I pointed my peepers at this blog post very recently – supposedly aimed at potential candidates for digital marketing jobs, giving them the dos and don’ts of the recruitment process. Now, whilst I found the post highly informative (being someone previously in the Catch 22 rat race of entry-level employment), I felt a lot of the points were more of the “common sense” ilk – something so uncommon these days, it probably only retains its name due to either sheer irony or a cruel literary joke. As a 24 year old graduate who suddenly found themselves recruiting and managing in their first job after university, I have accumulated at least a few morsels of knowledge from that side of the fence, so I thought I might share my top 10 positives and negatives I’ve seen from candidates with you – the would-be future digital marketers looking to get a leg up in the industry.
1. Network, network, network.
The amount of times I’ve spoken to people who apply for a multitude of jobs online and whinge because they’re getting nowhere is verging on at least the low hundreds now. The words on many people’s lips – including mine – when it comes to employment are usually, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” That’s often the case, but it needn’t work against you – all you need to do is get yourself out and about, do a bit of networking, and make sure the people you know are the right people. Of course, if someone’s dad’s friend’s aunt’s business consultant has a position opened up at their firm and you went to a prestigious boarding school with that someone and became close friends with their parents then fair enough – get in there and on the ladder. Unfortunately, not everyone is in that position, but networking needn’t be difficult. There are a plethora of opportunities for networking in our industry that you can get involved with, including Gus Ferguson’s OMN London meetups, UK Marketing Network events and the aftermaths (yes, aftermaths) of SearchLove, BrightonSEO and ThinkVisibility, amongst others. It might be worth noting that I met my current employer propping up the bar aboard the HMS President back in September. Pretty lucky, some might say – but I managed to put myself in the right place at the right time.
2. Longer isn’t always better.
First and foremost: you’ve written an excellent CV. It chronicles absolutely everything you’ve done in your life, from your Level 3s in your Year 2 SATs, right through to your short-lived radio show entitled “100% Cheesy 90s Bangers, Innit” on campus radio. What I’ve been seeing more and more of recently is graduates who know the golden rule of “two pages absolute maximum,” so endeavour to cram their entire lives into those two pages in size 3.5 Arial Narrow, and still expect me to read it. I’m not going to read it. Instead, pick stuff that’s both impressive and relevant to the position you’re going for. I know it sounds ridiculous, but what you’re essentially trying to do is show your employer the following things: 1. How you can make their investment in you worthwhile; 2. How you can best represent their company to their clients or customers and 3. How you can achieve 1 and 2 as painlessly as possible. As a potential employer of call centre market researchers, I cared if a candidate was aware of current affairs. I didn’t care if they had an unpaid position during their gap year before taking on the paid equivalent at the same place and felt the need to distinguish between the two on their packed CV. Don’t try to cheat the employer of their time – you won’t get the job.
3. Your degree doesn’t need to be relevant.
If you’re going for a teaching job in a primary school, you’ll need some form of teaching qualification. Same goes for a tuition position at a university. In digital marketing, not so: off the top of my head, I can think of four different disciplines at Render Positive alone; those being an Historian, a Fine Artist, a Mathematician and a raggamuffin who didn’t even graduate – and he runs the whole rassclart show. As I’ve written previously on the subject, many different degrees teach highly transferrable skills from the get go. At the same time, many degrees don’t – you could’ve gotten into drama and creative writing at 18, and by 21 felt more at home with stats and numbers. That’s cool. The fact is, employers aren’t stupid. Many of them went to university too, did hardly any work from time to time, did all the drugs under the sun and still buckled down and scraped a 2:2 by the end of it. As a result, many employers shouldn’t care what your degree is in. Some attribute importance to the institution that awarded said degree, but the main point most employers that have 150+ CVs to look through can glean from the fact that you’re a graduate is this: you can commit to something for three plus years, even if it sucks. That’s a big plus.
4. Your degree doesn’t equal pocket Aces.
Whilst your degree does give you some leverage in the job market, it won’t speak for you – you could have done PPE at Oxbridge (I’m beginning to think that’s the only degree they do there…), but if you’re an absolute bell end it doesn’t matter if you have a PhD in Economical Sciences – you’re still a bell end, and nobody will hire you unless they’re also a bell end. They’ll treat you like a bell end and you’ll probably end up hating it. So fix up, and don’t laud your credentials over everyone else. You’ve still got to work for it.
5. Know your shit.
This kind of goes without saying, really. There’s nothing worse than reading a fantastically detailed cover letter and finely tuned CV from a candidate who clearly has no idea what your agency does in its day to day endeavours. No, I won’t be inviting you for an interview, Candidate #5, because you’re clearly applying for a highly-paid Madison Avenue position from about 50 years ago at a small boutique digital agency in South London. A lot of the time, these miscommunications stem from the dreaded “blanket email approach” – I know we’re in an economic downturn. I know you’ve applied for twenty jobs today. I know that the DWP is breathing down your neck to stop claiming. However, if you simply cut-and-paste a cover letter, especially if you forget to change minor details, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all industry: SEO and Social Media aren’t the same thing in the same way Fine Art and Graphic Design aren’t the same thing. Sure, you can apply certain skills from one to the other, but if you apply for a research position with a cover letter depicting your various skills in client-facing sales, chances are, the employer won’t bother taking it any further. You didn’t bother doing the research, after all.
6. What do you do for fun?
One thing that I didn’t agree with on The Drum was employers being “keen for applicants to leave some of their recreational activities off CVs.” Yes, whilst it is worth making very, very clear that useless information wastes valuable time (see point #2), putting one or two lines near the bottom of a CV about enjoying cooking or playing football or watching UFC doesn’t take up too much of my skim-reading time and has the added bonus of not making you sound like a fucking robot. When interviewing for my own market research team, I found myself in front of a lad about my age, but with a Masters in Political Science from LSE and a wealth of experience in and out of MPs campaign teams and workers’ union offices. All of his experience was meticulously written on a well-presented CV, along with highly reputable references – and he’d shown up on time, looking presentable. In the interview, I asked him what he did for fun, and he honestly couldn’t tell me. He probably would’ve been pretty clued up working at the start up I was interviewing for. At the same time, he appeared so disastrously boring that his shortcomings became a deciding factor with another candidate. Needless to say, they got the job and he took his somewhat experienced self elsewhere. I’m not saying you need to be an office prankster with a penchant for hilarious destruction, but being able to bring something a bit more sociable to the table probably helps a great deal in a creative industry like digital marketing.
7. Don’t bullshit.
We’ve seen it all before – the most incredible candidate steps through the door, looking resplendent and carrying every accolade under the sun under their belt; only to crumble when an employer’s probing questions reveal that they once watched a series of Mad Men and checked out the front cover of Confessions and now reckon they could do with summa’ dat cheddar. Sure, some employers won’t bother trying to find out that much, and you could get away with it – that is, until your first few weeks on the job reveal that you’re painfully inadequate for the position. Just be honest. It’s not difficult. If you don’t know something
and are looking for entry-level experience, say so. If you’re of management calibre and want top tier salary, be prepared to negotiate, using your years of experience as leverage. As much as recruiters (read: vultures) continually want a slice of the pie, when you approach an agency directly, your interview and subsequent employment should act as a mutually beneficial partnership between you and your employer: you gain experience and financial gain for doing good work, and they gain an excellent employee who can help their company grow in years to come. Less like a hard-sell timeshare and more like a decent partnership.
8. There are no stupid questions.
If you don’t know something, ask. You’re there to ask questions as well as answer them. As long as you’ve done your initial research (see point #5), many employers will actually find it intriguing that the interview is less like a question and answer session and more like a conversation. On the other hand, bear in mind that employers’ questions are there to gain more of an insight into a candidate – they’re not stupid, either. So don’t answer with a stupid answer. “Being too good at my job” is not a suitable, informative or remotely funny response to, “What do you think your biggest weakness is?” I wouldn’t appreciate a smart arse wasting my time in an interview, and I doubt you or any other employer would, either.
9. Deliver above and beyond expectations.
So, you got the job. You went in, charmed the interviewers, negotiated yourself a top notch salary and got bonuses thrown in to boot. Chill time, right? Wrong. Now you need to back up everything you stood for in the initial stages; and that means doing your job, doing it well, and showing your employer that they were right to take a chance on you. If they didn’t come looking for you – which they won’t have done if you’re still a bit wet behind the ears yourself – you need to show them that you’re the absolute business. Do your job better than anyone else, keep learning all the time and help others when they need it. Make yourself indispensible – when employers recruit for a higher up position, recruiting internally from the lower ranks is generally easier, more cost-effective and far less risky than holding external interviews.
10. It gets easier.
Once you’ve got some knowledge and experience under your belt, you can start to make informed decisions when it comes to employment. I know that deciding between two different job offers might seem ridiculous and far off at the moment, but if you know your role, make yourself indispensible and outperform the best of them, employers will want you – actual employers as well, not just recruiters pretending to be employers. Imagine being able to negotiate a higher salary or better benefits – those are the kinds of deal breakers employers are willing to make for the right candidate. You won’t get there overnight, and it sure as hell isn’t easy in the current economic climate. But you can land the job you want in the digital marketing industry – we’re growing all the time, and we need good, hardworking candidates to grow with us.
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