Attracting Talented Employees Takes on New Urgency: Q&A

Posted on by Patricia Odell

Acquiring talented employees is at the heart of every marketing agency’s core. It’s not an easy task, which is why the experiential marketing agency All Terrain recently hired a senior manager of talent management, a new post for the 14-year old mid-western agency.

The agency has about 30 employees and is in a high-growth mode. The key to its growth relies on acquiring, developing and retaining top talent, which is where Karen Curran comes in. In her new post she has some innovative plans for the agency and she shares some of the details with us.

CHIEF MARKETER: What are your responsibilities as senior manager of talent management?
CURRAN: It’s a role that might be a little different than the perception of traditional human resources, which is administrative in nature. Talent management is more of a business strategy for the attraction, development, engagement and retention of employees. It’s everything that has to do with people. It truly is your single greatest competitive advantage.

CM: What is the history of this position?
CURRAN: It is a pretty new position at agencies. The truth is there wasn’t a lot of focus on how you attract a candidate or how you position your agency in the industry, which is very critical to attracting and selecting candidates. It’s important to determine whether a potential employee is cultural fit.

CM: How has the environment of hiring talent changed over the last few years?
CURRAN: In a recession marketing is quite often one of the first things to go, so the truth is there are a lot of good people on the street right now. It’s great to hire good talent, but it’s even more important that you develop those people appropriately and that you work to make certain that they’re motivated and engage. All those things are very, very critical.

CM: How competitive is the recruiting environment?
CURRAN: The competition is tough for us in particular because we want to compete with the Leo Burnett’s of the world. We want to attract the best and the brightest and we’re raising the bar on those expectations.

CM: How do you identify talent?
CURRAN: I reach out to my contacts and referrals are always my first choice. We’re looking for people who are sharp and get what it is we’re trying to do. In the past, people were required to have pretty specific skills. Our idea is to train up everybody and we go through a pretty strict process of interviewing, not just for skill set, but to see how the candidate will fit into a department and most importantly how they will fit into the cultural here. We’re looking for a very new breed of talent.

CM: Do you use social media in the search/hiring process?
CURRAN: Absolutely, we use LinkedIn, Facebook, twitter. We tap into all of those social channels. It really is how candidates see the world these days so you have to be able to adapt to that. We will tweet a short note saying that we are hiring for a certain position and include a link to the job description and where they can apply and we share that information with our Facebook friends, too.

CM: What are the top characteristics you look for in a new employee?
CURRAN: Eagerness to learn, cultural fit, self-awareness—meaning an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses—how they perceive themselves, do they have a good communication style and their previous successes.

CM: Once you identify a candidate, how do you determine if they truly are a good fit? CURRAN: We believe that your past performance is indicative of your future success. For example, how you have behaved in certain situations determines how you are going to behave in a similar situation moving forward. And we interview specifically using that model. We conduct behavior-based interviewing here.

CM: How do you develop talent?
CURRAN: Our approach is to train our employees from basic management skills to across all of the different marketing channels.

CM: How do you retain staff?
CURRAN: You have to stay focused on what engages and what keeps them interested in a job and give them challenging tasks. The No. 1 thing in keeping people is not always money, a lot of times it’s a desire to grow in your career.

CM: What are you instituting that is new?
CURRAN: The interview process has been changed so that we utilize behavioral-based interviewing to get to the heart of what people are about. We are also instituting a training university that encompasses everything from management skills, to communication to bid strategies so that we can do a great job for our clients.

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