Last week, I was talking to a senior executive at one of the largest and most respected global agencies, and I asked him, “how do you find quality talent in digital and social?” He shook his head and replied, “you tell me, Aaron. It’s a problem we face every day.” As part of our soon-to-be-launched “Digital Talent & Education Gap Study”, I interviewed many of the world’s top leaders in marketing and advertising, and interview after interview, the same message rang true: “I just can’t seem to find anyone really great at executing in social, mobile, and digital.” I think almost everyone—whether client-side or agency-side—can relate. Talent is lacking, we all fight for the good ones, and universities aren’t giving us any hope for recent graduates to fill that gap. It still surprises me that some of the world’s most recognized agencies and top brands are in a constant struggle to find and retain top talent in digital—the ROI-minded marketers that know how to effectively plan, prioritize and execute digital strategies and campaigns. Yet, if we want our organizations to grow and be as profitable as possible, we must solve this problem. So what is the answer? Here are my 3 solutions—please feel free to add yours in the comments below, or contact me directly on LinkedIn. Let’s get the conversation started! 1. Look for Joiners and Participators Yes, it’s nearly impossible to find good talent. And it’s usually not the senior talent I am talking about here—a good recruiter or a little bit of research on LinkedIn will do the trick there. It’s the execution talent. The marketers that will write great Tweets, build custom analytics dashboards, craft great blog posts, and manage client accounts—all in a smart and meaningful way. Where do these people live, breathe, and eat? The best are in a constant search of knowledge and like-minded peers, so they tend to attend online (webinars, virtual summits) and in-person events (conferences, meetups). In addition, they also join LinkedIn Groups for networking with others in the industry. Most national events and local networking organizations have dedicated LinkedIn Groups for their members and the community. For example, SFIMA (the South Florida Interactive Marketing Association) has a dedicated LinkedIn group for their members. If you’re looking for talent in South Florida, this is a great place to start. The SES conference (Search Engine Strategies) also has a LinkedIn group, as do we here at OMI. Members of these groups are based both in the US and across the globe, so if you’re looking for a local candidate, it will take longer to sift through the member list. There are other groups focused around topical areas like social media, online marketing, email, B2B marketing, etc. Join these groups, see who is posting in them, and check out the list of members. (Want to see more examples of groups? Connect with me on LinkedIn, and I’ll send you a list of my favorites.) Once you find some possible candidates, check out how they are communicating on other platforms like Twitter. If they are saying something thoughtful or insightful, then you might just have a winner on your hands. Ok, so that’s the fertile ground. Now the hard part of weeding them out. 2. Uncover Initiative and Skills Now that you’ve found potential candidates, it’s time to weed through the resumes, and most likely, there will be mounds of them. For example, if you’re looking for an entry-level social media associate, you will get flooded with resumes if you post the job listing online. As part of the filtering process, ask them for examples of work they have done and the corresponding results, with links to any accounts or campaigns. You can also test their communication skills and social media/content marketing knowledge by asking them to complete a project at an hourly rate, like writing a sample blog post or crafting media updates. While this is not completely representative of how they will perform on the job, you’ll at least see who takes initiative and follows directions, and you’ll start to get a good idea of their current skill level, and if they have the potential to succeed in the role. Moreover, look for mentions of classes or courses they are taking. Are they participating in any university classes, or are they members of any educational groups? Have they completed any online certifications programs? Here at OMI, we offer a free Digital Marketing Essentials certification to any new hires or interns. Those that reply with “Awesome! where do I start?” make the first cut for us. Most say thanks but do nothing, however. A colleague who runs one of the largest digital agencies in the world once said to me, “Those willing to invest time in teaching themselves tare the real winners—those looking for a job to pay for rent are dime a dozen. We hire winners here.” We do the same. 3. Create a Culture of Education And of course, I leave the hardest yet most critical part the end—creating a culture of education with your organization. This is a known frustration for any HR professional. But for those of us running a digital company or managing a team of digital strategists, marketers, or account management, it’s a bit more perplexing. A representative budget or line item for education in our planning is not enough—we must institute it and make sure it happens, effectively. Best of all, it’s easier than ever. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other publications frequently have headlines about the eLearning, so your senior management should be very aware of why online training/learning is a competitive advantage. Think about how this can impact your career and business. If you have a great program the educates your company on the constantly-changing digital landscape, they will: Execute at a higher level and drive better results Make better decisions about how to allocate time—our most precious asset in digital Be motivated by getting new ideas, putting them into action, and turning those actions into great campaign results and better career opportunities Be savvier when communicating about digital, and instill confidence in both themselves, their peers, and their clients—which will translate into better retention and new business with that account (for those on the agency side). This goes back to a conversation I just had with a marketing leader at a Fortune 500 technology company, and I will paraphrase what she said: ”Once we had our upper management convinced that a social media certification program and continuing education program would not only improve our digital strategy and education, but also the overall happiness of our employees, our budgets opened up. And the effect on our team was astounding. Employees were more enthusiastic about their role, and even a bit more competitive (the good kind of competition). We still do team building events once a quarter, but the short lived ‘high’ of those seems so minuscule in comparison to instituting a culture of learning growth.” The best part? Employee education is no longer cost prohibitive, thanks to eLearning. Unlike the days where you paid $20,000 for a trainer to come in and teach for a day (and that teaching was lost by the next day), online learning solutions enable you to institute continual, robust programs that keep the learning process ongoing. So no more excuses. Start finding and hiring great talent, and retain that great talent by furthering their education.