Did you know it can take 40 days or longer to hire candidates for specialized roles in marketing? In the US, you're going to have two-week gaps between a candidate interview and a new PMM starting. In the UK, where notice periods are longer, you may be waiting for up to 12 weeks.
It can be a long process, but don’t worry, because in this article we’re going to break it down into some digestible steps:
- Challenges for PMMs
- The four steps you need to take to solve them
- Increasing your talent pipeline
- Diversify: what skills are missing from your team?
- Building a partnership with talent acquisition
- How to become a talent magnet
- Long-term strategies to nurture internal candidates
- The interview process
- Preparing your ideal interview panel
- What candidates want from employers
My name is Jennifer Bunting. I lead product marketing for LinkedIn marketing solutions across EMEA. When you're on LinkedIn, and you see ads and sponsored elements, those are the products that my team works on. In this article, I'm going to share with you some experiences that I've had across 20 years in digital advertising.
When I first started in tech, I would be asked to hire people only two days into starting with a company. Or, I would be asked to interview people with no job description, or with a very limited understanding of the job requirements.
Fast forward to my past 11 years at LinkedIn, and our number one pillar is team and talent. People managers get a lot of training on how to be the best manager for their team. But that also includes how to find the right people to join your team.
I've been really fortunate to have training on how to recruit and interview through our interview and training. I'm going to share with you what I learned in that process. Firstly, I surveyed my network.
Challenges for other PMM managers
To understand a hiring manager's perspective, I asked the question: What are some of the biggest challenges that everyone is having?
This poll was limited to four options. As you can see from the results below, lack of skilled and experienced candidates was the primary concern, closely followed by too few/many candidates.
I was a little bit surprised that diversity wasn't a higher ask. This is crucial. You have to ask yourself:
- How do you make sure your PMM team solves problems in a variety of different ways?
- Do you have a team of rich, diverse experiences?
- Do you have a team of diverse thinkers?
You have to plan for diversity. This should be a top priority for every hiring manager. This is a complex challenge, so let’s break it down into four simple steps.
Four steps to solve challenges
We’ve already talked about how time-consuming the recruitment process can be. A clearly established vision can really cut down on the gap between advertising and recruitment.
You need to ask, what will the candidate need for the role? What will the candidate need to be successful?
Something you should be putting more time into is the job description. To recruit candidates with the right levels of skills and experience, candidates need to understand what is required of them.
A quality job description allows candidates to give quality interviews. You really get the most out of candidates this way.
We’ll go into this in more detail later on in the article, but for now, understand that you need to establish:
- Who have you selected for the interview panel?
- Are they aware of the job specifications?
- Are they aware of what questions they should be asking?
As marketers, we should all know how to appeal to audiences. We know it’s important to put the audience first. Finding the right candidate is really no different from that.
If you're like me, you believe that any marketing strategy should be audience-first, it's really no different when it comes to people and people management, your interview process should be candidate-first.
Increasing your talent pipeline starts with the job description
Okay, truth bomb time, despite the hours and days spent crafting that perfect job description, the average job-seeker really spends only 49 seconds looking at your job description. 🤯
This means that, like all forms of advertising, the copy is important. The words you say matter. That's why people like Stephen King are millionaires. Make sure that you're really spending the time to make sure your representation is true to the job requirements.
Skills or experience
Skills and experience are probably the first things everyone thinks of when they think of a job description. This is one of the top concerns that everyone voted on in the poll.
Before you start thinking about even putting pen to paper on the job description, spend some time thinking about the skills and experiences that you need for someone to be successful and to drive measurable results for your organization. Let’s first establish the distinction between skills and experiences, because they are not synonyms.
Skills vs experience
A lot of people think that skills and experience are interchangeable, but it's important to emphasize the difference. Your skills are the knowledge and abilities that you gained; your experiences are things that you've done.
So, for example, if you are looking to hire a director-level person, you probably want them to have people management experience, and you want them to have managed teams of individuals before.
You may be looking for skills such as emotional intelligence and creativity. These are soft skills. They’re harder to learn, but they can be learned. Hard skills, on the other hand, are skills such as coding, or the ability to use online tools or Excel.
Hiring managers should be aware of the distinction between these two criteria when they start writing the job description.
I think as product marketers, part of the beauty of the role is that we work on a diverse set of marketing strategies and tactics.
The Product Marketing Alliance posted a great report- the 2021 State of Product Marketing report- where PMMs listed what they do. This is a very long list of things that people are doing in product marketing. See below 👇
Ideally, of course, you want someone who's done all of it. But if they're perfect in everything, they're probably overqualified for your role and will quickly outgrow it. Think about the essentials. What are the transferable skills you’re looking for? Maybe the candidate is going to be able to ramp up into CC quickly.
Thinking of these requirements as must-haves rather than nice-to-haves will really crystallize your vision of what the person should look like.
Diversify: What skills are missing on your current team?
I think diversity is one of the most underappreciated elements when you're building that job description. Look at your existing team and think about the ways they solve problems.
- Are they creative?
- Do they have a variety of skills and backgrounds?
- Are they going to help your products and your GTMs?
- Do they have diverse ways of thinking?
Once you have the criteria outlined, you can start thinking about how to weave them into your job description.
Use “must-have” sparingly
I highly recommend you keep your must-haves to a minimum. If you have too many requirements, it will only limit your diversity of people. It's also going to mean you get fewer people.
Studies show that women, in general, will only apply for roles where they meet 100% of the requirements. Why put yourself out there if you're not going to get it? Whereas men will apply for the role even if they only hit 60% of the requirements.
There’s a culture factor here as well; some cultures are just less risk-averse. And so they are not going to be as likely to apply for a role unless they meet all of your requirements. Copywriting is an underestimated skill. A lot of job descriptions sound incredibly boring when they are roles that are actually rich and exciting, with lots of growth opportunities for individuals.
Avoid gender-coded language
Some job descriptions can be very dry, but you also have job descriptions where there's a lot of fun being had. They use words like, ‘ninja,’ ‘guru’ and ‘rockstar.’ But I want you to pause for a moment and imagine the kind of person you think of when you hear these words. What do they do? What do they look like?
The chances are, you’ve inadvertently imagined a male. Avoiding those gender-coded words is important when you are writing your job description. Also, telling someone they are a product marketing ninja doesn't actually tell them very much about what you're looking for.
Building a partnership with talent acquisition
Your recruiter is really there to help you find the right person as quickly as possible. They probably have another hiring manager they need to start focusing on next. It's all about speed, but also quality. That said, a lot of people don't fully understand what product marketing is; it's a newer function of marketing compared to event or brand marketing.
It's important to spend a little time with your recruiter talking about the role and creating an overview of what you're looking for. One of the main questions you need to be asking here is, do you have too many job requirements?
Is a degree necessary?
The question is, what can you do to really open up the role? I highly recommend a lot of companies start to rethink whether or not you should make a degree a requirement. Obviously, in fields like medicine, you want to see that someone has an advanced degree.
But the fact of the matter is, not everyone has an opportunity to go to university and pursue higher education. Think about why you're removing someone without a degree from your candidate list. Of course, a degree may be essential for your line of business.
How important is the location?
Keep in mind that, in light of recent events, queries about remote working are coming up far more often. Speaking personally, I receive messages on LinkedIn every day from someone asking me about LinkedIn’s remote work policy. Think about that. Make sure you understand that before you go into the job-hunting process with the recruiter or candidate.
How to become a talent magnet
The responsibility of filling the talent pipeline does not sit squarely on the shoulders of your recruiter. At LinkedIn, people managers are expected to be talent magnets. A talent magnet is someone who has the ability to attract, retain and nurture talent.
What can you be doing in your everyday life to make sure you're well-connected? That way, you can always be on the lookout for people to fill your talent pipeline.
Join industry bodies
Joining industry bodies is a great way to connect with potential candidates. I'm a member of the IAB UK, which is important for me, as I work with digital ad products. Of course, I’m also a member of the Product Marketing Alliance.
My challenge to you is to look outside of your alma mater. When trying to diversify ways of thinking, think about what universities you didn't go to, or that the majority of people in your team didn't go to. This is a great way to add early career product marketers to your team.
Especially if you're an enterprise organization, you may find that a lot of people within your company are really interested in product marketing. Many product marketers have come to the role from another field, and they bring with them many transferable skills.
You may have people in sales, for example, that are really interested in product marketing, so why not talk to them?
If you are not hiring actively, definitely set those expectations. You don’t want to spend all that time recruiting a candidate, only to find that this isn’t the role that they wanted to begin with.
Long-term strategies to nurture internal candidates
There are quite a few different recruiting tactics you can implement.
Become a Mentor
I'm a big fan of mentoring others, both officially and unofficially. There are so many things you can learn about potential candidates through this process, such as:
- What are their career goals?
- Do they have some transferable skills?
- Would they be a good fit for product marketing?
After establishing this, you can try to think of ways to give them the ability to work with you on projects that will further their skills. When I've done this, I've been successful either finding someone to join my team or in forming a friendship that will strengthen the team.
Create PMM champions
A colleague of mine piloted a program called PMM Champions. She did this to have a cohort of people that could gain more experience and scale her efforts. She offered them one-on-one training, which really helped with their development.
This past year, we’ve put the budget behind this program. I highly recommend taking advantage of programs like PMM Certified, or any of the relevant courses that will take the onus off you to do all of the training. After they’ve completed some of the training, you can fill in the gaps with your company's process.
The interview process
Interviews are very much a two-way street. Candidates are interviewing you and your company as much as you are interviewing them. Here are a couple of techniques you can use to ensure you make the best decision.
Use open-ended questions
I like to think like a journalist when going into interviews. You really want to get the candidate talking. The more you can get a candidate to share, the more you will understand their capabilities. Firstly, you need to avoid yes and no responses. Open-ended questions are the best way to deal with this.
Really spend some time thinking about your questions ahead of time and craft them so that they are open-ended. Use words like ‘how,’ ‘why’ or ‘tell me about a time when…’ These things are very good at ensuring the candidate needs to answer more than yes or no.
Interviews can make people very nervous. It can be uncomfortable and awkward. Try to probe a little deeper if they haven't explained their thoughts clearly. You need to give the candidate a chance to fully sell themselves. Also, you need to make sure the candidate fully understands the expectations of the role.
Not everyone is an extrovert, so make sure you are offering them the privilege of silence for a moment. You have to give candidates the chance to come up with a quality answer. It'll probably be a lot shorter and less awkward than you think it is.
Use the STAR model
The Star model is a framework designed to allow hiring managers to get the best answers out of candidates. Everyone speaks and answers differently. You want to make sure they're explaining their answer in a way that allows you and anyone on your interview panel to get fair and balanced responses.
- What was the situation?
- What challenges were involved
- What was the impact of that action?
Your interview panel should be using that same process if you don't officially use the STAR model.
The interview panel
Your interview panel is critical. It's going to give you a vision of this person that is not limited to your eyes only.
Do they represent the teams and stakeholders candidates will work with?
As a candidate, If you've interviewed at a company and only spoke to one person, that's a red flag, because you're not actually getting to see who else in the organization you would be working with.
As a hiring manager, you should try to find stakeholders that will be part of their day-to-day experience at the organization.
Do they reflect a diverse set of voices?
Make sure there's a diverse set of voices. A person from a different background or perspective could see something in a candidate that you won’t see yourself. As a hiring manager, you don’t want to be limited by your own perspective.
Preparing your ideal interview panel
You can make your life a bit easier by helping your interview panel prepare. How you treat your interview panel is really important. Firstly, respect their time. Personally, I would only take between one and three candidates for an interview process with one panel.
Secondly, set expectations in advance. Make it clear that you would love for them to be on your panel and that they will only need to devote one to three hours of their time to this. The next thing is, make sure they understand what a PMM does.
Someone from the Sales team, for example, may think that a PMM really works on Sales Enablement, someone from the Content Marketing team may think they just work on positioning. Remind them what a PMM does and what you are looking for.
Explain to them why they're part of the interview process. They shouldn't all be looking for the same thing. They'll run out of time to try and isolate what they should be looking for within 30 to 60 minutes.
Finally, of course, you need to thank them. Even just an email really thanking them goes a long way, especially if you're going to be having them interview more candidates in the future.
This is the pack that I send out to my interview panelists.👇
First, I aligned one person for each pillar. For example, with marketing strategy and execution, I asked a colleague in Content Marketing if she would do an interview. Then, I wrote between four to six interview questions for every single person that was part of the panel.
I explained to them that they didn't have to use these questions, but that, at the very least, these questions could inspire them to start thinking along the right lines.
The candidate’s perspective
It’s really important to consider the candidate's perspective. Again, they could reject or decline the offer. And now you've wasted 40 plus days trying to move someone through this process.
From application all the way to onboarding, It's very important to think about how you and your company are really making candidates feel like they're going to thrive and have the things that they need and want by joining your team. I like to think of the process as a funnel.
What candidates want from employers
I sent out a poll on LinkedIn. I asked candidates, what is most important to them? These are the answers I received.
Career growth and mobility are driving factors for people; they want to know that they could stay with you for the long haul and that their career trajectory is going to move upwards.
Is the candidate data accurate?
Now, do I trust this data? There are many different factors that can lead to someone accepting or declining a job. Here are just a few:
Money is a huge factor
I received a lot of comments from people privately asking about money. Money is a huge factor. Not all cultures and not all generations are raised with a comfort level of talking about money.
When a candidate gets an offer, if it's below what they're currently making, you are going to be at a substantial disadvantage, especially if there are competing offers. If your candidate is interviewing actively, they may have competing offers.
Remote and flexible work is now a stable stake
I also received a lot of comments about flexible work and messages relating to ongoing pandemic developments specifically. Make sure you're thinking about that.
Colleagues and managers are a factor, but more in retention
We as professionals spend more hours per day with our colleagues than we do our loved ones and families. Here are some of the questions you need to be asking. Are candidates going to feel like they belong? Are they going to feel included on your team?
I highly recommend checking out the maintenance report that was launched this autumn here in the UK. It really looked into what people want at work. Unfortunately, across 2020 and 2021, employee happiness around the world declined and burnout increased.
The data is reflected here in this graph:
As you can see, work-life balance is very important for candidates, but companies really don’t seem to be prioritizing this, compared to providing challenging work and flexible work arrangements. Make sure you're thinking about this.
To wrap up
The three things I'll leave you with are:
- Spend time thinking about essential skills
- Think about transferable skills and experiences you would value in candidates
- Think about limiting your job description requirements
- Think about who is part of your interview panel and what their role is
And my final thought, remember that the candidate is interviewing you, too.