How to Recruit Talent That Has the 'Agency Bug' Grow your team effectively by looking for the right traits.
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The agency world is a different beast when compared to traditional brands hiring in-house or a massive corporation.
While startups show some overlap in working hours or job dynamics, the added variety of business clients agencies juggle plus the hard cap on monthly hours introduces unique challenges for the average agency employee.
Regardless of whether you manage a creative, marketing, advertising or technical agency, competing with multinational corporations or funded startups is not an easy feat. Successful organizations often scout for the right hires hungry for various challenges across a large portfolio of clients and supplement resources with graduates and junior recruits willing to invest extra time in skilling up quickly and taking on real problems.
And the question is, how do you find the right talent by turning the industry challenges into opportunities?
Here are the six traits we look for while onboarding new team members internally and across our agency partners.
Millions of mundane corporate jobs exist to fulfill internal processes that could be automated or outsourced to offshore firms. Agencies are contracted to solve specific problems in a cost-effective manner, which puts the emphasis on efficiency, a broad overview of different business verticals and a bouquet of use cases unique to every client.
Serving a local restaurant and pitching a marketing plan for a Fortune 500 company or an award-winning publisher requires a completely different approach. Eagerness to continuously hop between new market segments, business sizes and operational challenges, adapting the process depending on the contract, is a valuable trait for every agency executive.
Perseverance, hustle, grind — you name it.
The agency ecosystem is always on fire. The roller coaster led by the "feast and famine" cycle bounces between short bursts of work overload and waiting for new deals to close.
Working in such an environment requires an in-depth understanding of one's energy levels and the ability to burn the midnight oil as needed. Unexpected sick leaves or turnover may increase the workload for a period of time — and resilience is paramount to get through loads of work in the interim.
The lack of predictability combined with strong influence from external factors (available resources and incoming clients) is a whirlwind that seems unbearable for some while acting as a magnet for typical agency talent.
3. Passion for learning
Staying competitive is contingent on learning new tools, being up to date with the latest trends, applying business hacks to automate processes and solving problems unique to every organization.
The never-ending learning cycle is mandatory. Even veteran agency managers with entrepreneurial backgrounds have to polish their skills on a regular basis. What worked a year back may not necessarily be the best solution today — and staying on top of the industry, often experimenting with bleeding-edge techniques, is one of the leading traits that successful agency employees possess.
Agencies serve different clients, and contracts are usually limited in time — through a fixed-fee agreement or time and material. Even retainer-based contracts have a cap that can't be exceeded without accumulating loss for the agency.
This is why every hour counts. Highly efficient employees can handle multiple accounts on a daily basis, generate results effectively and optimize their time for maximum output.
Communication overhead can be detrimental to any agency — both in terms of billing and in meeting deadlines. Failing to follow requirements and deviating from the process will cause the butterfly effect across the team.
Excelling in an agency environment depends on the in-depth understanding of the required deliverables. Every problem can be solved in multiple ways — quick and dirty, slow and steady or somewhere in between. Being able to navigate and apply different workflows based on the limitations is an art, and your applicants should either be great at it or passionate about improving efficiency all the time.
Agility is a competitive factor both in terms of recruitment and when bidding on a request for proposal. Clients want the freedom to expand resources as needed or purchase additional services provided by the agency on demand.
This poses unique challenges for project managers with expectations resetting in the middle of the process. Compare this with a traditional "body leasing" outsourcing model of providing access to an employee in a full-time or half-time fashion with no additional responsibility in managing expectations by the vendor. Startups building a single product or two also have fewer assignments in the air compared to the parallel assignments agency members have to undertake.
Switching quickly between accounts as needed, heading in and out of focus mode and being wary of last-minute requests on a regular basis are common requirements across agencies of all types. Agile employees thrive in an agile environment, and, more importantly, career growth allows for multiple paths forward for fast thinkers and creative problem-solvers.
One of the recurring notes in our feedback recaps is the ability to participate proactively in client assignments, providing suggestions (and implementing them afterward) and engaging in real-time with clients and the business challenges they face.
Over the years, we have acquired smaller agencies and hired former founders and freelancers looking for bigger problems to solve. Agency talent is rarely limited to their own "hard skill" — they want to apply their know-how in different contextual scenarios, verifying the validity of a solution, adjusting and refining the process, diving deeper by walking in the client's shoes.
Agencies tend to be among the desired places to work for individuals who want an active part in "running the business" without taking on the full responsibility of handling finances or legal expectations, the complete recruitment cycle across the entire organization or being on call 24/7.
Your existing hires want a collaborative environment where they can thrive with limited obstacles. Exponential professional growth is a common requirement that drives professionals to the agency world — especially junior hires eager to gain skills quickly.
Every company has a set of traits unique to its culture, and hiring based on them is a necessity. But covering the essential characteristics of a successful agency employee will increase the odds of building a stronger team, forming new professional relationships at the office and creating a growth-oriented environment that empowers individuals to solve more complex problems at scale together.