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October 14, 2008

Let's Talk Talent with Bruce Powell - 5 Question Interview

Brucepowell The talent wars, particularly in the digital space, are heating up (again).  And who better to shed some light than Bruce Powell.  Bruce is the co-founder and managing partner of IQ PARTNERS Inc., an executive search & recruitment firm specializing in online marketing, media, communications and emerging technology companies. 

I remember working with Bruce in the early days of internet marketing – before the dot com bomb – he has definitely seen it all.  He sat down with us to offer his perspective on how job hunters can make a go of it these days, particularly in this new era of social media.

OD: You're seeing a renewed demand for online expertise.  What are the top 3 skill or experience sets that your clients are looking for?

This is an interesting question – with 2 slightly different answers.  Obviously there’s been an evolving niche specialization in online marketing for many years.  Where companies previously sought individuals to oversee their overall ‘online marketing’ spend, they’re now looking for individuals with much more refined skill sets.  And as marketing activities have progressively moved online, whole teams are being built to manage each facet of a company’s online marketing effort. 

Without a doubt, the most sought after skill sets over the past year have been:

  1. SEO & SEM
  2. Specialized email marketing skills (i.e. dynamic content & CRM integration)
  3. Social Media

That said, there’s also clear polarization happening.  While some individuals have developed highly refined technical and functional skills – clients have also expressed frustration at the lack of breadth and awareness on how their specialist skills integrate within the overall marketing effort. 

It’s an ironic catch-22.  At the same time the industry is demanding more specialized skill-sets, it’s also annoyed these ‘specialists’ don’t have a broader understanding of brand-marketing fundamentals and general business-case analysis. 

Within agency environments we’re seeing a similar frustration with increased specialization coming at the cost of declining client-management skills.

There’s a clear message hear – demand for online talent over the last few years has clearly outstripped supply.  Specialists are self-taught, and there’s not a clear pipeline of learning and skill-progression to broaden their skill-set - nor incentive or time to do so.  They’re in demand, and they’re being paid well - why upset the apple cart? 

On the other hand – the world is a dynamic place.  For those few individuals willing able to operate holistically AND dive deep in select areas of specialization – the world will be their oyster.

OD: From an online perspective, what changes have you made in the last 18 months for how you go about finding top candidates?

The internet is the best thing that ever happened to recruiters (or any company looking to find top talent.)  With the continued evolution of online databases, business and social media tools – and the sheer history of our online activities  - it’s almost impossible NOT to find pretty much anyone online these days.  We now research almost everyone we talk to either in advance or ‘real time’ to increase our information. 

But the biggest impact on our business over the last 18 months has to be LinkedIn.  As recruiters who specialize in the online space – we were on LinkedIn as early as 2004 – but it was a relatively niche play at the time.  However, the explosion of individuals who have joined within the last 2 years has now made this database a treasure trove of information for anyone looking for top talent.  Of course we use other tools as well for information dissemination and research (i.e. Facebook or ZoomInfo) – but the ‘business’ focus of LinkedIn makes it by far the most more refined tool for our purposes.

OD: What are the biggest mistakes that job hunters typically make when looking for a new position?

The biggest mistakes job hunters make are:

  1. Not having a plan.
  2. Moving for money.

1)  The smartest job hunters I know make a list of their target destinations and then work a disciplined and strategic plan to get there. Also, if you’re already employed but still don’t have a career plan - you won’t really know if that job is right for you when the next headhunter calls.

Smart career-minded individuals actually take 1-2 days a year to strategically plan their future.  They review their accomplishments, their progress towards their goals, and adjust their path.  And this forethought allows them to make pro-active steps towards their desired future – or clear-headed decisions when options are presented.

2)  When people accept a new job because it pays more money (vs. being a greater opportunity) – it’s never a smart, long-term career move. The old saying: ‘pursue your passion and the money will follow’ is true.  Individuals who view their careers with a longer time frame are usually happier – and often more successful in the long-term. Individuals who move for money – are usually looking again within 12-18 months.

OD: Do you think that companies looking for TOP talent are willing to overlook certain online indiscretions, e.g. a party picture posted on Facebook?

In general, yes.  When you have a presidential candidate who admits to having used cocaine – and few think anything of it - you realize that society has become dramatically more permissive.  That said, this largely depends on the role the candidate is being considered for (i.e. a public profile leadership role – or a highly regulated industry) and the scope of your ‘party pictures’. 

As recruiters we’re frequently being asked to conduct much more detailed references and back-checks on individuals (including online searches) – but the concern is usually more around criminal history and corporate risk than personal indiscretions.

OD: Does having an active social media presence matter to employers? If you're looking for a senior position in the digital space in Canada, do you need to Twitter?

Surprisingly – no.  The most accomplished digital executives I know barely have enough time to keep up on their business fundamentals never mind updating their Twitter postings. And the senior executives hiring these professionals usually don’t even know what Twitter is anyway (that’s why they’re hiring a digital expert in the first place!).

That said, if you aspire to a more senior role in the space - you must demonstrate your digital chops. Whether to the hiring manager or the headhunter – digital executives need to better communicate the depth of their online expertise and participation.

Unfortunately traditional means don’t serve this requirement well. I’ve frequently been underwhelmed by a senior executive’s resume only to be blown away in an interview by the depth of their understanding and participation in this fast moving space.  However, this information needs to be better conveyed via traditional methods.  Active social media participation is one approach.  But it can just as easily be a list of your RSS feeds, or the blogs you follow (or write) - anything that demonstrates that you’re truly a member of the internet cognoscenti.  This will distinguish you as someone to watch.

Thanks, Bruce! For you job hunters out there, I highly recommend you check out IQ Partners Inc.'s YouTube channel and watch the excellent Resume Rescue segments.

And for those of you looking to recruit top talent, Bruce will be speaking at the upcoming Digital Marketing conference on Finding TOP talent in the digital marketing space.


Interesting that you mention employers are not concerned about candidates in the digital space having an active social media presence. According to a recent Sapient survey about digital agencies, most actually stated they do care. Don't try to sell in ideas, tools and technologies if you don't use them yourself. I wrote about it in a recent blog post at http://www.themultitasker.com/2008/09/a-chief-digital-officer/

Great post. In a similar vein, have you read the new book "Who: the A Method for Hiring"? It is currently the #1 business book on Amazon. I think this will be THE definitive book on hiring top talent. As the Economist says, unsuccessful hiring is the single biggest problem in
business today.

Hey Corby - splitting hairs a bit but and I think we're both right. My answer suggested that 'Twittering' specifically wasn't proof or pre-requisite for senior digital talent. However, you're right to note that this requirement is much more stringent for agency talent - who are expected to be much more visible and active in the online community than their client-side peers.

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