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June 21, 2011
Entry-Level Digital Pros, UFOs, and Sasquatch
 
Do they even exist? If you’re looking to hire an entry-level digital marketing professional, such as a search engine optimization (SEO) consultant, I have some bad news. These people are difficult, if not impossible, to find.

The reason, when you consider it, is actually quite simple. And as a digital recruiter, I find myself answering it frequently. I often receive requests from my clients requesting candidates for this position. I respond by explaining that colleges are simply not training for this specific skill set. Not yet, anyway. So the only way to get the experience necessary to claim the title and skills of a digital pro is, you guessed it, to do the job.

Colleges aren’t teaching digital.
If a student wants to go into marketing or advertising, they get a degree in marketing or advertising. Yet despite incredibly high demand for skills like SEO, digital marketing and digital media, the reality is that colleges and universities haven’t kept up. The rate of change in the digital world has far exceeded the typical university’s ability to calibrate their degree programs to produce the digital skills employers need most.

Where do people get these specialized skills?
Today’s digital professionals spend the first one to two years out of college in a traditional marketing position, where they are either mentored or self-taught in emerging digital marketing and technology. Digital skills simply aren’t being acquired via college textbooks. Digital expertise develops through cumulative knowledge acquired in real life on-the-job business situations.

Prepare to reset your salary expectations.
Today’s “entry-level digital professionals” are not this year’s college graduates. They are individuals with three to five years of professional experience, including one to two years of experience within an area of digital specialization, and they expect salaries commensurate with their total years of professional experience.

Start small and scale your digital expertise.
You may need to spend a bit more than expected to get good digital talent, but there are ways to work with even a small initial investment. Contracting a digital professional on a project-by-project basis allows flexibility within your budget. As your business’s digital competencies grow, so will your ROI, eventually enabling you to afford the salary of a full-time digital professional. Alternatively, you can develop your own digital talent by finding an entry-level professional who has expressed an interest in digital marketing or media. Hire them on an entry-level salary, but be prepared to make an investment in developing them professionally through seminars, conferences and classes.

Pay a little more, get a lot more.
To sum up, you don’t have to pay a lot more for a digital professional, but you will have to pay a little more. The competition for good digital professionals is fierce. And because these highly specialized workers have to rely on post-graduate experience to develop their skills, they’re a little older, wiser and more experienced. Salary expectations simply reflect this. So how much should you pay? Online salary guidelines vary a great deal and title-salary correlations tend to be inconsistent. For current salaries within your industry and geographic area, consult a digital recruiter. Recruiters can give you real data based on actual placements. And remember, the same rule of thumb applies for digital professionals as for every other member of your organization: Find and hire the right people at the right price, and they will pay for themselves.

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Kathryn Duncan is a partner of FRWD Co., a digital media services agency based out of Minneapolis. She has been relationship recruiting for five years and on any given night can be found networking with the rock stars of the Twin Cities’ digital industry.
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