What do we personally look for when we’re hiring a new working buddy? And how do we try to verify those traits?

When compiling our “wishlist” below, we tried to pinpoint the traits that are often overlooked or maybe deserve more/less weight when looking for a digital marketer. Common qualities like “punctual” or “flexible” were left out for the sake of focusing on this particular role. When we do discuss rather general characteristics, it’s because they are that important to us.

The list isn’t exhaustive, nor is it a summation of must-haves. Because, above all, we hold the growth of both abilities and personality in the highest regard.

 

The two most significant differentiators

 

When looking for a new addition to your marketing team, it all comes down to trying to find a match in two vital areas:

 

The first: Culture fit. Obviously, this will be different for each organization. Absolutely crucial is having a good understanding of what kind of people flourish in your culture and which don’t. Trying to shoehorn in an adept candidate will very rarely work if he or she doesn’t fit your company mold. So hire culture, train skills. 

 

The second: Qualities. And no, we’re not talking about your Google Ads or Hubspot know-how (yet). Tools change and experience comes naturally, but first and foremost, we want to get a grasp of your unique, intrinsic traits. If you were a watch, we would like to know how your gears work rather than how well you can tell the time.

 

So what qualities do we find important when looking for a digital marketer? And how can you verify them?

 

1. Have a critical mindset

 

The rapid emergence of new technology, tools, strategies, and tactics has conditioned our brain to quickly soak up new information as fast and efficiently as possible. We look for accessible documentation, high-end courses, or proven methods to adapt and learn on the fly. While this is not a bad thing at all, it does open the door for bias and assumptions.

 

A digital marketer faces loads of data, all the time. A good marketer distills them into insights, creates reports, and takes actions accordingly. A great marketer however will, after reviewing the data, add an additional step of questioning the data and its purpose. Because as soon as you start relying on assumptions and probability, there’s a good chance you’ll be lost when the results aren’t what you expected them to be. Your approach might work 90% of the time, but it’s the ability to detect and adjust when confronted with the 10% of times it doesn’t, that separates the great marketers from the good ones.

 

A critical thinker is aware of what he or she doesn’t know. Potential hires who claim they know all the ins and outs of digital marketing are too focused on impressing you, rather than being honest. You can not afford your staff to go to meetings and claim they have all the answers, only to fail in delivering those promises. Not knowing something is 100% more acceptable than lying about your abilities.

 

🧪 How can you verify this mindset during the hiring process? 🧪

 

  • Present a case study that includes a mistake. If they find it on their own, awesome. If they don’t, you can still ask them if they noticed something unusual about the study. Some might’ve seen the error but won’t mention it right away because they aren’t very outspoken and need some confidence building first. If they have no clue whatsoever, you can still go through the exercise and see if they are able to learn on the go.

 

  • Show them a graph with misleading data and ask them to interpret it. See if they can point out the anomaly before drawing the obvious conclusions. Using percentages to hide a low sample size or visualizing a correlation that doesn’t make sense. Showing a graph with a straightforward outcome should be a red light on its own because a test isn’t supposed to be easy, right? Here you’ll find some misleading statistics for example. 

 

Whatever you do to test their critical mindset, always give appropriate feedback. If they do turn out to be your new hire, they’ll know making mistakes is acceptable as long as you’re willing to own up to them and learn from the experience. If they didn’t make the cut, they’ll appreciate you have taught them something valuable.

 

2. Turn to abstract thinking when needed

 

If critical thinking is vital to detect potential issues, abstract reasoning is what’s needed to come up with viable solutions. The abundance of available data can lead to multiple possible insights and conclusions. To avoid being overwhelmed, it’s a digital marketer’s task to do two things:

 

  1. Zoom out and understand the bigger picture. Which, in many cases, is economic growth.
  2. Zoom back in with the appropriate mindset and/or framework(s) to extract the right insights and solutions.

 

Frameworks like the SEE/THINK/DO framework used in, for example, content creation are tools that allow marketers to quickly identify the needs and effects of certain campaigns. There are loads of pre-existing ones but don’t shy away from making your own. Our BCG Matrix for digital channels is a good example.

 

Rational thinking and making multiple, often complicated correlations is a skill any aspiring digital marketer should possess or develop towards at the least. If picking away at obstacles until you find the best answer isn’t an intrinsic motivation of yours, digital marketing will have a pretty low ceiling for you. The good thing is it’s a matter of extensive practice much more than it is a given talent.

 

🧪 How can you verify this mindset during the hiring process? 🧪

 

  • Start a philosophical conversation. Ask candidates to explain digital marketing or a random business subject to a toddler. Pay attention to how they break down a seemingly complicated topic into something very understandable.

 

  • Pose an open-ended question and see if they can somehow get to a viable answer by setting up a simple framework. For example: “How many smartphones are sold yearly in the US?” You’re not looking for a decisive number but rather something like this: “Say the US has 100 inhabitants and people buy a new smartphone every three years on average, excluding people younger than 16 and older than 70, which make up for 15% of the population. So we have 85 people of which one third buys a smartphone, then … etc.”

 

3. Be passionate about it

 

In the past, we would submit our candidates to PPA / DISC tests. When we had to choose between two final potential hires, the test barely came into the equation. It didn’t really matter if a person scored better, equal, or worse. If they showed genuine excitement about digital marketing, they had the upper hand. You know what they say, “Enthusiasm is worth 25 IQ points.”.

 

A bit of reflection quickly made us realize that the passion for the job is an asset we always valued immensely but somehow never solidified as a decisive factor. But it makes total sense of course. Doing something with a passion, makes you do it more often, which in turn makes you good at it. So we rather give the opportunity to someone with dedication and potential than to an established marketer who maybe lacks a bit of that energy. We have hired enthusiastic people with virtually no experience in digital marketing in the past and haven’t regretted it yet. Mind you that we have put a lot of time and effort into our onboarding process to make this a possibility. Be sure yours is up for the task as well or gain advice to improve it. (You can always reach out to find out how we approach it)

 

🧪 How can you verify this mindset during the hiring process? 🧪

 

  • Ask them why they enjoy digital marketing so much. It’s a simple, straightforward question, but people who have never given it any thought always struggle to give a convincing answer. “Because I like making ads on Instagram” or “because I believe there’s a lot of opportunities in it” are answers that just don’t hit home enough.

 

What you’re looking for are little stories like for example: “I love the idea of measuring things like engagement and sentiment. To be able to entice people with my own creations or ideas and see how they react to them. Or if they don’t, use the data and feedback to try again. Being wrong is almost like an unexpected and challenging surprise for me to step up my game. It’s psychology and analytics coming together.”

Or: “I used to set up websites and call it a day. Some clients had very low traffic, however, and I couldn’t really tell them why or improve it. That didn’t sit well with me, as it felt like my work was a failure. So one day, I asked a client if I could spend some budget to try and increase traffic. This was a bold request, because I had no idea where to start, let alone if I would succeed! A few tutorials sent me on my way though, and pretty soon I saw my improvements yielding results.”

There’s a lot of other ways the enthusiasm can manifest itself. From the first application email to the “wondering if there has been a decision yet” phonecall. Trust us when we say that you’ll know it when you hear or see it.

 

4. Possess a never-ending curiosity

 

When attracting new potential digital marketers, ideally, you are looking for T-shaped profiles. So profiles with profound expertise on the one hand, and a wide enough base of digital marketing knowledge to collaborate well with other experts.

 

While candidates might not have all of the necessary experience yet; we expect them to have an idea of what their expertise is going to be. Or what direction they would like to take, at the very least. Do they see themselves as a marketing automation specialist? Or maybe they want to focus more on PPC advertising? These are two examples of digital marketing areas that are pretty far apart.

 

The reason why this is important is two-fold:

  1. The obvious one: You want to know what kind of expertise you’ll ultimately gain in your organization.
  2. The less obvious but equally important one: You want to have a sense of how much they are in touch with the current digital marketing landscape.

 

Like we said before: We have hired candidates that had no real experience to speak of. But what they did have was a decent enough idea of what their role was going to look like because they had done their research. They educated themselves, not only for the interview but because they are genuinely interested and want to be up to date at all times. While you could argue that this is part of “being passionate”, we feel “curiosity” is too important not to mention as a separate trait.

 

🧪 How can you verify this mindset during the hiring process? 🧪

 

  • We ask candidates things like: ‘What websites do you visit regularly or what digital marketing influencers do you follow on social media? Do you interact with them? Is there a company you look up to? (besides yours, of course) Can you talk about a digital marketing trend that has caught your attention lately? If so, what is your opinion on it? etc. 

 

When the opportunity presents itself, have a little chat about a particular topic that has come up. They might reveal knowledge or interests that otherwise would not have come to light.

 

Conclusion

 

Nailing the right hires is not easy for any organization. Finding good digital marketers is no exception. Assessing their fit with your culture as well as their qualities and potential can be hard, and really hit or miss sometimes. It takes practice to sniff out the good ones.

 

Be we feel these tips can be a good base to build your digital marketing recruiting process on. They’re not centered around experience or technological knowledge but on intrinsic motivation. Skills and knowledge can always be added later, in every way, shape, or form. Changing a person’s core characteristics is much harder to do, and often not worth the time for both parties.

 

Whether you’re dealing with a recent graduate or self-proclaimed digital unicorn, try to peel away that first superficial layer and get to know the person behind it. Who knows, you might get lucky and stumble upon your very own ‘Avinash Kaushik’ or ‘Simo Ahava’!