Q&A: Executive Recruiter on State of Ecommerce Employment

It’s been a rough year for many ecommerce companies. Consumers have selectively returned to in-store shopping. The meltdown of Facebook ad targeting has escalated customer acquisition costs. Even the largest players — Amazon, Shopify — have announced layoffs.

Amid the turmoil, I thought of Harry Joiner. He’s a longtime ecommerce recruiter, having launched his executive search firm in 2005.

He and I recently spoke. I asked him about the state of ecommerce employment, hiring tactics, and more. Here’s that entire audio conversation. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Kerry Murdock: What is the state of executive ecommerce employment?

Harry Joiner: The last two or three years have been a circus for us. Executives want to work from home, and employers want people to return to the office. It’s a standoff.

Every executive has her own needs and values, and every company has its own culture that it’s trying to build. Every job has its own requirements and key performance indicators. You start to overlay these things, and managing them requires a lot of complexity. Covid adds to the dysfunction.

Murdock: Are ecommerce and related companies hiring?

Joiner: Yes, the openings are there. A lot of the positions are what I call load-bearing walls. These are the walls in an organization that, if you knocked them out, all hell would break loose. Placing those individuals in an organization justifies our recruiting fee. We want candidates who are in high-impact roles and can immediately drive so much value that our fee becomes immaterial.

Murdock: Walk us through a hypothetical engagement. A company hires your firm for a load-bearing position. Then what?

Joiner: Let’s say a retail company hires us to find a vice president of ecommerce — someone who will impact growth, efficiency, cash flow, and maybe even the exit value of the firm.

We receive 150 inbound calls yearly for possible searches and take about half of those deals. We’re always looking for searches where the clients have a budget, a need, and a timeline. But we also look very carefully at whether our target candidate can do reputation-enhancing work there.

One of the reasons that our placements do well is we don’t take searches where our candidate cannot succeed. We will ask a client several questions. What’s the business about? Who’s the slam-dunk customer for that business? What’s the market opportunity? Are they creating or capturing demand? What do their growth rates look like? What’s in their tech and talent stacks? Who are their agencies?

We work hard to understand the underlying economics of the client’s business. In ecommerce, there’s nothing more unforgiving than lousy economics. We’ll ask about who’s doing the job now, what he or she could be doing better, and the top five problems prompting the opening. We’ll inquire about this person’s average day.

We’ll always ask, “At the end of 100 days, how will you know if this person is succeeding? What KPIs reveal this person’s performance?”

We primarily want to know what’s holding the company back so we can help candidates connect the dots between what they’re going and how they can drive reliable growth in the firm.

Murdock: What are the typical expectations of a vice president of ecommerce?

Joiner: A VP of ecommerce has to be good at four things: pay-per-click marketing, direct-to-consumer technology (ecommerce platform, tech stack), Amazon expertise, and what I call “e-tail,” the sales channels to reach customers.

I focus on finding business-oriented executives with an analytical bias in decision-making. They’re hypothesis-driven and can sell to the target customer.

Those people typically are in the top 3% to 5% — about one in 20. Say there are 100,000 candidates on LinkedIn, and the typical vice president of ecommerce has been on the job for three years. So 100,000 candidates on LinkedIn divided by three years — 33,333 come on the market each year, times 5%. That’s roughly 1,600 A-candidates on the market this year. Divide that by 12 comes to 138 candidates a month.

There’s an old joke in the recruiting business: You’re only perfect twice in life — at birth and on LinkedIn. I look at LinkedIn bios and resumes all day. We have hundreds of ecommerce resumes in our proprietary applicant tracking system. It’s not like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s more like finding a needle in a stack of needles.

Murdock: When do you know if someone is successful in a role?

Joiner: We have a 90-day guarantee. We can usually tell after 30 days if somebody will be successful. Our vetting process is extensive. Most of our candidates succeed.

Murdock: How can listeners get in touch or learn more about your firm?

Joiner: Our sites are and I’m doing a lot of searches these days for chief marketing officers, so I own and Connect with me on LinkedIn.

Kerry Murdock
Kerry Murdock
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