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Attracting top talent is hard. For small and boutique agencies, it’s even harder.

What constitutes high-quality growth-marketing talent? There are basically two types:

  1. Validated talent: These are individuals with years of professional experience who are difficult to lure to your company if you’re not a more established brand.
  2. Unproven talent: These are young, motivated individuals whose raw talent hasn’t been proven yet, and realistically, they still need to be nurtured — similar to your agency.

For smaller agencies, the latter is the ideal candidate to recruit. Small agencies, which grow through quality of work and word of mouth, struggle to attract the same talent as larger ones. Most small operations haven’t yet articulated company missions, values, and differentiators through internal marketing — all elements that established marketing candidates typically look for.

Rather than compete with established brands for validated talent, small agencies should seek out talent that reflects who they are as firms: unproven, but capable and eager to turn small opportunities into big wins.

Two Key Types of Candidates

At Ladder, we look for two distinct personas when hiring: recent grads and former big-agency workers.

New graduates with degrees in marketing, entrepreneurship, or similar fields are the perfect fit for small agencies. Many of these aspiring professionals read content about marketing and growth hacking for startups. They love the startup ecosystem and crave opportunities to develop their skills by earning marketing certifications.

The other group is harder to recruit, but just as valuable. People who used to work for big agencies and understand the shortcomings of those traditional offerings complement the fire of recent graduates with the wisdom of experience. They are hungry to take on more technical challenges, make decisions using data, build strong relationships, and operate as mini-CMOs for their clients.

By filling our agency with these two types of people, we have been able to succeed far beyond what would have been possible had we chased the same candidates as the bigger agencies.

If you’re struggling to land the best talent for your small agency, follow these steps to hire people who will excel in your business environment:

1. Develop a Data-Driven Hiring Strategy

Data drives business decisions; why shouldn’t it drive hiring decisions, too? According to LinkedIn, talent acquisition teams that use data are three times more likely to save money and work more efficiently.

DataStart by figuring out what percentage of applicants pass your resume screen. How many of those candidates pass phone screenings? In-person interviews? Keep whittling down the numbers until you have a full map of your hiring funnel, then evaluate opportunities to optimize the job description, hiring channels, and interview process to find better people more quickly.

Stefan Mancevski, our director of marketing, initially came on as a freelancer for a one-time project. In that short amount of time, he demonstrated the importance of content to our company, driving results in half the time we expected. With proven numbers in front of us, we offered Stefan a job as our head of content. Just a few months later, his drive earned him a promotion to director — all because we acted on the data that demonstrated his value.

2. Build Out a Full Hiring Funnel

From a phone screen to the first interview to a marketing test, your interview process should weed out candidates who lack the right instincts for the job. Build a funnel to eliminate bad fits quickly and get good candidates into interviews with senior leadership and potential teammates. The faster you put candidates in front of people who can ask detailed questions, the faster you can make good hiring decisions

No formula works every time. Occasionally, pressures to fill a role overwhelm the desire to find the best candidate, leading to subpar hires. When this happens, bad candidates turn into bad employees, costing the company more money than if it had waited another week or two to fill the position. Stop this cycle by creating a replicable hiring process and giving managers the resources they require to follow it consistently.

3. Promote Aggressively

Young marketers want to rise quickly. Create an aggressive promotion culture focused on both title and salary to reward ambition and retain your best talent. Not only will you retain the best workers, but when others see the quick promotions, they’ll realize that the same opportunities are available to them.

Jon Cohn, our new director of growth strategy, started with us two years ago as a young marketer with little experience. Thanks to his poise with clients and top-notch mind for strategy, we promoted him quickly, rewarding his hard work with the title he deserved.

Maintain this philosophy of promotion across all levels of the company, not just management positions. Jake Henderson interned for us in college, and after he proved his worth during his limited time here, we offered him a job immediately after graduation. What he lacked in experience, Jake made up for in drive, and he has been a valuable addition to our team ever since.

4. Prioritize Transparency

TrainOpen the books to candidates about everything from funding to team structure to compensation. The more transparent you are, the better conversations you can have during the hiring process.

As Robert Hohman, CEO of Glassdoor, said last year, open compensation policies produce long-term boosts in productivity and job satisfaction. Transparency also helps close the pay gap between men and women, ensuring everyone at the company feels valued and respected.

With the rise of Glassdoor and comparable services, more job seekers are speaking openly about compensation. Companies unwilling to participate in that dialogue are suffering the consequences.

For example, when Taylor Byrnes first interviewed with food delivery service SkipTheDishes, she earned a second interview. However, after Byrnes asked about the pay and benefits of the position, SkipTheDishes cancelled her second interview because her “priorities [were] not in sync” with the company’s. Byrnes tweeted the company’s response, which went viral. The widespread backlash forced the organization to apologize and reschedule Byrnes’s second interview.

To avoid similar struggles, be transparent from the start so candidates know what to expect. Don’t lose out on good candidates because your hiring process doesn’t align with your agency’s identity.

Jon Brody is cofounder and CEO at Ladder.



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