It's enough to make any team lead wonder, "what should I really be looking for when hiring a marketer?"
This is a question we have pondered heavily as we've hired, trained, and grown over 170 marketers in our 13 years of business. And we've learned it's a lot less about specific "marketing strengths" than one might think.
Don’t get me wrong — I studied marketing and I find immense value in my degree every day.
Admittedly, however, finding candidates who understand marketing and have strong technical skills is relatively easy compared to finding someone with these skills and the intangible qualities that make one standout.
It’s those soft skills that I will share with you here and provide guidance on evaluating in your hiring process. We'll go through:
Ten qualities to look for in every marketing hire
How to evaluate those traits in your hiring process
'But wait, can't I just outsource?'
A part of you is probably wondering, "Can't I avoid all this trouble by outsourcing?" and, initially, perhaps you can.
With an agency, you don't have to take the time to recruit and hire each essential role on your team, but you do need to take the time to hire the right agency for you.
And even if you find it, there's no guarantee of return on investment.
When you're working with an agency, your hands are tied by your contract or scope of work. You don't have the liberty to spontaneously publish an additional article or video or have edits made quickly. You are just one of many clients and your agency team can only give you so much attention.
Plus, the fact is, an agency will never know your business as well as you do. They can do as much research and auditing as they like, but no one will know your product, service, culture, or voice as well as someone who works in it every day.
When you build your marketing team internally, you are creating this resource in your company and making a long-term investment that stays in your organization.
Do you love solving problems? Do you see challenges as opportunities to provide more value? Are you excited by the idea of overcoming obstacles to achieve your outcomes?
Candidates who answer yes to these questions likely have a great deal of self-motivation, initiative, and drive. They are excited by new challenges and can work through them with little to no direction.
Marketing is a lightning-fast field. When a process isn’t working, you need a marketer who is going to dive in to fix it, not someone who will wait to be asked or be handed a solution.
If the team isn’t hitting its goals, marketers with drive take risks, try new things, and test bold assumptions. They move fast. They solve problems and introduce new ideas without asking for permission and get results.
But how do you measure drive? How can you tell if the candidate you are interviewing has it?
Some of the typical interview questions — Why are you interested in the position? Why this company specifically? What are your personal and professional goals in 1 year/3 years/5 years? — can help with this, but we recommend going deeper.
What a marketing candidate does is often far more telling than what they say in an interview.
So look beyond just their job experience.
What do they do in their free time?
Do they publish content? Do they stay on top of the latest marketing trends? Are they engaged in industry chat on social media?
Are they training for a marathon or building a vacation home? Do they have a side business?
There’s a big difference between a candidate who keeps busy after the work day ends and someone who'd rather shut their brain off.
In short, a highly motivated marketer doesn’t just have big career goals and a strong desire to work for you — they make it a point to excel and achieve in their lives in general.
They also make an effort to know your business and come prepared to an interview with insightful questions that show a deep understanding of what you do.
2. Communication skills
At its heart, marketing is all about communication — communicating effectively to your team (whether that be written or verbal) and communicating effectively to an audience so they understand your value.
Because of this, any marketer you hires needs to have strong communication skills to get the job done right.
In their role, marketers can encounter several challenges in their day-to-day collaboration. They may include:
The way in which marketers handle these conversations has a dramatic impact on their effectiveness on their team and, ultimately, the quality of their work.
Great marketers are good listeners who seek first to understand before launching into a presentation or conversation. They don’t get defensive when confronted with doubt or disagreement.
Instead, they pay attention and focus on adjusting their own message or communication style to suit the needs of the other party.
From a creative standpoint, they can also effectively convey a marketing message and recognize a strong one. They can present well on video and write a compelling article if need be.
Measuring these communication skills is something that actually naturally occurs throughout the hiring process.
Looking at their cover letter, ask yourself: Is it direct and to the point or long and rambling? Does it persuasively explain why they are the best candidate? Do you like them just a little bit more after reading it?
In the interview: How do they respond when you ask them a challenging question? Do they use lots of “um’s” and “uh’s” or do they speak with confidence?
If they have a portfolio of writing samples, what does their work look like? Is it compelling? Is it convincing? Is it well-researched?
In the situational activity, consider presenting them with a fictional situation and asking them to report to you, as the client, on the company’s marketing performance.
While it may seem like a given that someone with a marketing background will be a great communicator, that is not always the case, so evaluating candidates for their communication style is an essential part of the interview process.
3. Leadership skills
This one might seem odd because not every marketing candidate is being hired to manage or lead others, but look at it this way: The best leaders know how to manage themselves.
They understand their weaknesses and actively work to overcome them. They know their strengths and leverage them to increase their effectiveness.
They are also proactive, not reactive, and they are skilled at controlling their emotions.
They set goals and work towards them, and they manage their time effectively.
They believe strongly that if they are going to do something, they will do it well, and they passionately pursue mastery of their craft.
A candidate with strong leadership skills will naturally be a better and more effective marketer, and if at some point they are interested in moving into a leadership role, they will have greater potential for advancement.
The best way to identify leaders is to look for examples in other areas of their life.
Have they held a leadership role in school or a club they belong to? What are their interests outside of work and how do they balance those with their career? What are they passionate about and how are they working on getting better at it?
4. Lifelong learner
Great marketers are life-long learners. They have to be in such a dynamic field.
They have an insatiable desire to deepen their knowledge about marketing, and to stay in the loop of new developments in the field.
When their workday ends, they don’t simply “clock out,” they read marketing and business books in their free time, listen to podcasts, and have a favorite blogger (or two or three) that they follow.
In short, they are always learning.
One of the questions I like to ask marketing candidates is “What is your favorite marketing book or blog?”
The lifelong learners can immediately respond with a list of authors they follow and books they’ve enjoyed reading, along with the reasons why. These are the candidates you want to hire.
5. Critical thinking
Marketing isn’t like math. When presented with a problem, you can’t simply use a set of pre-determined rules to solve it. Instead, you need to apply critical thinking skills.
Critical thinking, simply put, is when you can thoroughly analyze or assess situations without bias. You can mindfully put personal opinions, likes, and dislikes aside to make decisions based on facts and data.
Strong critical thinking skills are so important in marketing precisely because our own innate biases as human beings are the things that can prevent us from being effective.
We can often just opt for what we "like."
But great marketers know it's not about them.
Creating a successful marketing campaign requires setting aside our opinions, life experiences, and assumptions and digging deep into our audience's needs, challenges, and preferences.
It also requires that we consistently question the status quo. Great marketing doesn’t come from running the same playbook over and over again. It is the product of educated risks.
How can you measure a candidate's critical thinking skills?
Present them with a problem to solve.
At IMPACT, our hiring process always includes a situational activity — a practical exercise that involves a problem-solving component.
For marketing managers, that might mean providing them with a set of marketing data about a company and asking them to analyze it, diagnose any problems, and come up with a set of recommendations.
You can also consider asking candidates questions like “What are the three biggest challenges facing companies today when it comes to marketing?”
The answers you'll get can be very telling. The average candidate might give a surface-level response such as “getting found online,” whereas the truly stellar marketer will provide a more thoughtful and nuanced answer.
6. Focused on results
At the end of the day, what matters is results.
It really doesn’t matter if you wrote the most eloquent email in the world if no one read it. It doesn't matter if a million people were shown your video on social media, but no one watched it.
Marketers who are results-oriented keep their eyes focused on the goals of the organization and don't get distracted by flashy vanity metrics or opinions.
This is where critical thinking comes into play again as well. When someone is focused on the outcomes of their work rather than just the energy or process used to create it, they are likely to make more deliberate, strategic decisions.
You can measure results orientation in marketing candidates with one simple question: “How will you define success for yourself in this role?”
Rather than saying, "If I put my best foot forward and try my best," a results-oriented candidate may respond “The work I do delivers an increase in the number of qualified leads for the company,” or “We as a company hit our revenue targets.”
Even better, you can have them talk through an initiative they owned in a past position and how they hit it.
Not all parts of marketing are as glamorous as the movies and Mad Men try to make it seem. A lot of times it involves deep individual work writing, reading, and analyzing.
A great marketer needs to be able to thrive in these times; focusing and working independently without much guidance or collaboration.
Especially in an increasingly virtual work environment where you may not be in the same room as your team regularly or be working with people in different time zones, this ability to work autonomously is essential.
8. Attention to detail
Here we have a critical creative skill. Great marketing hires need to have great attention to detail.
This is essential for maintaining writing quality (think grammar, spelling, search optimization, and maintaining your voice), creating and following a content creation calendar (hitting due dates and holding others accountable to them), and following processes, reviewing projects, and analyzing data, among other things.
Many marketing responsibilities are quite meticulous and without someone watching over them day after day, you need to be able to trust that your marketer will maintain them without hand-holding.
9. Teacher mindset
This may sound a bit idealistic to end on, but overall, a great modern marketer is passionate about teaching — whether it be for themselves, their teammates, or most importantly, the audience they're trying to reach.
Modern buyers don't want to be sold to. They want to be educated and empowered. They want to have their most burning questions answered (like The Big 5 from Marcus Sheridan's They Ask, You Answer) and a great marketer keeps this top of mind with every project they work on.
They know how to balance this value with the organization's goals.
Again, this is something you can recognize naturally throughout the interview process and how they discuss their work. Have them talk about campaigns they have run or are proud of. Talk about what they're most passionate about when it comes to the position.
If their answers mention things like connection and delivering value, they likely have the teacher mindset you're looking for.
Soft skills will make the hardest impact
You might have noticed that all of the traits I’ve listed here have one thing in common — they’re not necessarily about marketing. In fact, I would argue that many of these traits are ones you should look for regardless of the type of role you’re looking to fill.
The challenge with all of these, however, is that they are not easily measured by simply looking at a resume or cover letter.
Instead, you need carefully crafted interview questions, role plays, and situational activities to suss out a candidate’s soft skills and determine if they have what it takes to succeed at your organization. Use the advice in this piece to get started.