Have you noticed that there are a lot of firms looking for AEC marketing coordinators? I think I get at least one email a week asking if I know anyone who can fill a marketing coordinator role. Also, as I write this there are 36 open positions on the SMPS Career Center with the key word “coordinator” more than half of the total job listings. There are also nearly 3,000 job postings for a marketing coordinator on Indeed.com.
Most of the AEC marketing coordinator positions are asking for the same requirements:
- 3 to 5 years of experience working with proposals, preferably for an AEC firm
- Graphic design experience, especially experience with the Adobe Creative Suite and InDesign
- Database management
- Strong writing and editing skills
- Organized, detail-oriented, and good time management skills
- Degree in journalism, marketing, communications or related field
This is probably the most coveted position, besides the Project Manager, in the entire AEC industry. Why is the AEC marketing coordinator position so hard to find? I will walk you through some of my opinions as to why you are going to fail in looking to fill this position and what you should be looking for instead.
AEC Marketing Coordinators – The Unicorn?
According to the Urban Dictionary, the unicorn is a legendary creature that is extremely hard, if not impossible to catch. Does that sound like your recruiting efforts for finding an AEC marketing coordinator? Why has this position turned into a unicorn? Let me give you some of my thoughts as to why.
The Elusive 3 to 5 Years of Experience
If you are looking for someone with 3 to 5 years of experience, then they would be graduating college around 2011-2013 timeframe. Do you remember back then? What was the economy like, especially for the AEC industry? What was your job like then? While, the official records had the Great Recession ending in 2011, many AEC firms were just recovering and not hiring marketing staff just yet. They certainly were not hiring entry level marketing coordinators or assistants.
At this time, I was a regional marketing manager for a transportation engineering firm. I was begging to hire a part-time intern which took about six months to approve. Then I had to find billable work to move her up to full-time. She would now have 3-5 years of experience of AEC proposals.
The Coordinator Title
You were most likely a marketing coordinator or sr. marketing coordinator 3 to 5 years ago and are now looking to hire someone to help you. Now you are a marketing manager or equivalent who is hiring a marketing coordinator.
With today’s mindset of career acceleration (and not just by the Millennials), don’t you think someone with 3 to 5 years of specific AEC marketing and proposal experience could demand and deserve a title and responsibility greater than marketing coordinator? The marketplace is sure demanding it.
The InDesign Gap
Did you learn InDesign in college as part of your degree program? I graduated from a top ranked business school, the University of Florida, with a degree in marketing. I did not take one class covering graphic design let alone InDesign. I now tell every college student I met to go to Lynda.com and learn InDesign if their school doesn’t offer classes.
Knowing InDesign and working proficiently is crucial to being an effective marketing coordinator. I get it. However, I didn’t learn InDesign until I started working for an AEC firm. I learned on the job and by taking classes online at places like New Horizons. And get this, most of it was on my own time!
I know that is your argument for wanting someone with 3 to 5 years of experience in the AEC marketing industry. They will come knowing exactly how to use InDesign for proposals. However, aren’t you having trouble finding this unicorn?
The Mindset Shift
You are busy. You are drowning in proposals, presentations, qualifications packages, etc. You want to focus more on the strategy, positioning, and messaging but you still need get proposals out of the door. This is why you want someone with experience who can just jump in and take over the proposals. That would be perfect.
However, that isn’t going to work. No matter if you hire someone with 3, 5 or 10 years of experience, you are going to need to spend lots of time onboarding them to your firm, your processes, your people, and portfolio. This isn’t going to decrease your workload, but rather increase it—only in the short term. I have hired and onboarded more nearly 20 marketing and sales staff from entry level to 20+ years of experience at three different companies. In my experience it takes at least three months for even the most experienced professional to be fully productive. But really, I would expect six to eight months to really start getting in the groove and working fully independent.
This is the mindset shift. Shift from thinking about immediately resolving your workload needs to finding the best person to fit the long-term needs of your department, what fits in your budget, how realistically you can find that person, and what’s the best strategy to find the best person in the least amount of time. Here’s how you do that.
Don’t Be Afraid of Entry Level
Keeping mind that it will take 3 to 6 months to get someone, even with experience, up to speed, spending this time on an entry level person will be the same. You might be covering different items, but you will still be spending the time.
There are many benefits to hiring entry level that often get overlooked because hiring managers don’t want to take the extra time to train and mentor. That’s rough and possibly mean, but it’s true. I have been guilty of that. However, the workforce is changing and getting more competitive. We all have to adapt.
Benefits of hiring entry level marketing staff:
- Their salaries are typically less expensive. They have little to no experience, so naturally you don’t have to pay them as much as someone with experience.
- More supply. There are more entry level candidates entering the workforce than there are positions. This gives you an advantage to have more apply to your position. You can pick from the best of the best. This is also another reason they are less expensive – more supply equals lower rates.
- More career growth. When you hire an entry level candidate, you can hire them as a marketing intern, marketing assistant, or marketing coordinator. If you hire them as an intern or assistant, that gives you an opportunity to lay out a career path for them. Compared to just hiring a marketing coordinator who may not have anywhere to go unless he/she takes your position. This career growth opportunity is especially important to show to Millennials.
- No baggage or bad habits. When you hire someone from another AEC firm, they come with experience. That can be a bad thing, especially if they were not treated well or developed bad habits. You will have to spend time un-teaching and re-teaching them the way you or your firm does marketing. This could (and has for me) caused friction and frustration. Entry level candidates have no such bad habits (related to marketing skills) that you have to un-teach. You will just focus on teaching which leaves me to my next benefit.
- You can teach them your way. With no bad habits or other proposal processes learned, you are starting with a clean slate. You can mold them into the best marketing professional based on your needs. The fun part is to see your staff grow.
- Drive and ambition. The most misunderstood quality of the Millennials is their drive and ambition. People misunderstand wanting to be CEO in three years as selfish. I believe that this makes them hard working and eager to learn. Those qualities along with being smart are in my opinion the most important to look for.
Don’t get hung up on the type of experience or specific duties. Do challenge their intelligence and resourcefulness. Just because someone fits the type of experience you are looking for, doesn’t mean that he/she is the smartest one for your position. I have found that every AEC firm is different and sets different level of expectations for their marketing staff. I look for someone who is the smartest. That person will be able to learn anything you have to teach them, and do so quickly.
Consider Alternate Work Arrangements
As you know, the AEC industry is well behind in other industries in many areas like marketing, technology, etc. It shouldn’t surprise you that we are also behind in hiring and work arrangements. It is not unheard of for tech companies to work completely virtual or have hire marketing agencies. It is becoming more common for AEC to have remote workers and I even know of an engineering firm that is 100% virtual, but that is the exception. Often times, remote working is granted to those marketers who have to move due to a spouse’s job or family situation. It isn’t even thought about as a hiring strategy.
In one of my previous posts, I share ways to find extra marketing help when you can’t hire a full-time employee. Those include using virtual assistants, freelancers, and marketing consultants.
If you are really struggling to find a full-time marketing coordinator you may want to consider looking in another city and working virtually or finding a marketing consultant. You might even be surprised that you can get a really experienced marketing consultant for part of the time that is more productive than a full-time marketing coordinator for the same budget.
Still Looking for that Unicorn?
This article wasn’t written to discourage you, but to make you pause and think about if you are looking for something (or someone) that really exists. If you still are set on hiring a full-time, works-in-your-office marketing coordinator with 3 to 5 years of experience, I wish you good luck. Please be prepared to pay top dollar and have a plan to promote them quickly.
However, if you are a little more open minded about the person and his/her qualities and work arrangement you might just find that right person.
This article is completely my own opinion. What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Are you having a hard time finding good marketing coordinators? If not, where are you finding them? Share your thought below.