Want Marketing That’s Off the Charts? Hire Rock Stars

By Ginger Conlon | 4.4.18

“Ninety percent of business problems are actually recruiting problems in disguise,” Jeff Hyman writes in Recruit Rockstars: The 10-Step Playbook to Find the Winners and Ignite Your Business. This is especially relevant marketing today, where roles are evolving at the speed of technology.

During a recent conversation with MKTGinsight, Hyman provided his expert advice on how marketer leaders can find the right talent for their organizations, explained how to raise hiring accuracy to 90 percent (most hiring managers hover 

around 50 percent), and revealed whether a marketer has to be a rock star to recruit them.


“The truth about rock stars? If the role is important enough to exist, it’s important enough to have a rock star fill it,” writes Hyman, chief talent officer at Strong Suit Executive Search.

You assert that it’s time to rethink recruiting and consider it as an investment versus as a cost. Why is that shift in mind-set so important?

There are two primary reasons. First is that today your talent, the team you build, is really your only sustainable competitive advantage. Marketing is important, but not sufficient to become a company’s competitive advantage. In the past you also could use technology as a competitive advantage. The problem now is the barriers to technology have gone down to the point where, again, it’s difficult to make that your competitive advantage.


Building a healthy, vibrant, energized, focused culture that can promptly respond to the market, and to what customer demands may be, is really the only sustainable, durable source of competitive advantage.


The second is that we're now at 4.1 percent unemployment. It is exceptionally hard to hire people. If you're looking for cheap labor, looking for the least expensive solution, it's actually going to be expensive, because you're not going to get the results you want. But when you hire a rock star, it’s an investment, and the results they can deliver are truly transformative.


How do you define a rock star?


People call them different things: a high performer, a player, a super star, whatever. I happen to like rock star. My definition is very objective. I look to recruit the top 5 percent of people who are available at the compensation level that I can afford to pay. We all have a budget, so you start there.


Studies show that people in the top 5 percent are two to three to 10 times more effective, more productive, and more creative — and they stay longer.


Many job descriptions have a kitchen sink list of requirements that seem unrealistic. How can marketing leaders get clear on what they actually need versus wishing for a unicorn?


There are so many problems with that approach. Hiring someone in marketing because they know X, or they've used Y, or they have experience with Z is short-sighted, because those things will be replaced by A, B, and C in months or years. What’s far more predictive than industry experience or experience with particular marketing tools is first of all cognitive ability, which is the ability to learn, and, second, DNA.


I would rather hire someone who has the ability to learn anything I can throw at them, and is resourceful in finding the right solutions, asking the right questions, and looking at the right data. Also, how someone is wired, their DNA, determines behavior and performance more than anything else.


Obviously, industry experience and technology skills are nice to have. But starting there is limiting and is not that predictive of success compared to cognitive ability and raw DNA.


A lot of people don't realize it, but there's danger in job descriptions that have a laundry list of requirements. Harvard Business Review in 2014 published a landmark study that found that 80 percent of men will not apply for a position unless they believe they meet all the must-have requirements. And nearly 100 percent of women will not apply. The reason is quite simple: None of us like to be rejected.

We take those ads literally, and think, “I don't have this or that or this,” and so we don't apply.


These types of ads dramatically limit your pool, which is very dangerous in a time of 4 percent unemployment, because the pool is pretty small to start with.


Instead, just include your must-haves in job ads. Even then, be careful: Time and time again clients tell me something is non-negotiable, I present a candidate, they hire that candidate, and I'm like, “You said the person ‘must have’ seven to 10 years of experience and the person you hired had five, or 13.”


You have to be really careful, because candidates take those descriptions quite literally, as they should, and you can miss so many amazing people.


How do you determine your absolute must-haves?


Create a scorecard, so you know what you want up front — which most hiring managers are too lazy or too busy to do, so they skip that step, and they say, “Just get me some résumés. Get me some people to interview.”


It's vitally important to take time to define what success looks like in the role 12 months from now. What will this person have achieved that you can say, "We got the right person"? A marketing manager is not the same in every company. Is it a brand-building role? A creative role? An analytical role? What are the day-to-day accountabilities of this person? From there, you can back into the competencies — the actual skills and abilities that the person has to have to successfully execute those accountabilities.


Once you have those things you can create a scorecard. And once you have a scorecard that all the interviewers agree on, you can begin to look at candidates, assess them against the scorecard, and then the magic is really simple.


It’s easy to fall in love with a candidate for the wrong reasons. Things that aren't predictive. They work for your competitor, they know the industry, but they don't meet the stuff on the scorecard.


So, all the people who will be interviewing the candidates should help to create the scorecard?


Yes. A Google study found that the optimal number of interviewers is four. The study also found that for each additional interviewer over four you only improve your accuracy by 1 percent. I strongly agree with that.


You get those four in a room, up front, and you create the scorecard. Obviously, that's going to include the hiring manager, who should be the person diving into the career history, and then the other three can come from quite a few places within the company, such as HR or sales. They should be people who have been with the company long enough to have a clear understanding of the company’s DNA and do nothing but interview for DNA match.


When you skip that step, the interviewers are looking for something different.

Then it’s no wonder they don't agree on a candidate because they haven't agreed on the scorecard.


If someone is a rock star at a previous company, will they be a rock star at your company?


Having a scorecard and staying true to it will help determine that. Also, consider the reasons behind the person's success at other companies. I'll give you an example. Let's say I'm interviewing a candidate who looks great on paper, who built a brand like no other in a very short period of time. I would be tempted to take a shortcut, and say, "Wow. They built a brand there. They can build our brand." Well, if I don't drill into how they did that, I may not find out that they invested 10 or 100 times what I can afford to invest in my brand launch. Or maybe the person had some lucky breaks, like a major competitor went out of business.”


You need to drill into the competencies, the DNA, what they did to be successful, and what resources they had. Obviously, if a rock star is successful somewhere, then that's a good indication; but it's not sufficient by itself. You cannot skip the scorecard and interview process just because they went to Harvard and worked

at Apple.

Get to Aha! book on positioning

You cite 12 cardinal sins of recruiting in

the book. Is there one that's the absolute worst?


I wouldn’t say it's the worst, but I would say it’s the easiest to fix: hiring without doing what I call a test drive. By adding a test drive, you can dramatically improve your accuracy and weed out candidates who are not going to be successful.

A test drive, quite simply, is a project that needs to mirror what the job is going to be about. It could be a take-home assignment. It could be a presentation. If I'm hiring a marketing analyst, I can give the final candidates a bunch of data, and say, "Go model this, come back, and present your

findings.” If they butcher it, if they can't follow instructions, that's a clear indication that they’re not going to be a fit unless I know where they failed. Maybe there's training that could happen. Very hard to access that from just an interview, right?


Does it take a rock star to hire other rock stars?


No. But let me be clear. I believe that you need to be a rock star recruiter to hire rock stars. I don't believe that you need to be a rock star marketer to hire rock star marketing people.


Rock star recruiters are disciplined and resourceful when it comes to recruiting, they have experience interviewing, they know how to design the test drive and how to check references, and they have a very, very high standard. They never settle for B players. I'll pick that head of marketing every time versus someone who's creative and can come up with a good tag line.


What's the very first step you need to take to start hiring rock stars?


It doesn't start with recruiting, ironically. It starts with two things. First is being honest with yourself about the team you already have. If you have a team of B and C players, you’ve got bigger problems than recruiting. You're wasting time and money, and, frankly, you're frustrating the rock stars that you do have, because they hate working with B and C players.


Finding the courage and the time to part ways with those underperformers is a very early step. Even if it creates pain in that you have work that has to get done somehow. It's hard to attract rock stars to a team of B and C players. As soon as they smell them, they're not impressed, and they don't want to work there.


The second is ensuring that you can attract rock stars. If you can't draw them in in the first place you have a problem. This is where marketers have a unique advantage because they understand how to build a brand, a value proposition. It's the same thing in hiring. You need an employer value proposition. You need to convey how working at your place is a unique experience.


And it doesn't mean paying the most, by the way. But it does mean doing some things differently, like the scorecard and test drive.


There's no substitute for the test drive because it’s easy to fall prey to confirmation bias. Basically, what that means is in the first 60 seconds you've made your conclusion, and then you're going to spend the rest of the hour trying to justify or rationalize that conclusion. We do that in every area of our life.


Using consumer behavior and understanding those dynamics can be a huge advantage in recruiting. I think that's something that a lot of people miss. They interview ineffectively, make their decision, and then wonder why half their team are C players. It should be no surprise.

About the Author

Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.

Find her at @customeralchemy and on LinkedIn.