I-Media: Hiring at the Entry Level

Winning new business is the great granddaddy of mixed blessings. Winning a big account is very rewarding, but often it requires an interactive media department to staff up. I know some interactive media directors who would rather submit themselves to medieval torture devices than submit to the lengthy, often painful process of identifying good candidates for positions in their departments.

Who can blame them? It’s very tough to find good online media people these days. Those who have that unique combination of communications and technology savvy are often back at school getting an M.B.A., working diligently at a start-up, or earning a ridiculous salary working for a competitor.

I’ve always been an advocate of mentoring and teaching folks who want to get into this business, especially those who are willing to take an entry-level position to learn more about online advertising. This week, I’d like to discuss how to hire at the entry level and leave the tips on hiring management-level folks until next week.

Let’s say you’ve just won the Immense.com business. Immense.com represents the largest media placement budget your department has ever seen, and the new client wants to see a media plan for next quarter within just a few short weeks. As it stands, your media coordinators (the folks who run performance reports, manage traffic, and support your media planners) have consistently been working late to cover existing business. You need to add some coordinators quickly. What should you do?

First, write a job description. A job description should cover all the basics of the position you’re seeking to fill, including:

  1. Job responsibilities

  2. A description of the overall opportunity afforded the candidate
  3. Reporting structure
  4. Job requirements and prerequisites
  5. Salary parameters

This job description will perform a few vital functions. First, it will help you in securing approval to hire from your superiors. They will understand that you have put a lot of thought into resource allocation and that you’re not just hiring indiscriminately or simply throwing warm bodies at a problem. Second, the job description can be posted as a “help wanted” ad in the various print and online venues for classified ads. (Personally, I dig HotJobs.) You can also circulate this job description to the Career Development offices at any colleges you might recruit from.

Let’s assume that you’ve posted your job description to HotJobs, Monster.com, maybe the Silicon Alley Daily and a couple of other places, and you’re starting to get serious inquiries. Risumis are crossing your desk. Candidates are calling your human resources department to set up interviews. What should you do at this point?

  • Utilize your human resources department. If you have one, a human resources department can help you identify strong candidates and eliminate candidates who are unqualified. You can save a lot of time by delegating to HR. HR can also help with reference checks and such.

  • Delegate further to your managers. If the person you’re hiring will ultimately report to a manager who works for you, ask the manager to assist in the interview process. Ask the manager to speak to qualified candidates and schedule follow-up interviews with the two or three best candidates. It’s important for candidates to meet other folks in the department (including the department head), but upper-level management should not meet with every prospect.
  • Hang on to all risumis. The next big piece of business can be right around the corner, so be sure to retain all applications and risumis for future reference.

I wish there was a magic formula I could provide that would immediately identify the proper candidate for an entry-level media position. I can’t provide a magic formula, but I can provide some tips (plucked from my experience in hiring entry-level folks).

  • Never underestimate the eager. I used to be a big fan of applicants who looked good on paper (a mass communications or advertising major, high GPA, post-grad work, Ivy League alma mater, etc.), but I’ve since changed my mind. In my experience, the “paper tiger” always loses out to the “bulldog.” The bulldog is the applicant who may not have the best qualifications but is so dedicated to learning the business, gaining experience, and paying his or her dues that this applicant’s drive alone will put most other entry-level workers to shame. These days, I look to identify the bulldogs in my applicant pool and favor them heavily.

  • Dismiss the smug. Many of the paper tigers walk into an interview with advance knowledge of the demand in our industry. They then attempt to use this information to present demands salary increases, accelerated reviews, etc. Do not be a victim. While people with experience are tough to find, there is no shortage of talented people willing to learn the online advertising business. Move on to the next candidate. Trust me.
  • Culture is key. Always stress the importance of your organization’s culture, and hire only those that can enhance that culture. In an increasingly competitive arena, culture counts for a lot. Let candidates know that you place high value on how employees interact, on attitude, and on the ability to preserve and enhance a pleasant work environment.
  • Present hypothetical situations. Presenting candidates with hypothetical challenges can reveal much about how they react under pressure. “What would you do if you were the only one in the office and a client called you up screaming and yelling?” “What would you do if you discovered an error in a document that was about to be emailed to a client?”
  • Double-check all skills. If a candidate claims to be a master at MS Excel or the king of Crosstab, ask some questions about those skills. “How would you improve this performance report?” and “What does ‘statistically unstable’ mean?” are both questions you could ask that would give you a better idea of a candidate’s skill with certain applications.

That’s about all the space we have this week. Tune in next week for a discussion on hiring management-level media people.

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