In June I’ll be presenting at IRCE tips and tricks for hiring digital expertise.  I’m still constantly amazed at the talent constraints in our industry but it really shouldn’t be a surprise. While it’s easy to find entry level talent and those with a few years of experience, it’s more difficult from a leadership perspective.

Depending on how you define digital leadership, I would guess there are only a few hundred people that have more than 7 years experience leading large brands internally.  Just like with web and search, their salaries have grown by double digit percentages yearly.  Over time this will level out, however, until then, finding top talent will be a challenge.  Here are some tips for not just finding talent, but getting the right talent for your organization.

1. Ask Other Digital Experts

Nobody knows the landscape and reputation of other digital strategists better than other digital strategists.  Smart HR representatives, executives and recruiters tap into this network and activate it looking to fill roles. We are more than happy to recommend people that seem like a good fit for roles that come my way.  Cultivate a network and develop relationships in the digital community that you can tap into later when a position is needed at your company.

2. Separate The Doers and the Talkers

We’re beyond the early days of digital.  Walking into a meeting and spouting industry jargon or ideas is not enough.  Proven models, projects and successful programs separate the elite digital strategists from the rest.  Top talent will be able to discuss the hows and whys* of the execution of their programs, not just big ideas they think they can deliver for you (*but also remember there is only so much they may be able to say to maintain confidential relationships).

Additionally, be sure to validate how they participated in their projects. Did they just place the order and let the agency come up with the ideas and execution? Or were they the project leader? While leadership roles do less execution and more agency/people/technology/vendor management, top talent will have execution expertise that enables them to ask the right questions and set and manage expectations appropriately.

3. Protect Your Reputation

Having worked intimately with my own HR organization for a few years, I know how overworked and resource constrained many HR groups can be today.  However, please remember you want to put your best face forward for your client / company.  It should be no surprise that top industry people know each other and talk – all the time.  I can think of a few large roles in the last year where I think just about everyone I know was contacted for the role.

What does this mean for you? Unreturned calls, emails, unrealistic salary expectations, etc. get around. You would be shocked at some of the stories I have heard about the interview process at some companies.  False expectations, dishonest communications or gamesmanship do not help your company in the long run.  Be honest, upfront and communicate.  Everyone appreciates open communication.

4. Avoid Overusing Behavioral Questions

Your typical behavioral questions like, “tell me about a time you disagreed with someone on a critical project, what you did and how you overcame that issue?” are ok, but most digital strategists deal with all aspects of these behavioral questions daily. The industry is fast paced, reliant on cooperation, large teams, influence, ideas, vision, execution, failure, success and knowledge.  A few of these questions will be able to get you the general idea of candidates, but spending an hour asking these questions would be more productive on ensuring a cultural fit.  I have included sample interview questions below that I have found helpful.

5. Use Case Studies

When you have narrowed a candidate pool to a final group, I would strongly recommend presenting a case study.  Ask the candidates to present a strategy proposal, critique a campaign, or present a report.  This allows you to evaluate how much they listened, followed direction, present ideas, understand the company, etc.

6. Review Social Profiles

Nothing is better to get a profile view of potential talent than their social footprint.  While having a following is great, I never measure talent purely by numbers or their Klout score.  Some people are more active and visible than others – and that’s ok.

What matters is how they use the profiles they have. For instance, I could care less whether someone has over 5000 Twitter followers.  But if they don’t have a LinkedIn profile, or have a LinkedIn profile with only 25 connections that might be a problem.  Are they regularly creating their own content or just retweeting Mashable articles?  Do they actually engage and comment with others? Is this someone you would want to meet and engage with?  You should have some idea of who they are and what they stand for through their social footprint. Does it align with your business culture and someone you would be proud to hire?

Interview Questions

1. Tell me about how you got started in digital/social?

2. What are you most passionate about in the industry?

3. Who do you admire most in social and why?

4. What is the one thing most companies could do to improve their digital engagement with customers in your opinion (and why)?

5. Where do you see social going in 5 years and how will this role help you get there? or Where do you ultimately see your career path going and how will this position help you get there?

6.  What is the next big thing our industry will have to deal with in 2014?

7.  How do you decide when and where to post your own content on your personal social channels? What is your personal strategy?

8. What project or program that you have lead is the one you are most proud of and why? What challenges did you face in leading that project / program?

9. If a business group came up to you and said they wanted your help to start a Facebook page, how would you respond and what questions would you ask to get started?

10. Why do you think you would be a good fit for this role? 

11. What role does data play in our industry now and how does it affect us in the future in your opinion? 

Have other helpful tips or questions? Leave them in the comments below!



One thought on “6 Tips For Hiring Digital Experts

  1. Susan Emerick says:

    Great post Greg. I would add these question to your suggested list ….

    12. Have you experienced a social media crisis first hand? and if so, how did you manage it? and what were the outcomes?

    13. With the convergence of search and social, what strategies have you put in place to adjust your PPC investment?

    14. With the emergence of “brand you” and “employee’s as brand ambassadors”, what experience do you have leading change efforts to support the effective outreach of employees?

    15. With competing interests for limited budgets, what tough decisions have you had to make or advise senior leadership to make on shifting investment to digital and social? How did you quantify to prove that shift in investment to be beneficial?


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