How to Build a Winning Team for your Trade Desk

Jess Thompson
Jess ThompsonCommunications ManagerMore about Jess

The decision to in-house your programmatic operations by building your own trade desk is not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot to consider and if you’re not 100% committed, there’s a good chance your efforts will fall flat. Arguably, one of the most important things you will do is bring together a winning team. Contrary to popular belief, the success of your trade desk relies more on the people behind the desk than the data and technology powering it Twitter icon (think 90% vs. 10%). Getting the right people for your trade desk is a delicate process, as with all hiring, who you bring into the mix can affect your culture. Of course, you want to land the most technically skilled candidates to get the job done, but they should also have well-developed soft-skills. The ideal candidate should identify with your core values and be motivated and excited by your company’s purpose, mission and vision. They should also be likeable so they get on with other employees and have a good rapport with clients.

Meeting your candidate is still key to discuss competencies, experience and personal priorities, but a one-and-done attitude to the interviewing process could end in trouble. Your candidate should meet with at least a few members of the team to see how they interact, whether it’s a good fit and that both sides are happy. However, no matter how many interviews you do, you can never be sure how this person will perform or what they’ll be like to work with. As our Director of Operations, Rutger Tuit, says of interviews, “They give a very, very limited view of someone’s potential. You’re hiring the person for a long time, and the candidate is also making a big decision, so better be sure we’re a good fit.” These views come from experience, “I’ve worked with multiple people in this industry in highly analytical roles who proved themselves to be inadequate in anything beyond ‘talk’. That’s a lose-lose, both for the candidate (who won’t achieve much, feel miserable and probably get fired), and the employer (friendly but passionless deadweight is also demotivating for passionate performers)”.

After years of experimentation and fine-tuning, we think we’ve found the magic formula for hiring not only the most capable candidates, but also fellow passionate, resourceful people in pursuit of mastery. Here are a few tips on us:

  • #1. Test technical skills

    If a candidate is applying for a position that requires a lot of technical skill, let them show you what they’ve got. For us, this is an analytics test, but you can test any skill that’s essential to the role you’re interviewing for. Most candidates will welcome the opportunity to showcase their skills – after all, that’s why they showed up. An interview and past experience are good to get an indication of how capable a person is, but there’s nothing like seeing a person in action and getting real results. Before offering the test to candidates, get a few existing employees to take it to find a benchmark score for certain roles. As well as an indication of the candidate’s skill level, it also reveals how well they work under pressure (something our campaign operations teams know a lot about).

  • #2. Get them communicating beyond the interview

    While a technical skill test might not be applicable for even candidate or role, give these candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in other ways. Communication is one of the most important skills in the workplace for so many reasons. Set candidates the task of delivering a half hour presentation in their interview. It could be on anything, from molecular gastronomy to bipolar disorder to Bitcoin, from whichever angle they choose. It’s fascinating to see how people take an idea and turn it into a persuasive argument, compelling content and an engaging presentation. Finding out how the candidate prepared for the presentation is as important as the quality of the presentation itself. It demonstrates how fast they’re able to learn about a new topic and their ability to teach it to others. Besides being able to see these skills in action, it reinforces their passion and enthusiasm – you don’t learn about a new topic and put together a half-hour presentation for a job you only half-heartedly want. Those are the people we want working with us.

  • #3. Check their characteristics fit the job

    A simple test that analyses a person’s hard-wired traits can give a good indication of how well suited they are to a certain role. The Myers-Briggs test gives a good indication, while tests like BestWork DATA provide more specific detail on personal strengths, such as whether a candidate thinks more innovatively or conventionally, prefers to take or give direction, has a high or low sense of urgency, how fast or slow they process information, and more. There’s no right or wrong, as different characteristics are a better fit for certain positions. A great example of this is the role of a fighter pilot versus that of a cargo pilot. A fighter pilot needs to have a high sense of urgency, process new information very quickly, be reactive and able to handle a high amount of stress. Meanwhile the ideal traits of a cargo pilot could look quite different; they should be quite conventional in their thinking, have a need for planning and detail, able to take direction and have a lower sense of urgency. A good day at work for a fighter pilot versus a cargo pilot would be starkly different. This also applies to functions on your team (though perhaps a touch less extreme); an excellent campaign manager might not necessarily be the best media planner, and vice versa. It’s useful to understand these traits when hiring new blood.

Looking for more advice on building a highly effective trade desk? We’ve taken dozens trade desks around the world from inception to perfection. Get in touch today!

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