What the Search Engines Are Searching For

Search engines are hiring recruiters to use search engines to find search engine marketers to work at… search engines.

How convoluted is that?

It’s been great to see industry hiring finally pick up again. Disgruntled as I get when the phone interrupts me at work, I’m always happy and gratified when a headhunter is responsible for that disruption. It was an awfully long dry spell, wasn’t it?

Now, the pendulum has swung back. Senior executives from well-known companies actually appear in person at college job fairs to find Web marketing talent.

Online publishers are desperate for sales staff. “Kids just out of college want $180,000 per year,” one told me just this morning. Agencies are desperate for interactive media buyers and planners. But no interactive marketing segment is searching harder, more broadly, or for more people than the experts in search themselves: the search engines.

Their methods are getting interesting.

Google issued a press release yesterday announcing its worldwide search for two executive chefs. There’s going to be a “cook-off” and a “tasting committee.” But it’s immediately apparent to anyone seeing the announcement who’s even vaguely familiar with Google the press release is really a very clever marketing tool intended to attract all kinds of talent. The real highlight of the announcement is the famous “Menu of Benefits” for Google’s pampered staff: “On-campus dining… a staff MD, dry cleaning pickup and delivery, onsite car wash and oil change, gym, personal trainers, tuition reimbursement, proximity parking for pregnant employees, nursing rooms for mothers, and more.”

After all, as Gary Price points out, those executive chef positions have been on Google’s job site for eight months now — hardly the stuff of breaking news.

Will poaching be part of Google’s cook-off, or is the technique confined only to HR departments? Recruitment-related lawsuits between Microsoft and Google have been flying fast and furious lately on the engineering side of things, but marketing is hardly immune. Recent SEM (define) hires at the search engines include talent wooed from major e-tailers — ironically, the same companies they’d like to score as advertisers.

Poaching from clients and potential clients is one of the engines’ limited options. “There are a lot of ‘good people out there’ for sure; most of them hand-trained by other good people in the industry who employed them,” Mike Grehan tells me. “So if MSN thinks they’re hanging from trees out there, it’s the non-competes stopping them from falling!”

He’s not kidding, as anyone who’s worked for one of the major SEM firms can tell you. I have a good friend who’s been twiddling her thumbs almost two years now after jumping ship. When her non-compete expires (soon) and she can once again set sail, she’ll be able to name her price.

There’s indeed a price on the heads of experienced, available search marketers. Headhunters are salivating. One went so far as to send what amounted to spam in the name of Microsoft. The message, which contained a blank receiver field and a generic “Hello” salutation, chirped, “We are staffing a highly-talented team of search engine marketing professionals to work within the new division of MSN — which is handling online marketing. All positions are full-time, direct hire positions, and relocation assistance is provided.”

It went on to say the recruiter would sure appreciate referrals.

Just for giggles, I rose to the bait. I called and gave the guy my name. “Unnngh… You’re calling about MSN, right?” he vamped.

Gotcha. I asked how he got my name. Turns out the recruitment firm’s “Internet research division” tracked down my name as a likely candidate. In other words, it’s searching on “SEM” or some such keyword/keyword phrase combo to fill jobs at MSN. They need analysts, strategists, copywriters, client relationship managers — the works.

“There are so many good people out there,” said the headhunter, angling for a peek into my Rolodex.

“No,” I corrected, “there are not a lot of good people out there. How many search engine marketing majors did you know in college?”

MSN threw a do in New York this week. It seemed every staffer I talked with there had worked for the company for “two months,” even “three days.”

Every time you blink, it seems another search engine is launched or one of the major engines launches a new vertical (travel search, shopping search, video search, audio search…). When they’re not doing that, they’re shoveling out new ad products or forging into global territories.

Forget plastics. The Great Search Engine Marketer Search has only just begun.

Meet Rebecca at Search Engine Strategies August 8-11 in San Jose, CA.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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