How to transition from being a martech consultant to a full-timer

From Consultant to Full-Timer

This guest post by Erica Seidel is part of a regular column she writes, Ask the Martech Recruiter. Erica runs The Connective Good, a retained executive recruiting firm that helps companies land leaders in martech, marketing, digital strategy, analytics, and market research.

Dear Erica,

For the past 15 years, I have operated a consultancy focused on driving martech efforts and promoting products to marketers. Now I’d like a full-time role in martech.

But when I apply, I am told that the hiring managers don’t like to hire consultants because of our “inherently transient nature,” or because we aren’t hands-on enough.

When they eventually fill these roles, I find out that they either:

  • hired a high-profile individual that was a full-timer elsewhere — someone they admit to begging to join their company
  • promoted from within
  • or hired a consultant from their personal network

I just can’t crack the code. Do you have any suggestions?

Thanks,
Stuck in Limbo, Boston

Dear Stuck in Limbo,

This is a tough one! Let’s look at why, and then address what you can do to tip the scales in your favor.

To look at why this happens, we have to first understand the situation from the perspective of the hiring manager. There are two factors I suspect are at play here:

  1. The recency effect. When we make decisions, we tend to be particularly influenced by recent information. So a hiring executive will look most closely at the most recent career stint you’ve had. If they see “Joe Smith, LLC” that just does not have as much cachet as a name-brand company that they recognize. That hiring manager knows that when she hires someone new, she is making a statement — to customers, current employees, potential employees, and the market. (Hence why we see press releases of the up and coming startup poaching someone from the goliath in their industry.)
  2. The parse-ability effect. (Yes, I made up that word.) Hiring managers are busy people. They want to parse and make sense of complex information as quickly as they can. They will try to quickly assess you: What do you do, in a nutshell? What box do you fit into? Where could you slot into the organization?

    My guess is, over the past 15 years, you’ve done a lot of different things. Some product marketing, some product management, some content marketing, some building of martech stacks, some digital strategy work. This is typical for consultants.

    What’s good about this is that once you are in a full-time role, you can add value in many ways across the business. However, you may come off as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. This makes it hard for people to understand you in a nutshell. A hiring manager will not scale the parse-ability hurdle for you. That hiring manager may not take the time to get to know you really well and truly understand your value.

    Picture the hiring manager for a VP of Martech at Fidelity Investments. He has two resumes in front of him. One is the resume of someone who was a Director of Digital Marketing at Schwab, and before that a Manager of Marketing Technology & Operations at Vanguard. And he has another resume in front of him from an independent consultant that lists a lot of different experience. The independent consultant resume imposes more of a cognitive burden on him. (Though you and I both know that independent consultant could be the better hire, ultimately.)

My advice to you:

  • Realize that you are most likely to get a full-time gig with someone who knows you and likes you, and knows and likes your work. That’s likely to be someone who has hired you before as a consultant. Or someone you partnered with on a consulting project. Put 80% of your energy there.
  • Become comfortable with the notion that you may have a two-step career transition, where you work first for a company that knows your work already, and then after a few years you switch to a new role. In a couple of years, you’ll be in a different place, with a more conventionally parse-able resume and a new recency effect at play, opening the door to a wider range of opportunities.
  • Give the readers of your resume the name brands they are likely to respond to. Does your resume have your current company (Joe Smith, LLC) in bold, with the description of your client work below it? The bold part will stick out to someone ready your resume. How about instead putting your client companies in bold? You can always write something like “Viacom (contract role)” if you want to communicate that you were a consultant.
  • Make your consulting stints sound as bang-on for the job you are applying for as possible. I’m sure you have done — and can do — A, B, C, D, and E. But if the role only requires A, B, and C, take D and E off your resume.
  • Propose a test drive to turn a “no” into a “maybe.” Keep your ear out for the next time a hiring manager says, “We don’t usually hire consultants since they’re not hands on enough.”

    Then say, “I understand that concern. In many cases, that’s a safe assumption. But it’s just that – an assumption. How about we do a test and learn experiment, like the modern marketers that we are? Let’s put together a test drive, and we’ll both get the data on whether I’m hands-on enough or not. We’ll both be in a better place to assess the fit.”

  • Check out this piece I wrote on “Going Feral: Are Independents Too Wild to Hire?” There’s advice in that article that is targeted to hiring managers.

What other advice do you have? Please comment below.

Have a question on recruiting or career transitions to propose for this column? Please email erica@theconnectivegood.com. Don’t worry, we’ll keep your name and company confidential.

Readers: Erica is on the board of advisors of the MarTech conference. She will be leading an executive session at our upcoming event San Francisco, May 9-11, with a panel of CMOs: How Today’s Chief Marketers Are Transforming Their Teams and Talent to Meet New Customer Demands. Register today for the lowest “alpha” rate on tickets to guarantee your seat.

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Comments

  1. Tom Woods says:

    As someone that can relate to this individual, I am not really sure how your advice really helps.

    If the individual already had those networking connections or affiliations to companies or decision makers in these firms, he would not have reached out to start with. Further, I would imagine that this individual has already done what you suggested as well with respect to formatting and the like. Most importantly, I would imagine that this individual has also offered a “test drive” as well – but that doesn’t work either because most hiring managers are binary in their hiring practices – either they want a full time employee (because they believe this position is critical to their future) or they want a contractor (because this position was never intended to be permanent).

    Due to the incestuous nature of the MarTech space, this may not be possible, but one way to do it is to have him brand himself as a subject matter expert (or “influencer”) regarding the key themes impacting MarTech and less about being a “consultant”.

    He needs to become very visible –
    1. Regularly write blogs, by-lines or other materials regarding these subjects on websites frequented by MarTech executives
    2. Partner with other leading organizations (like this one) to host and speak about these key topics on an ongoing basis
    3. Conduct informational interviews with as many executives interested in best practices in MarTech to find places where he can provide value with a minimal amount of friction.

    Each of these ideas takes a considerable amount of time and resources to do and there is no guarantee that he will be successful. It’s truly ironic that he is so interested in making this transition while many companies definitely could use him; they just can’t think more “creatively” – truly ironic for a field that desperately needs unconventional thinkers instead of reinventing the wheel for the umpteenth time or hiring relatively “young” individuals which in the past went to people like him.

    PS Not sure who picked out the picture for this article — the individual who did should be ashamed of him/herself.

    • Hi, Tom.

      I’m the one to blame for the photo. It’s a shot from the movie “Haiku Tunnel.” Despite being intended in good humor, it is tangential stretch to be sure, not an obvious reference (maybe ten people in the world saw that movie), and probably in poor taste regardless.

      As for the rest of your comment, thank you — excellent advice.

      I do agree with you that the real challenge for most companies is learning to embrace creative and unconventional thinking — in people, process, strategy, org structure, etc. Inertia is a killer in a world of continuous, accelerating change.

    • FYI, I updated this post with a new photo. Didn’t want to impose my odd sense of humor on Erica’s wonderful column.

  2. Thanks, Tom. Great adds here. And you’re right that the industry needs unconventional thinking. A lot of my time is spent coaching companies to be open to options outside the usual suspects. Some companies are enlightened and open-minded, and some others (not all) can get there with some prodding.

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