Hiring New Talent? Look for These 5 Crucial Qualities

Hannah Cohen
Hannah Cohen Jun 3, 2021 6 min read

What should you look for when you’re hiring new talent for your agency? Our latest post shares five critical qualities.

Hiring for creative roles has never been easier - or more complicated. Your talent pool isn't limited to your city anymore; it's truly global. And thanks to a year-long crash course in remote work, most of your new hires would be fairly competent working virtually.

Yet, there's a great deal of anxiety among agencies about preserving all the intangibles that make them them - culture, communication, collaboration. Most new hires might be able to work remotely, but can they work well within your agency's culture and creative demands?

In this post, we’ll look at some of the ways hiring has changed in the post-pandemic world. We’ll also share a few critical qualities you should look for when making hiring decisions. 

Charting the Path Forward for Agencies

If there's anything that defined the agency experience pre-pandemic, it was the "brainstorming session". So much of the creative work happened between endless cups of coffee and whiteboard scribbles in conference rooms. 

Now, of course, all of that happens digitally.

Agencies adapted to the demands of the pandemic by going remote. But as social distancing guidelines start winding down, agencies have to ask themselves: how do they want to work in the future, and how will it impact their culture in the long run?

As plenty of you might have already seen in your own numbers, remote work makes people more efficient. A study by Humanyze found that working remotely led to a 10-20% boost in productivity while also reducing workplace stress.

While a lot of agency leaders fretted early on about remote work fatigue settling in, studies actually found the opposite: people became more productive as they got used to remote work. In a PwC survey, for instance, 34% of employees said that they were more productive in December, compared to only 28% of employees in June.

At this point, you have to ask yourself: do you go remote-only or do you go back to the office?

On this point, employers and employees seem to agree on one thing: a hybrid approach works best.

A survey by ManPower Research found that the second biggest priority for workers, after health, was workplace flexibility. Simply put, too many people have now gotten used to the idea of skipping commutes and spending more time with their families.

And while their motivations might be different (mostly cost savings), employers, too, want to stick to flexible workspaces. Only 17% of employers in the PwC survey I mentioned earlier wanted to go back to offices full-time. 

It helps that remote agencies can truly compete with their biggest competitors. As one commentator put it, “all agencies look the same size on Zoom”.

The questions you have to ask as an agency now are:

  • Has remote work been successful for you?
  • How much do you want to transition back to a full-time office?
  • What do your employees feel about remote work vs physical workspaces?
  • Can you meet your hiring needs with remote work? 

As an agency, your biggest challenge at this point is culture (since most of you have likely fixed the operational side of remote work). While your existing employees might be cued into your culture already, how do you ensure that new hires fit in as well?

This is why it’s important to look beyond the resume and consider a few critical qualities in your new hires.


Crucial Qualities for New Hires

If you’re hiring new workers - remote or otherwise - here are some essential qualities that will help them (and your agency) succeed today:

1. “Cohabitation”, Not Just Collaboration

While a lot has changed in the way we work over the last year, what’s also changed is when and where we work.

In fully distributed teams, a video call essentially means opening up your home (or “home office”) to your team members. You also have situations where time zones conflict and some team members are waking up as others are going to bed. 

This creates a uniquely intimate work experience. You don’t always get to see your team members in their best work outfits. You often catch them in the middle of chores. And the boundary between “work” and “life” eventually gets muddled.

Essentially, you’re not just collaborating anymore; you’re cohabitating

In this newfound intimate work environment, you want team members who can go beyond collaboration. While I won’t use the big F word - Family - you do want people who can communicate and share beyond work.

This is crucial for your agency’s culture. In the absence of a shared office space, your culture essentially becomes the sum of your team’s interactions. If these interactions are stilted, slow, or stiff, they will impact your culture.

In sum, look for candidates who are:

  • Comfortable with sharing
  • At ease with transparency
  • Willing to go beyond merely working together

Much of this goes against conventional hiring wisdom, but in the new normal, if your company culture is to survive and evolve, you will need these qualities in your teams.


2. Hire Self-Learners

One of the biggest casualties of the shift to work-from-home has been corporate training. In the absence of shared workspaces, corporate training programs have either been gutted entirely or replaced with eLearning. 

Most corporate training programs were canceled or moved online in the wake of the pandemic (Image source)

While eLearning can work out well, it does require some initiative from team members. You won’t get the same personal attention or hand-holding you might get from a 2-day in-person seminar. Even in a well-designed training program, you will have to do a lot of legwork on your own.

If remote work is to be the dominant form of work, training programs, too, will move largely online. In this context, people who can learn on their own start at a massive advantage.

Even if you were to disregard formal training programs, remote work rewards self-learners. Unlike a physical office, you can’t always hop over to the next cubicle to ask something. You often have to Google things away until you understand them on your own.

This “figure-out-ability” is a key quality for any remote worker you hire moving forward. It will help your team retain its edge and it will save you a ton of time and money in formal training programs.


3. Focus on “Knowledge Organizers”

In a seminal 1993 article in Harvard Business Review, Prof. David Galvin said that the primary goal of any organization should be to morph into a “learning organization”. A learning organization, according to Prof. Galvin, is “an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge”.

An agency, by default, is a learning organization. Your competency usually comes from the past body of knowledge you’ve acquired over time. 

Every project that you complete creates knowledge. The lessons from the project debrief make up your organizational knowledge - the way you do things.

In the post-pandemic, remote-first reality, your pace of knowledge creation actually increases. All the casual watercooler conversations that would otherwise get forgotten now get recorded and stored. There’s an incredible amount of insight created every day in video calls, emails, and chats.

In this new reality, your agency needs people who can gather and organize this knowledge. If a team member shares a cool new way to do something, you want it to be recorded in your knowledge base.

These “knowledge organizers” play a crucial role in distributed agencies. They distill insight and turn it into something that can be referenced later. Without this, you essentially start from scratch every time you have a new hire or a new project. You can’t lean on past lessons to give yourself a head start.

“Knowledge organizers” are typically people who are:

  • Impeccably well-organized in their own work life
  • Driven to archive and organize information
  • Skilled with knowledge management systems

You might not have considered this seriously when you were working within a shared physical space, but if you want your agency to scale and grow sustainably, you will need to focus on your knowledge management. And the first step towards that goal is to hire people who can help you organize all the knowledge your teams create.


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4. Prioritize Leadership Skills

As a remote worker, you’ll often end up working for hours by yourself with no company except for a quick Zoom call. There won’t be a manager looking over your shoulder. And to make matters worse, distractions - TV, video games, family matters, chores - are just a room away.

This environment requires leaders who can manage themselves. You can’t keep an eye out on your employees when they’re working across cities and time zones. You have to trust them to self-manage their own work.

While every agency looks for leadership traits in their new hires, make it an even bigger priority for remote talent. In particular, look for people who are:

  • Motivated to bring about change or achieve results without outside incentive
  • Leaders who can manage themselves and help others stay motivated as well
  • Self-starters who don’t need micromanaging to figure things out


5. Hire for Empathy

Remote work isn’t easy. You’re often working with people spread across geographies and time zones. Your communication is always mediated by a screen. And sometimes, your team members don’t even speak the same language.

All the subtle cues that can help you infer meaning in a real-world conversation (i.e., body language) get lost in the digital medium. 

In such a situation, it’s easy to make mistakes and miscommunicate. 

At the same time, remote work can also get incredibly lonely. There are no casual chats by the watercooler, no office pranks, and no shared lunches in the cafeteria. 

Navigating this work environment requires a high degree of empathy. You have to be able to understand someone beyond their chat message or email. While high EQ is always welcome, remote work makes it even more desirable in any new hire.

See this article to learn more about hiring for emotional intelligence. We also have a great Thrive Agency podcast episode on applied empathy that you can check out here.


Over to You

Hiring new talent is always a challenge for agencies, but the new post-pandemic reality makes it even tougher. You have to reconsider how you evaluate candidates and change your top most desired skill sets to meet the demands of a remote workplace.

Consider these five qualities as essential for any new hire, especially if you’re hiring for a remote role.

Another key quality in new hires is familiarity with agency management systems like Workamajig. Workamajig can greatly increase your efficiency and minimize communication lapses with its all-in-one agency management system.

Click the link below to see how Workamajig can transform your agency.

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About The Author

Hannah Cohen

Hannah Cohen

Hannah C recently joined the Workamajig Marketing Team. She enjoys a healthy lifestyle, loves all things furry and is always looking to learn something new. Send her your best recipe, a picture of your dog or your secret tip for marketing success at hannahc@workamajig.com.


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