Why you aren’t getting the best digital staff and what you can do about it

Paul Boag

The chances are you are making mistakes in how you recruit digital staff. The result is you aren’t getting the best people possible.

Is it just me or is recruiting experienced digital staff harder than ever before? I find myself recommending that organisations build their own in-house digital teams. After all digital has become business critical to their operations. But saying that and doing it are two different things.

Recently I have been helping two clients build those teams and recruitment has become the number one challenge.

Don’t get me wrong. Recruiting junior staff is not a massive issue. But if you are trying to fill more senior positions things get challenging.

So what exactly is the problem?

It is a sellers market

The problem is a simple one. Demand is outstripping supply. Digital has become business critical to the vast majority of organisations. Yet the number of people who have the experience to run a digital team is low.

Demand far outstrips supply for experienced digital professionals.
Demand far outstrips supply for experienced digital professionals.

The problem is that there is always a delay between supply and demand. Sure, the number of graduates entering the market has skyrocketed in response to the available jobs. But that doesn’t provide the experienced individuals that most organisations need.

Organisations with deep pockets have solved this problem by throwing money at it. But most of us do not have that luxury. So how can we recruit experienced digital staff without breaking the bank?

Stop trying to weed out candidates

I recently heard an excellent presentation by recruitment expert Lou Adler at the UX Advantage conference. He got to the heart of the problem. He argued that we find recruitment difficult because we write job advertisements as if supply outstrips demand. In other words, we act as though there are more candidates than there are positions to fill.

The chances are this is exactly what you are doing when you write a job advertisement. Think about it for a minute. You have designed everything in your job description to put people off, to narrow the field.

  • Candidates must have 5 years experience.
  • Successful applicants will need experience in our sector.
  • You will need to be in the Chicago area.

This makes sense if there is a surplus of good candidates, but there is not. Are you saying you would turn away a candidate with 4 years experience if they were otherwise perfect? Or you would reject a candidate without sector experience despite them working at a company you respect? What about location? Would you be willing to help move the perfect candidate? Of course you would!

Too many job advertisements are unnecessarily prescriptive.
Too many job advertisements are unnecessarily prescriptive.

As well as turning away some great candidates, it will put even more off. Experienced digital staff will already have a job. They don’t need you as much as you need them. You need to convince them to leave where they are and come and work for you. Your job description needs to be an advertisement designed to lure prospective employees.

Write an advertisement

Writing a job advertisement is different from writing a job description. An advertisement sells the job to a prospective candidate. But that doesn’t mean it should be all about the perks and what a cool working environment you have. The truth is that is not what senior digital professionals are looking for. They are not even that concerned with salary as long as it is reasonable.

No, when you are writing a job advertisement you have to focus on two things. The challenge and the opportunity.

Highlight the challenge

Senior digital professionals want a challenge. Something they can get their teeth stuck into. Somewhere they can make a real difference. So give them one.

Your job advertisement should outline what you want them to do for your business. This not only inspires them, it also helps them to judge if they are up to the job. If your job advertisement talks about building and running a digital team. If it talks about educating and engaging senior management at board level. It will put off candidates who are not up to a task like that.

Candidates will know you need them to prove their ability to deliver on that challenge. That you will need them to talk about their experience. Experience that would enable them to deliver on the challenge. That will be enough to weed out people who won’t be able to do the job. You are not going to get overwhelmed with inappropriate applicants.

But that doesn’t mean you only want perfect candidates with perfect experience to apply. A less experienced applicant might be able to step up and do the job. That is why you must talk about opportunity too.

Sell the opportunity

Sometimes the perfect person, is the less than perfect one. The trouble with the perfect candidate is they tend to be more expensive and also come with a lot of baggage and preconceptions. After all, they have done all this before. They may think they can just roll out the same solution. But that does not always work.

That is why your job advertisement should also focus on attracting people who have the potential to do the job. Not just those with experience doing it. These candidates are cheaper and are keen to prove themselves. For them the position is a career progression, not a sideways step.

Career progression is a big motivator for people. That creates a great opportunity to get a hungry candidate keen to prove themselves.

For example if you need a person to lead your digital team you don’t need somebody who has done the job before. The truth is there are few of those people around and they can be hard to tempt. Instead you might want to target creative leads who have experience running a team of designers. This would be a natural career progression and they would have many of the skills you need. They would just be working with a larger and more diverse group.

Another example of change

Of course this is all easy to say. Making it happen in an organisation where HR writes the job descriptions is harder. You may have salary bands and standard hiring practices.

But this just emphasises how incompatible many organisations are with the digital age. How digital transformation needs to touch every part of the organisation, not just marketing and IT. We even need to reconsider how we recruit in this new work environment.

Thanks to Place It for providing the images in this post.