With digital media surpassing TV as the largest channel for ad spending in 2016, digital marketers are more important than ever. Through clever concepts, smart storytelling, and a keen understanding of audience behavior through analytics, these data-driven brand specialists move business forward through strategic email, paid search, social media, and beyond.
Recent data from General Assembly’s Credentials division — which helps companies determine the capabilities of team members and potential hires through assessments and more — suggests that digital marketing is an open playing field for anyone who can acquire the skills needed to succeed.
But once you have the skills, how do you land the gig?
We spoke with Deb Gabor, founder of Sol Marketing, and Lawrence O’Connor, founder and CEO of Full Chair Digital, for their advice on breaking into the field. As brand and digital marketing instructors at General Assembly’s Austin campus and leaders in the industry, they offer these tips to rise above the competition and get your foot in the door.
Headed to SXSW? Gabor, O’Connor, and experts in web development, data, user experience design, and more share career-boosting insights at our free two-day event, GA + SXSW Present: Tech Fundamentals for Everyone. Join us this Saturday and Sunday at the AT&T Conference Center.
Think about yourself as a brand.
Practice what you preach. First-class digital marketers make brands stand out from the noise and competition — and if you can’t sell your own skills, why would a potential employer trust you with their marketing dollars? A pivotal piece of landing a marketing role is selling yourself to the hiring manager and proving that you’ll make their company look good.
“We all know that the brands we love and use say something about us as humans. Think about the guy in the bright red sports car with the big, loud engine, or the mom of young kids in her Toyota Hybrid,” Deb Gabor says. “Both people are trying to tell a story in which he or she is the protagonist. The brands they choose help them elevate their own self-concepts and show other people who they are and what’s important to them.”
How do you tell your story? Before applying for a gig, identify your top skills and create a “self-concept” that shows potential employers who you are and what you can bring to a company.
Think outside of the box on what you can deliver beyond the requisite skill set. On the hiring side, Gabor strives to create a story about herself as a leader and business manager. “That story isn’t just about why I do what I do, or what I actually do day to day,” she says. “That story is also about the people I hire to deliver on my company’s brand promise.”
Let your creativity shine.
Marketing is all about communication across a broad range of media, so crafting a compelling message is key to landing a job in the field, Lawrence O’Connor says.
You know that one-page list of bullet points, job titles, and skill lists you call a resume? Breathe some life into it. O’Connor suggests taking a creative approach: “Instead of just sending a physical resume, why not create a personalized landing page that’s specific to the person you’re trying to get a job with and send them a link?”
This strategy has multiple benefits. In addition to showcasing how you think, create, and tell stories, it also speaks to your work ethic. Digital marketing campaigns often move at a breakneck pace, and O’Connor suggests that adapting and creating on the fly “shows that you’re able to execute quickly.”
To stand out from other competitive job seekers, Gabor suggests crafting your pitch based on the story the employer is trying to tell. She recommends asking yourself: What challenges do they have each day at work? How do they measure their own success? And finally, what problem are they looking to solve by hiring YOU?
Successful marketing illustrates how a product will solve a problem for its consumers. The same principle applies to job seekers convincing hiring managers that they’ll be an asset in tackling the company’s challenges. It helps to approach a role with empathy. “Develop your ‘pitch’ to potential employers by catching their attention with your empathy and understanding, and then only after that, show them a vision for what the world looks like when you have eliminated their challenges,” Gabor recommends. “Then you can tell them specifically how you are the right candidate for that specific job.”
When Gabor is hiring for a position, she says, “I really want to know how you are not only going to master the technical nuances of the job; I want to hear how you’re going to help the company win.”
Contact prospective employers in creative ways.
The people who hire for marketing positions are also savvy marketers themselves — so it shouldn’t be hard to find them and tailor your pitch to grab their attention. “I wrote a book and do lots of speaking engagements and media interviews — just Google me and you’ll find something,” Gabor says. “This is true of a lot of hiring managers you’ll meet in digital marketing. Come on: Most of us are just natural self-promoters.”
One of the best ways to track people down is to find out where they’ll be speaking and go there. “People have effectively gotten my attention by enthusiastically participating in my interactive workshops or by coming up to me and asking me questions afterward,” she says.
Know what you do and don’t know.
If the interview process stresses you out, you’re not alone. “To be honest, I hate interviews. If there was a book on how to conduct yourself in an interview, I’d probably break all of the rules,” O’Connor says.
Between what to wear, how to hold yourself, and the interview questions that make your insides squirm, interviewing is a complex skill to master. To help get through it, O’Connor suggests connecting with the company, its team, and yourself before you even step through the door.
“If you go into an interview knowing what you know and what you don’t, you’ll be much more comfortable.” — Lawrence O’Connor, founder and CEO of Full Chair Digital
“One thing that’s helped me is to get genuinely interested in the company and the people,” he says. “I also walk in there confident about what I know and don’t know.”
A good digital marketer knows a product’s strengths and weaknesses — the same should go for your own. Playing to your strengths is easy in an interview. Understanding where you fall short gives you an opportunity to express your willingness to learn and grow in a role. “If you go into an interview knowing what you know and what you don’t, you’ll be much more comfortable,” O’Connor says. “It sounds cliché, but just be yourself and be honest with where you’re at in your career.”
Ask to connect — not for a job.
Marketers are social by default, as the nature of their job is connecting and partnering with people and companies. Local networking events are a great way to meet potential future colleagues or employers — but you can’t ask for a job right away. When O’Connor would connect with someone at local tech event, he’d say he was organizing a social community for business professionals in tech and ask if he could add them. They almost always said sure, leading to a lot of referrals and freelance clients.
“By softening my ask a bit, I was able to get the access I was looking for,” O’Connor reflects. “You can do this using an email marketing software like MailChimp, a Slack group, or even have physical meetups in your area. This way, you have intel to learn about their most pressing needs. When you come up with the right solution, they’ll be more open to hear about it.”
Start with yes.
Breaking into any field means starting from the bottom — which for Gabor meant pro-bono clients with difficult projects to tackle, or clients who had projects no one else would touch. “I got my start by saying ‘yes’ to as many things as I could. I’m really good at saying yes to stuff I don’t actually know how to do and then figuring out how to do it,” she says.
“I got my start by saying ‘yes’ to as many things as I could. I’m really good at saying yes to stuff I don’t actually know how to do and then figuring out how to do it.” — Deb Gabor, founder of Sol Marketing
Gabor warns that this fake-it-till-you-make-it approach isn’t for everyone, but says that if you’re especially entrepreneurial, resourceful, and ready to learn, it can open the doors to greater opportunities. “In several cases, I showed up with my sleeves rolled up, ready to work, and learned some valuable lessons along the way,” she says. “It didn’t take long for me to build a solid resume featuring a list of household name brands and marquee clients.”