The 6 Skills to Look for
When Hiring a Chief Marketing Officer

See also: Selecting and Recruiting Skills

If you’ve ever been on an executive hiring committee, you’ll know that finding the right Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) takes a lot of work. You want someone with relevant higher education and an impressive list of past work experiences.

However, it's not just degrees and references you're looking for: you're also searching for someone who exhibits unique leadership qualities.

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

The CMO is the guiding light of your marketing team. Their role is to inspire, encourage, and provide hope during prosperous as well as challenging times. While education and experience are both pertinent traits to watch out for as you search, you must also consider specific soft traits — or personal attributes— of candidates. We talked to executive search and recruitment firm managers, and they recommend looking for six skills when hiring a new CMO.

Read on to discover precisely what those skills are, as well as how you can spot them in candidates.

1.  Leadership

Leadership skills are at the top of the list when it comes to hiring a CMO. Whether it’s a non-profit organization, a corporate law firm, or a creative advertising agency, your new CMO must fuel the marketing team with clear, empathetic leadership skills. You'll want to hire someone who has proof that they listen to their team and don't approach situations from a self-centred or narrow perspective.

You could ask candidates to explain when their leadership enhanced a situation or project at a previous position. Ask how they incorporate teamwork into their decision-making process. You want to see that they consider other employees' opinions as well as their own. You’re also looking to see that they remain level-headed in stressful situations and inspire positivity to staff no matter what's happening.

2. Creative Thinking

While you want to find someone analytical and strategic, the CMO should also convey outstanding creative thinking. It is marketing, after all. You want someone who is data-driven and knows how to deliver big numbers, but you’ll want to know their process. Marketing is all about appealing to the masses and telling stories. If they’re unable to show you creative examples of past work, then you’ll have to wonder if they’ve been relying on others to sell messages and ideas throughout their career.

Ask candidates specific questions about your company’s mandate and how they'd push the brand forward in the creative market. You're looking for examples of collaboration and teamwork and innovative ideas on how to market your organization to your target audience. You don't need to hear the most incredible marketing strategy you've ever heard, but you’ll be able to tell if they’ve done their homework and that they’re capable of producing interesting and exciting ideas.

3. A Unique Vision

Enthusiasm in business is underrated. But when you're hiring a new CMO, it should be at the top of your interview skills checklist. You want to see that the person has taken a deep look at your strategic plan, annual reports from the last few years, and at each department and what marketing can offer the company as a whole. You’ll want to ensure that the candidate is in line with the organization's mission, vision, and mandate and have ideas on how to take the marketing department into its next chapter.

The right appointment will take their excellent market insight, creativity, and analytical thinking to amplify your company’s vision by making marketing an essential component. You’ll know when it’s the right person when you and the team collectively feel those proverbial sparks fly as the candidate excitedly details what precisely they have in mind for the company.

4. A Team Player

It’s impossible to achieve success without help from other people. Your CMO must possess stellar leadership qualities and the self-confidence to make important decisions, but they must also be a team player. Your CMO must have the ability to collaborate effectively with the rest of the team. For example, they will have to work closely with IT to develop tech-based campaigns and strategies.

A great leader will listen intensively to every member of the group — from the intern to the executive director. Consider asking candidates why they believe that they’re a team player and ask them to give specific examples. Listen closely to their answers. It’s not hard to spot someone with a big ego. Their stories might sound too good to be true, or they’ll repeatedly refer to how they solved the issue without help from teammates. Avoid hiring such people because they may tend to be overly authoritative.

5. Adaptable and Technology Inclined

The business and marketing worlds are constantly changing. Methods and practices that were popular a few years may or may not be today. Hiring someone with many years of experience is critical to the success of your business. Still, you're also looking for someone willing to change and learn — particularly with technology and the internet.

As the marketing game changes almost daily, your CMO will know or be interested in learning how to promote your business using social media. They'll be curious about email campaigns, SEO marketing strategies, and other digital marketing techniques. They’ll also have a flair for operating programs such as the Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, In Design, and Illustrator). You're looking for someone who can add value to the team, so find someone who's got their finger on the technology pulse and is willing to learn.

6. Humility

The last (but certainly not least) quality you're looking for in a CMO is humility. It's not a "skill" as such, but is a character trait that can translate into practical, generative skills. Humility is about admitting when you're wrong and giving others a chance, even if that means setting aside your personal gain.

Asking for help is often dismissed as a weakness, but the reality is that such an action creates stronger relationships and better work. When interviewing candidates, listen for examples of when they exercised humility. For example, have they been dedicated to the growth of previous teams and not just their personal success? Have they ever admitted to a mistake, and how did they rectify it?

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

The Power of a Recruiter

One way to hire the best CMO for your company is to work with a professional recruitment agency. Find one that specializes in executive-level searches, which can pull incredible candidates from exclusive talent pools. The right agency will help your company be the very best that it can be, and you won’t have to go through the hassle of managing the hiring process alone because they’ll handle everything from start to finish.

A CMO should be a leader who is both down to earth and a hard worker. With these skills, your new CMO will make your marketing department better than it has ever been.

About the Author

Antonia Lobo has worked in both HR and recruitment for more than a decade and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with a wide audience.