7 Recruiting Lessons for Marketing Professionals

I’m not a Recruiter.  But I play one every now and then at the office.  So believe me when I say that recruiting is hard.  Scratch that.  Recruiting the RIGHT candidate is hard.  It requires reflection, diligence, and strong decision quality.  Plus, it requires an acute sense of intuition and the confidence to act on that hunch.

And by the end of this post, you’ll have sharpened those competencies.  Well, that might be an exaggeration, but I can promise that you’ll become more aware of potential pitfalls and warning signs.  Knowledge is power and I hope to shorten your learning curve by sharing my top 7 Recruiting Lessons for Marketing Professionals that I’ve accumulated through both good and bad hiring experiences.

1.  Be patient and trust the process

“Awe, yeah!  <<Insert CMO Name>> has finally approved my additional head count!”

“Ugh.  <<Insert Best Employee Name Here>> has just given her notice.  What am I going to do?!”

Whichever camp your open requisition falls under, the sense of urgency is palpable.  You have to hire as soon as possible so you can get on with your job, get on with meeting your objectives, and get on with growing the business.  Hold your horses.  There’s a reason I’m writing this post now.

Why now?  Because I just went through the process.  A process that started in December.  It’s June.  Yes, it took me six months.  Technically, we extended an offer at 4 1/2 months, but still.  Finding the right person to fill a position took me six months.  Was I being overly critical of candidates?  Absolutely.  I didn’t rush the process.  I resisted the temptation to advance candidates with whom I had an ounce of doubt.

On another occasion, I knew I had found a gem during my first interview.  But even then, the process took three months because I needed to make sure I wasn’t rushing the process.  In this situation, the first candidate set the bar so high that other applicants barely scratched the surface.

Everyone wants to fill a position before management implements a hiring freeze, territories are consolidated or before your team’s production falters.  I get it.  I’m simply advising to level set expectations that hiring will likely take 3 – 6 months.  Anything less and you may cheating the process which could come back to haunt you with a wrong hire.

Still think that’s excessive?  It takes at least:

1 – 2 weeks to post the job opening and start reviewing resumes +

2 – 4 weeks for interviews to be conducted with all stakeholders +

1 – 2 weeks for approvals and offer letters to be written +

2 – 4 weeks for candidates to give their notice and start = 1.5 months to 3 months

If all goes well to plan then you’re looking at least 1 1/2 months, assuming you don’t have multiple rounds of interviews or that you have to return to the candidate pool to review more resumes.  If you can successfully accomplish this, then more power to you — please comment and share your success!

2. Look forward and craft your own accurate job description

Before we jump into screening candidates, we need to set the tone.  First comes writing the job description (JD).  Wait, you don’t have time to write the job description?  I hear you, except that speeding through this step can set you up for hours of headaches down the road.

Feel free to try a shortcut by asking colleagues for job descriptions from similar job titles as a starting place.  But please don’t tell me that you were considering a simple edit that replaces the title or updates the compensation.  That kind of shortcut is like misreading the topography on a trail map and taking the shorter, but steeper trail up on the mountain.  The journey may be more arduous and take hours longer.

Instead of looking at past or present responsibilities and tasks, consider looking forward to what you want the role to be.  Just because the job description has always been written with boiler plate copy doesn’t mean the lack of creativity has to persist.  We’re in marketing — market the position, market its growth potential.

Imagine what type of person you’d like to interview.  Is he/she someone who is most engaged when problem solving?  Is he/she someone who requires organizational agility and influencing without authority skills?  Incorporate these competencies into the job description.  Expand the job description.  Pare down the job description.  Do what you have to do to write an accurate portrayal of the role that reflects your expectations for a highly qualified candidate.

You’re the advocate for this role.  If you’re not excited by your own job description, then don’t expect others to be.  On the other hand, if you’re jazzed, then that amazing job description will attract like-minded people.

3.  Force rank your required skills and identify your non-negotiables

You’ve written the job description.  Great.  Wait!  Before you submit it to Human Resources, take another look.  Have you distinguished the differences between your must-have and nice-to-have skills?

Every company has their own structure for job posting layouts with different headers ranging from Responsibilities, Required Qualifications, Preferred Qualifications, Candidate Profile, etc.  Nonetheless, every Hiring Manager needs to rank the specific job skills according to their relevancy for a successful hire.  The higher the correlation, the higher the rank.

Doing this step before you screen any resumes will ensure your vision (and goals!) isn’t clouded by a candidate’s interviewing prowess.

4. Peruse and exclude resumes

When a Hiring Manager has 10 minutes to scan 20 resumes before she returns to a calendar chock-full of meetings, there’s no wonder that candidates really only have about 10 seconds to catch a Hiring Manager’s attention.  On the other hand, Hiring Managers don’t have extra time to waste on candidates that can’t be bothered to write a cover letter or use spellcheck.

Cover letters are still relevant.  Go ahead — call me old school if you want.  Cover letters help candidates stand out.  Why?  Because few candidates use them!

Let me offer an analogy.  I equate the inclusion of a cover letter to the boy who calls the girl on the phone.  In this day and age, the man who picks up the phone and calls a woman to ask her on a date is more likely to receive a “Yes!” than the other man who texts that same woman.

So few candidates use cover letters anymore and those who do are guaranteed, in my book, that I will read the cover letter AND resume, thereby doubling or tripling the time I spend reviewing their credentials.  This is time borrowed from the candidates who couldn’t be bothered by submitting a writing sample.  Note — by writing “sample,” I mean the cover letter.  After all, everything is part of your portfolio.

Which is why I don’t understand typos, grammatical errors, and other incorrect subtleties (like my name?!) that will get a candidate nixed.

In case you’re wondering — Do I pass on candidates because of a typo on the resume?  You better believe I do.  Do I pass on candidates who make me re-read their objective not because it was interesting, but because it doesn’t say anything?  Yup.  And I’ll advise any colleague, friend, and/or former employer to do the same, especially if you’re hiring for a position that requires attention to detail.

Tough?  Absolutely.  The real world can be ruthless.  But seriously, a resume is supposed to be a person’s best self.  What is going to happen when he/she has a deadline looming and an inbox growing?  I’m unwilling to dampen my professional reputation and/or my relationship with my manager for a stranger who rushed to submit a resume without re-reading his/her own work prior.

Is that ruthless or prudent?  It’s not a compromise I’m willing to concede, but you may feel differently.  However, your job description may not rank detail-oriented as high as mine.

5. Case study interviews aren’t only for Consultants

What’s your interviewing style?  After a candidate has passed the phone screen and telephone interview, my preference is to bring him/her in for a face-to-face interview where I present a case study.  And then I sit back, listen actively, and observe the candidate in action.

For me, using a case study has been one of the most effective methods for bringing a unique interview to life.  It is hard for candidates to stick to their staged responses; I believe that case studies offer me the opportunity to engage with more realistic snapshots of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

The case study doesn’t have to be brand, company, or industry specific if you so choose.  A case study that is easy to explain while being brand and company agnostic actually makes it more flexible to use for evaluating candidates across various disciplines.  I can only imagine how different the perspectives and approaches will be for marketing candidates vs. engineering candidates vs. production candidates.

I will give candidates a heads up that they’ll be receiving a case study as part of their next round of interviews, but I don’t give them the details of the case study ahead of time.  I’d much prefer to see how they react and watch their brain in action.  Do they take notes when I’m discussing the case?  Do they ask questions?  Do they completely shut down when faced with the less traditional interview style?  Do they jump in and take charge?  These are all insights gained before I’ve even begun to evaluate their performance.

Because, yes, it is a performance.  And, yes, I’m keeping score.  Candidates will perform at different levels so I recommend testing this approach with at least (3) candidates.  If you only have (2) candidates, then consider asking a seasoned team member of a similar level and caliber to act as a guinea pig that will set the bar.  If a case study method doesn’t work for you, then let me know.  I’d love to chat about it!

6. Stay alert through post-interview follow-up

Do you find it strange if a candidate hands you a thank you note while walking them to the front door?

Do you think it is odd if a candidate sends a thank you note from their work email, with their current employer’s email signature?

Do you get offended if a candidate sends the same exact thank you note to your colleagues?

Are you offended if a candidate never acknowledges your time with a thank you note?

I emphatically answer YES to all of the above.  And every time it has happened, I have questioned an applicant’s candidacy.  Except for the last one, when they are almost immediately excluded from progressing forward.

I recognize that we’re a time-pressed society and that manners are sometimes pushed to the way side, but this is a job interview.  A big deal.  And the lack of sincerity or simple common sense raises questions about how the person will perform on the job.

I’m not insisting that a person write a hand-written thank you letter (although I would think doing so will make a candidate stand out).  Rather, acknowledgement is all I’m asking for.  Acknowledge my time.  Acknowledge our conversation.  It’s the decent thing to do.  And it doesn’t burn bridges.

What I don’t get is a candidate who wouldn’t use a thank you as a legitimate means to 1) address any concerns that may have been raised during the interview or 2) highlight a strength that differentiates him / her from other candidates.  Seize the opportunity!

Maybe a candidate doesn’t write me a thank you note because he/she decided that the job wasn’t the right fit.  Own up and tell me!  I’d be so impressed by that AND I may be inclined to help you out with networking.  I’m on LinkedIn, you can see who I’m connected with.

7. Drive the bus and hire for you

I recall vividly the first time I needed to hire my own replacement, who would be my direct report because I had been promoted.  The job requisition was posted and I was allowed to interview other candidates, but the undercurrent message was clear.  Management had already identified Frank* as the choice.  Frank was the stellar salesperson who needed to do a rotation in Marketing before he could be promoted to a Region Manager sales position.  I was firmly directed that “I could interview other candidates…but….Frank would be my choice.”  My boss didn’t empower me to choose the best candidate for the role, but I assumed he had my best interests in mind.

Well, you know what they say about assuming.  I underestimated the impact of not standing up for what I needed in a direct report.  I knew the ins and outs of the job better than anyone else because I had been doing it for 18 months and I thought I could train and coach Frank to marketing success.  But the skills that make a person an outstanding sales professional don’t always translate to being an outstanding marketer.  I won’t bore you with the ugly details, but it was ill-fitting for the both of us.  Thus, my zeal to always hire for me was born.

The hiring manager needs to be in the driver’s seat.  Build on Jim Collins’ theory to get the right people on your bus and get the right people in the right seats on your bus.  Your success relies on the success of the individual team members.

Be honest with what you’re looking for, ask tough questions about what the candidate(s) are looking for and measure the overlap.  No candidate is going to check every box, but the empty boxes should be capable of being addressed with training and coaching.  Chasms can be insurmountable and success may not be guaranteed even after a lot of time, attention, and concerted effort.

Listen to your gut on this one.  My gut helps me cut through the BS of polished interviewing skills and alerts me when something just doesn’t feel right about a candidate.

I want to be 100% certain that the candidate is the right person for the job.  I want to be 100% certain that I will enjoy working with this person because he/she is capable of succeeding if and when given the right tools.  I want to be 100% certain that this person will bring value to my team and our business.  A shred of doubt is a surefire sign that an offer should not be extended.

Do these tips resonate with you?  How do you approach recruiting?  Let’s share our experiences!

*Name has been changed to protect identity

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