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10 Questions for Lynn Ingham, Founder and Principal at Digital Talent Guide

Posted by Jim Nichols on April 18th, 2012 at 11:00 am

There's a difference between a good job and a job you love. Finding the right position is even more important in digital because the speed at which we operate and the need to stay "plugged in" puts extra demands upon us -- you have to love what you do to really do it all well. I've asked my dear friend Lynn Ingham, founder of a new placement firm called Digital Talent Guide, to provide a little insight into how candidates can find the best opportunities -- and how digital companies can get the person that's a perfect fit.

For those that don't know you, can you give us a brief rundown on your career and why you decided to found Digital Talent Guide?

I began my career in tech media sales in 1997, when I opened the San Francisco sales office of Advertising Age. It was the very early stages of the dot com “explosion”. Ultimately, I led all online sales efforts as National Online Advertising Director for the Ad Age Group sales staff. After Ad Age, I joined Community Connect, one of the “first movers” in social media, where I helped launched many brands’ first forays into social. The sales success of my team helped drive the interest of would be acquirers; in 2009 Community Connect was acquired by Radio One, the leading traditional media company serving African Americans.

I later became Chief Executive Officer for New West, a next-generation media company dedicated to the culture, economy, politics, environment and lifestyle of the Rocky Mountain West. The company’s core mission was to serve the Rocky Mountains with innovative, participatory journalism and to promote conversation that helps one understand and make the most of the dramatic changes sweeping this region. Through it all, I was tasked with finding and hiring digital talent, and over time this has developed into a core competency that is valued by other companies.

How would you characterize your approach to matching candidates to companies?

As the digital media world matures, the hiring of candidates is a much more thoughtful process that it was in the early days. In the beginning, no one had any digital experience and we were all "learning as we went". That meant that anyone who was smart and wanted to work hard in a rapidly-changing environment could find an interesting job fairly quickly. Companies were growing so rapidly that a lot of the typical hiring due diligence of more mature companies just wasn't feasible.

All of that has changed. The digital landscape is very complex. Business models are much more mature and established, and the hiring process is more structured in most organizations. While creativity and innovation are still prized attributes, strong candidates must also have experience and a proven track record of success in order to be considered for top jobs in digital media today. Companies are very specific in their job requirements and expectations. Candidates are very conscious of the proper career trajectory that they need to establish to stay current and relevant in today's fluid job market.

As a result of these changes, I move quickly to fill candidacies, but I am extremely thoughtful about finding the right match on both sides. I need to know a lot about the company for which I recruit, and I need to take the time to get to know the candidates that I place.

You were CEO for a start-up for some time. How did that experience change the way you think about candidates and recruitment?

That experience changed my life and deeply contributes to the way I think. Although I had a lot of experience in my multi-faceted media career in finding, hiring, training and mentoring employees, the CEO experience is the most valuable. When I became responsible on a 24/7 basis for all financial decisions affecting the company, I quickly learned how important it was to make the exact right hire for each position in the company. Hiring the wrong person is a costly mistake for any company, and the subsequent (financial, psychological, operational) toll is huge. The CEO experience also taught me that no matter how great the idea, the product, the service, if a company does not have the right people in place to vision, champion and execute, the project is doomed.

You've been in digital almost from the beginning. How have the necessary skill sets for digital success evolved over the past decade?

In the early years, you just had to be smart and willing to work long hours (while standing in quicksand) to have a decent digital job. It took courage to leave the traditional worlds (media, agency, brand) and go to the "digital division" or the new emerging company.

There was a Wild West nature to the digital world that was exciting if at times disorienting. Some of that is still happening in mobile, social, video, but much of the digital world has matured. Traditional business and marketing backgrounds are more in demand, although candidates must be digitally savvy as well. Perhaps the most interesting skill or quality that companies are now seeking has more to do with the ability of candidates to work in multi-generational environments. For the first time, possibly ever, we have a workplace where at least three vastly different (in outlook, culture, aspiration) generations are working side-by-side and the skill set to maneuver that landscape is subtle but important.

Is there a place for the "digital generalist" in this increasingly fragmented market? Given how much there is to know to "master" a specific area of digital media, are folks better off going for "breadth" or "depth"?

It is my experience that the strongest candidates "specialize". For example, since it is more difficult to find candidates with experience in the mobile space, since that space is still relatively new, companies compete fiercely for talent. Someone with that area of expertise is in high demand. However, mobile technology is moving so quickly that skills from one moment or one environment may not easily transfer to another moment/environment.

So smart mobile companies go a step beyond just looking for mobile experience, and they also focus on looking for qualities that smooth the mobile learning curve, qualities like an ability to think strategically; strong decision-making qualities; flexibility; interest in technology, etc. In that sense, a "generalist" can still compete if they have a strong, recognizable digital background and a demonstrated ability to learn quickly, adapt and change.

One area you focus on is Ad Operations. How can companies make Ad Ops positions more rewarding and "lovable"?

I love the ad operations and ad management teams and candidates and hiring managers. They're like the guy behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. You have all the fluff and marketing bravado about a company and/or their offerings and then you pull back the curtain and you find the ad ops/ad management teams hard at work and focused on dotting the i's and crossing the t's.

Making sure that all the promises that have been made to customers are fulfilled and ... Optimized!! These are the unsung heroes of our industry, and every successful company already acknowledges and rewards these important players.

There always seems to be a huge demand for strong digital sellers. How does a great seller figure out the right fit - beyond the fat comp package?

More and more, the seller has to be closely identified with the product he/she is selling. In order to really sell mobile well, for example, candidates need to be insatiably curious about this amazing, rapidly-moving, life-changing transition in the digital world. They have to be interested in and prepared to do their own homework on the competition, the technology, the delivery, the politics. When a candidate is just that - insatiably curious about and interested in the product or service that they sell - the client/candidate match is magical.

How do you determine the ideal personality fit for a given position, and how can candidates get a read on whether they are a perfect "fit" when companies are in sell mode.

While it takes longer, it is always best when the candidate is able to meet a variety of future co-workers during the interviewing process. Peers are as important to meet as members of the management team. It is no secret that we tend to work long hours in the digital world and that we value environments where we can also find like-minded professional friends. Also, most forward-thinking companies understand that the more straightforward they are about the open position - the less that they go into "sell mode" and the clearer that they communicate the challenges as well as the opportunities - the more likely they are to find a long-term employee who accepts the position for the right reasons.

We all know LinkedIn is increasingly important in the recruiting process. How can candidates use their profiles to make who they are more vivid for recruiters? I don't mean laying out skills -- I'm more interested in the personal qualities that characterize whether we are a great match for the culture of a company.

Employers and recruiters like to see thoughtful LinkedIn profiles that mirror a candidate's resume. References are very helpful and provide an additional window to the candidate's true nature and skill set. In addition to detailed descriptions of the work that a candidate has done for each employer, it is helpful if the candidate lists key words that describe their qualifications or better define their often-varied areas of expertise.

This process forces a candidate to apply words or terms to their abilities, which is a great way to illustrate or underscore industry skills or viewpoints that may not come across in the job narratives. Even simple things like how well the profile is written, how much detail is provided, whether or not the person has a website, blog, Tumblr, Twitter account - these things tell prospective employers a lot about how focused or detail-oriented and technologically savvy the candidate is. Great candidates take their LinkedIn profiles very seriously, and that is obvious to hiring managers.

Final thoughts: What advice do you have for people who've lost their jobs and are seeking a new opportunity?

Don't panic. There are many resources available to you. Reach out to friends, both personal and professional, and let them know you are looking for employment. Find recruiters in your area of expertise. Update your LinkedIn profile.

Hire a resume writer; everyone benefits from the critical eye and the help of someone experienced in this process. You can get a great resume and a cover letter for $300, and that will be some of the wisest money you ever spent. Do serious homework on every company that you approach for employment. Treat this phase of your life as if it were an exciting new job. This is a time in your life when all the work that you do actually goes towards your own bottom line.

If you expend the same kind of energy on you, on your job search, as you will on your next job, you could find this to be one of the most interesting and rewarding periods of your life.

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