As part of a recent study for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Marcus Shingles, an analyst at Deloitte Consulting, surveyed seniors at some of the top university analytics programs about where they wanted to work. The vast majority indicated a desire to bring their much-sought-after talents to financial and technology companies. Only one graduate said he intended to go into the consumer products goods (CPG) field.
“The best and the brightest in analytics don’t feel treasured in consumer products,” Shingles explains.
In Shingles’ view, this represents a red blinking warning sign: CPG, he says, is at an inflection point where the ever-growing sources of data, such as mobile coupons, will provide the means for companies to differentiate themselves. The winners and losers, he says, will be determined by their use of analytics — and their ability to convince the top analytics talent that they are worth working for.
The issue isn’t confined to consumer product goods, of course. In an era of big data, more and more opportunities and profits will go to companies that find ways to cleverly use data, so industries that have developed reputations as analytics laggards must find ways to battle these perceptions to woo the talent they need.
Catering to the Curiosity Factor
It’s important, first, to understand what motivates big data and analytics professionals. A study from the International Institute for Analytics and Talent Analytics Corp. of 302 analytics professionals across various enterprises found the number one characteristics of these people is “curiosity.” So appealing to their curiosity is a savvy recruiting tool.
J.P. Hurtado, director of information technology at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., says the cruise and travel industries have not historically been known for their customer data analytics capabilities. He acknowledges that over the years Royal Caribbean has collected massive amounts of customer data that largely have been underutilized. However, the company is now launching a large effort to pull together data from many siloed systems to provide a 360-degree view of customers.
“When I interview analytics and big data professionals, I stress that the entire company is undergoing a cultural shift to become more customer-centric, and they can be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Hurtado says. “And part of the lure is: ‘Yes, we may not have done as much as we could have with our data, but we have so much data, the opportunities are boundless — the only limits are your imagination.’”
Along those lines, Greta Roberts, CEO of Talent Analytics, notes the most effective job ads for analytics professionals “engage the brain,” such as by posing an intriguing question or problem to solve. Google, for example, took this tack to lure engineers a number of years ago with subway banners that challenged a passerby to solve a complicated math problem. “A discrete manufacturing company might not have the brand cache of a LinkedIn or Google, but if you do a similar thing and show you are solving interesting problems that becomes your brand,” she says.
Roberts suggests companies place one-paragraph case studies on the careers section of their website showing the intriguing analytics projects they have done or planned. “Interesting work equals solving interesting problems,” she says. “Saying you can’t recruit people because you’re in a [non-glamorous area] is a copout.”
Marybeth Haas, managing partner of Haas & Riley, an analytics executive recruiting firm, says it’s also important in recruitment ads to specifically cite the cutting-edge technology candidates will be working with, especially if the company is an industry that doesn’t have a reputation for analytics prowess.
A Chance to Answer Strategic Questions
Given that big data professionals are becoming the rock stars of the IT world, companies need to show they will have a chance to shine. David Smith, a data scientist and vice president of marketing at Revolution Analytics, notes that mature industries, like CPG, often have older legacy infrastructure they need to maintain for operational reasons. In this situation, companies have to make a striking case that big data professionals will not be yoked to outdated technology.
Some of these companies “are creating specialized groups with data scientists who are building new systems around the legacy ones,” Smith says. “The main thing they are doing, though, is building a culture of data curiosity, which empowers them to explore. Often they are being teamed with line-of-business leaders to answer strategic questions that drive the business.”
That’s smart too, considering another key characteristic that motivates analytics professionals is competitiveness, according to an International Institute for Analytics survey.
Haas says positioning big data and analytics professionals as an internal consulting organization that will be able to solve strategic problems that cut across many areas of the company is only one part of recruiting.
Creating these good impressions of the company must start long before an applicant scans a job listing or sits down for an interview. She says she works with clients to communicate their analytics leadership, such as by being featured in publications that applicants would read.
“IT executives at these companies are going on the speaking circuit, because they want to brand themselves as using analytics and big data in new, interesting and useful ways,” Haas says. “They understand the state of the industry is highly competitive, and they need to offer a compelling position in order to land this talent.”
The Value of University Ties
Roberts says smart companies are affiliating themselves with universities, so top students think of them as cool places to work long before they encounter the companies at a job fair. But there are other clever ways that mature industries can create a strong analytics brand, such as attending and sponsoring meetup groups that cater to Hadoop or predictive analytics. (Meetup.com is an online social networking portal that facilitates offline group meetings in various localities around the world.) “It doesn’t cost much to sponsor one of these meetup groups, and it’s an easy and effective way to align yourself with a cool space,” she says.
Roberts’ research shows that as long as compensation packages are competitive, compensation tends not to be a big factor in attracting big data talent. “Companies are having trouble recruiting and keeping these people,” she says. “If you pay someone big money and they’re bored, they’ll leave within a year.”
However, being flexible with talent can help. Smith notes that Revolution Analytics wasn’t able to hire enough data scientists locally—even though they are in the Bay Area. “The thing about being in the Silicon Valley is you are competing with some of the biggest names in the country,” he says. “In the past eight months we’ve started hiring workers regardless of where they’re located and manage them remotely.”
One of the company’s earliest developers for instance, works off a boat in Florida with a satellite connection to the Internet. And showing that you’re open to new ways of working is a good way for companies in mature industries to belay the idea they are behind the times.
Joe Mullich, a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Home page image by Ron Mader via Flickr, used under Creative Commons.