How to Find Digital Rock Stars Just About Anywhere

From the Local Barista to the Store Clerk, Great Digital Talent Could Be Closer Than You Think

By Published on .

Credit: Tony Aguero at Possible
Most Popular

If you ask any digital marketer today what's keeping her up at night, chances are she'll tell you it's talent -- finding the bright, smart people who can make it happen. Of course, some of them are easy to find. We meet them at award shows, see them working on major accounts, or notice them leading efforts at top brands. The problem? Those people aren't easy to hire.

What most people don't realize, however, is that great digital talent is often hiding in plain sight. She's that intern/screenwriter you have chasing down image rights. He's that store clerk who keeps an awesome fashion blog. Or that production designer who does standup comedy in her spare time. Some people have the skills and mindset that would make them great at what we do, but we miss them because we focus too much on resumes and not enough on our own radar.

Don't believe me? A few years ago, everyone in our office had a favorite barista at a café across the street. His name was Alex, and he knew everyone's name and their usual order. He also had a strange habit. If you missed a day or ordered something different, he'd ask why.

After a while, we learned that Alex was an out-of-work statistician. He was using the questions to build a model that could predict the daily revenue of the coffee shop on any given day, before it even opened. To do so, he needed to know every factor that might affect that, from the weather to why a regular might miss a day. One of us, for example, might work from home on Wednesdays. Or a nearby business might have a furlough in January. By taking these things into account, his model could paint a more accurate picture of how well the business was doing on any given day -- and overall.

In other words, he had a terrific understanding of both data and CRM, and if that's not the definition of a digital rock star, I don't know what is. Still, you couldn't find that on his resume (he'd worked mainly in the medical field), and you'd never realize it unless you had your eyes open. Needless to say, as soon as we could, we hired him, and he worked out great.

If you look around, you can find people like Alex everywhere. We've hired interns right out of college. We stole our current global business development director from the Washington Department of Transportation. We found a great employee thanks to an ad he made on Craigslist. And we've had existing employees that turned into great performers, once they got the right job.

So how do we identify these hidden rock stars? Typically, we focus on qualities rather than qualifications. In particular, four of them stand out: curiosity, craft, caring and culture:

Curiosity. Great digital people have to be interested in learning new things, because that's what we do. Technology changes, and so do people's preferences. We work on different clients, different projects, and we need to have people who can wrap their heads around new developments and platforms. If you can find that employee who's always taking a class or learning new tricks on her phone, you might be on to something.

Craft. Marketing is a craft, not an art. You have to work at it to get better. In addition to being a great guy, Alex had taught himself to be a terrific barista. His non-fat vanilla latte was to die for. Similarly, people who are going to do great work drive themselves to be better and better at what they do.

Caring. Great digital people want to make a difference -- both for their clients and for the world as a whole. If you care, you'll work harder and look for solutions where others might not. And you'll be open to great ideas that aren't your own. Alex's café only wanted him to make coffee. Instead, he took the time to build a model that would help his bosses understand their business better.

Culture. You can be as talented as you want, but if you don't fit into a modern digital culture, you won't work out. In a good culture, rock stars can speak up and make themselves heard, and they do the same for others. Look for that person who always has solutions for solving a problem -- and readily switches sides if someone else has a better idea.

I wish we could say that every employee like Alex stays with us forever. Often, as happened in his case, they move on as other opportunities come up (and others recognize just how good they are). Nothing lasts forever in digital. That's why it's important to always keep your eyes open and never judge anyone by a resume or a job title. Brilliant people can be found anywhere. You just have to start looking.