This guest post is by Jim Yu, the founder and chief executive of BrightEdge.
Every Silicon Valley company knows how difficult it is to hire top talent right now. But there are three roles that are especially hard to fill: SEO Director, Growth Product Manager, and UI Designer. Who are these people and why are they in such hot demand? Here are three top hires every company should make in 2013.
An SEO Director is responsible for search engine optimization (SEO): Making sure that the billions of people searching on Google, Bing, and Yahoo find your company’s products and services. Today, search is the primary way prospects and customers find out about your company, so the SEO Director is a critically important role. A great SEO director will have a huge impact on customer acquisition, revenue generation, and long-term company growth — which is why great SEO Directors are in such hot demand.
What makes a great SEO director? The best candidate is a rare breed who possesses a mix of technical knowledge, business acumen, and marketing savvy.
SEO Directors not only have the technical skills to build ‘searchable’ websites, but also deeply understand how search engines work. Google alone changes its search algorithms over 500 times per year, so a crack SEO Director must stay on top of constantly-shifting technology changes every day. He or she must also understand how engines crawl landing pages, how links are searched and catalogued, and the impact natural searches have on conversion.
But technology expertise is not enough; SEO Directors must also have marketing and business savvy. They must understand marketing goals and how paid search, display, social, and email campaigns impact natural searches and vice versa. They must work closely with the CMO and marketing teams to ensure SEO programs work alongside campaigns to drive the most people possible to the company’s site.
Lastly, a great SEO Director knows how to use the sophisticated SEO tools available on the market today to improve your company’s search programs in real-time and over the long haul.
Some of the most well-known SEO Directors in Silicon Valley are Ken Yamada, Mark Fiske, Leo Haryono, Luisa Escobar, and Dave Lloyd. If you can’t poach one of these SEO superstars, you’ll need to find a great SEO Director through a stringent recruitment process.
To find the right candidate, give them a test right up front. Ask them to look at your site and provide a detailed plan for how they would improve SEO. Ask them to provide technical, optimization, and marketing strategies to improve overall searchability of your site. You can also test them on the latest SEO technology platforms. A great SEO Director won’t balk at these tests; in fact, he or she will probably relish the chance to show their expertise.
Growth Product Manager
Product management — with its long planning cycles, focus on minute product specs, and endless meetings — hardly has a reputation as a ‘hot’ job. But Growth Product Managers, otherwise known as ‘growth hacks,’ are the hippest hires of the year. GPMs focus on how to create products people actually want to use now and continue using for a long time. GPMs spend all their time thinking about how to create long-lasting product engagement. GPMs understand that users aren’t drawn to a new product because of its list of features, but instead are looking for an ‘experience’.
Companies, especially software firms, desperately need great GPMs on staff in today’s competitive market. In a cloud-based world, customers can switch software vendors on the fly. So it’s not enough today to create a product and convince companies to buy it; now, technology companies have to create an ever-evolving product experience that is great to start with and just gets better all the time. Customers expect a great product experience, and they’ll jump ship if they don’t get it. Growth hackers increase and protect your revenue stream by creating engaging products that boost both new adoption and renewal rates.
What makes a great GPM? The right candidate will have extensive product management experience, but also understand social dynamics and what motivates people to use a product. They’ll be super-connected via social media themselves, using social networks to evangelize your products, and well versed in both marketing and technology development.
One of the most well known GPMs is Andrew Johns. But there are new GPM superstars in the making; your company just has to find them before your competitors do.
To find these needles in the haystack of product management, ask interviewees to lead through you a product they developed and provide measureable metrics for how this strategy delivered revenue growth. Don’t forget to ask for proof that this product management strategy delivered long-term value — not just a short pop in new business — because a successful GPM creates products that people value using for the long haul.
Remember when phones and computers were extremely complex and hard to use? If you’re under 30, you probably don’t, and you can thank User Interface Designers for making products like the iPhone and Facebook easy to use and intuitive. UI Designers are in hot demand, because people have tasted elegant, simple, easy-to-use technology products and they won’t ever go back. Every company is striving to create products with the simple appeal of the iPhone, but software companies in Silicon Valley must do so or die.
Creating a web, mobile, or product interface that’s intuitive and easy to use is much harder than it looks. What makes a great UI Designer? These multi-disciplinary folks not only have computer science or engineering degrees, but many also have advanced degrees in psychology, computer-human interaction, or design theory. Some are creatives from the design or agency worlds who then got technology religion, but most are engineers with a passion for creating intuitive, human-centric products.
In Silicon Valley, the shortage of UI Designers is especially acute. In the Valley, where the main roles fall mostly three categories — write code, support customers, or sell products — UI Designers don’t fit into a box. They are techie design über-geeks, and every company designing a consumer product wants at least one of them on staff.
Some of the leading UI Designers in Silicon Valley include Alan Tifford, Brendan Bond, and Catherine Courage. How can you snag a gamechanger like this on your team? Hiring a UI Designer takes patience and persistence. The best way to weed out the wheat from the chaff is to ask candidates to walk you through their thinking on a project. Why did they design the interface the way they did? What human need or behavior did they have in mind when creating a particular interface? You can test their technical chops through a coding test, but understanding their creative thought process when designing a product is equally important. You could also ask serious candidates to “redesign” your product to make it more user-friendly.
Attracting top technology talent will always be a challenge, but these three tech mavericks will be the hardest to hire next year. If you’re a Silicon Valley tech company, they are also the most important hires to grow your business. So find the right candidates and then offer them the moon if it that’s what it takes to get them on board.
Jim Yu is the founder and CEO of BrightEdge, a leading enterprise SEO platform. Prior to founding BrightEdge, Jim was at Salesforce.com, where he led a core part of the platform products team that delivered the industry’s first cloud computing platform. At Aether Systems, Jim ran the product management team responsible for the product strategy, roadmap, and delivery of the innovative Scoutware line of wireless products. At Mercator Software (now IBM), Jim directed the development of Mercator Integration Broker, an industry leading enterprise software product, generating over $100M in revenue.
Top photo: Office building in Silicon Valley/Shutterstock