Blog post

Should Marketing Leaders Hire for Skillset or Mindset?

By Jennifer Polk | November 25, 2015 | 5 Comments

digital marketing

Following a recent blog post, An Idea without Execution is a Dream, one reader commented that the biggest roadblock to marketing execution was a lack of talent. As digital marketing gives way to marketing in a digital world, should leaders hire for skillset or mindset?

Skillset or Mindset? Which matters most?Digital marketing has come of age, but many of the best marketers haven’t. Some of the brightest minds in digital marketing are barely old enough to remember a world before Facebook. Yet, seasoned marketers may be challenged to fully embrace digital strategies and execute digital marketing techniques. This isn’t agism, this is changism. People are naturally resistent to change, and many people, across industries, are unwilling to relearn a role they’ve held for years, even decades. At the same time, digital natives often lack experience and business acumen needed to effectively lead cross-functional teams or global campaigns, manage multimillion dollar budgets or gain buy-in from c-level executives.

Where does that leave marketing leaders? Should they hire the right skillset, marketers who know how to design and execute campaigns, even if they’re still learning to apply their traditional marketing expertise to digital marketing channels and tactics? Or should they look for those who have the right mindset, who undertand digital marketing and are immersed in digital technology, but are still learning how to get things done in an organization? The answer is yes to both. Marketing leaders need a mix of both experienced hires and digital natives in order to accelerate digital marketing. But, there’s a catch.

Cast the Right Person in the Right Role at the Right Time

As a marketing leader, consider yourself a casting director. Your job is to put the right person in the right role at the right time, similar to choosing a lead actor or a supporting actress for a new franchise or an independent film. Start by considering the traits that will make him or her most successful in this role. If you’re filling a leadership position that involves managing teams and budgets rather than executing the program, hire for mindset at the management level and skillset at the practitioner level. This might mean staying involved in hiring practitioners rather than delegating that to your new manager who may have a hard time evaluating digital marketing skills.

Also, think about how soon you need your new hire up and running, how long you expect this person to hold this position and how much time you or others in the company can devote to their professional development. If you need them to hit the ground running, such as executing a holiday marketing campaign, hire for skillset, not mindset. You have discreet needs that revolve around tactical experience rather than leadership skills, and, limited time to train someone who doesn’t understand how to execute in and across digital marketing channels. On the other hand, if you’re hiring for long-term growth in your marketing team, you might prioritize mindset, realizing they can hone their skillset over time and with training and development.

You can teach skills. You can’t teach mentality.

Look for Experienced Hires With the Right Mindset

The best approach is to hire for both skillset and mindset, seeking marketers who bring the right blend of strategic thinking and tactical experience and who are willing to work to fill in their knowledge gaps. Experienced marketers are more likely to have climbed the corporate ladder to management or senior management, making it unlikely that they’ll be the ones drafting content or analyzing campaign results. Nevertheless, they should have a genuine interest in continuously learning to remain relevant to the organization and better manage their teams, budgets and programs, even if that simply means spotting content marketing opportunities or questioning campaign KPIs.

Not all experienced hires will fit the bill. Many marketing veterans are masquarading as digital marketers. They don’t understand digital strategies or technologies. And…here’s a dirty little secret…they don’t want to. They realize that saying that outloud is career suicide, and they’re making a noble effort to adapt by padding their resumes and surrounding themselves with smart people, yet refusing to get immersed in learning or using digital marketing. This means their own knowledge of techniques and technologies remains vague, at best, which can stagnate your digital marketing program and stifle your teams’ creativity and momentum.

At the same, digital marketing natives who have the mindset and tactical skills, but lack leadership experience and business acumen, must be willing to invest the time (and patience) to grow into more senior roles. Even as the average age of Silicon Valley CEOs takes a nose dive, most businesses still expect management or senior management to have some years under their belts. Time doesn’t equal expertise. But, practically speaking, leading a team or program requires more than digital savvy and platform knowledge. It means knowing how to artfully navigate an organization, manage and motivate others, which takes intellectual maturity and as much patience as passion.

Digital natives are ascending to the c-suite, but most are still gaining the mindset to match their skillset.

How do you mix mindset and skillset in casting roles for your marketing team? Where do you see the biggest gaps–mentality or tractical skills?


Comments are closed


  • Jennifer, the ‘reader’ that you referred to was actually a spammer that copied my comment — verbatim — from the following post by Simon Yates

    Regardless, I agree with your assessment — You can’t teach mentality.

  • Hello. I actually was looking at this web site and I’m amazed! Desire you the best

  • Hello. This was quite insightful of you. Thanks a million.

  • Katina Moss says:

    This is an interesting read. Some futurists seem to suggest Boomers are “passing the baton” directly to Millennials. Your article supports my belief that many Gen X’ers have the coveted combination of skillset and mindset.

    • Not entirely. I think it’s an easy and common assumption, but it can also be a flawed and dangerous assumption that causes leaders to overlook great candidates and entrust too much to digital natives.