Attracting Digital Talent: Here’s How to Do It

By Greg Wright Oct 5, 2015
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Many company executives say they have high expectations that digital technology will boost their company revenues and profit margins, but add that they ultimately lack the leadership and talent to achieve these goals, according to a recent survey from McKinsey & Company.

But there are steps companies can take to attract the leaders and staff they need to execute a successful digital strategy, recruiting experts and officials from digital companies tell SHRM Online.

“Digital is no longer in its novelty phase,” said Jason Parks, owner of The Media Captain, a digital marketing company in Columbus, Ohio. “Companies should be able to find [talented people who] have proven themselves in the digital field.”

Many companies now use digital technologies and capabilities, including e-commerce, search engine optimization and mobile phones, to accomplish a variety of tasks, including better engaging customers, automating or streamlining their business processes, or creating products and services.

According to the McKinsey survey, 71 percent of 987 executives who responded said they expect digital technology to increase their revenue in the next three years, and 64 percent said they expect digital technology to also increase their profit margins during this period.

However, 31 percent of these executives said the biggest challenge to achieving these and other digital goals is a lack of internal leadership or talent for digital projects. Other hurdles cited in the survey: a lack of understanding of how digital trends affect organizations’ and industries’ competitiveness, the inability to keep pace with the speed of digital business, and an inability to adopt an experimentation mind-set.

There are actions companies can take to make their workplace environment more attractive to digital talent, experts say.

First, be clear about what you want digital staff to do, said Ben Landers, president and CEO of Blue Corona, a digital marketing company with offices in Maryland and North Carolina.

“Interview top digital talent and explain to them that, if hired, you are looking to them to define and execute a cutting-edge digital strategy that results in measurable progress toward defined business objectives, including the attraction of other top digital talent,” Landers said.

Parks said since his company is near Ohio State University and other schools, it taps recent graduates with degrees in related fields to get entry-level digital employees. He suggests other companies go this route.

Hire a digital marketing manager to handle the day-to-day operations, Parks added.

“If a company talks about the growth potential for digital within its business, it would be compelling to many savvy online gurus,” he said.

John Jersin, a former Google executive who is now CEO and founder of Connectifier, a technology recruiting company in Newport Beach, Calif., agreed.

“It's important to express what kind of company you are to prospective employees, and if you care about going digital, employing sophisticated tools and similar things, then expressing that goal is meaningful even it if hasn't been accomplished yet,” Jersin said.

It is also important that companies give talented digital employees the freedom to innovate, said Seb Dean, managing director of The Imaginaire, a web design and marketing agency in Nottingham, England.

“We've always found that the best way to attract digital talent is by building a positive culture of innovation within the company; let your staff have an input on the processes that run your business and let them become empowered and committed to the company,” he said.

Jennifer van Amerom is a founding partner at Toronto-based Culture and Company Inc., a company that recruits candidates for digital marketing jobs. Many digital leaders, she said, complain that they don’t have the resources to do their jobs properly.

When recruiting, van Amerom said companies should assure candidates that they have the team and budget to successfully execute a digital strategy.

She also has this advice for companies that need digital talent: You can always lure them from other companies.

“Often it is simply a case of attracting candidates from another employer that is less engaged in digital,” van Amerom said. “When everyone is behind in their digital practice, candidates will move for another environment that [offers] even a small improvement.”

Greg Wright is a Baltimore-based freelance writer who has covered Congress, consumer electronics and international trade for major news organizations, including Gannett News Service/USA Today, Dow Jones and Knight-Ridder Financial News. He can be reached at GLW522@gmail.com.

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