Jun 7, 2016

What Do Today’s Digital Employers Look for In Employees?

by Digital Marketing Institute

In 2013, Daniel DiPiazza discovered a simple trick that he used to earn more than $20,000 per month as a freelance web designer on Elance (now Upwork).

Instead of applying to job after job, he posed as an employer. His competitors - the people he had lost jobs to in the past - came to him, sending him their proposals, CVs, cover letters and job-winning introductions.

Thinking like an employer, he took the best bits of his competitors’ proposals, tailored them to suit his personal strengths, improved on them, and built a CV/proposal combo that helped him land more work than he could handle.

While the exact method Daniel used is unique (and, to some, perhaps a little too cunning), it’s an excellent way to set yourself ahead of the pack as a jobseeker. Instead of thinking like all of his competitors - as a jobseeker - he thought like an employer.

Instead of applying for jobs using his assumptions about what employers want, he learned the key skills that employers really want.

As a result, he reverse engineered the process his future employers would use to hire him to produce the perfect proposal.

If you’re searching for a job with a digital employer, you can use a similar strategy to set yourself apart from other jobseekers. Instead of delivering what you think employers want, you can learn what they really want and reverse engineer the job hunting process for the best results. You can also download our free ebook, The Complete Guide To Shaping A Successful Digital Career, to further sharpen those essential skilIs!

For this article, we've looked at the skills, characteristics and qualities that today’s top digital employers want, from leading technology companies like Google and Facebook to smaller digital agencies.

Throughout our research, we spotted several recurring qualities that digital employers look for - qualities that many job seekers aren’t even aware of!

If you’re searching for work with a digital agency, technology startup or large enterprise, read on to learn what your employers are looking for in you. Think like an employer and you’ll be able to put these qualities to work in your CV and interview approach to potentially get your dream job.

The ability to build

Facebook was built on the philosophy of “move fast and break things,” and for years, this quote drove the company’s hiring strategy. Over time, Facebook’s focus evolved from breaking things to a focus on building great, lasting products.

Human resources chief Lori Goler says that the ability to “look at a problem and say ‘I can make this better’ is a valuable asset in people for Facebook.”

Part of this means feeling comfortable enough at work to offer creative and strategic input into how things can be built. To encourage people to be their “authentic selves” at work, Facebook encourages its new hires to be “sharers.”

The conventional wisdom for job seekers, and particularly for people seeking entry-level jobs, is to quickly implement the advice and instructions that other people provide.

Facebook, and other digital employers, view things differently. Being able to build new things is one of the most important skills they look for in employees, meaning that a history of creation - even if it’s not completely successful - set a potential hire apart from their competition.

As a digital professional, this could mean emphasizing your personal projects, whether they’re commercial or creative. Showing that you’re a builder, and not just someone who rolls with the crowd through every project, shows that you can contribute, often on a very large scale.


Few industries change as rapidly as digital marketing. Being able to adapt to these changes and continually move forward is a major asset, particularly for digital agencies that work with a broad range of clients.

Every year, new ad platforms and digital marketing opportunities emerge. Facebook Ads, which launched in 2008, transformed social media marketing. Advertisers that start using the platform the earliest typically experience the best results as first movers.

Sam Allcock, of content marketing agency Custard, believes that adaptability is one of the most important qualities in any new hire.

“Over the last decade, the digital marketing landscape has changed dramatically. When you can identify new opportunities and adapt to an industry that’s constantly changing, you’re a valuable asset to any digital agency.”

“When we hire, we look for a pattern of success over time. It’s easy to be a ‘one hit wonder’ as part of a marketing team, but far more impressive to have a record of continual success across many years and multiple different channels.”

“What produces results today might not produce the same result tomorrow. Being able to see the next step in the process and the next opportunity is what sets an outstanding person apart from someone who’s just riding a trend.”

Jennifer Dulski, President at Change.org, agrees: “The strongest people I’ve hired have many examples of accomplishments throughout their lives.”

“Given this prevalence of change in the startup world, I have found that people who are comfortable with change in general tend to be more successful.”

Great work samples

The brain teasers and puzzle questions that once defined technology job interviews aren’t just out of favor today - many employers believe they’re totally ineffective.

Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, states that most “typical, unstructured job interviews are pretty bad at predicting how someone performs once hired.”

According to Bock, people form first impressions quickly and typically use them to determine whether someone is worth hiring. Most interviews are a waste of time, because the majority of the interview is spent confirming the interviewer’s first impression.

Bock believes that brain teasers and puzzle questions like “How many golf balls fit inside a 747 are also largely ineffective at helping employers hire great people.

He notes that it’s more effective to test someone’s abilities by having them perform work live, as part of the interview process. “The best predictor of how someone will perform in a job is a work sample test.”

Another important factor is someone’s ability to learn, often on the job. Bok states: “The second best predictors of performance are tests of general cognitive ability.” The combination of general learning skills and raw intelligence that they provide are important markers of job success.

For job seekers, this means that being able to demonstrate real skills is often far more valuable to an employer than being able to answer interview questions. As an increasing number of tech companies switch to practical tests as part of the interview process, technical knowledge that’s typically very difficult to demonstrate is becoming far more helpful in impressing employers.

A company culture fit

Digital employers look at more than just skills to determine which candidate is the best choice for a job. One of the most important qualities in any employee - and one that’s overlooked the most frequently - is a great company culture fit.

Every company has its own unique culture. In the digital marketing world, where team members work closely together, being a good fit for the company’s culture, personality and working style is an important, if not essential, characteristic for any employee.

Parallax co-founder Lawrence Dudley believes that one of the most important characteristics of any digital jobseeker is making sure the company culture “is right for your personality.”

“Company culture is a huge factor in the digital agency world. Like any job, the person and company need to be the right match. The digital scene in particular has its own little quirks and nontraditional work styles and practices.”

A great company culture match not only produces happier employees - it also produces better results. “Getting on with [other employees] and enjoying being in their company is very important and will make going to work not really feel like ‘going to work’ anymore.”

As a jobseeker, you can emphasize your understanding of a company’s culture by learning as much as you can before every interview. Does the company have any unique quirks or values that you share? Do you admire or have an interest in its previous work?

Our guide to interviewing for any digital marketing job includes a variety of techniques you can use to research a company’s culture before applying. The more you can discover, and the more you can emphasize your suitability for the company’s culture, the more appealing you’ll become.

How can you become a more marketable digital employee?

On average, 118 people apply for every job that’s posted publicly. Of those 118 people, just 20 percent of applicants are invited to an interview. When you apply for any digital marketing job, the numbers are very much stacked against you.

The key to turning the odds in your favor is to think like an employer, not an employee. How can you stand out as the perfect candidate? How can you emphasize that you’re a different choice - an option unlike the others?

By viewing yourself from an employer’s perspective, you gain a deeper understanding of your strengths, as well as your weak points. You learn what you need to improve to stand out as an opportunity - a hiring investment - for digital employers.

From adaptability to the ability to build things, you can learn a great deal about becoming more marketable as an employee by listening to employers. Use the four qualities we’ve listed above to enhance your marketability and improve the results of your digital job search.

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