Winning the Recruiting Wars

by Jonathan Baker

As an owner, there are a handful of things you should be intimately involved with, regardless of the size of your firm. One of those things is hiring. Your agency is your people, and that is even more true the larger you get and the more disconnected you become from the day-to-day (which is a good thing, by the way).

Right now, it’s harder than ever to find staff. Companies are being forced to increase pay and benefits, offer hiring bonuses, and in some cases even interview bonuses. How does a small or mid-sized marketing agency compete against the myriad of options job seekers have these days? Unfortunately there aren’t a ton of quick fixes, but there are a few things you can do immediately.

In The Short Term

First, you have to give hiring the time it deserves. The work will always be the work, and the clients will always be the clients, and neither of those situations will ever improve unless you tear yourself away for a bit to focus on hiring the right people.

Second, take another look at your job descriptions.

  • Make sure they are thorough and honest. Don’t sugar coat the role, or else you’ll end up wasting your own time screening candidates later.
  • Inject your company’s culture and soul. Job descriptions don’t have to read like a dictionary. Let your copywriter get drunk and take a stab at revisions. Then maybe reel it back in, depending on how drunk your copywriter got.
  • List all benefits. Don’t just list standard benefits like medical insurance. List any benefits that might set you apart. Annual retreats in the Bahamas, birthdays off, professional development stipends, dedicated company service days, epic company holiday parties…. If you don’t offer any non-standard benefits, shame on you. I thought you were supposed to be the creative ones.
  • Talk yourself up. You can do this either at the beginning or the end of the job description, but give a brief synopsis of what you do and why. List any awards you’ve won recently (particularly “best place to work” awards).

Third, post your jobs earlier than you might need, and leave them open longer—up until you have a signed offer letter. Oftentimes you won’t get the most qualified candidates applying until a few weeks after you post a job. It will take them time to find the listing, investigate you, and determine their best course of action. Plus, if you do have a candidate fall through at the end of the process, it’s better to not have to start from scratch. Make sure you still screen candidates that apply late in the process. Some of them might be good to keep on your radar for future roles, and are worthy of either informational interviews or following up with individualized emails. You know, so you don’t find yourself in the same place the next time you need to hire quickly.

Fourth, and we are bleeding into “longer term” here, consider automating some of your hiring process. There is plenty of great software these days to make hiring more effective and less time consuming. Google “applicant tracking system” to investigate your options. I have personal experience with Hireology and Breezy, and both are great. A more automated hiring process can help with a number of things:

  • Job postings to multiple services, increasing the reach of your posting
  • Automated pre-screening, such as video interviews or questionnaires, to save you time
  • Consistent methods for tracking and grading applicants, which is helpful particularly if multiple people are involved in screening and interviews
  • A documented rolodex of applicants to reach out to when you do have a new job available

So much of the challenge of investing more time in hiring is wrestling with the idea of it actually taking more time. But if you spend a little time upfront on your systems, I have found that doing it well can actually take less time.


Odds are, even if you implement all of the quick fixes above, you’ll still find yourself struggling to find the right applicants at some point. Here are a few suggestions to think about, but keep in mind that each of these longer-term ideas are worthy of their own article (or articles). We won’t go into too much depth here, but if enough of you start whining for more specifics on a particular subject, we might build something out. And speaking of building...

  • Build an internal training and career development program. If you are promoting from within, you only end up having to recruit and hire for lower-level positions, which are much easier to fill.
  • Build out an intentional internship program. The word “intentional” is key there. Don’t use your interns to grab your coffee and do your grunt work. At least not exclusively. Use your internship program as a feeder program for lower-level positions. This can work great in conjunction with the suggestion above. Stay in touch with the ex-interns you liked but weren’t able to bring on at the time.
  • Build relationships with final round candidates. Oftentimes you end up “going a different direction” with a candidate because they don’t have enough experience (yet) or they are really more qualified for a different type of role. Remember that just because you turned them down at some point in the past doesn’t mean you didn’t like them. You just didn’t like them for a particular position at a particular point in time. Be honest with final round candidates, ask to stay in touch, and see what the future might hold. In my time running a brewery, we have found some of our best employees this way.
  • Build your own Careers list. Actively recruit people to sign up for your “Careers'' newsletter list or TikTok account or whatever the kids are doing these days. Ask everyone who opts into your email list if they would also like to join your Careers list. Over time, we have amassed thousands of people who receive job postings from us, because they actually asked us to email them when we had a new opening.
  • Build relationships with nearby schools. This goes beyond posting to their internal job boards, though that is an easy win. Get to know some of the professors of classes that might overlap with your firm’s specialities. Do some guest speaking. Once you find a couple professors you trust, ask them to pass along any exceptional students so you can be “first in line.”

It’s admittedly a tough time to be recruiting. The silver lining is that this might be just the kick in the pants you need to put a bit more thought and process behind your recruiting and hiring practices. Putting the time and effort into hiring upfront will move the needle. It just might take a little time.

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