27 June 2023

What to look for in your first marketing hire - and how to spot a good one

Pete Jakob
Written by Pete Jakob

Pete is UK Marketing Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in marketing systems, data and processes for small and mid-size businesses. He has over 35 years’ experience working in technology and a variety of other sectors.

Hiring is never easy, but it’s especially hard for marketing roles. ‘Marketing’ covers a massive range of different tasks and skill sets. Business leaders who don’t have a marketing background can be a bit unsure about who to hire and when.

This article will help you understand the different kinds of marketers you might need and how to sort great candidates from average ones.

What kind of marketer do you need?

As we covered in another recent post, you should always make your plan before you hire. So before you start writing job specs, ask yourself what kind of problem you’re trying to solve:

  • Do you need someone to develop a marketing strategy or plan? 
  • Do you need someone to manage the day-to-day execution? 
  • Do you need someone to do creative tasks like copywriting or design?

Each of these is a totally different skillset that will require a very different type of candidate in terms of both skills and depth of experience. Let’s look at each in more detail.

‘I need a strategy’

Without a strategy in place, you’re likely to slip into ‘random acts of marketing’ that have little commercial impact. If you want to drive a positive return on your investment, strategy is your first step.

Developing a proper strategy requires experience and expertise. You’re going to need someone with a lot of experience and a proven track record of helping businesses hit their revenue targets and drive growth.

A good candidate will probably be near or above the upper limit of what most SMEs can afford to hire full-time. But a part-time or consulting arrangement can give you the support you need at a price point you can afford. 

‘I need someone to manage my marketing’

Any strategy is only as good as its execution. A marketing manager will deliver the strategy and make sure that work is done on time and on budget. 

A good candidate should have three or more years of experience and a proven track record of delivering marketing projects and managing suppliers. A full-time marketing manager should be within an SME marketing budget.

‘I need a specialist’

It's unlikely that your marketing manager will be able to deliver the entire strategy on their own. There are plenty of specialist tasks (copywriting, design, website maintenance, CRM implementation, video production, SEO, data analysis, PR, social selling and more…) that marketing managers usually need help with. 

Good candidates should have a portfolio of quality work that demonstrates they can do what you need. You’re unlikely to have enough work for them to do to warrant a full-time hire so a freelance, part-time or agency arrangement makes more sense.

Successful marketing teams typically cover all three bases. An experienced leader to define the strategy, a manager to deliver it and specialist partners to handle specific tasks when required.

If you’re unsure which you need, ask yourself what you’re currently lacking:

  • If you feel like you need more strategy and direction, your team probably lacks leadership and experience
  • If work tends to be delivered late or never gets finished, your team lacks management skills
  • If the work is low-quality, or ineffective you may need the support of specialist freelancers or agencies 

How to spot good marketing candidates

Once you’re clear on what you need, you’re ready to start speaking to candidates. Each of the three different types of marketers above will have their own idiosyncrasies, but here are some general principles that will help you sort good hires from bad.

It’s not a training role

A common mistake among SMEs is to hire low-cost, inexperienced staff in the hope you can ‘train them up’. 

The issue is that SMEs that are building a marketing team for the first time aren’t great training environments. If you don’t have experienced marketers (or at least a marketing leader) around for juniors to learn from, they will have no one to show them the ropes. This is bad for them and for you.

Look for people who can hit the ground running and make an impact straight away. Hire people who are able to show from previous roles and successes that they’re able to make an impact from day one without constant guidance and support.

Look for specific experience in the problem you need solving

Screen candidates based on relevant experience. Ideally you want them to show that they’ve solved the same problem or delivered the same outcome in the past. 

Experience that sounds impressive but has nothing to do with the role you’re trying to fill might make for a good interview, but you need to know that they can handle the specific task you have in mind.

Note: beware candidates that claim excellence in a long list of marketing tactics - no one can do everything well!

Ask for proof, not best practice

It’s easy to talk a good game when it comes to marketing. So be sure to press them for plenty of real-world examples and experience as opposed to more general advice or ‘best practices’.

Knowing how to talk about marketing isn’t the same as knowing how to do it. So make sure they’re able to show real-life examples of how they’ve helped other companies to tackle the same challenges you’re looking to tackle. Avoid hypotheticals, get them to talk you through what they did, why they did it that way and the outcomes of that work.

Ideally, you should be able to get references from previous managers as well, just to back up what they’ve told you.

Hire the marketing talent your business needs

As we mentioned, hiring for marketing roles isn’t easy. If you don’t have a marketing background, you might want to consider getting a consultant to help you with the interview process. 

Our Marketing Directors have helped over 1,400 UK SMEs to build high-quality marketing teams. We can help you too.


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