#FreeAdvice is a monthly feature where we take your questions about search/analytics/etc and answer them here. The number of answers will vary based on length, complexity, our energy levels.
Q. How do you find SEM talent?
A. Even when the unemployment rate was higher, this was no easy task. We’re 10-15 years into this being a real career path in a growing field but it doesn’t feel much different from a hiring standpoint. It’s not something people go to school for (with rare exceptions) and in a lot of cases not much more than a few days or weeks of classroom discussion. It’s also a field where there’s often not a lot of room to move up in position and you see people bouncing around for lateral moves with small boosts in pay.
And now it seems in most markets that the hiring demand is a reasonable amount greater than the availability of talent. So what do you do?
Don’t hire SEM talent.
I’m not saying leave positions vacant or deal with contractors, but don’t be part of the cycle of overpaying for underqualified people just because they have “search” somewhere on their resume.
A lot of companies do this by bringing on interns and hopefully hiring a fair amount of them on for their first full-time job. There’s merit to this, but you’ve got to have the right expectations structure for these people as eventual full-time employees. Just because you’re paying them a salary and they went through your intern program doesn’t mean they are ready to just start managing a bunch of important projects. And the whole thing of having an intern program that actually prepares people for their career is another discussion.
My route has generally been to look for experienced marketing people who don't know search. You’ve got the same training ahead of you, as with an intern, but it generally works out better because you’re bringing in someone with related experience who also (hopefully) knows how to handle themselves in the working world. They also might have some directly related experiences like copywriting or analysis work that can make the transition easier.
This is not an easy solution that anyone can replicate. It also probably doesn’t scale to teams of 20-30. You’ll have to pay these people a lot more than their direct experience would dictate. You’ve got to trust they’ll actually be okay with a bit of a career change. Heck, the word “solution” isn’t even the correct term. It’s just the way I’ve tried to do it.
All this is to say there’s no easy answer. It has not been getting easier, only more challenging. That probably won’t change until search marketing as we know it changes so dramatically that we have a bunch of people with obsolete skillsets. Which is to say, if you’re complaining about the lack of available talent in this field, the only real answer is structural. Similar to how coding went from a lot of self-taught or miscast software engineering grads to an array of specialized programs and degrees, marketing needs to do the same. Schools have made progress, but are still lagging. Folks with influence have to push for more degree options and to make marketing less often a fallback field for people who don’t like math. For now, all I can say is be creative and try to look for the people who aren’t looking for you.