What Should You Look For When Hiring A Marketer?

hiring the right marketer 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 2-3 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 coordinator position at my current firm ten 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. 🙂

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  1. Dana Galvin Lancour says

    Great article Matt! Sound advice for anyone looking for a good marketer! I think I would also add “resourceful” to the list as I can teach anyone software programs or knowledge about the industry but when I hand a marketer a project, I want him/her to make it their own and get it done in their own way. This means being resourceful, finding opportunities within challenges and writing your own directions rather than following the original set.

    Thank you for all you do to further our profession Matt!

    • Matt Handal says


      I totally agree. I always say the problem is not a lack of resources, it’s a lack of resourcefulness. And if you take something on and don’t work to make it better, what’s the point?

      P.S. Congrats on being honored as a SMPS Fellow!!!

  2. The element missing in the article is you also want big thinkers who even when doing are thinking about what could be.

    The hiring criteria expand when hiring a consultant rather than internal staff. Most importantly you want someone who can teach your firm to be fundamentally better marketers. Done well, marketing is a strategic function that brings clarity to every corner of your organization so that everything works better. The more people that can recognize strategic business (business worth much more than the immediate fees), the stronger your business. Marketing needs to lead the way. Go for the same old, same old if you want to be like everyone else, or collaborate with someone “a little bit weird” to move away from the pack. Really good professional services firms take the holestic concept of marketing seriously, recognizing that great delivery is not a differentiator when there are other quality firms.

  3. Marketer Contemplating Change says


    I enjoyed the article and the section about “Not a Jumper” really stuck out to me. As someone who is still “fresh” in this industry it was interesting to see the career changes at 2-3 years listed as a red flag.

    I would offer the flip side perspective that for a marketer, 2-3 years is enough time with a firm to get beyond the “honeymoon” phase of a new position, understand how the firm operates, and have a clear understanding of if the role and actual opportunities within that firm. In spite of experiencing success in that role, an individual could be seeking a position at another firm to achieve a role that better aligns with their skillset and career goals.

    • Matt Handal says

      Thanks for commenting.

      I think you can understand all that you mention within 6 months. Listen, if you really have a huge impact on a firm…they are going to do everything in their power to keep you.

      If you are just starting out, sure…you may not stay with your first firm for five years. But if I see an experienced applicant without a single job lasting at least 5 years…that’s totally a red flag.


  4. Good article, Matt. I always appreciate seeing your column. I agree with Dana Lancour. Resourcefulness, for me, would trump my decision in some of the other areas you list. A person looking at my resume would see I held four jobs in a ten-year span and, with each of those jumps, I was recruited by another company with increasing responsibility. I don’t see “jumping” as a red flag as much as I do a normal, bland-colored flag to ask about in the interview. If the “jumps” make sense, then they’re not a factor to me.

    Strange enough, I also don’t even review a candidate’s college education (unless it’s an entry-level position) until right before I go into the interview. I have found that those who come to me with an MBA are harder to nurture into a new culture, don’t take direction well, and have average skill at best. My last two specialist-level hires had high-school educations and worked productive circles around those on my team with higher degrees. I promoted them through the ranks and when they reached a level that our company would not promote them further due to a lack of college education, I helped them get better jobs outside our company. Today, they’re both doing very well and making more money leading marketing for smaller organizations. I go more for experience, proof of skill and if they would fit into our team more than anything else.

    I also like Bruce La Fetra’s comments about being a big thinker. I would only caution that you must gauge whether your “big thinker” will also be a “big doer.” If a manager or teammate has a big idea but leaves it to others to implement, then they’ll quickly be disrespected, driving division and apathy within the organization. Big thinkers must get their hands dirty. They can’t wait until the results appear and say, “That was my idea.” If a candidate or team member loves the craft of marketing then, I believe, that they’ll also be driven by a certain level of curiosity. That curiosity, along with good communication skills, will pull out those big-thinking ideas.

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