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How to Recruit 'Real' Digital Marketing Gurus Learn how to decipher a digital talent dud from a digital talent stud.

By Len Devanna Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Throughout my career, I've had the pleasure of helping many of the worlds top brands do amazing things with digital media. In the process, I've helped many of them define and ultimately staff their digital organizations. I've seen just how hard it can be to find true digital talent; especially, if you aren't completely immersed in the digital world yourself.

I liken it to me interviewing a candidate for a position as a neurosurgeon. At best, I can evaluate personality and bedside manner, but I am certainly not able to test his or her domain knowledge.

This problem is further complicated by the increasing number of self-proclaimed digital gurus, rockstars and ninjas out there. We're breaking new ground here, and identifying oneself as an expert in such an emerging field should be a big warning sign when looking at prospective candidates.

So how do you cut through all of the noise, acronyms and platitudes to find a candidate who really understands how digital can deliver business value? I hoped to help you do just that by offering the guidance I've given past clients. While the level of digital talent you're interviewing will dictate the altitude of the conversation, there's a few relevant areas to discuss with all candidates.

What do they say about themselves?

You don't have to be a digital expert to get a sense of an individual. Something as simple as checking out their social media accounts can quickly help you get a sense of how they think.

While LinkedIn is the obvious place to start, it also might be the least telling. Afterall, as a candidate, LinkedIn is my online billboard, and I know you'll be checking me out there. In other words, it's my A-game. So what can we learn by looking beyond LinkedIn? Platforms like Twitter and Instagram, for example, often yield interesting signals. More often than not, you can find a prospective candidate by simply searching for [candidate name] + [social channel].

Related: This Recruiting Hack Will Save You Time and Lead to Better Interviews

Are they active, or has the channel been abandoned for years? Is the content on point for what you're looking for? What does their bio say about them? Are they engaging with their audience in meaningful dialogue, or is their feed an endless stream of kitten pictures or brand rants?

I was working with a financial services client who had just extended an offer to a candidate to run a local branch office. I asked if a quick social audit was part of the candidate screening process. It was not. A 10-second search revealed this tidbit from Twitter:

"Just accepted a new bank gig. Glad to be employed again even though I hate dealing with rich and entitled (expletive)."

Not exactly the kind of person you want serving as the front face of your business. The rest of his feed was full of equally careless comments. Had they checked in advance, they'd have avoided a potential mess down the road. As is always the case, you can learn a ton by simply taking the time to listen. A social checkup is now a routine part of this particular companies screening process, even for non-digital candidates.

What does the world say about them?

It may seem woefully obvious, but 10 minutes of searching a candidates name can really help you understand their digital footprint.

Are they blogging? If so, you can gather tremendous insights into how they think, how they write and so much more. Even if the blog is a personal account, you can learn a lot about a person from tone of voice and the frequency of updates.

Beyond a blog, are they cited by established media outlets? Have they spoken at relevant conferences or industry events? Do they have any published work on the topic at hand?

Any digital professional worth their weight in salt is cognizant of and maintains their online brand. If they don't, what might that tell you about how they'll manage the online presence for your company?

Related: 3 Ways to Constantly Be Recruiting Star Talent Through Social Media

Ask the right questions.

Just because you're not on Snapchat or have never used Periscope doesn't mean you can't probe for meaningful insights during an interview. The truth is this is less about digital and more about being able to articulate how digital can support your core business strategy.

While answers are sure to vary based on level, here are some areas I tend to focus on along with what I am generally looking for in the conversation.

What do you see as the digital opportunity for our company?

For me, answers around things such as increased follower counts, improved Klout or Kred scores and/or running a cool Facebook campaign raise an immediate red flag.

Rather, I am looking for someone who is able to tie digital back to a meaningful business metric. That might be incremental revenue, lead generation or perhaps reduction in cost inside the business or post-sale customer satisfaction and retention. Even the most junior candidate should be able to articulate digital activity back to a meaningful business outcome.

Are we on the right digital channels today?

Unless the candidate has done significant research and is able to defend their point of view, yes is almost always the wrong answer.

The truth is it'd be very difficult for me to answer that question without intimately understanding your audience and business objectives. What are your target's preferred channels? Where are they having relevant conversations online? Are we aware of and engaged in these conversations?

How should we measure success in digital?

Again, follower counts is not a good answer. When was the last time you saw an increase in followers get someone promoted?

I'm hunting for business measures here - the type of things that your CEO will get excited about. While much depends on the role and level you're hiring for, I prefer to hear business metrics, such as the number of leads generated, amount of revenue attributed back to digital, timeliness of customer responses, brand share of voice, overall customer satisfaction scores or something similar.

What opportunities have you seen for us to improve our current digital experience?

This is a great way to see if a candidate has done their homework or not. I'm generally looking for a more critical eye when asking this question as there are always opportunities for improvement - always.

And while there's no right answer to this question, I'm usually looking for thoughts on how the brand might more tightly align or integrate digital touchpoints. How might we do a better job engaging our audience as opposed to broadcasting at them? Or how might we more consistently convey our brand message across channels?

Related: Why Smart Entrepreneurs Are Swiping Right on Recruiting Apps

The opportunities that digital offers brands are endless, hence my passion for the space. I often tell clients that they don't need a digital strategy, rather a business strategy that effectively leverages digital throughout the customer journey. I am hopeful that, in looking through the lens of the customer journey, you are better able to evaluate and recruit the right digital talent for your organization.

Len Devanna

Digital Marketing, Strategy & Transformation Leader

Len Devanna, president of Trepoint, has worked in digital marketing for 25 years. He has helped startups to $180-billion companies transform and integrate how they serve their audiences through digital media.

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