What should you look for when hiring a marketer?

Marketing Strategy by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Written by Matt Handal

Last week, we went over three mistakes principals make when hiring marketers.

The next logical question is: Then who should principals hire?

A listener

I don’t think it is in your best interest to hire an extrovert or even someone who is very quiet and introverted. You should hire someone who is in the middle of the road. The ability to listen and be inquisitive should be core traits this person has.

A communicator and writer

Communication is also important. Writing ability plays a key role whenever I’m evaluating a marketing candidate. And I’m not talking about whether they properly used an em-dash instead of an en-dash. That stuff doesn’t matter. What really matters is whether they can convey an idea, like the benefit of choosing one thing over another.

Their writing has to be interesting. If their writing is not interesting and compelling, do you really think anyone is going to read it?

I’ve learned, the hard way, to give the candidate a writing assignment on the spot. Any candidate could easily get someone to write or edit their cover letter or writing sample. They should be able to write something decent relatively quickly.

Knows something about marketing that you don’t

Knowledge is also important. They should know more about marketing theory than you. If they know less about marketing theory than you do, don’t hire them. If you can’t learn anything from them, don’t hire them. Even if they just got out of college, they should know more marketing theory than you. Heck, they just spent at least two full years studying it, right?

Not a jumper

One red flag I see is marketers who jump from job to job. It’s surprising these people get hired again and again. Yet, they do.

Any principal is going to give a marketing hire at least a year to prove themselves. If their performance and abilities are insufficient, it will take at least a year to get rid of this person. Therefore, when a marketer jumps from job to job every two to three years, that’s a pretty good indication that they suck.

Now, I don’t think you can fault someone who has only been in the business for three years. But if you see a career pattern where they jumped after two to three years…that’s a serious red flag.

Weird in a good way

One personal observation I have about successful marketers is that each one is a little bit odd. I’m not saying they come to the interview dressed in a clown suit. I’m saying there is something just a little bit different about them. And very often it’s hard to put your finger on it.

For example, one of my mentors, who I love dearly, was like someone from another era. It was like he had come to this moment from a time machine in the 50s. He’s the only marketer I ever met who brought a briefcase to work. He drank scotch. He took care of this dear mother, who was elderly.

He dressed the part too. Everybody called him Dapper John. He was like a character from the TV show Mad Men. Nobody would dare call him weird, but there was something a little bit different about him. It was just hard to put your finger on it.

I think he saw this quality in marketers too. Because if it wasn’t for him, I would have never got my current job.

I originally interviewed for a marketing co-ordinator position at my current firm more than 10 years ago. After a series of interviews, a group of people sat down to discuss my fate.

The marketing director at the time said, “I don’t know about this Matt guy. He’s a little weird.”

Luckily, Dapper John came to my defense. “You’re right,” he said. “He is weird!”

“But he’s weird in a good way.”

They hired me after that meeting. Again, that was about 10 years ago…so they must have made a good decision.

Sure, there must be a fine line between weird in a good way and weird in a bad way. Certainly, you shouldn’t hire someone simply because they are a little bit different. They still need to be able to communicate effectively (in various mediums), make complex mental connections, and know more about marketing theory than you.

And they have to have the qualities I’ll discuss later in “what you should expect from your marketer.” However, if they have all these qualities, it would be a mistake to dismiss them because there is something a little bit different about them.

Key takeaway: Hiring the right marketer isn’t easy. There are many people who claim to be marketers. And there are many people who make an outstanding first impression, but are terrible marketers.

You’re going to have to dig a little deeper to find somebody who has the talent and core abilities of a marketer. But trust me, they are out there. Just be careful next time you hire a marketer.

Matt Handal, based in the Philadelphia area, provides resources for AEC proposal writing and marketing at helpeverybodyeveryday.com. He has helped construction, engineering, architectural, and real estate consulting firms realize tens of millions in fees from projects ranging from $500,000 to $2 billion. He says he welcomes questions from readers about this article and can be reached by email at matt@helpeverybodyeveryday.com.


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