Why Are You Hiring for the Job I Want to Grow Into?!

I really, really like Moz’s Renea Nielsen. I was having a rough day at the office today, mostly because my calendar was filled with calls to Wall Street market analysts (more on that in a future post), but also because my sleep this week hasn’t been great. 45 minutes with Renea and it was gone – I was just… excited.

Renea started on our help team, then moved to be my EA for a short time, and now runs retention marketing on Joanna’s team. In that role, she’s been learning and growing tremendously, and it shows. She’s already a remarkable performer, despite having little formal background in the industry (to be fair, there are very, very few longtime retention-focused marketers thinking about self-service SaaS products).

(via Robert Jay Kaufman on Flickr)

One of our topic of discussion was the new, marketing analyst position recently posted to our jobs page. Renea told me that at first, she’d been frustrated that we were hiring for a role that overlaps with so much of what she’s doing today and wants to grow into in the future. It feels like we’re saying “you can’t hack it,” or worse, “we don’t think you’re the right person for this.” That sucks.

That pattern has been playing out across the Moz organization over the last 6 months. Folks in roles of all kinds across product, engineering, marketing, operations, etc. have worked hand-in-hand with their managers to determine areas where we need senior talent that might not exist today. And there’s often growing pains involved in that process.

In as many places as possible, we’re going the route of promoting internally, and when we do recruit, making sure that team members are comfortable and secure before putting out a job ad (this is one reason why the marketing analyst role is new on the site – it wouldn’t be there until Joanna & Renea came to consensus about the need). But, there are cases where we not only are in need of help, we’re also unable to mentor and coach properly because we don’t have a person who already possesses those skills on the team.

I know it’s frustrating to feel like your company isn’t investing in your growth. It’s also frustrating to feel like your career progression options are being limited by new hires. Companies and managers need to feel that pain and be empathetic to it. They need to do even more and justify their position – but not just with data around the need for the work. Those “senior talent” roles should be equally about bringing mentorship and chances to learn the craft from an experienced practitioner for current employees. And, in cases where that hire might actually throw off a potential growth path (we’re lucky at Moz to be growing so fast that this is almost never a risk), it’s probably better to outsource that mentorship externally.

My conversation with Renea today was amazing, because she not only understood and gave voice to the emotion that surrounded that initial frustration, but also understood the reasons why Joanna & co. wanted to make the hire, and how it would make a bigger opportunity for her long term (by providing that mentorship she needs to reach the next level in her career). That kind of emotional and professional maturity is rare. And awesome.

To me, the key to all this seems to be transparency. If team members express a need for skills you’re still developing or want to develop, there has to be room to make that happen. In slower-growing organizations, that means giving people a chance (and enough time) to earn and prove those new chops. In faster-growing orgs, it might mean bringing on a new resource, but only with the participation, consent, and help of the up-and-comer. As we ended our 1:1, Renea talked about how excited she was to find and hire this new person, and to work with them to absorb their expertise. When everyone’s equally excited to bring aboard a new role, there’s an excellent chance it’s going to work out. If that’s not the case, you’re setting everyone up (including the new resource) for antagonism, resentment, and failure.

I know there’s other Mozzers going through this today, and I know there will be more in the future. I hope we can always find right ways to do this that create more trust and more talent, and never fall into the trap of killing morale by not having everyone on the same page.