You know what I often hear from employers when they describe the kind of digital marketing or ecommerce leader they want to hire? This one may surprise you: “We want someone who can still roll up their sleeves. We want a hands-on digital marketer.” That’s right. Being highly strategic, having strong leadership skills, building cross-functional relationships, driving the business forward, these are all highly sought after critical competencies, of course, for these kinds of positions. But being able to demonstrate your willingness to be a hands-on digital marketer and stay in the fray, when the need arises, will score you serious points during an interview for any digital marketing job. I’m not talking just Managers or Directors here, but also VP’s and sometimes even more senior than that. It’s a rare job description that doesn’t make some mention of being “entrepreneurial” or a hands-on digital marketer. To be clear, this is not about micro-management. This is not about second guessing everyone’s work, or wanting to know where everyone is and what they’re doing, or being copied on every email. This is about what some might describe as “learning from the bottom.” The TV show “Undercover Boss” takes this concept to the extreme, where chief executives swap their suits for work-day uniforms to experience the world through the eyes of their employees.
Of course, this begs the question: Why is this such a desired competency for leaders in this space who, presumably, will be managing experts who’ve specifically been hired to work “in the trenches.” Maybe it’s because digital marketing and ecommerce teams are viewed within many organizations as more entrepreneurial, characterized by an “all hands on deck” approach to doing things compared with other more established departments that are more structured and have added layers of management. Perhaps it’s because staffers want to know they’re reporting to supervisors who “speak their language”, who have first hand experience with the actual day-to-day work, and who won’t be befuddled if someone starts talking about XML sitemaps. Maybe it’s because employers want to be reassured that their leaders know how to select the right agencies and service providers from the perspective of someone who actually has “walked a mile in their shoes.” Perhaps it’s because they want to know that their teams are being led by a true student of the game who stays on top of the latest cutting-edge marketing technologies to help their organizations gain a competitive edge. Perhaps it’s all of these. And when you think about it, it’s kind of hard to imagine a senior digital marketing or ecommerce leader who still doesn’t relish the occasional opportunity to get into the weeds. After all, it’s how they got to where they are. When you consider the dizzying amount of tools, the mountains of data, and the sometimes head-scratching complexity of campaigns, the work can be about as “dirty under the fingernails” as you can get for a desk job.
Most of the senior candidates I work with have not become so removed from the day-to-day that they’ve forgotten what it was like to fly at low altitudes. Having that flexibility, I believe, and remaining a hands-on digital marketer helps any leader build strong bonds both up and down the organization.
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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