Kieran Luke, Author at General Assembly Blog

Using Standards to Align Talent and Employers



In our rapidly changing world, one of the biggest challenges to continued economic growth is the skills gap, which is the difference between the skills employers are looking for, and the skills available among job-seekers. For individuals, the skills gap limits upward mobility and wage growth. For companies, it limits the ability to hire the teams needed to pursue commercial opportunities.

So what’s stopping the skills gap from being quickly solved? A core obstacle is that individuals don’t know what skills to learn given the lack of clear and consistent guidelines from employers and industries as a whole. When organizations are unsure about the skills they need, they often rely on pedigree (e.g., university degrees) or experience (e.g., previous job titles) in place of specifically stated competencies that drive new, digital functions.

This construct perpetuates the skills gap on both sides of the market. Employers constrain their own talent pipelines, as they only consider a fraction of candidates with skills that match their hiring needs. On the other hand, job-seekers underinvest in new skills, as they lack clear guidance on what qualifications are required to access new roles.

The skills gap continues to grow as more automation in the workplace intensifies the need for new skills across teams. A 2017 McKinsey Global Institute report cites that “in about 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of the constituent activities could be automated.” To stay employable, individuals need to embrace a mindset of lifelong learning that enables them to upgrade their skills, and move into roles that support and complement new technologies.

These new patterns of learning need to be coupled with additional entry points to careers and objective skill requirements that facilitate workforce mobility. Similarly, the McKinsey report predicts that “8 to 9 percent of 2030 labor demand will be in new types of occupations that have not existed before.” Thus, we must ensure workers possess not only the tactical skills but also have mobility mechanisms in place to transition into these new jobs.

For mobility to scale, job-seekers need employers in a given field to align on a set of requirements that once met, provide access to employment opportunities. One example of this alignment has emerged from General Assembly’s Marketing Standards Board, a group of leaders across the consumer, technology, media, and academic sectors who are defining career paths and critical skills in marketing.

For the past year, the group has worked to provide transparency into the marketing profession. The Board started by creating a three-level framework that defines career paths in marketing. In tandem with these efforts, the board launched the Certified Marketer Level 1 (CM1) assessment, which aligns with the foundational level of the framework. The CM1 is recognized as a standard by a growing number of companies who use it to benchmark the skill levels of their teams. Benchmarking has also proven useful for employers who wish to define and diagnose critical skills across their organizations.

The CM1 is also being used as a standard in the hiring process. General Assembly brought together a group of over 30 companies, including Calvin Klein, L’Oreal, Pinterest, Priceline, and others to recognize the skills tested on the CM1 as a common set of requirements used in recruiting. Each company in this group agreed to interview high scorers on the assessment regardless of candidates’ background. This system of skills-based selection provides new career pathways for individuals who may otherwise be overlooked in a system dependent on pedigree and experience. Among job-seekers, we received tremendous interest in taking the CM1 as an entryway to guaranteed first-round interviews with these companies. Approximately 4000 individuals registered to take the CM1 in just a few weeks, and the top 10% of test-takers qualified for a guaranteed interview.

We were delighted but not surprised to see that top scorers came from diverse backgrounds — from college seniors entering the workforce, to career-switchers looking to get their foot in the door, to experienced marketers looking for a new challenge. Likewise, our previous research in The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018 report revealed that strong digital marketing talent can be found outside the marketing function, and from fields such as sales and technology. Moreover, this group of top scorers confirmed that experience doesn’t necessarily predict skills. Rather, giving all registrants the chance to demonstrate their skills using a clear set of skill requirements on the CM1 assessment can create access to new job opportunities.

As a result, our employer partners were able to expand the top of their recruiting funnels, and attract more qualified candidates. These employers are helping to address the skills gap in the industry by using a skills-based approach that increases the overall supply of qualified candidates considered for marketing jobs.

General Assembly’s mission has always been to provide transparent pathways to transformational careers. We’re thankful to the Marketing Standards Board and to the companies that have partnered with us to make strides in this direction. Together, we’re working to increase the transparency and openness of the workforce, broaden talent pools, and create more entry points for aspiring marketers around the world.


GA’s Credentials team’s mission is to help people get recognized by employers for what they can do, no matter where they come from. To learn more and get involved, get in touch with us at To learn more about the Marketing Standards Board and the CM1 assessment, visit

The Skills Gap Is Driven by Missing Data Skills


Modern marketers do all the same things traditional marketers have historically done to promote brands and drive sales, like conducting customer research, choosing target segments, positioning products, and designing marketing campaigns.

However, the digital era introduces a new set of constantly evolving channels and provides much more information about campaign performance than traditional advertising channels like television and print. To keep up, marketers need to develop problem-solving skills.

In our entry-level digital marketing skills assessment, Digital Marketing Level 1 (DM1), we represented these skills in three question categories:

1. Conceptualize: Understand the terminology, tools, and strategies in digital marketing.

2. Calculate: Use data to measure how campaigns are performing.

3. Interpret: Draw conclusions from data to optimize campaigns.

DM1 tackles each of these problem types, which means we can show you average scores across each type. In our exclusive report The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018, we analyzed a sample of 10,000 professionals across major Fortune 500 companies, growth-stage startups, and everything in between, who took the DM1 assessment between May 2016 and September 2017.

Among our top takeaways was that the skills gap in digital marketing is driven by missing data skills. Here’s how our test-takers did:

Average Score by Problem Type

Average Score by Problem Type Graph

The Calculate questions were clearly the most difficult, with test-takers only getting about two out of the six problems correct, on average.

We thought that perhaps four of the six questions were really hard or confusing, so we took a look at the success rate of each question in the Calculate section.

Success Rates for Calculate Questions on DM1

Success Rates For Calculate Graph

Our finding? It wasn’t a few really hard questions bringing the average down. Questions 4 and 6 both required the test-taker to complete more than one calculation, which could classify them as harder. However, people didn’t do well on the other questions, either. Question 1, which asked test-takers to calculate a single conversion rate, was the easiest, but the success rate of 45% is on par with the average success rate for Conceptualize and Interpret questions.

In short, test-takers struggled with the Calculate questions, revealing a shortcoming in processing data.

To ensure the Calculate questions were “good” and didn’t yield the low scores due to poor design, we did two things. First, we rechecked whether the questions were clearly written and unambiguous. Second, we looked at how top scorers performed compared to other test-takers on each question. Well-crafted questions help top scorers differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack, and we can measure this by looking at the relative success of test-takers in each quartile.

So let’s go ahead and look at the relative success of each quartile on the Calculate questions.

Relative Success on Calculate Questions by Quartile

Success on Calculate Questions by Quartile Graph

In this chart, the more teal, the better the question was at differentiating Quartile 1, the top 25% of scorers, from the rest of the data set. We can see that every Calculate question helps quartiles 1 and 2 differentiate themselves as stronger performers than quartiles 3 and 4. In fact, questions 4, 5, and 6 were the top three most differentiating questions of the entire assessment. In each of these, Quartile 1 accounted for at least 50% of the right answers. Bottom line: These are “good” questions.

So, what are people actually getting wrong? Let’s dig into the easiest Calculate question (Question 1, with a 45% success rate) to find out. This question is about click-through rates, and doesn’t give the test-taker any multiple-choice options to plug in and try. Since click-through rates are a key metric in display advertising, savvy marketers should have familiarity with calculating them.

You spend $1000 on banner ads, you get 25k impressions and 250 clicks. What is your % click-through rate?

To solve the problem, test-takers have to understand that the click-through rate is the number of clicks (250) divided by the number of impressions (25,000), which yields an answer of 1.00%. We also accepted the answer as a decimal (0.01), in European notation (1,00%), and with fewer decimal places (1%, 1.0%). Not difficult! But getting it wrong means a shortcoming in math or understanding metrics, both of which impede ability to manage a successful digital marketing campaign.

Here are the most common ways test-takers got this question wrong:

1. They calculated the wrong rate, confusing the methodology for determining click-through rate with other formulas. Examples of alternate answers provided include:

  • Cost per impression ($1,000 ÷ 25,000 = 0.04)
  • Cost per click ($1,000 ÷ 250 = 4)
  • Clicks per dollar (250 ÷ $1,000 = 0.25)

2. They got the order of magnitude wrong when expressing percentage, e.g., 10% versus 1% versus 0.1%.

3. They expressed the answer as a decimal (0.01, which would be correct) but then added a percent symbol (0.01%, which is incorrect).

We saw these patterns across the other Calculate questions, too.

The most common mistake individuals made was not understanding how metrics relate to the various steps in a marketing funnel. For example, in email marketing, the funnel includes the following milestones: email sent, email received, email opened, click from email, conversion to lead, and, ultimately, conversion to sale. Misinterpreting the meaning of metrics at any of these key points can lead to misunderstanding how a campaign is performing down the line, culminating in the potential to make poor decisions with marketing budget, next steps, and beyond.

Where Do We Go From Here?

These discoveries and the rest of our analyses in The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018 have led us to three essential conclusions that, when incorporated into hiring and team-building strategies, can help transform organizations into relevant, competitive, digital marketing players.

1. Professionals need to build data literacy and technical know-how. Marketing leaders need to focus on building the data literacy of their teams and on reinforcing a robust technical understanding of their most important digital marketing channels.

2. Experience isn’t enough. Human resources and recruiting leaders must verify the digital marketing skills of candidates.Past experience and seniority do not provide enough evidence to make strong hiring decisions.

3. Companies should cultivate creative hiring strategies. Leaders can be innovative in how they source talent and highlight pathways into the marketing function to grow the pipeline of candidates.

For more depth behind the takeaways, and a look at the data we analyzed, download the whole paper. We offer a deep dive into the numbers driving our conclusions, including performance around specific questions and topics, and explain what this means in building a world-class modern marketing organization. Learn more about assessing your team’s skills here.

The State of Skills: Digital Marketing

We tested 10,000 professionals’ skills. Here’s what we learned.Download the Report

Experience doesn’t matter: Industry veterans and aspiring talent are equally qualified to break into digital marketing


Digital Marketing Vs. Traditional Marketing Skills

All aboard! It’s never been a better time to embark on your digital marketing journey.

We all seek experience. Personally and professionally, experience captures what we’ve done and what we have the potential to do. In hiring, prior experience is used as a shortcut to qualify job-seekers for interviews, job offers, and higher compensation. This shortcut works well in steady fields where the practices of the industry rarely change. If someone has done it before, they can probably do it again.

But does this shortcut work in a field that is dramatically changing? Marketing is an occupation undergoing rapid change. Adults now spend six hours a day with digital media, compared to three hours a day in 2009. As consumers move social, professional, and personal interactions online, advertising has followed. 2016 was the first year that digital media overtook TV as the largest channel for ad spending. Successful digital campaigns now require proficiencies across a host of new platforms, and the question for veterans and aspiring marketers is: Does general experience in marketing still matter?

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