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Observed: The Looming Talent Shortage

I’ll leave it up to the hard-core research types to prove me wrong, but in my unscientific opinion there’s a human resources crisis brewing in the Internet marketing space.
Based on recent discussions I’ve had with business owners, HR professionals, and recruiters, as well as my ‘fly-on-the-wall’ perspective as owner of an industry job posting board, it’s getting increasingly difficult to find talented mid-to-senior level Internet marketing professionals. And the situation is only going to get worse…
Here’s why:

Increased Demand: As more and more companies, including ‘late-adopter’ mainstream companies, embrace Internet marketing, the demand for experienced Internet marketing candidates has ballooned. The recruiters I have spoken with tell me they have never seen such a surge in demand; this hiring boom is even bigger than during the Dotcom period. This time, however, everyone is having a hard time finding enough qualified candidates.
Increased Expectations: Companies are having a harder time filling the openings because the list of qualifications they claim to require in suitable candidates may not be in sync with the reality of the available workforce. While it’s great to set the bar high, very few candidates are likely to possess the long ‘shopping list’ of skills some employers are now demanding. Whether the employers actually need (versus just want) these skills is open for debate.
Reduced Talent Pool: While the colleges are still churning out junior Website designers by the truckload (God bless them all), the pool of available mid-to-senior level Internet marketing professionals hasn’t kept up to the demand because there still isn’t really an entrenched ‘e-marketing school‘ system and many of these self-taught folks have opted for self-employment as consultants or owners of their own small businesses. This doesn’t mean the consultants can’t be lured back into full-time employment, but as one self-employed colleague of mine put it, “few companies can afford to hire me; I make too much money on my own.”
Case in point: In the last few months, I’ve come across a half-dozen Canadian companies looking to hire an in-house Search Engine Marketing specialist. On the one hand, it’s very exciting to see a position like this being created at a company. It certainly makes sense from a business perspective, and kudos to the companies for embracing the medium. On the other hand, how many senior-level Search Engine Marketing specialists can there really be in Canada to begin with? Most of the ones I know are freelance guns-for-hire anyway, and the last thing they want to do is work full-time for someone else.
I hope I am wrong and that the demand for talent will not outstrip supply. But from where I’m sitting, 2006 is shaping up to be the first year in the history of the Internet where mid-to-senior level Internet marketing positions will go unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates. Then again, I suppose there’s always the option of outsourcing this work to India, but that’s a subject for another time.


  1. Chris Carder
    Chris Carder October 1, 2005

    Hi Bill, you’re not wrong. The drums are beating and recruiters are on the streets in full force (including a few recruiting to grow the team here again at ThinData!).
    Canadian Internet companies will find themselves increasingly focused on recruiting and retaining talent through the end of 2005 and 2006.
    From my perspective, there are many fantastic, experienced candidates out there, but everyone (from start-ups to agencies to Fortune 500 companies) will need to compete hard for the best people.
    Where will they gravitate to? Where will they stay?
    It’s not just about money. Companies will need to offer: winning teams with fantastic mentors, exciting work environments with clear paths for career growth and learning, fun and challenging projects and creative compensation packages.
    And… reasonable life/work balance. The best people are now 10 years into the business and many have families (or are just done with working 60-70 hour work weeks). So mature companies who respect their team’s need for balance and create environments where they can work reasonable hours will have a significant advantage.
    Without a solid human resources plan in 2005/2006 and an executive team committed to attracting and retaining top talent, Internet companies are going to be in serious trouble…
    – chris
    Chris Carder
    Chief Executive Officer
    ThinData Inc.

  2. Enter: “Intra-Preneurs”,
    We regularly talk to high-performing career people in this interactive/ tech category through our open-forum events and what we are witnessing a trend towards “intra-preneurship”. The need for the “lifestyle” and “independence” benefits that come with entrepreneurial life, blended with the security, infrastructure and financial predictability of a full-time job.
    As Chris Carder pointed out, much of the “interactive” talent is now in prime “family-raising” years– having spent some time as entrepreneurs following the tech-bust– now have become quite comfortable with a blended work-personal lifestyle and are finding it tough to go back to the 60-70 hour work week which often requires serious face-time or “desk miles”.
    The smart employers are those that are going to entice talent by creating more “entrepreneurial” career opportunities within their organizations. This includes:
    1. A fair base salary with benefits + significant performance-based financial upside
    2. Roles that do not tie employees to their desks– allowing “at-home” or “at-office” flexibility
    3. Offering job sharing at more senior levels thereby enticing talented Director/VP-level women (or men, who have left the career track temporarily to be with kids, to re-enter the workforce at a comfortable pace
    4. Making “balance” an important corporate value and shifting employee evaluation to performance-based measures, not hours spent in the office or “desk-miles”
    5. Ensuring a fair value-exchange between employer and employeee– keep them happy and they will reward you with loyalty, thereby significantly lowering your attrition costs
    After all, for the amount of time we all spend working, we should LOVE OUR CAREERS.
    Catharine Fennell
    Market Yourself Smarter

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