Mike Wasilewski

It’s Time to Refresh Your Marketing Hiring

By: Mike Wasilewski | February 28, 2017 | 
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Time to Refresh Your Marketing Hiring and Bring in Outsider PerspectiveOn Nov. 8, the nation watched to see who would become the next president of the United States.

Some were shocked at the results.

Afterward, a flurry of articles and analyses, including research from the MIT Media Lab, focused on the insularity of modern American life.

And more specifically our tendency to surround ourselves with others just like us.

This is especially true in marketing hiring, where we often overlook the nontraditional candidate.

Marketers can learn something from this.

We all know how it feels to be surprised when a campaign flops.

The problem may be that we live in our own bubble of marketing strategies.

We fill our teams with people who have taken the same path: They’ve attended a four-year college, paid their dues with an internship or two, freelanced at a variety of shops, and settled into a position.

That’s a surefire way to produce one-dimensional work.

One way to curb the surprises and resonate with your consumers is to hire people who have taken a less traditional path to marketing.

When you hire a nontraditional candidate, you give your marketing team a much needed outsider perspective. 

Empathy Takes Marketing from Good to Great 

As a CMO of a brand, you’re looking to appeal to as many relevant people as possible.

With a diverse group on your team, you can work together to consider the many viewpoints surrounding your brand.

That translates into a broader context and helps position your company in a way that has genuine appeal.

It’s really all about empathy—an essential ingredient for any successful marketing campaign.

You need to be able to put yourself in consumers’ shoes and understand the problems they face.

When my company created a campaign for Lola, a modern feminine care company, I saw the necessity of building a team with many perspectives.

If I’d had a cookie-cutter group of 30-something bearded Brooklyn dudes, we’d have been hard-pressed to relate to the target market.

Luckily, we have an even split of men and women on staff.

As a result, we were able to pull insights from a wide swath of our female staff, representing a mix of life stages and backgrounds.

Being able to do that provided valuable perspectives that informed the creative work.

Our diverse team allowed us to compare and contrast and have the conversations necessary to hone our creative approach.

Break Out of Your Marketing Hiring Bubble with a Nontraditional Candidate 

It’s easy to hire people who are like you.

After all, you can assume the candidate has the same knowledge of industry norms.

She understands the industry shorthand and shares a common point of reference.

Likewise, it’s understandable why you might be wary of what it takes to hire a nontraditional candidate with a different career path.

Those from nontraditional backgrounds, however, have worked hard from the start to get where they want to be.

They’re often extremely motivated and may value opportunities more than a traditional candidate.

To find and hire a nontraditional candidate, you may have to rethink your marketing hiring tactics.

Here are three strategies to get you started: 

Post Outside Your Industry 

To reach talent capable of giving you a different perspective, you have to go outside your bubble.

If you’re looking for a designer, for instance, don’t limit your post to a design-specific job board.

Expand your marketing hiring tactics to include posting to a general site such as Indeed.com, too.

When reviewing applications, don’t be so quick to dismiss nontraditional candidates.

Take a second to scan each one’s work experience and read his or her cover letter.

Pay special attention to those who relate to the work you do or those who acknowledge they might not be the perfect fit on paper.

Those are the individuals who are hungry for the job.

Don’t automatically turn down someone with a long, varied résumé.

That’s actually a lot of experience!

That person is searching for his or her passion.

Your company could be a perfect match.

Keep an Open Mind Throughout the Marketing Hiring Process

During the marketing hiring process, read between the lines to determine the right questions to get at the heart of what candidates want to do.

Who would you rather hire: Candidate A, who went to a top school, has all the desired training, but isn’t particularly jazzed about the position?

Or Candidate B, who might be lacking a skill or two but is bursting with excitement about the opportunity to land his or her dream job?

When I conduct interviews, I don’t let candidates recite their résumés.

Instead, I want to know what they really enjoy.

Ask candidates about their favorite part of past jobs to see whether there’s a connection to the open position.

Find out what makes them excited about working with your company.

Ask why they accepted the interview and where they see themselves in five years.

Bottom line: You can teach people new skills, but you can’t teach passion.

Employees who go through the motions of their tasks don’t do as well as those who have a drive and passion to continually improve.

Dig Deeper to Uncover Valuable Skills

Nontraditional candidates might not have your same checklist of experiences.

It may be necessary to engage them on a deeper level to discover unexpected ways they could bring value to your team.

Find out how and why candidates took the paths they did.

It might seem like a candidate took a traditional path, but when your conversation goes beyond his or her résumé or portfolio, you may unearth interesting things that make that individual unique.

The same is true of someone who comes from a nontraditional path.

A painter who wants to become a designer could bring a free-form style that breathes new life into your creative, for instance.

A writer who wants to focus on brand strategy may be able to look beyond the facts and capture a company’s story.

He or she might have a knack for creating compelling, evocative brand materials.

Invest in Your Diversity: Hire a Nontraditional Candidate 

Building a team with a mix of backgrounds, skills, and career paths takes time, but the ROI is worth it.

When you have a room full of people with different experiences and viewpoints, your team as a whole becomes more dynamic and capable.

This leads to better solutions and results for your clients, which in turn drives sales.

The more people you can talk to authentically, the better poised you’ll be to sell your services.

It’s important to remember that marketing is more an art form than a science.

When your team lacks diversity of thought, background, or experience, you’re just hanging out in your bubble.

This leaves you without the tools to truly innovate.

Making a commitment to hire a nontraditional candidate can seem like a gamble.

But they might be what’s needed to pop your bubble and help you form authentic connections with consumers.

About Mike Wasilewski


Mike Wasilewski is the founding partner and creative director of Frank Collective, a bicoastal branding and content company based in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Mike is also an adjunct professor at Parsons School of Design. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and beagle mix/snugglehound, Lorenzo.

  • Hi Mike,

    One of the biggest surprises I’ve had when hiring is focusing on people with a holistic interest in an area of knowledge. For example, if you’re looking for a designer, and have similar skills, always go with one that has studied Art History or Fine Arts than one who studies graphic design.

    If you’re looking for someone to develop user personas, sociology or psychology may be a better approach than marketing or business.

    It also works with people who have worked on incredible personal projects, or have done awesome things outside their field of work.

    Being honest, the things you’ll need to know for a job (the tools, the processes, the tactics…) tend to be pretty easy to master. It’s the depth of the individual, their curiosity, their wisdom and their passion what will make the difference.

    • Great point, Bruno.

      Skills can be learned. Empathy, kindness, passion, self-awareness to name a few come from inside.

    • Michael Wasilewski

      Bruno, couldn’t agree with you more. That experience is an important differentiating factor.

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