Each year at this time, I like to look back on the year just passed and reflect on the candidates I placed into jobs in digital marketing and ecommerce, and what it was that made them attractive to the employers who hired them.  They came in at all levels, from President and CEO to individual contributors.  They brought varied employment and educational backgrounds- BtoB, BtoC, some with technology degrees and others with MBA’s. They came from agencies, start-ups  and Fortune 10o’s.  But these jobs in digital marketing and ecommerce shared some unmistakable common characteristics, traits that I describe as “must-haves” if you want to build a successful career as a digital marketer:

1. Adaptability

This one sits near the top of the list, if not the top, and for good reason: Companies have never faced so much uncertainty and risk. In the space of only a few months they can slip from market leader to follower.  Dealing with major changes in the workplace, completing projects with very little direction, enduring stress, juggling multiple priorities, even redefing the job you were hired to fill-  it’s no wonder that adaptability and flexibility are so critical in today’s business world, and that holds especially true in the ever-evolving world of digital marketing.  What might have been considered a crazy idea one day might be the next day’s most anticipated experiment. Companies can test new ideas and try out new features on websites and get almost instantaneous results. Every business wants their marketers to be adaptable, but in digital marketing that’s the name of the game because the only thing that doesn’t change is, well, change, so expect change to continue to be the norm in 2016.

2. Collecting and Analyzing Data and Converting It Into Actionable Knowledge

Big data is getting even bigger. Digital marketers are “data divers” — they pour through mountains of it to better understand consumer behavior and identify opportunities.  Anyone who does business on the web knows  that data and analytics are increasingly significant components to advertising and marketing decision making.  The demand for talent that can turn data into dollars was stronger than ever in 2015.  I see nothing that will change this trend in 2016.

3. Creative Thinking

In 2016, digital marketers will continue to be the marketing trailblazers, the ones who are often among the first to boldly go where no marketer has gone before. New technologies and methodologies are emerging at breakneck pace. Standardized approaches to solving problems are going out the window.  In short, digital marketing requires a different way of looking at things.  It’s not always seen prominently on the job description for jobs in digital marketing and ecommerce, but believe me, the ability to see what others don’t see and to think what others don’t think will continue to push you forward as a digital marketer in 2016.

4. Comfortable With Technology

Technical advancement is practically a daily occurrence in ecommerce and digital marketing.  Companies have a very strong preference for marketers who are fluent in technology– “techno-marketers” I like to call them.  That does not mean that you need to be proficient in writing code; that’s what programmers do. But technology is to digital marketing as a tailwind is to pilots: It’s always pushing you forward, and the best digital marketers (just like good pilots) know how it works and how to use it to their advantage. Knowing technology also fosters greater collaboration with IT.  You’ll be using it even more in 2016.

5. Intellectual Curiosity

I have this theory that many digital marketers were probably the ones who were always asking the questions when they were kids.  Why don’t people have tails?  Where does the sun go when it’s dark? How does Santa get in the house when there’s no chimney (and not trip the security alarm doing it)? Maybe this was you. The best digital marketers are like grown up kids-  they ask questions, lots of them.  They want to know more than just the “what” and the “how.” They want to know the “why.”  Target audiences and verticals continue to change and expand. Digital marketers test, they fail, they ask why, they test, they fail again, they ask more “whys”, and eventually they succeed.  When asked about his experience inventing the lightbulb, Thomas Edison was said to have stated that it wasn’t the one success that got him there, but rather the 999 failures that came before it.  Each time the bulb failed to glow he asked, “why?” In 2016, be like that kid who always asked “why”. It will help you do good jobs in digital marketing and ecommerce even better.

6. Thirst for Knowledge

Digital marketing is, by definition, an exercise in lifelong learning, and there will be plenty more to learn in 2016. The day you quit learning is the day you should leave digital marketing as a career. Technologies and solutions that work today could be outdated tomorrow.  The same innovations that have helped catapult digital marketing into the forefront of business, such as webinars, videos and other online media, have never made it easier to keep informed about the latest advancements.

7. Bridging the Business and Technical Divide

I call these individuals the “techno-marketers.”  They bridge the gap between business and IT with their ability to communicate technical ideas clearly and effectively to technophobes. They also know how to forge mutually rewarding relationships with the technical team by helping IT understand how digital marketing benefits the business.  In the coming year, as in past years, those who have this ability to cross the left brain-right brain chasm will be at a distinct advantage in landing jobs in digital marketing and ecommerce over those who don’t.

8. Business Acumen

Usually when you think of business acumen, you think of senior executives or other managers whose daily decisions leave a direct impact on the operation and future direction of the business. But it’s becoming more than just a critical competency for leaders. Companies want all employees to understand that everything they do in some way affects the bottom line. Even for lower-level jobs in digital marketing and ecommerce, employers expect candidates to be able to connect the dots between their day-to-day responsibilities and how it drives the business. In 2016, employers will be looking for digital marketers, at all levels, who are more business-savvy and who have a better understanding of how their day to day work supports the company’s overall strategy and goals.  I’m also going to include one more area in this category, and that’s having knowledge of broader-based marketing. Note that I said “knowledge,” not necessarily experience in that space, although that is a definite plus. Most of the ecommerce and digital marketers I work with did not cut their teeth on more traditional advertising media. But we live in an omni-channel world, and I work with as many clients who also market through more traditional channels as those who are pure play online.  As we all know, channels are not always distinguished by distinct Maginot line-like divides.  At the VP and CMO levels especially, candidates need an appreciation for ALL marketing mediums.

Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation’s preeminent and veteran executive recruiters in ecommerce, digital and multichannel marketing, and CRM. With 80 published LinkedIn articles, Jerry is the “voice” of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 28 years. Check out Jerry’s other insights on the Thought Leadership section of the Bernhart Associates website.

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