Hiring? What Works: Fresh blood or old hands? Experience or Novicity?

this or that A reader of the blog had a interesting question that made me think about the value of experience, or the value of "having been around for a while", vs the value of pure passion and excitement and moldability.

I get lots of wonderful email every day with delightful questions, this one made me think harder.

Here is the actual excerpted question…..

….with a quandary: Is it better to hire and train a really bright, freshly minted college grad, or does the extra value returned by someone who's been a web business analyst for several year merit the extra expense?

The answer is of course: It depends.

In many industries experience trumps everything. "You have operated a lathe / the Space Shuttle / a school bus for 15 years? Congratulations Ian you have the job – Jack could you show new graduate Avinash from Ohio State the door please, do let him know we appreciate his passion."

The web in some ways is unique, at the moment.

It is young, it is vibrant, it is evolving at a rapid pace, everything new is old quickly (and yes sometimes it seem the old is "new" again).

This complex organism demands a stunning amount of flexibility from people whose job it is to analyze it. It requires a atypical ability to let go of the past experiences and learned behaviors quickly so as to understand the new in a new way rather than taking the old known square pegs and try fit them in new round holes.

On the web, specifically for analysis of this interesting medium, experience counts for something. But in the grand scheme not as much as it used to.

On the web here is what counts:

    1) You actually "get" the web. I mean in your blood you are a web being, you marvel at its beauty, you use it, you love it, you "get" it (very critical if you are ever to be able to "get" your website visitors and make sense of all the clicks you have – no "get" web, no "get" insights).

    2) You are a inherently flexible being and you are open to new things, in fact you have experience proving that at every new job you ditched the old junk and moved your employer to the latest optimal mindset, not technology but mindset (very critical for someone to see evolution of the web and understand newest measurement opportunities – clickstream or otherwise). Entrenched mindsets will not win the war when it comes to Web Analytics.

    3) Change will not kill you. If you think for a moment this is different from #2. This is critical because human beings love the known, most fear change, and a few can't see future opportunity because they can't or don't want to change. Yet for the foreseeable future the only constant in the web measurement space is change – as you build out a team / skills you want to be ready for that.

    4) Critical thinking. From Wikipedia: "Critical thinking consists of mental processes of discernment, analyzing and evaluating. It includes all possible processes of reflecting upon a tangible or intangible item in order to form a solid judgment that reconciles scientific evidence with common sense."
    You want a Analyst right? Not a Report Writer? You can find critical thinking in a guy flipping burgers at McDonalds or doing advanced statistical analysis. Look for it.

Obviously I am only addressing attitudinal areas above, yet when I look to hire a employee those are the things that I look for. New or Experienced. Young or old. Web newbie or old hand.

I can teach anyone where to press buttons in Omniture or WebTrends. I can teach anyone the definition of bounce rate in HBX or Visual Sciences. It take a couple weeks but I can teach you how to create labels in ClickTracks or filter data in Google Analytics.

I can't "teach" you any of the above four requirements.

I have been a Practitioner / Manager / Director on the "do side" of things (vs sitting outside) for ten years, the last few on the web, and I have found people are "hard wired" for the above four. This could purely because I am not good at teaching, I am not taking that off the table. You tell me what your experience is.

Peer beyond the "fifteen years of Webtrends experience" line in the resume. Look beyond the statement "I have been doing this for twelve years (undertone – I know everything there is to know, now show me where your log files are!)" or "I am new out of college and just twittered my friends and this interviewing is being live streamed on my myspace page and could you please repeat the question about javascript, I am not sure I understand".

The making of your own expert: A webbie who is flexible, who is not afraid to change and is a critical thinker.

So what was my advice to the blog reader? Is it better to pay more for a experienced person or hire a freshly minted grad (and I am assuming cheaper)?

    "It depends on one important criteria. Do you have a strong web analytics program in your company or a person who can provide mentoring / thought leadership?

    If the answer is yes then get the smart graduate and teach them the new mindset around analytics and how they should approach looking at numbers on the web. They are impressionable, teach them web analytics is not just clickstream but includes qualitative analysis and experimentation and testing and soon BT. Oh and you have Omniture, they'll learn in a week where the buttons are.

    If you don't have someone in your company who can provide true / current thought leadership on web analytics then you are better off paying more and getting someone with the latest thinking and experience. This person can get a grip on what you have and start executing and pointing your company in the right direction. When they have established credibility they can hire perhaps young folks.

    If you don't have someone who can point the ship and provide guidance then any passionate fresh grads you hire will wither."

Ok your turn.

What do you think? Would you have given different advice? What has your own experience been (especially if you have like me tried to build out a team of stars who can execute without you)?

Please share your tips, tricks, war stories, critique, brickbats via comments.

[Like this post? For more posts like this please click here, if it might be of interest please check out my book: Web Analytics: An Hour A Day.]


  1. 1


    Once again you have written about a subject that is at the front of my mind. This is getting a little uncanny.

    A few months ago I was asked to "look after" web analytics for my company despite not being a webbie myself. In fact my background is market research (the qualitative element of the trinity approach).

    I'm having lots of fun working everything out from first principles, but I suspect that the journey would be a whole lot easier if I had someone here who has had a little experience in the field.

    In the UK analytics people are like gold dust. I suspect I will have to be pragmatic about who I am able to recruit, rather than idealistic about it.

    For anyone in a similar position I would recommend the section in "An hour a day" on recruiting. Using the job description has enabled me to get the role regraded and the salary upscaled.

  2. 2

    Avinash, you are not making my quest any easier! It's a wonderful post and contributes to the reflection of someone who is wondering what should be his next career move :)

    I can relate to "what counts" and often end up feeling I play a sub-optimal role. In 20 years of experience, most of them on the Web, I've changed job several times (longest was 5 years) because I always seek for new challenges. After a while, I feel I'm getting glued in routine or internal politics. I've been on the client side, agencies, freelance (too long ago!), small & big, well & badly managed ones…

    In your post you talk from the employer side who seeks a great employee. In the current market, employees are often the one choosing their employer. So what should a job seeker look for in order to find the golden employer that will be both challenging & rewarding?

    I liked your comment on my post about "Should you change job?". You said it boils down to "Am I happy?"

    I'm still thinking about it! :)

  3. 3

    Avinash, One of the critical objectives of a web analytics team is to make an impact on the online business based on the analysis. A newbie will typically have no understanding of the business and thus will have no idea on what to look for in the data and what to analyze. Business knowledge is something that is acquired over the years, something that is usually lacking in new grads (I took a while too). That is why people pay a premium for experience.

    In my opinion, hire a new grad if you need someone to do grunt work and when you have time to teach them over the months/years, when you do not need someone to make an impact on the business right away. Otherwise, it is better to pay the premium for an experienced hire.


  4. 4

    Great post…as an employer of web analysts, those 4 things are non-negotiable. I would add that for an e-commerce company, the ability to translate web-site analytics to business performance is the secret ingredient (maybe #5).

  5. 5

    Avinash, this is a great post. My comments regarding who you should hire – "fresh blood or old hands". Well, what about hiring both?. And by that I mean, if you are really serious about web analytics – especially if you represent a corporate entity, then this whole area is probably the most important area you can focus on. You should hire the best talent available (or engage the best consultants available) and then put some bright young 20+ year olds to work side by side.

    It was meeting you in SFO earlier this year that inspired me to focus a lot of our companies energy on web analytics. Instead of doing our Omniture web certification in Australia, I insisted in putting our technical folks on a plane and having them certify in the US.

    I then sent our junior account execs to all the Omniture training available in Australia as well as hiring a well experienced web analytics consultant out of the US to come spend 2 weeks downunder to work with the "kids" side by side.

    We have much to learn still but our clients are encouraging us to push harder.

    Your book, your blog and your wisdom has made our entry into the web analytics space that much easier.

  6. 6

    Hi Avinash

    I am a not quite a recent graduate- one year’s job experience- hired as an analyst at quite a large company. I was hired after an aptitude test but have no experience in web analytics. Your blog has helped me out so much- I would have been lost without it. First day on the job (with no guidence) I googled ‘web analyst’ and your blog came up. I have read it (and re-read it, especially the standard metrics sections) again and again- and I got the book for my birthday!
    I feel like some of the time I am doing well, and some of the time I feel I am withering- I have no guidance and no one to bounce ideas off. I am really enjoying being challenged every day, and getting a look at the underside of the rock that is the web, but I do sometimes wish that there was somebody to at least join me in a discussion about key metrics for our company. I think I would find things a lot less stressful as a newbie if I had some guidance.
    Thanks for the post!

  7. 7

    Having previously done a fair amount of technical hiring for an internet startup, I think you make some great points. I will add, though, that it depends a lot on the organizational culture as well. There are some highly structured and/or large organizations that, right or wrong, just aren't well suited for understanding (let alone training) young, talented people, and where that kind of person just isn't going to be happy. At a startup, I had what I'll call the luxury to take chances on people, and I was often happy I did.

  8. 8

    This fits well with the idea that you can't teach enthusiasm. I'm guessing the decision would also depend on your time line. Are you looking for someone who can pick up immediately and finish a project in the next six months, or someone who can be trained for six months and help turn out a project in two years?

    Great post, thanks!

  9. 9

    3 points:

    1) Prefer curiosity over intelligence if you must choose. (I think pmarca said this)

    2) Prefer just enough experience to show they can do it, and a lot of energy, over someone who has done what you want many times. The latter is probably ready to move on.

    3) If it's the web you're interested in, be sure your interviewing techniques uncover their web capabilities. Don't just talk about it. Make them communicate in the medium of the web, which is largely the written word. See my blog post for more on this one:


  10. 10

    Very Well Said Avinash. I agree with you in all points you have mentioned. Fresh graduates can be very productive if there are managers to manage them.

    One thing I would like to add. When I am searching for someone in my team, I would look for person to be both business savvy and web savvy. Good analyst must not only be able to find numbers but be able to relate to business also. He will afterall have to make client/business manager understand his findings.


  11. 11

    I have been using some raw techniques to find good and passionate people.

    I just ask these questions and verify his answers. Then its just him or not him.

    a) Do you read daily newspaper?
    b) Do you read business magazine or finance and economy page in Newspaper?
    c) Do you read online news, read or write blogs or do any specific research online?

    Regarding tools I am never worried. It takes time though. But it can always be taught or learned.


  12. 12

    Frankly I don't limit this just to web analytics. When I worked in online media in London a few years ago I built a department of planners and buyers at all levels. Two of the best hirings I made were at grad level and at AD (Account Director) level. The grad clinched it for me because he was both quiet in personality whilst also a drummer in a band. The AD clinched it for me by presenting a one page CV. I was very happy with both.

  13. 13

    Great article and I 100% agree. But from my experience it's not the new hire talent's thats limiting but rather the organizational bureaucracy in implementing their strategic ideas.

    As really good analysts are in high demand, what would you say are the top 4 qualities web analyst candidates should find in their employer :)

  14. 14
    June Dershewitz says

    S.Hamel makes a good point in his comment, above, that many of us who read your blog post are likely to see it from the candidate perspective rather than the hiring perspective. The first thought is, "… now that I've got X years of experience am I destined for the glue factory?"

    I know it's not that bad. :)

    I'm glad you touch on the fact, though, that experienced folks are able to – and really have no excuse not to – serve as mentors for those who are just starting out.

  15. 15

    Great Article Avinash

    An important aspect you didn't mention was Intelligence.

    Since we could all agree IQ test and Graduate degrees don't reflect brightness.

    Scenario: Employer asks all prospects to take a test consisting of a prior analytics experiment the company tested and documented…

    Unfortunately this test would only benefit prospects with prior experience on WWW and Analytics.

    Point being how could take a chance with non experienced candidates since Analytics needs in many ways a creative mind to think out of the box and view the data in holistic vision which unfortunately only comes with painful experience.

    Is there a way to choose Grads? Could we inspire newbie’s to love WWW/analytics after inevitable failures?

  16. 16


    I find your points about "You are a inherently flexible being" and "…having someone who can point the ship and provide guidance…" very appealing. It hits home with me. When I came to the place that im working now as a fresh graduate, i was charged up and rearing to go. But if i didnt have proper guidance i would have lost my way.

    And being flexibile was another thing that i learnt. When there are very few resources in an organization you inevitably will have to put on different hats at different points in time. Sometime i had to put on a Sys Admin hat, other times a Search Administrator hat and at other times a programmers hat. Right now i have the Web Analyst hat on :)

  17. 17

    All : Here is my key learning: It's a buyers market in Analytics! The comments here reflect a small part of the reaction that has been generated by this post and one overwhelming theme is that you all want me to write a post about how to pick the right company to work for. I have heard it, I promise I'll write soon.

    Let me warn you that it is tricky becuase the interview process is perfectly structured to test you and show the best possible image of the company. It is hard to parse through all that and find reality (hence the sticker shock after three weeks of work becuase the company does not look anything like the one you interviewed for!). But I'll try to think and write some tips that have worked for me.

    [On a second note, I have a very complex week this week, presentations, consulting, travel, and more. So I apologize in advance for not responding on time and for this glob of responses late in the night. I hope you'll bear with me.]

    Couple quick responses…..

    Sai : I have seen new kids (fresh off college or after a year at a agency or just out of jail – true story) and they had more street smarts and common sense to drive for the business than people my age (and I am not admitting to being old!).

    Experience is good. I think on the web the ability to question reality and change everything you thought worked is perhaps what I value even more, in people of all ages and experience.

    I think for now I happily take a risk on "youthful indiscretions" (possible wrong business judgment calls) in exchange for knowing that I have a team that will push the envelope and figure out how to monetize, market and analyze the twitter generation (a generation that I am afraid with all my "experience" I simply don't get).

    Obviously I still want employment, so hire experience (and please "friend" me in facebook so I don't become irrelevant! :)) and there is a deep stress in this post on having thought leadership and guidance and mentorship for the "youth".

    But on the web, and I stress that atleast for now and this is subject to change: "White hair is a sign of age, not wisdom". Stress test all colors of hair against the above four criteria.

    Simon : You are endorsing the blog, the book, me, everything! How can I ever repay you my friend? You are such a sweetheart. (It is gratifying to know that this little blog helps have a impact even in Down Under!)

    bug : See my email. :)

    Bob : It is hard to pick favourite amongst one's children (and yes I do take things with the blog that personally), but your comment was perhaps my favourite of the day.

    You framed two brilliant thoughts in your 1 and 2, I wish I had that gift. Thank you!

    George Z: For things I think you should look for in a interview process / resume check out this post from a while back:

    Web Analytics Career Advice: Statistics, Business, IT & Mushrooms

    That should answer part of your question about what kinds of backgrounds, in my experience, seem to make a good analyst (not report writer, analyst).

    As regards to inspiring love, and I LOVE analytics, I think it is two things:

    1) Encourage risk and learn to reward failure. It is a cliche but it is true. Most big and medium size companies do a fantastic job of beating creativity out of you and don't tolerate failure. These company in the long run also fail.

    2) This works for me: Show them that they have the power to change the customer experience. Implement a small insight from them on the site. Let them put up their vision of a page in a a/b or multivariate test. If not on the website home page then on a landing page. Once you know "newbies" or "oldies" that they have the power to change it will be like a drug. If they fail trust me they will pick themselves up and try again.

    Idealistic, yes. But try it, I think you'll be surprised. And do let me know how it goes.

    (Everyone, again thanks for your patience, apologies for not being responsive in a timely manner and I feel the love in all these comments. Thank YOU!)


  18. 18

    @bug: Unsure what Avinash wrote to you (well it was a personal email after all..) but my 2c worth?

    1. Join the WA Yahoo! Forum. Don't just be a passive reader. Get in there and *post* answers to questions. If someone else replies first, don't read the answer, try and figure it out and then see how your answer compares. THEN! Jump in, post your answer if it's suggests a different tack and be prepared to defend your answer if you feel it's appropriate! Don't be afraid to be wrong, you'll learn even *faster* that way.

    2. Go read all the blogs Avinash refers to in his blog roll. Not just the current stuff, but go back to the start of those blogs. There's some *great* stuff out there. And then read who they link to.

    3. Find a smallish non-profit that you either already do or would be happy to work for/with and support. One that has a simple website that could do with some work.
    Ask if they'd accept your voluntary help with making it better.
    (a) You'll get bonus karma points
    (b) You'll get valuable experience in a *very* different mindset
    (c) You'll *significantly* enhance your CV and hence employer appeal over others with your level of experience.
    When you effectively have no budget you'll learn real fast what you can and can't do and what is more vs less important. All valuable skills.


    @Simon: You send your techo's to the USA for courses?!?!?!?! Can I come and work for you/When do you open a Canberra office? :-P

    @BigA Who Walks On Water:
    I suspect you could pretty much re-use your criteria for many industries. You've pretty much described what I look for in junior sysadmims.
    With but one additional point I'd add:
    Don't look just to what you can teach them; but also what they can teach YOU.
    The best folk I've mentored have *always* been ones who I learn from, probably just as much, as they from me. That's a win-win situation in anyone's language!

    – Steve

  19. 19

    For myself, at a top-5 content provider, we have a team of analytic folks. What I see as the common success factor is the ability to interpret business objectives and define the analysis so that it helps with that problem. Well, that and a good concept of materiality – how to know when they've reached a "good enough" 80/20 answer.

    Tool and industry experience are fairly minor considerations as sharp folks who can do the above will be up the curve in a couple months. That works for us since we have Omniture people on-site, plus other team members already using the tools.

  20. 20

    Cool analysis. It seems that these attributes are for a whole slew of positions, not just analytics.

    But for analytics, do you think that even a young person with the right attitude/personality needs a certain affinity for math/statistics? I think I could "learn" analytics, but I don't think I could ever be passionate about it the way I am about UX. Some people LOVE to put things in columns and find patterns. Some people LOVE to find the meaning behind the symbolism in a movie. Don't you need a little of the detective spirit to make a great analytics person?

    Randomly, what about Leadership potential, Integrity, Character or Team Chemistry?



  21. 21

    This is a great topic, thank you!

    I am wondering if there is also a third category of job seeker which is someone with "many" years of experience but little to no experience in web analytics.

    Is there a no man's land where one is too expensive as a newbie or worth every penny because they have the background in marketing to understand what got people to the site in the first place, can translate insights into marcom speak and have the passion to do the analytics?

    I am one of the "buyers" but I am having trouble finding a "seller". Feedback I have gotten has been that they wanted someone with "a little more experience." I do have 18 years of experience, just in marketing and advertising.

    How do employers rate this value of experience?

  22. 22

    Jennifer : There is absolutely a need for and a role for people who bring the valuable skills that you have. In fact due to your experience you might have a leg up.

    I would like to assure you that there are more jobs in web analytics out there than there are people to fill those jobs.

    Getting some experience is not that hard though. Start a blog and put Google Analytics on it, or if you have access to log files then try ClickTracks Appetizer (a Microsoft solution will also be out soon, Gatineau / Microsoft AdCenter Analytics / Microsoft Analytics 2008 – I am just guessing all possible names!).

    Or volunteer to analyze a website of a non-profit. Or one that a friend has.

    It is not very difficult to get going with web analytics. It is complex to get the whole thing flawlessly (as an example I am still trying!), but it is easy to start and master the basics. You are already reading this blog for tips etc, try some of the ones in the blog roll on the left and find even better tips.

    With that under your belt you'll be able to demonstrate the stuff that people are looking for to get going and many organizations after that are willing to invest in people with passion willing to learn.

    I hope this helps. I wish you all the very best, and welcome to the wonderful world of web analytics


  23. 23

    Thanks Jennifer for posting as well. I have worked in targeting and analystics for 7 years for a print media company and am attempting the switch to online and web analytics. It is a challenge asking employers for the higher salary with no actual experience in the web analytics sphere.

    My best approach has been to sell them on my capacity to understand the terms and content (the actual programs etc) of the online world but carefully explaining how I think through my current analysis projects in the print world. So far the result have been mixed, but I'm hopeful.

    Best wishes to everyone in either their job serach or job hires.


  24. 24

    Hey Steve, Avinash

    Thanks so much for the feedback! It has helped a lot to know that there are places like this where people will have a chat and give you some positive re-inforcement. Thanks so much for the input!

  25. 25

    Boy, I wish I was hearing about all these jobs. I earned karma points in spades with fifteen years in the non-profit world but lost my job rather suddenly a year ago when a rewrite of the organizational chart put the website under a very opinionated HIPPO (love the term, it's what brought me to your site!). I've always loved the audiences of the web and naturally took to analytics as soon as some of the earliest tools came out.

    But I haven't found a job in almost a year now. Maybe it's geography (not many dot-com's here in South Jersey) but I've also come to realize that a lot of employers don't actually want someone very good with analytics. I've interviewed with four local web design firms which are almost scams in the way they build sites that look great for presentations but are just terrible from a search or usability perspective. They spit out local business sites fast and furious for clients who have no idea what questions to ask. The design companies advertise SEO but don't want someone asking hard questions that might slow them down or affect the gee-whiz wow'ness of their demo sites. I experienced a similar phenomenon with a minor dot-com that designs and hosts over 700 websites for a particular retail niche and has no one even checking the visitor logs.

    It seems like it's not enough for just the perspective employees to "get it." Employers need to as well.

    — Martin

  26. 26

    Re your comment on the fear of change: The world more and more resembles the internet that connects it. The amount and pace of change is truly frightening to people (like me) who can't keep up. For us, life is evolving into some version of low-intensity warfare (which kind of makes sense, given the net's DARPA funding origins).

    Ok, maybe an exaggeration, but think about it, if you're on this blog you're likely part of a highly selective group (unless you got her by accident, like me)–you're almost like a new species (who says evolution happens at some constant rate of speed?). You don't beleive me, but what differentiated the Neanderthal from modern humans? Apparently tool-making and usage. Who would have ever imagined that the computer keyboard would send large blocks of humanity into natural selection oblivion!

  27. 27

    Martin : I would look elsewhere (see below for job hunting tips). Local firms of the type you are describing have different priorities that they are executing, due to business needs, and it is unsurprising that they can't seem to fit you in. :)

    Here are some thoughts:

    * Try:


    Every web analytics consulting company from Zaaz to Stratigent to Pop to others are always looking for candidates with varying degrees of experience.

    Call 'em and tell them in fifteen words why you equals awesome.

    * Try interactive agencies in NYC (I think that is close to you). Perhaps there are some that willing to accommodate remote employees. Every agency (interactive or search or digital or whatever) is looking for qualified / bit qualified folks for the web analytics space. Look for ones in the "search business" they are booming.

    Cold call if you don't see ads.

    * Try:


    Full disclosure: I am on the board of directors for the Web Analytics Association. Regardless I think that the jobs board at the WAA site is one of the best ones.

    To the best of my knowledge there are always way more jobs than there are applicants.

    * Do you know of the Web Analytics Association Yahoo group?


    [See full disclosure above!]

    I am very fond of the group, there is always lots of lively debate but more importantly there are lots of job postings.

    * Finally try to cold call the biggest websites you can find in your local area. Ask for the "web team" or "marketing group" if you can. Tell them why you are great at Web Analytics and tell them five things you would change about their site or five things you could tell them if only you had access to their Google Analytics / Omniture / WebTrends / HBX / whatever data.

    I hope this helps a little bit.

    Paul : Now you've scared me with your comment!

    I am paranoid that I am going the way of the dodo becuase I don't "get" Twitter! Or MySpace! Or whatever the "kids" are into these days!!! :)

    I think your observation on the pace of evolution is right. There is a generation just a handful of years behind us that will think of us and "web 2.0" as quaint.

    I worry. But then I try to figure out how to be a part of that generation's thinking and mindset. Maybe that will be my mid-life crisis!!



  28. 28

    Avinash, I'm wondering if you know of any company or organization that offers certification in the field of Web Analytics. I've looked through several blogs and can't see any evidence that any sort of certification programs exist for practitioners.

  29. 29

    Roger :

    There isn't a certification in the web analytics space. Thus far it is possible for you to get the certificate after completing the University of British Columbia. UC Irvine is also working on rolling out a similar program.

    You can also get certified by the web analytics vendors, though in that case it is more the case that you are getting certified in usage of the particular tool and not such much perhaps what you are seeking.

    As a member of the Web Analytics Association (WAA) board of directors I can say that this is something that is on the WAA's radar. Thoughts are being thought, options are being considered. I am sure you'll hear about it as soon as things are on the runway and ready.




  1. thinks says:

    Learn how to hire quality from Avinash Kaushik and Warren Buffett……

    I agree with Avinash's assessment on who to hire completely. However, I never hire without remembering Warren Buffett: "Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy….

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