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5 qualities every digital marketing manager needs to possess

5 qualities every digital marketing manager needs to possess Blog Feature

Liz Moorehead

Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast

October 11th, 2019 min read

Hiring a digital marketing manager isn't as straightforward as you might think

When you're hiring your company's marketing team, it's kind of like you're building your own set of Avengers, wherein each person brings to the table their own specific set of skills.

Your content manager will be an expert storyteller and content producer, with a knack for putting others at ease and engaging them in the process. Your videographer will be an expert visual storyteller, who knows how to help people come alive on camera and empower them to effortlessly tell their own stories. 

(If you're looking for more information about those roles, don't worry — we've already written extensively about what you need to look for in your content manager and videographer hires.)

Then there is your digital marketing manager.

Whatever name they go by — digital marketing manager, marketing manager, marketing strategist — this person will be your top strategist and the ringmaster of your digital marketing efforts. 

While everyone on your team should be a good culture fit for your company, much like when you are hiring a videographer and content manager, you'll be looking for a specific blend of qualities in your digital marketing manager hire. 

Of course, I'm not an expert on hiring top-performing marketers.

So, I turned to IMPACT VP of Services Brie Rangel to talk about the most important qualities you should look for in your digital marketing managers and strategists. Although it sounds somewhat cliché to say this, her answers surprised me. 

I expected her response to my question to be a litany of digital marketing experiences and certifications. Yes, having strategic digital marketing experience is absolutely essential — and we have a whole set of questions we've shared with you all previously of how to screen for digital marketing expertise during the hiring and interviewing process.

But, according to Brie, the four most essential qualities are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Ownership mentality
  • Growth mindset
  • Emotional agility

🔎 Related: Ready-to-use digital marketing manager job description

"Wait, why aren't those digital marketing specific qualities?"

While digital marketing-specific skills can be taught or amassed over time by (mostly) anyone, the four qualities above, according to Brie, are traits that a job candidate either possesses or they don't. And if they don't, typically, they are not going to be a good fit for the rigorous demands of the digital marketing role

But this is something Brie learned through experience. (Since joining IMPACT, she estimates she's conducted more than 150 interviews for digital marketing manager positions.)

"When I first started interviewing [digital marketing job candidates], I was definitely listening for digital strategy skills, as well as examples of campaigns that they had done — which I still do. But what I realized is that, without these four skills, it doesn't matter how smart you are coming into the role. If you have no way of growing and even recognizing that there's room for growth in yourself, you'll never be a good fit here."

🔎 Related: Our ultimate list of marketing interview questions for recruiters and hiring managers

She continued, "Digital marketing changes all the time. So, I'm more interested in answering the question of, 'Are you able to adapt and change as the industry changes, or are you stuck where you're coming in at?'"

What follows is excerpts from my conversation with Brie about each of these traits and why they are so critically important to screen for in the digital marketing manager interview process.

1. Why self-awareness?

Brie: I've written extensively about self-awareness being the #1 trait that determines whether or not someone will be a "good hire." But IMPACT is a really challenging environment to work in. We have a great culture, but you can't coast.

And what I see when employees are having a hard time, the root of it is that they can't see themselves for where they're really at. And as managers, they try to coach and do what they can. But if somebody is not capable of seeing, realistically, their level of skill, what they need to work on, they can't be a victim, and that's a big problem.

If they can't see that, then they're just stuck and they won't survive here.

How do you screen for self-awareness during hiring?

Brie: One of the questions I like to ask during an interview is, "Can you tell me about a real-life situation where you felt like you were stuck and didn't know how to do something, and how you overcame it?"

And the reason I ask that is because, one red flag — and I've gotten it many times, sadly — is people think, "This is an interview, so this is a trick question. I should just say that I never struggle with anything."

And so they'll tell me, "Oh, you know, I can't think of an example. I've never had a time where I have struggled."

And in my head I'm like, "Are you kidding? I struggled this morning. Everybody struggles on the job."

So, if you can't admit it, even in a high pressure situation like an interview, that makes me nervous about how you'll be as an employee when you want to hide your mistakes. 

I'll also prompt them: "Tell me about a time when you messed something up for a client." We work with clients. And if they struggle to come up with an example of when something went wrong, or they can't articulate why it went wrong, that's another red flag.

They don't self-reflect, they're uncomfortable admitting mistakes, and they may be very difficult to coach on an ongoing basis.

2. Why ownership mentality?

Brie: With an ownership mentality, I know that if somebody is really owning the work that they do, they eliminate excuses. They will work very hard to fix a situation (no matter what it is), because they know that they are part of the problem, and will try to fix it, versus falling into victim mode and playing the blame game.

Those are traits that are really challenging to help somebody coach out of, if they can't even see that — no matter what the problem is, if you're a part of it, in some what you are part of the problem. Especially when we work with clients. Nine times out of 10, it's really easy to blame a client, but it's usually our fault, and I need somebody who can take ownership in a role like that.

And that's something universal someone should look for, because you want an in-house marketer to have that level of ownership about their work, too. It's not specific to agency work.

How do you screen for ownership mentality during the hiring process?

Brie: That one's really interesting. So, I'll usually ask two questions around that. One, I'll ask again, "Tell me about a time you messed up for a client." But I'll also ask follow up questions about, "Tell me a time when somebody on your team messed up on something that you owned, or a project that you owned, and how did you handle that?"

And you would think the obvious answer to say something like, you know, "I took ownership of it, we made it right. I addressed it with that person who messed up."

But there are people who answer that in a way of just... well, they want to look good, so they'll just blame it all on the person that messed up.

🔎 Related: Our definitive list of culture fit interview questions for recruiters and hiring managers

That way they can say to themselves that they answered the question, but "I still looked like the hero." 

Again, it's that lack of honesty, because they think that's what I want to hear, when it's complete opposite of what I want to hear. But people don't get it. They don't see that what we're looking for is to really own, that as a project manager, as an example, you set that person up for failure, you should have done something differently, so they didn't fail.

3. Why growth mindset?

Brie: I think of growth mindset as having the belief that, with concentrated effort you can improve, versus thinking that you're stuck in a position that you're in. Whether you think, "I'm just not good at math." Or, there's excuses in your mind for why things are the way they are, versus realizing that, "I can change how things are today. If I do X, Y and Z."

Where I see the opposite, someone is fixed and (whether they realize it or not) they act like a victim. Where the reason that you are where you are is because you didn't have enough... you had too many clients, you had too much work, people didn't allow you to succeed.

Again, that's not specific to agency marketers. You need that kind of willingness to grow with in-house marketers, too.

Because, how can you be a manager if you're hiring marketers that are victims, versus people who can own their growth opportunities and say, "I can impact my own growth. I have control over my own future by changing my actions, even if other people are involved."

How do you screen for growth mindset during the hiring process?

Brie: Usually, I'll ask "What happened with your current job?" Because that's where you can hear a lot of things:

"My boss was really mean to me."

"My team was really gossipy and I just couldn't be around it."

I don't think it's bad to ask that directly. "What's going on with your current job that's wanting to leave." Because on the flip side you might hear really nice growth mindset things, that they want to grow.

"Oh, I love the company and the people I work with, but I'm ready for a new challenge," or "I'm making this change for me, to push myself in my career, and here's why..."

Those are great things to hear.

But the other thing that I'll ask is, "Let's say hypothetically, you got the job, but a year from now you find yourself really unhappy. What kind of things will lead to a circumstance like that?"

Often people are not used to hearing questions like that during an interview, so you get some very interesting and honest answers, because they're caught off-guard.

"Well, my boss doesn't give me enough direction." Or, "I feel really disconnected from the team." Things like that, where it's like it's very easy for you to change all of those things yourself, but if that's how you're going to take it, then those are red flags.

4. Why emotional agility?

Brie: If you have something bad happen to you, or something you don't agree with comes up in a conversation, how do you handle that?

Do you have a terribly horrible bad week because of that one thing? Do you just spout your mouth off without thinking about what you're saying, or do you take that second to pause and choose a response that's appropriate for the situation?

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who have a bad call, or a bad meeting, and they let it ruin their whole day. I always say, "No client call should make you have a bad day." Because then you're missing some emotional agility there.

How do you screen for emotional agility during the hiring process?

Brie: We do situational activities, which is a mock scenario a digital marketer would typically experience when interacting with a client. And so I'll throw some curve balls at them within a call, to see how they act on their feet.

But also after the call, I will give them feedback. And that's usually the biggest area that I see all of these things.

How do they accept the feedback? Are they even aware? I asked them how they think they did. And so if I think they were on a scale of one to 10, a six, and they tell me they were a 10, well, that's a red flag right there.

Then, as I give them feedback, if their immediate reaction is to cut me off and give me some excuses about why what they did made sense — "I'm not normally like that" — growth mindset is crossed off the list, as is ownership and emotional agility, in that they possess none of those qualities.

Because you didn't even pause to listen to the feedback. You're making excuses and defending yourself. And so that's the biggest opportunity where I test for a lot of these, all four of these things, is when and how they accept feedback.

There is one other trait all digital marketing managers need to possess

The #1 reason why most digital marketing strategies fail is due to lack of buy-in from sales and leadership

So, beyond self-awareness, ownership mentality, emotional agility, and possessing a growth mindset — all of which are absolutely critical for your next hire — you need to find a digital marketing manager who is an exceptional communicator.

More specifically, they need to be able to speak to sales and leadership about marketing in a way that they can actually understand it. The most important goal a digital marketing manager can have is to get buy-in from sales and leadership, as their success rises and falls on that.

👉 Get started: Ready-to-use digital marketing manager job description

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