Search Marketing Staffing Crisis

By Matt Spiegel, CEO
Appeared in Search Engine Watch, November 19

I won't be the first person to tell you there's a shortage of experienced people within the search marketing space, but it's true.

There's a tradeoff most people face in the process of hiring a search marketing team: hire people with less business experience who are likely more familiar with search (even if only from their own personal use), or hire people less familiar with search who have more business experience.

More accurately, this decision is made on a position by position basis and depends on the specific role in question, leaning whichever way makes most sense.

The Secret to Hiring and Training Staff

My organization has, by and large, successfully hired many people right out of school, or with one or two years of business experience. That's true in part because we have a model that enables focus and training on specific pieces of the industry.

Another reason for our success with this more junior workforce: we've hired for attitude as much as we've hired for skill. Those who join our team have demonstrated specific skill aptitudes. They're interviewed to gauge their passion for their budding career and the evolution of online marketing.

Higher Education?

What amazes me about this group: their schooling has provided little exposure to this new marketing world. The vast majority of recent graduates in advertising and marketing have had little course work specific to online advertising (much less search).

How to Solve SEM Staffing Crisis

Ultimately, if the SEM (define) talent shortage is to end, we'll need the influx of talent to lack only business experience. It's reasonable as we near 2008 to expect universities and colleges across the country to make a stronger push to include advanced studies in online and search marketing.

However, don't expect most institutions of higher learning to be able to adapt all that quickly (after all, they haven't so far). Instead, we need to look within the industry for help.

Search Engines on Campus

Yahoo, Google, and MSN all have the established brand strength (and revenue/profit) to make visible and concentrated efforts to head to campuses to teach about the industry at large and their specific space in the market place. These companies -- and others -- have done this aggressively for technology recruiting. Maybe I've missed it, but I haven't seen this happen for marketing/advertising positions.

Leverage Local Industry Associations

As president of the Chicago Interactive Marketing Association (CIMA), we've yet to crack the code on leveraging our collective experience for the benefit of local colleges. We've had some definite areas of success.

CIMA is hungry to help speed the learning process for the next generation of employees. We're all in the industry and feel the pain of their lack of exposure every time we go to hire someone.

Whether on a one-off basis or as regularly scheduled classes, training's essential. Organizations like CIMA have the right people to introduce our industry to those who lack the opportunity.

Offer Search Marketing Internships

Too many companies in the search marketing space don't offer internships. Granted, hosting interns takes work, but the investment is worthwhile.

When universities and colleges see a significant percentage of their students interning for online marketing/search each summer, they'll pay more attention to their need to train people for these opportunities.

For the past few summers we've brought on at least one intern and have seen immediate value from the work they provide while on staff. The experience has taught us how to speed our training process, encouraged them to recommend our company to their graduating friends, and helped foster the expansion of the talent pool.

As leaders of the search community, we need to do what we can to improve the flow of experience into our industry. Too often, our focus is on recruiting senior people from related fields, and while it is important, this alone will never solve the talent issue.

Let's do our part to help the next generation get a head start in the industry...for their benefit and ours.


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