. Brandstetter says she finds many employers rely on the position requirements for a perfect candidate rather than speaking with the candidates themselves, which only further hinders the selection process.

Info-Sponging and Smash-Ups

Part of changing the mindset in companies still looking for their purple squirrel is accepting candidates of various employment backgrounds. Many positions, even those that are “entry level,” now require years of experience in a specific field or process that could be easily taught. For example, many employers need front desk employees or employees with excellent communication skills who can speak with multiple customers, clients, or patients. Regardless of what the employer’s company is, a restaurant server could be an unexpectedly great fit as servers frequently handle several customers, complaints, and orders at once.

This process of looking for unexpected candidates falls along the same line as info-sponging. Info-sponging is the practice of reading or learning about industries that have nothing to do with one’s own position but may offer some surprising solutions. Brandstetter, who refers to the process as “smash-ups,” says this is a great approach to ideation practices. She offers an example of making the start of a meeting more exciting by playing music when the meeting is about to begin in the same way a band performing a concert would. New ideas and approaches can come from anywhere, and they may be the unexpected answer to your recruitment problem.


 “Great technology just makes a bad process or a bad system much, much worse, much faster.” (13:21)

 “If you’re not willing to learn about who your candidate is and be able to do some observation or interview or just discovery, you’re never going to have a good journey map or discovery blueprint.” (19:11)

“Nobody bothers to say, ‘But what’s it like for the candidate?’ ” (21:59)

“Who was great to work with patients or customers? Server. If you have a great server at a restaurant, hire them. They have natural talent; you can teach them hard skills.” (37:22)


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