The 7 Deadly Sins of Digital Recruitment
As more and more businesses build their own in-house digital marketing teams, recruitment can present some tricky challenges for managers and HR departments – particularly when digital marketing is foreign territory.
Companies very often approach the initial creation of a digital marketing function by taking on someone in a relatively junior position, perhaps to manage the day-to-day content demands of their website and to look after email campaign activity. Over time, such a team will expand and the commercial expectations of digital marketing within a business will increase. Managing the team starts to demand its own resource and it becomes apparent that a broader perspective is needed on digital marketing strategy and integration.
That’s the point at which a business may start to look for a digital marketing manager. Whatever title the role may be given, whether it’s a brand new position or a replacement for someone who’s moving on to pastures new, that’s also when the problems can start.
Let’s look at a case study that illustrates how difficult and protracted the recruitment process can be and the areas in which recruitment facilitation can make it all much simpler, quicker and less traumatic. I’ve kept the example anonymous for the sake of the business in question, but it’s based on feedback from a variety of people directly involved.
Case Study: Recruiting for a Head of Digital Marketing
The subject of the case study is a successful FMCG brand. They’re growing, they’ve been trading online for six years or so and they’re very active in social media. They already employ two people who are dedicated to digital marketing, and they make use of agencies for design, development and search engine marketing.
To provide leadership for the existing team, and strategic direction for the business online, the company is looking for a ‘Head of Digital Marketing’. Recruitment is managed by the company’s HR team on behalf of the Marketing Director. Both the Marketing Director and Managing Director are involved in candidate interviews. Nobody with any level of digital marketing experience has input to the process.
The company has been trying to fill the position for over a year and is currently attempting a fourth round of recruitment. Despite saturation coverage by recruitment agencies, many interviews and a great deal of time and expense, none of the candidates in previous rounds received a job offer.
The job title and job description have been adapted before each round of recruitment. On each occasion, the specification has become increasingly generic and vague in its definition of the role and objectives, yet more ambitious in its hopes for the experience and seniority of applicants. In effect, the company is trying to find a very experienced, and commercially well-rounded, digital marketer for the price of a much more junior recruit. The below-the-going-rate salary on offer is a reflection of the business location.
Unsurprisingly, applicants for the role have fallen broadly into two groups:
- Affordable, relatively local, 20-30 year olds with good digital skills, but commercially naive with limited experience.
- Highly skilled and commercially savvy 30-40 year olds, with substantial digital marketing experience, typically gained at large city agencies. Interested in relocation, but not even remotely affordable.
There have been a few exceptions of course, but even the most experienced applicants had no more than 8 years digital experience at a senior level.
Despite the number of people invited to interview at different stages, and setting aside issues of affordability, the company has yet to find anyone that ticks all the right boxes. There are all the usual considerations about business culture, personality and general management capability to take into account, but it’s regarding digital marketing specifically that the requirements seem to remain unfulfilled.
A very big part of the problem isn’t the quality of the candidates, but rather the inability of the interviewers to ask informed questions or to really understand the relevance or accuracy of the answers they’re given. The absence of probing, skill-specific, questions significantly reduces candidates’ opportunities to fully explain or demonstrate their knowledge and experience. The obvious lack of understanding puts candidates in the difficult position of having to diplomatically dumb-down their answers. It may have also made them question their confidence in the company and their interest in working for it.
This is a really important point. The interviewers are all company directors, with many years experience in their respective fields. All of them are successful, intelligent and respected professionals. They just don’t happen to be digital marketing experts as well.
Overall it would be fair to conclude that the approach taken by the company has been damaging in a number of ways. A great deal of management time has certainly been wasted. The company’s reputation may have been affected and it has inevitably put itself at a serious competitive disadvantage (especially since it re-launched its website before filling the position). However, one thing that its management team has done right is to not rush into a bad decision. Granted they may have already let the best candidates pass them by, but better to hold out for what they believe will be best for them than to recruit the wrong person and create an even more difficult situation for all concerned.
The 7 Deadly Sins of Digital Recruitment
Here’s a summary of the most common traps, the deadly sins if you like, that businesses fall into when trying to recruit for senior digital marketing roles:
- Poor Specification
You’re unlikely to find the ideal person to meet your digital marketing needs if you don’t know what your digital marketing needs are in the first place. Your requirements and objectives need to be crystal clear in a fluff-free job specification.
- False Expectations
Be realistic about the level of experience you can recruit with your budget and the budget required to recruit the level of experience you need. It’s important that recruitment agents and candidates understand what’s realistic too.
- Ineffective Advertising
Don’t blame your recruitment agents for sending you unsuitable candidates if you can’t brief them accurately on the kind of candidates you want to meet (see Sin #1). As well as helping agencies to help you, make sure your website and social channels are promoting the vacancy too. You’re looking for a digital marketer after all.
- Blind Shortlisting
You’ve got a pile of CVs to pick from but no objective way of filtering the digital marketing good from the digital marketing bad (because it’s not your area of expertise). You could go on intuition. You could focus on general experience, education and ‘transferable’ skills. Alternatively, you could get help.
- Weak Questioning
If you don’t ask probing, well-informed, skill-specific questions at the interview stage, you’ve no way of differentiating between candidates and you deprive them of the chance to illustrate their expertise. Of course, you need to be able to understand their answers too (see Sin #6).
- Comprehension Failure
Whatever your level of questioning, if you can’t make head nor tail of the answers you’re given, especially when they’re laden with technical terms and industry jargon, then you still can’t compare one candidate with another. It’s not just about who gives the best, most authorititive, answers either. It’s spotting those who can talk the talk, but have never walked the walk.
- Decision Rush
‘Only fools rush in…’ as the saying goes. In the absence of clarity about who’s really best for the job, there can be a temptation to make a selection for the sake of just getting it done and moving on. That approach to recruitment rarely ends well for anyone. Take your time and get it right.
Choosing to ‘wing it’ will condemn your digital recruitment to become a Divine Comedy that nobody will find funny. However, all these problems can be avoided by taking advice from someone with a breadth of digital marketing knowledge and experience. This might be a non-executive director, a representative from your web agency, or perhaps a recruitment agent who specialises in digital. Another option is to use digital recruitment facilitation to provide an impartial ‘expert interpreter’ who can guide the whole process towards the successful selection of the right candidate for the right role.