Mobile skills: tips on recruiting the best talent and training the existing team

Concept for mobile apps.

Building a talented team is critical to business success in a mobile-first world, but recruiting staff with the exactly the right skillset, at the right price, can be tough, unless you are a cool company.

So it is essential that companies also foster an environment that promotes continual upskilling, even reskilling, of employees.

ClickZ asked the experts, drawn from for the brand and agency world, to explain their approach to, and share advice on, recruitment and training, with additional comment from the recruitment and careers world.

What roles are in highest demand?

Recruiting good designers and developers tends to be harder than finding digital marketing experts, says Per Holmkvist, chief digital officer, at Swedish consumer finance company, Zmarta Group:

General digital marketing talent is easier to find, and they like to work for a company/brand. Good designers and developers (both app and web) are harder to find (not to mention SEO professionals), and the ones you find often prefer the life of freelance/consultancy. It is hard to build great in-house teams if you are a boring brand (i.e. not Spotify).

Some of the hardest roles to fill are as follows, according to Magnus Jern, chief innovation officer at US-based mobility agency DMI:

  1. A) Customer experience designers – CX design typically requires a wide range of education and skills from graphical design and usability to market research and behavioral psychology.
  2. B) Senior iOS, Android and mobile backend developers (senior means at least five years’ experience in the area, preferably with engineering degrees for mathematical skills) – these are very much in demand as they are required in the composition of a bigger team.
  3. C) Solution architects with mobile and backend experience – required for all bigger and more complex projects, thus are in high demand from most organizations and consultants. 
  4. D) Data scientists / business analysts – most organizations want to be more data-driven, but lack the skills to both identify and understand problems and to design services that are truly data driven.

But companies also struggle to recruit staff with the right experience on the marketing/advertising side. Christa Babcock, VP of Learning and Certification at IAB says there are shortages of:

Digital media sales (all levels), marketers, ad operations, and digital media buyers. The biggest challenge is the lack of knowledge of the digital media ecosystem and how the platforms and programs work together.

How do you attract mobile talent?

It’s not just about salary, the employer has to be attractive too.

Being in demand doesn’t just mean commanding a top salary, it also means candidates can be picky about where they work. As mentioned by Holmkvist, companies find it much easier to recruit talent if they are regarded as a cool (for techies) brand. For example, in Sweden companies have to compete with Spotify to recruit talent.

But there is more to this than brand name, the environment has to be attractive also.

Eurostar, which runs high-speed trains from London to Brussels and Paris through the Channel Tunnel, has development teams working on the continuing rollout of the responsive website, as well as working on a proof of concept on a new ticket machine currently under trial in London and Paris at the moment, and other (secret) projects.

The company is in the market for a ScrumMaster (the organizer in an agile development environment), but generally finds competition tough when recruiting DevOps (software development and operations) and design professionals.

Neil Roberts, head of digital, Eurostar:

There is still a strong demand for digital talent of all kind, so it’s essential be competitive on salary, but it’s not enough. You have to offer people interesting products to work on give them access to right tools to work with and enable people to do great work.

We have invested a considerable amount of effort in our tech infrastructure and delivery methods. We invested in Dev Ops, test automation, analytics and A/B testing to provide the platform for our teams that enable them to constantly deliver. We have done a lot but we still have a lot to do and getting the right people to essential to achieving this. 


Make sure you know what you really want.

Richard Fallowfield, associate director at London digital recruitment specialist DNA Recruit reports that:

Agencies and brands are too ready to jump on the latest trend, without knowing what it means, why they require it or what the role will involve. Recently we’ve seen a lot of interest from clients in social media content specialists, but few can articulate what the candidate is expected to do or the skills required for the role.

What skills should you look for in a recruit?

Business fit

Look beyond the tech/design/marketing experience to consider how well they fit with and understand the organization, and its business goals.

When recruiting, Holmkvist looks for evidence that:

“They will thrive on working for a brand/company, and are comfortable in that environment. I have tried to employ freelancers many times and they seldom stay for long anyway.

It is of course important to have proper education/background.

Business sense is also very important. Many of these talents, in design or development, are quite idealistic and are often not sales-driven.”

Similarly, Roberts looks for a good attitude:

“By far, the most important qualification is the right attitude. Digital product delivery is changing every day, so you need to be flexible, you need to invest in your own career and bring new ideas into the team. We want people that will help us raise our game.”

Belief in putting the customer first

XO Group puts the user at the heart of development of it digital properties: The Knot, The Nest, The Bump and Gigmasters. Brent Tworetzky, XO’s EVP of Product, preaches philosophy of “user science”, which focuses on the disciplines of user experience and user behavior.

He expects all XO product managers, as well as product designers, to share this philosophy and have the skills necessary to implement it:

“Our team has a high bar for our product designers and product managers employing user research and analytics, which we call user science. These are critical tools for understanding which problems to solve for users and how best to solve those problems. This field has emerged in the last 5-10 years in bits and pieces, and practitioners mostly learn on the job. Some individuals are fortunately to get training from companies that have invested in these practices, such as Amazon, Netflix, Expedia, and Intuit.  

We love hiring team members with these skills, otherwise we look for individuals with a mix of background and aptitude that we can train ourselves.”


Recruitment process?

Don’t take candidates at face value.

Jern advises putting potential recruits to the test:

“Filling roles based on CV skills and experience is easy. Almost anyone can learn to code and develop and iPhone app or website. But most companies have moved on from there with mobile and web services that are core to the entire business. This means growing complexity, quality requirements, user experience and business understanding. It also means hiring people that are always learning and developing.

Therefore looking at CVs and interviews is not enough. Practical tests are a necessity and it takes a lot of effort to hire for each role. At DMI we review at least 60-80 candidates that are qualified on their CV for every person we hire.”  

Don’t panic

Don’t settle for second best, says Holmkvist:

“In time of talent shortage companies will panic-hire anyone who can write a line of code. Better to go with consultants then.”

On the job training? 

Keep a balance between recruiting and training.


“The best policy, probably, is a mix between external recruits that already have the skills and training existing staff for new roles and requirements. This will give a good balance between new skills and business understanding. But the learning process never ends. All the skills required in the mobile space are constantly evolving at high speed.”

Establish on-the-job-learning program and mentoring


“We focus greatly on people development at XO Group, across a range of hard and soft skills. For example, within product management, we focus on six core skill areas: strategic thinking, collaboration, communication, technicals, details & quality, and user science & empathy. Our hiring, training, coaching, and leveling all align with these skills.

For our product managers and product designers, we lead monthly department level trainings called Product School, quarterly basics trainings for new team members called Product University, and a semi-annual department unconference called Product Summit. Additionally new team members get hands on training with analytics, testing, and surveying systems, such as Optimizely, Google Analytics, and UserTesting, from our product research and product analytics teams. 

Beyond this program, we have other mentoring programs and fund individual learning paths, for individuals looking for extra development. Individuals have taken courses varying from UX research fundamentals, to coding for non-engineers, to improvisation classes.”  

Group learning with online courses and guest lecturers


“There are so many great free online resources, including Linkedin Learning, Google, Codecademy etc. These courses certainly provide good value and insights, and complemented with guest lecturers. We seldom go to individual training outside the office, instead we invite the lecturer to come to our office so everyone can take part. Besides training the individuals, it creates a common frame of reference for a working group. Also, this approach saves us dear travel time (and cost) and is environmentally friendly.”

Don’t just teach technologies and products


“There is a lot of focus on the technology. In development it’s all focused on: do you use RIOT, REACT or Node.js? In DevOps it’s about Heroku, Terrsform and Docker. But as a business you need to look beyond that; consider how to manage your teams and your business in a new way and how do you discover the next innovation for your business. For this I would recommend looking into ‘Management 3.0’ and ‘Human centered design’, these are the business skills we need to keep up with the technology.”

Let the staff lead 


“We provide training and support, but much of this emerges from the team itself, they know their specialism the best and we will support them to grow because that helps us grow too. We recently completed our first development using the functional programming language Scala an initiative that came from the team. It was supported by the company because it speeds up our technical delivery, so there’s mutual gain.”                                                                                                   

Andy Favell is ClickZ columnist on mobile. He is a London-based freelance mobile/digital consultant, journalist and web editor. Contact him via LinkedIn or Twitter at Andy_Favell.

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