Best Sources And Techniques For Identifying Great Talent

By Pat East | @pateast | CEO at Hanapin Marketing

This is the second in a series of five blog posts about how to grow your agency. Jeff Allen and I are hosting Agency Growth workshops in Portland and London. Learn all about how we’ve grown Hanapin from a $2000 investment to an Inc 5000 company and an Indiana Best Places to Work honoree. For more info, read the About page and our FAQ.


Make sure to check out the first post in the series.


Hat tip to Kirk Williams and Open Face Odds for the idea for this blog post.


This is an appropriate follow-up post to mine from yesterday, which talked about when to hire your first employee. This post will talk about the best sources for finding employees, techniques for identifying great talent, and also whether or not you should hire full-time, part-time, or freelancers.


I think the first place to start when discussing this topic is to talk about the characteristics you should look for. Because if you don’t get those right it really doesn’t matter whether your sources for finding a person are right or whether you hire full-time, part-time, or freelancers.


At Hanapin, while we were able to make a handful of good hires right at the beginning, we really did just get lucky at finding great people. Over the years, we realize that we can’t just hire smart people. The type of smartness is important. What we look for now are people who are very analytical, they’re linear thinkers, and they want to sit in front of an Excel spreadsheet on a computer for 8+ hours a day.


The difference between hiring somebody who is “just” intelligent versus somebody that is analytical is huge. PPC is very formulaic, of course. We hired people without experience (we also hired people that said they had experience but their skills on their resume didn’t match their actual skills, another caveat when hiring) but who are smart and their analysis and critical thinking skills didn’t seem to be fast enough to keep up with our clients’ goals.


Eventually we figured out that we didn’t need just smart people, we needed people who could think linearly, who could think critically and figure out if “A” causes “B” then “C” happens while previously some of our folks thought if “A” happens maybe sometimes “B” happens or sometimes “C” happens but in some cases maybe “D” happens. We now test heavily for analytical skills. There’s two skill tests we do on Kenexa/Prove It. There’s an extremely high correlation between how people score on our tests during the recruitment process and how good of account managers they end up becoming.


So, I would look for people who are analytical. Craft your job description around things like “do you like data?” I would also ask them to submit writing samples. Base them on interview questions that you would normally ask face-to-face but have those folks submit them over email. The primary reason for this process is because clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. If you get strong answers back, it’s a good indicator that the person can think clearly as well. Some secondary reasons for doing this are 1) you decrease the number of people that you need to do a face-to-face interview with because they weed other candidates who look solid otherwise, 2) you decrease the time you spend during those face-to-face interviews because you’ve already asked some of those questions, and 3) you’re creating buy-in from the candidate and getting them to invest in your process, which is something that will differentiate you from other companies.


In terms of sources, job boards comprise about 35% of our hires, recruited folks comprise 15%, referrals 25%, and miscellaneous 25%. Miscellaneous is mainly inbound, things like the Best Places to Work lists or PR articles about us. Previous to winning BPTW, the breakdown was something like job boards 50%, recruitment 25%, and referral 25%.


The job boards that work best for us are, in no particular order:


  • CareerBuilder
  • Craigslist
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster


You can also include your local newspaper, people actually still look for jobs in those! Indeed, LinkedIn, and Craigslist seem to work best for us, and while it’s counterintuitive, they’re the cheapest of the five that I listed. You can try some niche job boards like Talent Zoo or but regardless of whether they’re focused on marketing jobs, make sure to screen for an analytical bent.


Many companies try not to find candidates on job boards, and in my opinion, that’s the wrong tactic. Maybe they just don’t think that job boards will attract the “right” type of candidate. Or maybe they believe the referrals are always the best source of employees. My own experience is that job boards have attracted some of our very best employees. Sean Quadlin, who now works at Google, found us via an online job board from our local newspaper, and Eric Couch, who now works at Bing, found us via CareerBuilder. Both folks had zero PPC experience before Hanapin and their current employers recruited them both, too.


Folks that we recruit are done either via external or internal recruiters. Our mileage has varied quite a bit on our success with external recruiting. The costs are very high but you’re also doing very little of the work (you’re still doing some, it’s not a “bolt-on” process). Often times, there are few great candidates in the pool and the recruiter coaches those candidates through the process and makes them appear to be much stronger than who they are. Of course, it does work out well too. Jeff Allen, for instance, was one of our recruits. He started as an Account Manager and was promoted to Director of Paid Search and then President.


If you’re just starting off though, I would recommend doing the recruitment internally yourself, using a mix of LinkedIn to make connections, looking at resume databases, and reaching out to people on Twitter. We’re lucky enough to have a full-time recruiter on staff to handle filling all of our open positions (via recruitment, job boards, referrals, and miscellaneous sources), which has helped us keep costs low.


Referrals are a solid low- or no-cost source of candidates. Referrals can come internally from employees, or they can come from external sources. For internal, which I would recommend that you comp those employees for referring people to you, make sure you are continually reminding people to refer candidates to you not just when you have a open position. Make sure the folks know the talking points of what to say to folks when they’re asking about employment, and make sure they know what the process is for actually referring somebody to the company. Do I contact HR, do they contact the employee, and do they follow the application instructions on the job posting?


If you’re trying to generate external referrals, I recommend you send an email blast to your contacts. Include just 3-4 bullet points of the type of person you’re looking for, along with a link to the job posting. Don’t include more than 3-4 as it decreases the chances that your email will get deleted because there’s too much for people to figure out. Things to include in the bullet points are that you’re looking for a data-driven person, the salary range, and maybe even the types of jobs / titles this person may currently have so when they’re mentally reviewing their Rolodex, they know the type of person to be on the lookout for.


My personal opinion is that you should hire full-time folks in lieu of finding part-time folks or freelancers. I’ve come to this opinion because of the time it takes to invest in employees and because doing so acts as a forcing mechanism for sales and marketing.


The cost of training a new employee, whether they have PPC experience or not, is high. Obviously, if they have PPC experience, you’ll have to train them less, but you’ll still need to orientate them on how your company does PPC, reporting, client interactions, system/processes, etc. You also need to continue training them on an ongoing basis (or make sure they get some sort of external training) for PPC. Additionally, they need to be trained on some of the softer skills, things like and verbal communication. And if they don’t have PPC experience, hopefully you found somebody who is analytical and thinks linearly so you can build upon that skill set, but it will still be one you’re going to have to teach them nonetheless.


All in all, training takes a big time commitment (one that is well worth it!) and we need that same commitment from the employee. With a full-time employee, you’re getting more commitment from them than a part-time employee, both in terms of number of hours and their mental status. They’re committing themselves to you 100% versus splitting their time between two jobs. When push comes to shove, there won’t be any question whether they’re committed to you.


I also think the full-time employees are preferable to freelancers, even though freelancers will be able to get up to speed on day one simply because of their PPC background, for the same reason full-time employees are preferable to part time folks. You want folks who you know are committed to you and who you’ll have unfettered access to in case emergencies come up. Most freelancers have a full-time job too, and that one pays the bills. The work they do for you is likely “mad money.” Often times, freelancers will be more expensive then full-time employees too, but their skill set and their experience offset that. You’re just not getting them for a full 40 hours a week. I’m sure there are companies who use freelancers and the work is top-notch. I’d love to hear comments from the other side of my opinion.


The main reason I prefer full-time employees is because they act as a forcing mechanism, so to speak, for sales and marketing. If you’re committing actual dollars to a full-time employee and you’re committing time and resources to training them, not that you wouldn’t take your marketing and sales seriously otherwise, but in this case the stakes are higher and you’re going to make sure that your sales and marketing systems are solid and that they’re delivering the types of clients and revenue you need. When you have part-time employees and freelancers, you’re straddling the lines between having enough resources on staff and servicing accounts and whether or not you’ll be able to get sales and revenue.