Recruiting for marketing is hard!

And I suspect that what makes it hard for us as recruiters also makes it hard for marketing job seekers. First, let me say that I am not complaining because what makes my job hard is also one of the things I enjoy most about it.It takes a “special“ kind of person to be a recruiter…just ask my friends ; )

Focused on other functional spaces, a recruiter can generally assume that a person with a certain title has certain skills. I’m not going to call out specific functions because my intent isn’t to say “my job is harder than your job”. I’m sure there are other functional areas that face the same challenges as marketing.

The thing that makes marketing tough is that there are so many functions that are considered marketing (I tend to think of them as “business“ functions). When I first started my blog, I created a post explaining some of the big “buckets” that we recruit for in the marketing space. But really, when I think about it, mostly we recruit by title and then go through a “discovery” process. For example, I will actively seek out product managers. The challenge is figuring out what they really do when you get them on the phone. Because in my world, one product manager is not the same as another. The jobs aren’t the same and the candidates aren’t the same. A product manager focused on analyzing emerging markets is different than a product manager focused on feature strategy. Both of those are different than a product manager focused on go-to-market strategies. And then the specifics of domain knowledge add to the complexity…a product manager in the server space is different than one focused on a consumer product. Certainly provides for a lot of variety in what I recruit for ; ) 

So when I call up (cold-call) a Product Manager at XYZ company, I rarely know what kind of marketing he/she is responsible for until I get into the conversation with him/her. Or until I get his resume. And engaging in the conversation and collecting the resume creates additional responsibilities on my part as far as follow-up; which really doesn’t lend itself well to identifying large populations of candidates with similar backgrounds. If you have ever sent me a resume, I probably told you something along the lines of: “if a recruiter finds a position that matches, they will contact you directly”. I wish I could provide more info to candidates but without owning the positions myself, it’s not possible to provide direct follow-up with every single person I am in contact with (wish I could though…I understand that it’s important to you). But I do get very excited to see some of the fantastic people contacting me to be considered for roles at Microsoft.

I would equate this to a candidate doing a job search where he could only search for jobs based on title. If he/she wanted to know more than the title, he would have to call up the recruiter and have a conversation and then follow up with the recruiter to let them know if he/she is interested. It’s not that efficient of a process, really.

On the flip side, I really enjoy the “needle-in-a-haystack” searching. It’s cool to know that there’s one great person out there for a position and it’s my job to figure out who they are. Aside from the experience of helping people navigate a major life decision, this recruiting detective work is what really keeps me going.

I guess our challenge to understand how to appropriately identify marketing talent could be equated to a customer segmentation exercise…one where customer behaviors are not particularly public.  So you customer segmentation experts out there…how do you solve this challenge? How do you go about identifying pockets of similar candidates out there in the market with little more than their name, company and title? Or should we consider this more of a sales exercise than a marketing exercise?

Comments (15)

  1. Paul R says:

    If you mainly recruit by job title as you indicate, then by definition, you will only hire identi-kit marketing clones.

    The chances of you hiring an off-the-wall marketing genius are nil.

    Thus you kill off diversity, and encourage stagnation in the company.

    The potential result is a company that cannot innovate…

  2. Heather says:

    Paul- how is it ‘by definition" that we would hire identi-kit marketing clones (what does identi-kit mean anyway?). I’m not getting your point.

    Using titles as keywords for searches doesn’t kill-off diversity…as the titles are not mutually exclusive of diversity. We actually do have a number of diversity initiatives, I’m just not seeing the connection you are making between searching by title and diversity. Please explain.

    All companies should be concerned about failure to innovate (any company that isn’t concerned about it is already irrelevant). Please tell me how to search for a large population of marketers out there that "by definition" are top innovators. That’s the problem. I can reach out to a bunch of people and phone interview them one-by-one, but that is one-off recruiting and that is not my charter (you can read some of my previous posts on what I am responsible for). People here do go through a complete screening and interviewing process, no doubt. My question was how to identify the talent in the first place, not how to take them through the screening. It’s the finding, not the screening that I am asking about.

  3. Thanh Nguyen says:

    This is an interesting point… I can see both sides of the issues from Paul and from Heater…

    Paul is right that hiring from the same title may kill off diversity. Also another point that he is eluding to is that companies should hire off-the-wall/genius talents to create a stronger team. I had several to work w/ very good engineers but they couldn’t communicate if their lives depend on it. Yet we came up w/ some very interesting products that I was bringing to the market. If everybody thinks the same, the products become a "me too" since they were developed by "yes-men" (sorry if I am not political-correct here).

    Also companies are seeking for people w/ the exact match. Why? Because that cuts down the learning curve and gets the job done quicker. The flip side it does not bring the freshest perspective to the companies. In my last company (as a networking company), we brought in a VP of Engineering coming from Hughes Direct TV who knows nothing about the networking industry. He turned out to be the best VP of Engineering that we ever had. He also made us marketing people present to him differently and helped us refine our value propositions for our products. I think Paul’s point of diversity is more about diversity in thinking rather than in ethnic groups.

    Though Heather has a good point. How could she identify the right talent in a large population is a hard, especially right now that the market is flooded with talents that were the by-products of the dot bomb. Heather is active w/ several online networking groups (that was how I came to this blog as an active job seeker) which has helped directing her to the right talent pools. The question that I have: would recruiters take chances w/ "raw" talents?


  4. Heather says:

    There are roles that we can be more flexible in terms of what we are looking for. Most specifically, our internal hiring groups will be flexible on domain experience. As a recruiter, I’m all for hiring for potential and wished companies did more of it. I encourage that kind of thinking every chance I get.

    But I have to pick my battles and most often have to recruit using the specs I am given. The groups are ususally just willing to wait for a closer match if they have to. We actually do a good job of allowing people to make those moves once they are here. So someone could move from program management to product management. It’s less of a risk for the hiring manager because the person has already proven themselves as a performer. Hiring like that from the outsode is often a risk the manager is not willing to take (the risk of whether they are a performer in general plus the risk of whether they would do well in this specific role).

    So Thanh, you ask a good question about whether recruiters would take a chance on raw talent. I would love to if the decision were entirely up to me, but it’s not. For the sake of discussion, let me turn that around: would candidates be willing to take a job they match right now in order to be considered for opportunities in different areas later? Lots of people taking that path here at Microsoft. That was one of the things that attracted me; knowing that if recruiting got stale for me, I could stay at MS but move on to something else. In the meantime, my job changes every year or so and the variety is keeping me engaged.

    We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that our hiring community understands the availability of talent in the marketplace, so I am not dismissing the idea of hiring for raw talent (and I think we do better than most companies in this regard). I just feel like in the meantime, we have to pragmatic. Changing the way people think about hiring could take some time ; )

    Thanks Thanh-you framed the issues really well!

  5. PC says:

    Hello Heather,

    This post is more relevant to Interviewing with Microsoft, than for marketing position’s recruiting. But I am sure it would be useful for some-one out there ( in addition to me 🙂 ).

    I have a technical background and would love to interview at microsoft (for a technical position) . I heard stories about the 1-Yr rule, where-in a candidate cannot apply at microsoft if he/she doesn’t qualify the first time.

    How true is this? Is this a judgement call made at individual level? Does this rule apply for Full-Time Employees as well as Contractors?

    Can you please provide some information on this , if you can.

    Thanks , Like your blog-style.. Keep up the good work!


  6. Heather says:

    PC- I disagree-at least from the recruiter’s perspective. I hear from other markeitng recruiters at other companies that this is a challenge for them as well…you just can’t get a good idea of what a person does based on their title.

    I’m not aware of a 1-yr rule. I’m sure it’s at the recruiter’s discretion, but I think what you most likely heard is about people who have interviewed (perhaps someone mentioned that if you interviewed and have not been offered the job, you should wait a year before reapplying….does that sound like what you heard?). I would say that’s a good rule-of-thumb if your interviews did not go well. Hoever, if someone interviewed and it went well but they were not offered the job because it was offered to an internal, or that particular role wasn;t a fit, but otherwise, they interviewed very well; I would encourage that person to pursue other opportunities at MS right away.

    All of our contract opportunities are run via agencies so I’m not sure that the same kind of thing would apply to them. I think they are pretty much free to submit people for whatever jobs they want. I’ll post more on contract opportunities later.

  7. Steve says:

    The fact that Heather is even thinking about these issues brings me great hope. Successful marketing people have careers that are multi-dimensional. Their capability is developed from experiences and campaigns that cross many types of products (consumer and technical).

    There is one trait that separates the great marketer from the not so great, and that is the ability to see and interpret the common thread that ties a product to an end user/consumer. The ability to call a thing by its proper name is the beginning of a process that leads to the commercial viability of a product.

    In Heathers case the candidate she will present to her client needs a title that is easily understood. Her research and study of that candidate combined with the candidate’s ability to market themselves to her should yield a good match.

  8. Steph says:

    I can only imagine…

    As a former "marketer" in a Microsoft DISTRICT office, I can attest to the truth of these words. Marketing, even within Microsoft, is so multi-dimensional as to make it virtually impossible to know what is expected by title only.

    In the Microsoft district offices, I found the term "marketer" to apply to:

    database analysis

    executive engagement

    competitive analysis

    sales analysis

    sales support

    event planning

    promotional inventory management

    non-profit fund management

    accounting support

    sales support

    account coordination

    traffic management


    My titles were Field Marketing Manager and Relationship Marketing Manager.

    The more traditional positions – product manager, brand manager, segment manager – are found within the centralized regions – NY, DC and Redmond.

  9. Chris Riley says:

    One of the strangest things about this conversation is that Microsoft is a very unusual organisation (duh!).

    I have been head of marketing for a country and/or region of the world in IT companies (NOT Microsoft!) for nearly 10 years. Yes, recruiting marketing people can be a challenge, but as long as the differences in roles are understood, it is not too hard.

    From personal experience, I can say that marketing in a country can be very different from the HQ perspective of marketing.

    Specifically(and I hate to say this), marketing is becoming completely de-skilled. IT companies are among the worst here, because they have implemented global marketing systems (with their IT systems) that give the people at HQ the illusion that they can impose "command and control" management across the world. Give someone a lever and telling them if they pull it the same thing will happen everywhere can be very seductive.

    This started out in the name of "brand consistency" and then became driven by "efficiency" needs (AKA, slashing headcount everywhere except HQ).

    What is left outside HQ is a need for people who can execute very efficiently, and not think too much. Anyone who has too much strategic aptitude/motivation will go nuts in these non-HQ marketing roles. UNLESS, of course, you are a BRANDING enthusiast (for which read "marcomms" in IT-land).

    Meanwhile, back at HQ, the game has shifted to implementing the ideas of the big boss (du-jour). Just make them feel omnipotent, and you’ll do well. As a result, few marketing minds are being developed around these large organisations. People are gaining experience in doing good execution in very "stove-piped" roles, where straying outside your area is generally not rewarded. Few people progress, and there are very few opportunities anyway, because of the efficiency/downsizing.

    My advice to people early in their marketing careers – join smaller businesses that will give you a much broader exposure to the vast range of marketing roles, and greater strategic responsibility. Being good at execution is vital, but if you never learn to think strategically, you won’t be much use in more senior roles.

    What do people look for when recruiting for markeing roles outside HQ? these days:

    – prior industry experience that seems relevant

    – self-discipline and good time management

    – "sales awareness" / understanding of how revenue is generated, who does it, and what they need from marketing

    – good personality fit with the rest of the team

    – nerves of steel (especially where high-visibility activities have binary success/failure criteria)

    – people who want to be part of something successful, rather than people who ‘big-note’ themselves or want to "grand-stand".

    Hope this helps, and sorry if it is a bit of a rant. Times they are a changing!


  10. Heather says:

    Chris-I think that is good advice. Our roles here at MS corporate (including the business groups) are actually requiring more specific skills as time goes on (in my experience). The field based roles have been more about execution. The interesting thing here is that the "strategic" corporate roles also require execution excellence. So strategy and execution are not mutually exclusive skill sets. I definitely feel that in order to develop a strategy, you have to know how it is going to play our from an execution standpoint. many people at Microsoft will move from field-based roles to corporate roles to combine the strategy/execution skills into one role.

    For us, the challenging part about execution is more around how to do it well and with whom you will partner. A lot of those decision here are made in Redmond for US based marketing. Individual subs are responsible for more strategy and execution within their regions. Redmond provides the product marketing framework for them so that the messaging is consistent worldwide. I once heard a VP tell grop of people that in order to move up at Microsoft, he would recommend people go out and work in a sub office because you get your hands on everything there. I thought that was good advice.

    In my pre-MS experience, I did see field based roles being more around implementation (which in my opinion, is different than execution…at least in the sense that I used the word above). Strategies were handed down by corporate and marketers rolled out as they were instructed.

    Typically, strategic roles in the industry are valued more than execution roles, but that has really changed here. A major focus for the marketing discipline at Microsoft is what we call "elegant execution". I personally want all candidates I talk to to be skilled in and willing to participate in both strategy and implementation, regardless of their level. It’s kind of like the question: "if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there, does it make a sound?" The question for marketing is: "if someone creates a strategy without elegant execution, do your customers really care?"

  11. Julius says:

    Hi everyone,

    I am a newbie in this interesting blog, and by the way heater you’re doing a great job so far!

    I am an MBA student in australia and i already graduated in Marketing in Italy, my country of origin.

    The points raised in the precedent posts are valuable and I thought I could give my contribution.

    The criteria outlined in making a selection even though coming from years of experience and from the top world companies lack of the human component.

    Let me clarify my point of view. I think top companies should not look out for talents or qualified professionals, but for the right PERSON which could cope professionally but most of all emotionally with the tasks.

    It seems to me you’re going out there and looking to find the best deal in a second hand car auction.

    It looks like you’re looking for machines programmed to perform and not for human beings.

    I think that the selection criteria discussed in precedent posts could bring along in a company only people that will make the company look cold and utilitaristic.

    I think this is also the reason why companies such as Microsoft must spend billions in recovering their corporate image with PR campaigns or CSR, or Bill Gates showing up at live 8.

    Who speaks is not a no-global/no profit kind of person, as it would only be a contraddiction with what I study.

    but Why don’t Microsoft try to learn from the opensource community where there is no need for extremely inteligent, skillful, experienced people such as Heather to recruit genii as they voluntary participate in projects, making internet explorer a thing of the past.

    With all due respect and appreciation for your strive for excellence there’s always a lack of consistency between what your company says and what your company does…. try to look for some people that reduce this gap instead of looking for programmable idiots!

  12. HeatherLeigh says:

    Julius, you lost me here: "I think top companies should not look out for talents or qualified professionals, but for the right PERSON which could cope professionally but most of all emotionally with the tasks."

    Skills and emotional maturity aren’t mutually exclusive qualities. We look for both. If you can prove to me that those qualities exist in greater quantity in the open source space than the market at large and that people that engage in non-commercial software development would actually consider working here and that the only place to find them is in the the open source community, then I’ll accept your analogy. I think there are abvious reasons why that doesn’t really make sense. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t recruit people in this space…we would and do, but generally focus efforts where we will have the most likely favorable outcome. I know it sounds crazy but our shareholders count on us to actually get people on board.

    And when does Bill get credit for the wonderful things he has done for AIDS research, etc.? Bill does that outside of Microsoft with his own personal money. The fact that you consider this a PR ploy is really regrettable and sounds like sour grapes. Why?

    Maybe you have an axe to grind that has nothing to do with recruiting. Just what it looks like to me. I always have to question why someone comes in with both barrles blazing. The message sort of gets lost along the way.

  13. RM says:

    Viral market via e-mail.

    Paint the picture of what you desire.

    Send the e-mail to the person you have established contact with as a follow-up to the "Who comes to mind." approach with your blessing for them to send it to their referral.

    Put about 10-15 of those strategically placed notes out there and your candidates will then find you.

    Very good for the purple squirrels.

    Marketing types will appreciate your using marketing technique to identify them.

  14. Christopher says:

    As a seasoned marketer, it’s not new that the very term "marketing" confuses people and, all the more, the various titles. Most people equate it with outbound promotional activities and some with forms of sales "support".

    Here’s an easier way to clarify it:

    Marketing is what matches business products/services to particular customers, appealingly, competitively and profitably. Sales are the actual transactions with individual customers.

    "Out of the box" is passe’ and no longer out of the box.

    Deep innovation is how to get up in the morning and go do mostly pretty much the same stuff all day until you go back to bed at night, but keep it fresh and worthwhile.