Hire the Best Athlete

A common argument among NFL team managers is whether to draft players out of college that will fill immediate gaps on the team, OR to draft the best available athletes.

I am here to tell you that in digital / customer analytics recruiting this is an easy decision.

Yes, you have a long list of skill gaps on your team. Yes, it would feel really good to make those gaps go away. So you write your job description listing all of those skills that you would like to have on your team and you try to hire the candidate that has as many of the right tools as possible.

This is short-term thinking. In focusing on the immediate gratification of checking a bunch of those boxes, you are likely to make one of the most common and most expensive mistakes that we see our clients make.

Let’s say you have the following skill gaps on your team:
1. Omniture Implementation
2. Tagging QA
3. Omniture SiteCatalyst expertise
4. Test & Target expertise
5. Discover expertise
6. Tealeaf expertise
7. GA Experience

These are all tool-oriented. They are what we call “SMALL SKILLS”. These belong on the bottom of your requirements list. Great athletes can quickly and easily learn these skills. In the meantime, the gaps can be filled by consultants or contractors.

Regardless of the maturity level of your analytics team, your first priority should always be to hire the best athlete… or the candidate with the best BIG SKILLS.

Great athletes excel in areas such as:
1. Intelligence
2. Intellectual curiosity
3. Data analysis
4. Technical skills
5. Quantitative skills
6. Work ethic
7. Communication skills
8. Organizational skills
9. Tenacity

These either cannot be taught or they should have been taught long before the candidate shows up at your door.

We will often hear something like this at the start of a search:

Client: “This is a key strategic hire. We don’t really care which tools the person has used. The most important thing for us is to hire someone that can elevate the function. We want someone that can take our mountains of data and deliver actionable insights to the business. This role is vital to the success of analytics in our organization.

This in definitely not a reporting job… not a tool jockey. We want someone that can evangelize data insights. We can always teach them our tools.”

If you fast-forward this conversation 4-12 weeks you will find that the company usually hires the candidate that knows their tools the best.


For one thing, it is easier to figure out how well someone knows tools. It is harder to measure BIG SKILLS in the interview process.

Immediate gratification also becomes a factor. There is often a lot of pressure to demonstrate a return on the tool investments… so hiring a good plumber that can unclog the data and get the reports flowing looks pretty attractive. Solving real business problems will have to wait. Maybe the plumber can turn into an engineer OVER TIME.

This is one of the biggest culprits behind the industry’s awful turnover rates. Guess what? The plumber never turns into an engineer… even when he was promised that he would become one … It turns out that the company can not teach him the big skills he will need to make that leap. Everyone gets frustrated and everyone starts the cycle again in 12-18 months.

Quick question: If someone started a job at your company tomorrow and they knew a suite of competing tools, how long do you think it would take them to be proficient in your tools? 4 weeks? 8? 12?

In the initial conversation, the client said that this was a “key strategic hire”. They said that this person was going to be “vital to the success of analytics in our organization.” They really couldn’t wait 4, 8 or 12 weeks for the great athlete to learn to use their tools?

Here is one thing you can count on in the digital / customer analytics space: things are going to change. Business priorities, tools, regimes of management, channels, client and competitive pressures… all will change at your company within the next year or two.

If you have a team full of great athletes, your team will be able to evolve along with your company’s challenges. They understand what to do with the data. They understand how to ask the right questions and apply the right thought process, regardless of who they are facing off with, what tools they are using and what business problems they are trying to solve.

Players with small, niche skills quickly become irrelevant when these shifts happen.
If you are a small skills shop you will be in perpetual recruitment mode to catch up with each shift and each trend. This is great for IQ Workforce because you are always hiring, but lousy for yours.

The teams that have great success over time are the ones that develop BIG SKILL players and supplement the team with short-term rentals (contractors and consultants).


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