You want to hire a digital marketer. Should you choose them based on
- which school they went to;
- how much they can drink without falling over;
- their lack of a serious criminal conviction;
- their height, or
- the endorsement of your octogenarian aunt?
The correct answer is, of course, number 2. (Yes, that’s a joke).
We work with a lot of technology companies, and while many of them have pretty good processes for hiring engineers, they tend to be less structured when it comes to hiring non-engineering roles, including marketing. This is a problem because tech companies increasingly realise they need a strong digital marketing capability to support sales and drive new business. The question is, if you are not a marketer yourself, and you don’t have any experience hiring marketers, how do you hire the right person?
One common approach is to over-specify a role you don’t really understand. By insisting on a specific type of university degree, number of years of experience, and various skills, you hope to remove the possibility for error. If someone meets your template specification you think they are going to work out. Add on a 25 minute interview as a filtering mechanism and the process is complete.
But that process doesn’t work. Companies that use that approach get it right about 57% of the time, according to a University of Michigan study, which is only 7% better than picking applicants at random. There has to be a better way.
Hiring good people is essential for the success of for your company, not just your marketing unit. It is also the single most important responsibility of your managers. The best book on hiring that I’ve come across is “Hire with your head” by Lou Adler. He advises creating a “performance profile” for the job you want to fill – describing the objectives to be achieved, rather than the skills of the person you are trying to hire. “Define success, not skills”. He also emphasizes the importance of gathering as much objective evidence as possible of past performance. You are looking for an upward growth path in their career, a trend-line of increasing impacts over time.
Lou Adler’s book makes some great points:
- If you want superior people, define superior performance
- Define the job, not the person
- Measure the ability to do the job, not ability to get the job -don’t judge on first impressions
- Define a performance profile that describes what the outputs of the new job will be
- Use specific forms of questioning to obtain unbiased facts
- Carry out pre-interview steps rigorously, including telephone screening
- Before the interviews, make sure your fellow interviewers all understand what kind of person you are trying to hire
- At interviews, stop yourself from making an intuitive ‘yes / no’ decision based on initial interaction – give it 20 to 30 minutes first
- Don’t decide whether you like or dislike the person until you have established whether they can meet the performance targets.
- Treat the candidate as a consultant – explain what you want to do (e.g. increase sales through better online marketing) and ask them for their advice on how they would approach the problem
- Listen more than you talk
- Change your frame of reference – if you immediately like the candidate, assume they can’t do the job and ask questions accordingly; if you take a dislike to the candidate, try to consciously take some actions to avoid a bias, listen more, try harder to get the candidate to open up.
I have used a variation on the approach both when hiring in the past and when helping clients hire. First, develop the performance profile focused on desired results, not the daily activities required to achieve those results. This profile includes both medium and long term objectives, and a mixture of marketing, technical, team and management goals. For example, a major objective might be “Increase sales by 40% by the end of year” and “build up sales of our new product to 500k”. Supporting objectives could include “be able to demonstrate our product within first 4 weeks” and “Develop a long-range plan to double lead generation”. Convert any skills you think they need into a corresponding measurable output. So “good written skills” becomes “create weekly customer email bulletin” and “self motivated” becomes “prepare monthly and quarterly targets”.
Second, advertise the vacancy as widely as possible using all of your networks – colleagues, former employees, friends, professional contacts, Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook and anywhere else you can think of.
Once you have an initial set of candidates conduct telephone interviews as part of the first screening. Then schedule interviews with the remaining candidates, asking them to:
- prepare and deliver a 20 minute presentation on how they would help market a software or technology firm
- bring evidence of previous written materials and
Also tell them they’ll have to prepare a promotional blog post or news release at the end of the interview.
Conduct the interviews carefully, with at least one other person assisting, and using a standard set of questions to explore the candidates’ backgrounds and achievements to date. According to Lou Adler the key question to ask is “Please think of your most significant accomplishment in your career. Now could you tell me all about it?”
You should score the candidates at the end of the interview, in discussion with your fellow interviewers. At the same time give the candidates 30 minutes to write a blog post on a topic you give them on the day. This last test is to check whether they can think on their feet and communicate clearly in writing.
What Objectives Should You Define, What Evidence Do You Look For?
When hiring a digital marketer you are looking for someone with left-brain and right-brain capabilities. On the creative side they will help determine how your company looks online – your website, your email campaign layouts, the branding of any promotional materials you use, most of the visuals that represent your company. On the analytical side, they need to be able to setup automated marketing programs, understand the numbers behind your online ad campaign performance and review web analytics. As the role increasingly relies on technology they need to be comfortable sourcing and implementing new marketing systems in order to achieve their goals.
In addition, if you are an early stage company with limited budget and resources you want someone with an entrepreneurial streak who can spot new, low-cost promotional opportunities. These startup marketers are known as “Growth Hackers” – individuals who can bootstrap a marketing team and identify and exploit growth opportunities.
Some Useful Resources for Hiring Marketers and Growth Hackers
My first recommendation is to get a copy of “Hire With Your Head” – there is a lot of good information and it doesn’t take long to read. Next, if you know anyone who has been successful in recruiting a strong team then ask them how they did it. What process do they use, how do they advertise their vacancies, what questions do they ask? You should also check out how successful companies handle the hiring process – for example, Don Dodge’s post on “How to get a job at Google, interview questions, hiring process”.
Neil Patel, QuickSprout bog – “How to Hire: 6 Traits Every Employee Should Have”
Sean Ellis’s blog post “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup” is a good introduction to this role.
You can also get a definition of the role at Aaron Ginn’s blog – “What is a Growth Hacker?”
And there’s a good post by Gagan Biyani, “The Difference Between Growth Hacking and Marketing Explained”.
And if all else fails, hire the tallest one : )