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.
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?
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:
- 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.)
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 email@example.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.