TLDR: they don’t have the time and resources to train/onboard new designers. They want them to start rolling from day 1 and own it.
Obviously, every company is unique and there could be a number of reasons for seeking more senior designers to hire. I’ve seen this many times. My conclusion is that this may happen due to these reasons.
- The startup is rushing (they always do) and they just can’t spare a few more weeks to train and allow the designer to onboard properly. Hence they want to hire more experienced people hoping that they can jump into the “fires” much faster than less experienced ones. Also, they want them to fully own design stuff with low maintenance/support/guidance. Personally, I found this to be valid. I have seen a significant difference in the level of ownership with more senior designers, which is also quite logical. More experienced people will be more productive and effective requiring less supervision. So, from that perspective, it might be very well worth it for the company to pay more money for a more senior person on the team. However, this leaves less experienced candidates with fewer job options (this is a big problem in itself, might write about this another time).
- The startup doesn’t know what designers do and they want to “delegate” this matter to an experienced person, so they have more trust that this person will know what the company needs and will be able to be the first person driving all aspects of design, and will also have enough expertise to build the Design team when the time comes. I’ve seen these sad examples illustrating the still valid problem when non-designers mostly still don’t understand what we do and what UX design really brings to the table. Frankly, I empathize with this situation. From a designer’s point of view, I know many folks who have a pretty vague understanding of the development side of building digital products (both front-end, back-end, …-end =) It is completely reasonable to seek a more experienced person for the job when you don’t fully get it. So, when startups are founded and run not by design experts, I think it’s a natural behaviour.
Even though this reality is not favourable to less experienced designers (which is the majority), it is understandable. Most startups just can’t risk delays or rookie mistakes on any team, the designer is not an exception. Bigger companies with more resources, often bigger teams, and also less risk of going out of business because of a single hire should be more open to less experienced designers. You might want to prioritize your potential companies accordingly.
That being said, I have seen a lot of early-stage startups with so little money (aka not appreciating the value of UX design) that they can afford to hire only a less experienced designer as the first member of the team. Though it’s a tricky question because, on one hand, they cannot afford an experienced person and the pay is very low, on the other hand, they expect this person to do everything and the scope of work and ownership looks more like a senior person. But this is another problem with immature companies…