In the role of vice president of e-commerce and marketing, I’ve managed teams of well over 100 associates. It seemed there was always an open position to hire due to promotion, a newly created role or someone moving on. We’ve all experienced the pain of hiring the wrong person for the job. Hiring the right people is one of the most important opportunities we have as leaders to create a high-functioning team, see our vision come to fruition, and move the organization and company mission forward. In the fast-moving, ever-changing digitally enabled landscape, the interview challenges are now greater than ever.
Working as a retail executive impacted by the digital and technical demands that come with managing a large website or other areas of your organization, it can be a daunting task to ensure that who you hire is actually capable of the job. Technical jargon, acronyms and words that didn’t exist 15 years ago are peppered in digital candidates’ resumes. With the proliferation of interview and resume advice available online, potential hires have volumes of information available to help present themselves as strong candidates. But how do you, as the hiring executive or manager, have assurance the candidate is as technically skilled as you need? How do you know if they will be a great fit on your team, especially considering that strong digital team players are often a nice blend of creative and analytical thinkers?
Here are five techniques I’ve developed over the years that have served me well in hiring digital staff:
1. Give the short list of candidates a test. Assign one of your managers to develop and execute the test. This will allow them to feel part of the important decision-making process, and you can rely on their expert opinions you already value. If you create a standard test and allot the same administration time for each final candidate, your HR department will approve. It’s only when you don’t apply consistency to every candidate that you will encounter pushback. The test can demonstrate skill level, the ability to follow instructions and the quality of output in a defined, somewhat pressured time period. I’ve used this tactic often when hiring technical, creative and content development staff.
2. Ask what accomplishments listed on their resume they were directly responsible for. Many digital projects are complex and require team collaboration. One person can’t possibly be responsible for all aspects. Ask specifically what portion of the stated accomplishments they were responsible for managing or directly creating. Ask a question such as, “I see you mention you were responsible for the Mother’s Day online campaign which produced a 20 percent sales gain. Describe exactly which portions you led or directly completed?”
3. If hiring for a leadership/manager role, ask exactly how many people they’ve managed. Unless all of the candidate’s previous experience is at an enterprise company, it can be hard to determine the previous company structure and reporting lines at smaller, lesser known or privately held companies. Furthermore, titles can be confusing in the digital space, often not matching standard HR search databases. By directly inquiring about the types of staff and roles they previously managed, a lot of information will surface regarding their own technical and management abilities as they describe their staff’s responsibilities and capabilities. This question can also lead you to follow-up questions regarding how they led staff through challenges such as conflicting work styles or meeting high-pressure deadlines.
4. Learn how they acquired digital knowledge and skills, and how they keep current. E-commerce and digital are constantly changing, and at a rapid pace. A proliferation of information is easily accessible online, presenting a readily available knowledge library. To be successful and remain an up-to-date leader and employee, it’s imperative that good candidates are motivated to be constant learners, curious and self-taught. The answer to this question will help you learn what techniques they use to keep themselves current on the latest technologies and best practices.
5. Ask about their greatest challenges in managing and leading a tech-savvy workforce. Many candidates today are digital natives, having grown up in environments that encourage the use of new and evolving technology. They’re often naturally comfortable with paradigm shifts, however, they may also have only worked on small teams or independently. While a more seasoned manager or leader might bring much to your team with needed and solid management practices and methods, there can also be challenges if their reporting staff doesn’t respect their technical knowledge as current and credible, or if they don’t relate well to the new workforce. Asking this type of question will expose their self-awareness to the issue as well as provide some concrete examples of how they’ve adapted to managing new work styles.
With fast-paced, continual changes brought on by digital disruption, any methods you can put in place in your hiring practices can pay big dividends. Hiring smart by ensuring you’re asking the right questions and, more importantly, being sure you understand the best answers will allow your important leadership to positively impact the company.
Linda Mihalick is the senior director of the Global Digital Retailing Research Center at the University of North Texas. Prior to joining UNT, Linda served as vice president, e-commerce and marketing for the Army, Air Force Exchange Service.