Scot Sustad is the CEO of Digital Hot Sauce, a Vancouver-based digital growth agency. He’s always looking for new hires with practical experience (think hands-on experience with SEO, PPC, email marketing, copywriting, and design), which is why he’s already hired three RED Academy Digital Marketing grads. Scot tells us why RED Academy graduates have an edge over university grads, why he believes in supporting current employees as they learn more about digital marketing, and what employers can do to hire the best bootcampers. Read on to learn about what these RED Academy alumni are working on at Hot Sauce!
Tell us about Digital Hot Sauce and your role there!
Hot Sauce is a boutique digital growth agency based in Vancouver. Our vision is to help fuel 1000 community-bettering organizations by leveraging digital marketing. We partner with clients that engage both our head and our hearts.
I’m the CEO at Hot Sauce and I lead our 11-person team.
So three digital marketers on your team are RED Academy graduates?
More than that, actually. We’ve hired three RED Academy grads and we also send current employees to the RED Academy part-time course to round out and upgrade their skills. For example, if they need a broader knowledge base in an area that they don't know as well – they’re strong in analytics but want to go further into PPC – then we would send them to RED Academy.
How did you get connected to RED Academy as a potential source for talent?
Since RED Academy is local in Vancouver, and I’m involved in the agency and startup community, it was on my radar alongside some of the other schools in Vancouver. I went to a RED Academy hiring event; they were graduating a digital marketing cohort and those are the skills we specifically hire for. I wanted to get a feel for the level of knowledge that their grads had and the type of work they did. It was a great place to meet several graduates at once.
At that first hiring event, I struck up a conversation with two graduates, then followed up when we were hiring. I also have a relationship with the school, so RED Academy will highlight a few of the alumni that they think fit with the role that we're hiring for. We've been able to build a good relationship with them and trust them – they save us a lot of time.
We know that anybody RED recommends is going to come into the interview with a really solid of base level digital marketing background. At this stage, I would prefer a RED Academy grad to a four-year marketing degree grad.
Which roles have you hired those RED Academy grads for? What are they working on day-to-day?
We’ve hired RED Academy grads into Junior Coordinator roles. At Digital Hot Sauce, we hire Interns, then Junior Coordinators, then Coordinators and then our organization splits into tracks. Depending on an employee’s competencies, they can go into project management, account management, strategy, client interactions. Or they can go into a specialist role like SEO (search engine optimization), PPC (pay-per-click), copywriting, design, etc.
Typically, we're able to segment our RED Academy hires pretty easily into one of these tracks: are you a creative marketer or are you a data marketer or technical marketer? From there, we want to help them find their specialty. Our Junior Coordinators understand the marketing funnel and will do almost everything, from email to marketing analytics to web copy.
Does the RED Academy curriculum match up with what you’re looking for in a new Junior Coordinator?
One of the reasons that we love the RED course is that their graduates are learning the “full stack.” They won’t be amazing at any one thing, but they’ll know how to do it all, and can dive into client work right away. Our specialty at Digital Hot Sauce is in analytics, PPC, paid social, traffic, and conversion, and SEO. So the Full Stack Marketer bootcamp aligns well.
RED Academy is continuing to get better and tougher, and the newer grads are coming out with even better experience than some of the early graduates. It's great to see the school on a growth trajectory.
Did you ever have to convince your partners at Digital Hot Sauce (or even yourself) to start hiring from a bootcamp?
We're always looking for good people, so I was willing to look at all the options. At the same time, my time is valuable, so I did my research to make sure that RED Academy wasn’t just graduating people with certifications that didn’t mean anything.
There's a huge gap in our market right now. There are quite a few specialized, senior digital marketers, and a lot of entry-level people, but there’s a high demand for everyone in between. I think RED Academy is helping close that gap and will continue to get better at giving students more practical experience, more time in the tools, and raising the bar for graduation. My sense is that, compared to some of the other bootcamps, RED has a very big vision for what they're building and enhancing their product.
What are the differences that you've noticed between a RED Academy graduate versus a more traditional college grad?
Some RED Academy grads are changing their careers; others have worked in marketing but want to build up their digital skills. The biggest upside is that RED Academy grads have their certifications from Google, Facebook, etc. They've spent time using the tools, whereas a four-year university degree without a practicum is typically theoretical. College grads feel like they've actually used those tools, but they've never really done it.
I would take the practical experience, that I think RED provides, over that conceptual learning. RED students are also immersed specifically in digital marketing for those 12 to 24 weeks, whereas a four-year, more elongated marketing program is more general. I like that RED grads have a specific target and are ready to jump in. They are still junior level practitioners, but you know that they have a great foundation.
When you go to a Hiring Day at RED Academy, how do you choose which students to hire?
Practical experience is the biggest hurdle to get into the digital marketing industry; it's hard to get a company to take a risk on you. We don't typically hire recent grads right out of university, but I just hired two recent college grads who had also been to RED Academy, so they had this practical experience. They also had really strong community experience and aligned with us culturally.
The beauty of working with RED is that the students work with a “community partner” for their practical experience. They engage with a business in the community and work on a project for that business. As an employer, we’re able to actually talk with that community partner and ask about their experience with a RED student, and get feedback on how they did in the project, etc. For example, one of our recent hires, Shannon, was a recent college grad and didn't have much marketing experience, but we could still get insight into her capacity for learning, which was an advantage.
Do RED Academy grads go through the same interview process as a traditional applicant?
The RED certificate definitely works to an applicant’s advantage, and so does a recommendation from instructors who know them and think they’re a good fit. We take that recommendation seriously, but they still go through our entire hiring process.
Our hiring process consists of a questionnaire, a phone interview, in-person interviews for competency and culture, and then a final meeting with me. They might also need to do a project if there are still questions about the candidate.
You mentioned that you’ve sent current employees to skill up at RED Academy also. Which course?
The part-time Digital Marketing Foundation course is really the only one that works for us – we’re in growth mode as a company and can't afford to have somebody take three months off.
Why do you think it’s important to invest in your current employees and help them continue to learn?
Our employees want to master their skills and want to get better and continue to grow. Typically, digital marketers love learning. Learning keeps a digital marketer engaged, so we’ve made education part of an employee’s bonus or incentive plan. It’s interesting to see them take on a whole new level of confidence.
One specific example: One of our employees came on as a Coordinator, but she felt like she needed more confidence in a number of areas that we didn’t have time to teach her internally. Attending RED Academy was actually her idea, and it was a transformative process. She really drilled into analytics and absolutely loved it. She even brought back some insights into our team.
That's amazing – a large investment for an employer to make in an employee, but you can obviously see value in that investment.
Yeah, it is a big cost, but there’s a grant in Vancouver that covers a portion of tuition and we cover the rest, or make it part of an employee’s compensation.
Are you able to give feedback to the RED Academy team?
Their team has really valued feedback and they seem to take it to heart.
I think that RED Academy should continue to add more and more specialized classes, because I think there's huge opportunity for both the company and students. Say we want to launch a new service offering and nobody in-house knows how to do it, but they have the hunger to learn. We’re really eager for RED to be able to accommodate that.
What's your advice to other employers who are thinking about hiring from a bootcamp?
There's an opportunity to build a long-term relationship with a bootcamp. We've really drilled into building a strong relationship with RED Academy, so we get a bit more priority. Anytime a new cohort is graduating, their community manager reaches out to ask if we’re hiring and narrows down a couple of grads that would fit in at Digital Hot Sauce.
We obviously believe in RED’s program, but you want to be careful about which bootcamp you're syncing up with, the quality of the course, and the level of grads they are putting out. There are a lot of money-grab courses out there, both online and in-person.
My other advice for employers is to recognize that at any bootcamp, there will be a spectrum of expertise. In my naivety, I originally thought that RED grads would be a little bit more qualified than they are in reality. There's only so much that a student can learn before they start getting real practical experience, working on tons of different projects, and being mentored. Understand who you’re hiring.