Best practices in ecommerce hiring

“Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
So tell me what you want, what you really, really want
I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
So tell me what you want, what you really, really want”

—“Wannabe” (Spice Girls)

Sometimes I wonder if the person who wrote those lyrics was a hiring manager before becoming a hit songwriter. Let me tell you, after meeting face-to-face with dozens of employers and hundreds of business owners, executives and human resource leaders over the past three years, I definitely know what they really, really want, at least when it comes to digital marketing and ecommerce hiring. It’s one thing to recruit from a written job description, but it’s quite another to sit at the board room table with business owners and senior decision makers and listen to what is truly important to them. And let me tell you, the right skills and experience are just the tip of the iceberg. As I’ve written about many times, the job description is only the “coarse” sandpaper. Fully 50% of ecommerce and digital marketing hiring success will depend on attributes other than the nuts and bolts know-how listed on a job spec.

Spending time on-site with hiring managers and human resources allows me, among many other things, to fully understand why digital marketing and ecommerce hiring decisions go sideways. In those situations, the stakes are high: Replacement searches are costly, and everyone knows that the next time around, they absolutely must get it right. What’s interesting is that the reasons for mis-hires are pretty consistent. I have found that ecommerce hiring mistakes tend to boil down to these two common issues:

I want someone who doesn’t work in a silo.  While being a lone ranger is great if you’re a cross country runner, it can be highly destructive in the world of online sales and marketing. Just this year, I have conducted two searches specifically to replace digital marketing and ecommerce managers who were negatively impacting efficiencies and morale because of tendencies to work in total isolation or to throw up interdepartmental barriers. In one situation, the incumbent declared that he thought staff meetings were a waste of his time, choosing instead to communicate through emails, texts and phone calls even though everyone was physically located in the same building, some even on the same floor. Perhaps he came from an organization where leaders lacked a unified vision, or where departments operated to the beat of their own drums rather than towards a common goal. Perhaps it was due to lack of training or even immaturity. Whatever the root cause, hiring a digital marketing or ecommerce specialist who avoids information-sharing and collaboration is like taking a razor blade and stabbing at a tightly wound ball of rubber bands.

I want a stronger leader.  We probably all know someone who was very intelligent and highly skilled who was promoted into a leadership position, only to fail at the job. By the same token, each of us can probably think of someone who had average intellectual ability and average technical skills, but went on to become a very successful leader. Clearly, the personal styles of leaders can vary widely, but in my meetings with clients who are conducting replacement searches for leadership roles, they explain that the shortfall almost always has to do with emotional intelligence, and for digital marketers and ecommerce leaders, I’m going to put motivation, empathy and social skills right at the top. That’s because employers tell me they want leaders who are expert at building and retaining talent, and the fact is, many online businesses have grown from the inside out. Employees who started with the company 10 years ago working in the warehouse are now in positions of accountability over people and budgets. Even with maturity, some people need on-going training to enhance their emotional intelligence. As someone who has placed literally hundreds of leaders during the course of my recruiting career, I can guarantee you this: The higher your emotional intelligence IQ, the better the leader you will become.

Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation’s preeminent and veteran executive recruiters in ecommerce, digital and multichannel marketing, and CRM. With 80 published LinkedIn articles, Jerry is the “voice” of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 28 years. Check out Jerry’s other insights on the Thought Leadership section of the Bernhart Associates website.

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