How to Hire for Digital Marketing at a Startup

Marketing is more than a buzzword and a slide on your pitch deck. Digital marketing as we are forever calling it in 2019 and beyond is going to be the focus for many startups and companies this year.

Not to say that marketing isn’t or wasn’t always the focus in the past but with ever-changing social media technologies and trends emerging and the desire to get seen, digital marketing is going to be the biggest hire and drive for many companies in the upcoming months. I’ve seen this first hand with my current company and our interview process and it brought to my attention certain things that I thought I’d share with you internet friends.

So here we go!

First off, digital marketing is very different than “marketing” as your parents knew it circa the IBM era. Leadership and stakeholders need to understand digital marketing and how it can impact the company’s future.

The Definition

Digital marketing is marketing using digital technologies on the world wide web. Digital marketing has a special focus on mobile, display advertising, and basically, any other digital medium that arises for that moment — has anyone monetized Marco Polo yet?

Digital marketing is not as cut and dry as job descriptions tend to make it seem. Digital marketing at a startup is very different than digital marketing at a large company or corporation, think 200+ employees vs 50 employees and under.

Digital marketing at a startup is ideal for someone who likes the unknown or is at least “okay” with it and is willing to roll their sleeves up and do some work, not necessarily just delegate it or outsource it. Yes I know sometimes you have to outsource work for the sake of a project because the company is small but if you’re outsourcing 65% or more of your job responsibilities then maybe something needs to be reevaluated here.

Digital marketing, especially at a startup, requires someone who understands that their job might constantly be changing to fit the needs of the company. It will require you to wear multiple hats and ask lots of questions while learning new technologies.

When you start hiring for a digital marketer, ask yourself if they fall into any of these buckets:

  1. Acquisition — getting the leads, lead gen, PPC, etc
  2. Analytics — reporting, budgeting, optimization, etc
  3. Content — creating content, media, blogs, etc

When you know this it will help you in figuring out the future of your marketing team and what roles might be needed down the road. Until you get to the size to hire a larger team you’ll need to find a digital marketer who possesses all of these tools in one form or another.

Marketing at Startup

The day-to-day for a digital marketer at a startup can look a little like this: check on and refine paid search (PPC), display, social, and retargeting campaigns, work on SEO and content marketing, review conversion rate optimization strategies, email marketing, landing page A/B testing, product marketing and a whole lot more.

Some nice-to-haves include a design background or ability to design collateral, social media posts, graphics, edit video and whatever else may come your way. It can also include managing partnerships and relationships with third-party vendors like animators, agencies, or print shops.

An ideal digital marketer hire possesses all if not most of these traits in what I like to call a hybrid or if you prefer the word “unicorn” that works too.

So how do you find this kind of digital marketer?

The Job Description

First and foremost figure out what your team needs. Where are there gaps and what kind of role would help remediate that? Or rather what are the things you want another person to do to help make your marketing more efficient?

I find that writing down the gaps you have with the current team members will lead you to write the right job description. Instead of saying “hey we need a demand gen expert!”

Start with “we need someone who will monitor social media, write blogs, help with SEO, find influencers” etc etc. Sounds like you need a Social Media Content Manager.

Then from there build out the position you are trying to fill.

In addition to the breakdown of needs, write a description of what you expect from them on the day-to-day. And also include those nice-to-haves in the job description. Show some examples of what they might be working on. Maybe even a break down of a project and how that role could have helped.

Be sure to write it in a voice that matches the company so the applicant can get a good feel for your brand and messaging. Be sure to remove any inappropriate or triggering words from the description. Be kind and considerate of the words you are using. I once worked somewhere where we had a job description that said “wallflowers need not apply” while the intent may have been to discourage people that don’t ask questions. The words used were harsh, judgemental and just plain wrong.

Use a service like Textio to see if you are using any words that might be what I like to call, “undesirable”. To quote their product page, Textio’s predictive engine uses gathered data to uncover meaningful patterns in language, guiding you to stronger communication and better business outcomes. Basically had the company above used Textio I doubt they would have included that wallflower line.

This is important and not something you should overlook. Believe it or not your writing, whether intentional or not can dictate the kind of applicants that will apply. Certain writing can even lean more towards one gender over another causing you to skew your talent pool. Make sure your job descriptions are inclusive and not going to offend anyone and actually accurate to what you’re hiring needs are.

The Title!

If you are expecting to pay more of junior level salary, don’t call it a SENIOR MARKETING UNICORN role.

If you actually do the above then the title will come naturally.

Make sure the title correlates to the work and the level at which you’re hiring. If you are expecting to pay more of junior level salary, don’t call it a SENIOR MARKETING UNICORN role.

Have it make sense with what the company can afford while also having it make sense with the workload. Do a search on the difference between a strategist, generalist, specialist, manager, director, and other titles before you click submit on your job post.

HubSpot has a nice list of marketing skillsets and titles if you need some inspiration.

Make sure the title isn’t stuck in the past. This is digital marketing, the title should reflect that.

If you want someone to create content for your blog and print materials don’t just put “writer” or “blogger” — I mean you can if you want but I don’t think it’ll go over well.

HubSpot’s article explains something similar but instead of that kind of job title try Content Creator, Campaign Content Manager or even Content Marketing Manager.

Do Your Own Recruiting via Twitter

Social media is our best and worst enemy. It’s more than memes and trolling, it can be a good place to find candidates you wouldn’t otherwise see. Use Twitter to find candidates that match your needs.

Do an advanced search based on what you’re looking for and start from there. Once you find someone you can do a reverse lookup of sorts to see the kind of person they are. Like did they just tweet about UX design or they actually a UX designer? This might be a bit more work than you’re looking to do so there are tools that cut this time in half via their handy dandy API.

Try Mention. While they call it “discovering influencers” you can actually use it to find candidates based on the search terms you select. With Mention, you can find people or experts talking about a specific topic on Twitter or Instagram (careful with this one).

This tool wasn’t specifically created for job applicants but I found it be helpful in finding candidates, you just need the right search parameters first.

This is just a suggestion.

Community Sharing

You can share your job post on your company website and LinkedIn but also try sharing in communities that fit the hire. Look for LinkedIn groups or Slack communities in that world.

Think of it like posting an ad for a coffee brewing class in a coffee shop or a bird-house making class in a Home Depot.

But Our Company is Small

That doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be FAANG to attract top talent.

Not everyone wants to work at a huge ass company. Not everyone needs a ping pong table and keg to work well or to be happy.

It’s actually even simpler than that. People just want to be heard, acknowledged, motivated, treated well and compensated* fairly. You don’t need to have nap pods to do that.

*that includes benefits

In order to attract top talent:

Search out the most talented individuals (see above).

Convince them that you’re exactly where they should be (that’s the next part).

And then bring them on board (that’s all you and your Ops people).

The Interview

Okay, you’ve found the right individuals in whichever way you did. Slack communities, job posting on LinkedIn, whichever. Bam you’ve got them interested.

Now here comes the interview.

Tell them about the day-to-day — if you did this, in the beginning, it should roll off your tongue like that Top 40 song that’s currently stuck in your head.

Talk to them about the company and the potential of the product of the product you’re selling.

Ask them questions. Maybe start a brainstorm session but be careful with this. Some people might not indulge because it’ll be like they are working for free or giving their ideas away for free. I’ve been on the other side of this and some companies execute brainstorms and projects well, others just steal ideas. Be the former, not the latter.

Get to know them. Don’t be inappropriate! Don’t ask them about their personal life.

Find out what motivates them (more on that later).

Literally, ask them this question. “If I was going to pay you to 3 things every day what would those 3 things be?” or “What does your dream work day look like? — what are you working?” Put your own flavor on the question but in doing this you’ll see what interests them without reading off the job description.

You and they will know if it’s a good fit right from the interview. Maybe you two align on the project ahead or understand the marketing pain points and how to fix them.

And you’ll probably also know when it isn’t the right fit.

But when you know it is the perfect fit, find out what motivates them and make them an offer they can’t refuse. Maybe they prefer more responsibility, a specific title, autonomy, work from home privileges or maybe it’s as easy as a nice huge paycheck. Figure it out and get them on board to start making your digital marketing that much better.

More Food for Thought

In interviewing digital marketing candidates I usually ask this:

  • What do they like to do for fun?
  • Favorite marketing trend of the last year or so?
  • What’s the first thing they’d ask me on day 1? Week 1?
  • What would they need from me to be successful?
  • How do they learn? Visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic?

Last Thing

When you’re doing this don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have friends or colleagues at other companies ask them to review your job rec or if they have any interview tips they’d like to share.

If you decide to not hire anyone who applied or anyone that interviewed, try to write a personalized email explaining the decision. You don’t need to write a long note but something that helps them in their next search. Sometimes it’s as simple as “hey we have money to hire right now” or “we realized we are hiring for the wrong type of role”. Again, run this through Textio first as to not offend or come off like a big ol’ condescending jerk.

You’re at a startup while you might be busy, you aren’t too big to be impersonal.

Hire and Set Forth

I hope this helps in your quest to hire for digital marketing at your startup or startups. It can be daunting and it might be more work to find a digital marketer than engineers or even SDRs but it’s worth the effort involved. Marketing is a very intricate piece of the puzzle and while you may have built a badass product, what good is it if no one knows about it?

When you find the right digital marketer for your team you’ll see that it feels better than any joke I could end this blog post on.

On that note, I say, good luck and you got this!


I’m Allyssa. Senior digital marketer who can design & code. Woo!

I’m a seasoned designer turned marketer with a strong background in design, marketing automation, growth hacking, content marketing, product marketing, and front-end development.

Find me on the internet either or and almost always on Twitter