How to Build a Career In the Digital Age

April 18, 2016 – The digital revolution has affected industries virtually across the board. Media and communications organizations, in particular, have undergone significant transformation over the last two decades, and have faced significant issues along the way. While many companies are still grappling with how to use digital technology to their best advantage, the future is already knocking at the door.

Trends give an indication of what is come, but many critical questions remain unanswered. How they play out matters a great deal for those in media and technology, of course. But executive recruiters are the ones who remain on the front lines. One person who knows how disruptive digital transformation can be is search veteran Carrie Pryor, Managing Partner of Greenwich Harbor Partners in Greenwich, Connecticut.

For 18 years, Carrie worked for Ward Howell International, Spencer Stuart, and Korn Ferry, holding director and senior partner positions. Then six years ago, she launched her own firm, which focuses on senior-level assignments for media and technology companies. She’s been active in the digital arena for more than 20 years.

How to Stay In the Game

To say that digital transformation is here to stay would be the biggest understatement anyone could make. Businesses will continue to develop and grow digital platforms to reach customers, provide services, support their manufacturing, and handle their logistics, Carrie says. Talent acquisition, for its part, will include both competing for individuals with digital expertise as well as using more digital tools to recruit people.

But what will the digital future look like? How will it work? How will the role and work of recruiters change? Carrie has asked herself all of these questions. “Will we be able to send candidates on virtual reality tours of facilities and thereby save money on in-person visits?” she asks. “Will databases of potential candidates at both recruiting firms and hiring companies be so robust that they include multiple videos of candidates?” Probably yes to both, she says. And independent search firms, she predicts, will need to play a greater consultative role as identifying specific people becomes a total commodity service. “CEOs and their direct reports at all companies must have strong digital skills and they will expect the same of their people,” she says.

The tools of the trade, as different as they look from the past, are going to keep evolving, too. “Within 10 years, LinkedIn will have either increased its sophistication or it will have been replaced by new tools and platforms,” says Carrie. “Many of the most senior people have opted out of LinkedIn and that trend will continue.” In the future, she surmises, successful recruiters will need to combine both industry expertise and a keen understanding of the dynamics of a particular company and perhaps a specific division along with candidate assessment as they provide counsel to their clients.

People in their 20s now joining the workforce grew up with the Internet and they therefore tend to be naturally inclined towards working with ease with the technology and any social media platform. Workers who are older, who have more experience in their respective fields, oftentimes must play catch-up if they expect to stay in the game. And although digital technology tends not to be their first language, that doesn’t mean that they should be out of the running for jobs.

“We are age neutral on all of our assignments, full stop,” says Carrie. “There was a cartoon floating around where the hiring manager says to his colleague that he would like a 25 year old with 20 years of experience. Sometimes when we are with clients I can completely relate to that cartoon!”

“We like to break down each assignment into five to eight key elements and get our clients to agree to those criteria,” she says. “If people have kept up with the latest technology no matter what function we are talking about and they can demonstrate a superior track record in getting things accomplished, they are viable candidates.” Most of her firm’s assignments are senior level, so interpersonal skills, team building, being a successful influencer and advisor is just as critical as digital skills. However, knowledge of relevant software, social media, and quantitative measurement are increasingly important across the board.

During her career, Carrie says, she has witnessed a progressive shift in digital’s role at consumer facing brands and other companies. “The first cycle was when every company hired a digital person and treated them like an internal consultant,” she remembers. “This person had very little impact or authority. The next phase was when a separate sales channel was created for digital. It was a stand-alone business that the traditional channel executives pushed into a corner. The current ‘digital transformation’ is focused on the premise that digital equals developing a one-to-one relationship with your customers across all media that you can measure.”

Finding Hidden Candidates

Often, that plays out into searches for individuals with old-school experience, but a forward-looking sensibility. “We have just completed work at several multi-billion-dollar companies, including Sonic Drive-In and Keurig Green Mountain, to find senior executives who will use e-commerce and customer insights to build their businesses,” says Carrie. In general, she says, she and her colleagues will look for executives who have excelled in all stages of their career, including roles at old media or traditional companies.

“Quite often they have been working in digital roles buried in a company, such as someone who started their career in digital customer acquisition at a traditional publisher, and it is our role to find these people. We are also in the hunt for individuals who may have limited experience but who have made a significant impact. It’s our responsibility to find the obvious candidates as well as the hidden ones. People, no matter how senior they are, who have not kept pace with digital tools or platforms are not viable candidates for us.”

Last year, technology and marketing watchers alike took note of Greenwich Harbor Partners’ recruitment of Carrie Palin to become vice president of marketing for IBM Cloud Services after 16 years at Dell. Other leading tech companies had been courting her, so it was something of a coup for Greenwich Harbor Partners. Carrie Palin’s story also serves as a good lesson in how to builds a career in these digital days. “She was highly visible because in today’s information age, superior talent becomes very recognizable through publically available profiles which show a continuous stream of promotions to various presentations at industry gatherings,” says Carrie.

An Adventure with Clients

“Top talent will continue to be torn between joining a large company where they can have a major impact across a broad swath of businesses, or joining a high growth business that may end up dominating in a more focused market segment.” Ms. Palin is a terrific example of a marketing professional who quickly adopted digital techniques and strategies to reach her customer base for her role in Global Enterprise Demand Generation. “Dell has always been a leader in micro-tailoring of logistics and they are now a key component of any CMO’s tool kit. Ms. Palin’s digital demand generation skills were what made her so attractive to IBM,” says Carrie.

Carrie Pryor, for her part, couldn’t ask for a better job than running a boutique search firm. Of course, technological tools like LinkedIn have helped level the playing field between the small and big recruiting firms in terms of finding candidates. But technology has also helped to save time and eliminate so much of the grunt work that went along with conducting searches and running offices. These days, boutiques like hers are well-positioned to compete head-to-head with any rivals.

“We are able to give our clients great service, execute quickly in placing people in 60 to 90 days and have an adventure with our clients as we speak with interesting and motivated candidates,” Carrie says. “I personally enjoy all aspects of a search, from talking with potential candidates to negotiating employment agreements – and being at a small firm allows me the opportunity to work on all parts of an assignment.”

The days of spending considerable time managing a huge team of researchers and associates are long gone, she says. “The gathering of information is almost instantaneous and that makes creating an overall strategy, combined with execution, so much easier when it is done in parallel. I remember calling companies and asking them to send their financial documents by snail mail! There has been as seismic shift in how the search firm process works and the competitive advantage of a big firm with a big internal infrastructure has largely disappeared.”

Contributed by Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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