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Interviewing, Job Search / Networking, On the job Skills

The Danger of Recruiting Only for Experience

Although I’m quite enjoying my mentoring and consulting gigs, I wouldn’t be lying if I said hadn’t raised my hand for the occasional ‘real’ job. Many are within the discipline of marketing, which stands to reason given my background. As I pore through job postings I can’t help but notice the template of thinking at play:

marketing role focusing on sponsorship development

requires X number of years of sponsorship experience

innovative thinker

go getter

………..

B2B marketing

X years B2B experience

innovation, passion etc etc

………….

content marketer with content experience etc etc

 

Experience. I get it. It’s a good thing, right? And if you have results to go with it, even better. High five. You’re hired.

As it turns out, my own personal experience has taught me that specific, directly-related experience shouldn’t be seen as the sole/best way to filter a candidate in all cases. What I will admit, though, is that it’s the easiest way.

I have come to realize there are a number of factors that signal hidden potential in a candidate, so I definitely keep an eye out for those among applicants with leaner backgrounds. But in terms of employment background in particular I approach resumes with a much broader perspective. Let me provide an analogy that demonstrates how my (quirky?) mind operates:

The CEO of a company plays many roles; one important one is to develop and preserve assets that can be monetized over the long term. Assets can be one or more of physical goods, services or even capabilities…or maybe a combination of many of these. Apple for example of course produces valuable hardware and software, but it also has built a lucrative business out of data integrity and user experience design. These competencies are perfected and applied relentlessly to a number of products to drive higher and higher sales…and value for the company.

Along similar lines, we must all see ourselves as the CEO of our own company, which means we must think the same way. We create value for ourselves not only through experiences but via the skills and competencies that are acquired along the way. And importantly, if we are proficient enough, we can apply these fundamental abilities to an almost endless number of business situations to cause exceptional outcomes.

Now I’ll apply this paradigm of thinking to myself – who I am as a marketer and how I, in turn, evaluate backgrounds and resumes.

I see myself as a marketer. Period. Not a B2B marketer, not a content creator, not a digital marketer. Just a marketer. Well, really, a business person.

I have been lucky enough to play with all the tools in the marketing toolbox throughout my career and I have worked it from every level. I can now not only do it, but strategize the pieces, rationalizing each in terms of where they fit in growth-driving plans, today and tomorrow.

Marketers know how to break down a market and study the consumer, identify opportunities and craft solutions using any of the tools. As I have worked for fast-moving companies, my work landscape has changed in similarly rapid ways. In one business cycle I’m targeting low income families. The next I’m going after medical professionals…and then Hispanics…followed by the LGBT community. As for my growth utensils I have created big budget ads, produced media digital press kits, learned and applied CRM and loyalty programs and launched a number of products using only grassroots social marketing and PR….and a heckuva lot more.

Do I define myself by the markets I serve and the tools I use? Would I call myself a great Hispanic or loyalty marketer? Nope. Just a marketer. The insight that lies below the surface of the words on my resume is just that: I am a marketer (who makes things happen)…and that’s ultimately in my mind what I’m looking for as I think about hiring.

And once we become a full-fledged marketer – at the DNA level – the setting for work and the function performed matters not. In fact, it’s better to broaden our scope not only for the sake of learning but to continuously exercise the muscle of not looking back and always looking ahead you, because what we do yesterday becomes less and less relevant as the weeks pass and the world changes — rapidly these days, I might add.

Therein lies the potential dark side of having depth of experience.  Sure, you can hit the ground running, which means you might outpace the competish in the first month or two, but you can risk becoming rather proud of the work you did in 2009 as the model for how you work today. Sad part is, no one is looking to do business that way again. See, inertia can begin to form that creates habits, which in turn prevents you from repeatedly blowing up the model. And that’s what today’s business landscape requires.

Experience is backward-looking.

That’s the other potential flag. Sure, experience can often deliver some wisdom and certainly functional expertise. The problem is, experience is about the past, whereas companies in today’s fast-paced environments are looking for people to lead them into the future. They want people who are ahead of the curve, not trailing behind it.

The way to reconcile being both back and forward oriented is to develop expertise in adopting new business models and transforming teams. In the early 2000s, I was recruited within my corporation for roles in new digital marketing teams and for new product development. I was flagged as having vision and for being extraordinarily comfortable in white space conditions. That’s a part of my DNA.

So now, when I interview ‘experienced’ people in sales and marketing, I grill them for examples of being ahead of the curve. Like, when internet became a thing at the turn of the century, how did they jump on it? How did they blow up their ways of working to adapt to the changing times? What were their test and learn practices for new marketing tools? The answers to those questions to me are quite telling in terms of characterizing the type of leader I’m speaking with. And I advise others to think the same way when recruiting.

In my career as a marketer, a lot has changed. When I started, internet marketing was fairly new, as was CRM. Later on, social media marketing, digital marketing and mobile marketing all became major thrusts. And when they did, nobody knew how to do them well. It took years for mostly agencies and dedicated marketing houses to develop competencies to compensate for those companies that couldn’t. And they couldn’t because they didn’t have marketers; they had teams of specialists.…and that left them stuck in their tracks.

All this to say that when I hire for a marketing role at the lower levels, I’m looking for the person who has the psychological infrastructure of a real marketer. If I’m hiring for a B2B role, sure I’ll bring in some candidates with B2B experience, but I’ll push them hard to show me how they have innovated along the way. I listen for alarming phrases such as “I approach the business this way because it works” Eeeeeek.

When I searched for a wealth manager, I shooed off the people who can tell me about the consistent 20% returns their portfolios have generated since the crash. Instead, I ask them for insight about the market that will lead me to believe that 20% is still possible. If they start to sputter, I’m gone. Probably a lot of luck involved. Get what I’m saying?

And this is why when I hire for that B2B role I’ll bring in a bunch of B2C marketers as well as others with different backgrounds who have produced results in uncommon situations. They have no mental template at play, which can lead to some fascinating exploratory conversation about how to approach this new role for them. Eyes wide open.

So my advice to anyone hiring is to include a diverse slate of candidates, especially when it comes to backgrounds. Go one level up from functional experience. Depending on the role, challenge yourself to find a talented marketer, or problem solver, or business person, or someone with an incredible nose for opportunity and growth. Through this lens, you’ll uncover not only experienced candidates but verified and versatile talent, and just might find yourself monetizing a more expansive body of work for many years to come.

 

ADDITIONAL READING

Oct 2016 – I commented on this article on Forbes about why work experience is so undervalued. In it, I addressed the point of older workers being great mentors. Consistent with what I have said here I would offer that being a great mentor requires knowing what leadership and work styles are outdated and which are to be kept. Said another way, a great mentor can help a coming generation of talent to be the best version of themselves in a changing work enviro. You have to be humble, see the future and prepare your teams for it. If you are arrogant enough to think the path is simply to turn a younger worker into a clone of yourself, you will neither be effective nor in demand. Sadly, that’s the biggest challenge with us Gen Xers — our lack of humility. So, check your temperature there first, before you proceed. It’s the key to unlocking and showcasing your value.

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